Charlotte de la Pena: Teacher Charlotte de la Pena had met a man through an online dating site and arranged to have coffee with him. He was doing a PhD, they both had an interest in religion she teaches religious studies , lots in common and a lot to talk about. I thought only I would go on a date with someone who had decided to become a celibate priest. All my friends are married with children. People now put as much effort, perhaps more, into finding a new relationship as they do a new job.
Online dating has exploded, and the stigma of advertising for a partner has all but disappeared. Lonely hearts ads in the local paper have been replaced by online profiles, where professional photographers are hired to do your pictures, and there are people who make a living out of telling you how to write the perfect pitch about yourself.
Flirting is done over email, instant messaging or Skype calls. There are dating events for wine lovers and classical music fans, and events where everyone is Jewish, or Asian, or over Old-fashioned introduction agencies have been replaced by companies for particular members — those who earn above a certain amount, or are very good-looking, or live in the country — and have computer systems that promise to find you your soulmate after you have ticked a shopping list of desirable attributes.
It's important to get out and meet new people to build confidence and new social circles. Dating when you're older means you immediately make judgments about whether you want this person to be your partner, and that seems forced and unnatural and different to how I did things when I was in my 20s.
I have days when I think I'm going to have to live the rest of my days alone, but my feelings change from one day to the next. He had been through two divorces — his first at 22 and his second at I really wanted someone with similar experiences.
They have been together for four years. After three turbulent marriages, she met her husband Bill through a lonely hearts advert in her local newspaper. He was about my age, and we'd had almost the same life experiences because he'd lost two partners. I decided to get in touch. He said he would visit me so I thought I'd better get myself dolled up and I put the best china out.
I opened the door, and there was this tall man with a big smile across his face. That was a very good beginning. The second one I married because I wanted to give my children a stable upbringing, but he turned out to be an alcoholic, and 10 years later he died.
I met another chap, who swept me off my feet, but he turned out to be so controlling, it was horrendous. I was on the verge of a breakdown and, after eight years, I left.
She was 63, and he was a year older; they married after 18 months. Did she think, after three marriages with such unsuitable men, she would ever find a loving relationship? I used to think, if you've not learned your lesson by now, my dear, you never will. I regret the wasted time, but I wouldn't have found Bill if I hadn't gone through it. My lovely husband showed immense courage in taking me on, he was patience personified and he propped me up when I needed it. Get on with it; you're only here once.
I got through it and we're as happy as larks now. We can get a bit stuck in a timewarp stylewise. Even something such as going to a department store and getting one of the makeup girls to refresh your look, or having a hair cut or buying a new outfit will help boost your confidence.
Use books or look on the internet. Turn on your dating antennae and realise your new partner could be someone you already know — someone you chat to at work or on the train, perhaps.
And don't worry if it doesn't happen immediately. Finding a new relationship is like applying for a new job: It's good to have three non-negotiable must-haves in a potential partner, three would-likes, and three items on an ideal-world wish-list. They can be anything — looks, a sense of humour, a shared interest — but only you can decide if they are non-negotiable or not. Jo Hemmings is a behavioural psychologist and relationship coach johemmings.