Dating apps enjoyed a huge boom in lockdown as the pandemic put paid to the idea of meeting a potential partner in normal social situations.
One of those who dabbled in online dating for the first time was model Lilly Becker, 44, estranged wife of tennis champion Boris Becker, who decided it was time to ‘get back out there’ after her traumatic split in 2018 following nine years of marriage.
Here, she shares her hilarious account of trying to find romance over the past six months, with her first foray into the world of dating apps…
POUR THE PLONK, SWIPE LEFT — THIS IS FUN!
Confession time: there is wine involved. It’s November and I’m at the point in lockdown where I’m going a bit crazy. I’m quite a sociable person.
I love nothing more than putting on a dress and heels, going for a drink and flirting. I miss flirting.
My friend Bianca is round. She’s single, too (we have bubbled-up). She’s on the sofa, with her phone, swiping away and laughing.
Dating apps have enjoyed a huge boom during lockdown. And one of those who dabbled in online dating for the first time was 44-year-old model Lilly Becker (pictured)
She’s on a dating app called Hinge and is making me laugh with some of the messages from the guys she’s talking to. Some of them are cute. Maybe too cute — are these pictures real?
Bianca says I should be on this app, too. Everyone is doing it. If I am really ready to start dating again, I should try it. Am I ready? I think so.
I have quite strong views about leaping into another relationship. I think a woman needs to heal after a marriage ends.
I certainly did.
But I am 44, old enough to know exactly what I want in a partner — and what I definitely do not want. An hour later, I have a profile.
Obviously, I don’t use my real name, but the pictures are all of me. This is the first dilemma. How do I want to come across?
I decide on cute pictures rather than overtly sexy photos. Definitely no bikini shots — I don’t want to attract that type. I do want to look attractive, and approachable. There is one with no make-up at all because I want to be honest from the off.
Time to get started. This particular app suggests men that I might like, based on my profile and preferences. I have to swipe left if they are no-hopers, or ‘heart’ them if I like them. I get to work.
Swipe left, swipe left, swipe left. Oh hold on. He’s cute, let’s heart him. It’s curiously addictive. This is fun!
Lilly, the estranged wife of tennis champion Boris Becker (both pictured), decided that it was time to ‘get back out there’ after her traumatic split in 2018 following nine years of marriage
MESSAGES FROM 30 MEN? I’LL MAKE A LIST
Oh God. I have a headache and 30 messages from men I ‘hearted’. Some of them want to chat. But I am back in home-schooling mode, helping my son Amadeus, who is 11, with his school work.
How much information to give? I message a couple, tentatively. I have the same conversations over and over again.
How is your lockdown? Are you going to get vaccinated? One guy seems to like the same sort of things – music and films. He looks nice – lovely eyes. He lives not too far from me, in South-West London.
Over the next few days we chat – nothing heavy just swapping musical preferences, favourite films. He seems genuine. I give him my number and our exchanges get a little more personal.
I tell him I have a son. I was married (technically, I still am married) and it ended. He seems interesting. Then I do it. I suggest a walk in the park. That’s as far as any human contact can go anyway.
I think about what to wear. This is not a date, it is a walk in the park, so I will be casual. I think jeans, trainers.
If I’m going to be disappointed I might as well be disappointed in jeans rather than my Chanel dress. Also, if the date is terrible, I can run away!
My heart is pounding as I turn up at our designated meeting spot.
‘Please be attractive, please be attractive,’ I think.
And ‘Please do not be a serial killer.’
There is a man standing waiting, who looks vaguely like the man in the app, but about a foot shorter, maybe more. OMG! He said he was 6ft. This man is the same height as my son! Did he think I wouldn’t notice?
We do the quickest walk you have ever seen, and I tell him I have to go home and work. Delete, delete, delete.
ANYONE FOR TENNIS? DEFINITELY NOT ME!
I sign up for a few more dating apps. I never knew there were so many, and there is so much to learn.
All my single girlfriends know the etiquette. Why did they not tell me before this?
All the apps cater for a different type. I can’t get on with Tinder at all.
There are some crazy people on there. I try Match, which claims it is responsible for more dates, relationships and marriages than any other site in the world.
Woah! So many men. Before I know it I have 2,500 likes. I do not have time for this.
I try Hily, an app that employs machine learning to match prospective partners. No thanks.
I settle on Hinge, which bills itself as one that emphasises long-term connections, and one called Bumble.
On Bumble, women make the first move, which I like.
I make a few mistakes at first. One man seems great, but in no time at all he is sending me sexual messages. No way! To a complete stranger! I report him.
After her split from Wimbledon champion Boris Becker (pictured), Lilly admitted that she ‘swipes left’ to anyone who mentions tennis on their dating app profile
His profile immediately disappears. He is gone. I realise how dangerous these apps can be.
I am an experienced woman. I can handle myself, but if I was younger and got messages like that, it could be disturbing.
I have to give my preferences. I don’t actually have a physical type. He can be blond, dark, white, black. I don’t mind. Job? I don’t care. I’m past all that.
Height is important though — I want to feel he could sweep me off my feet if it worked out, and, after all, I’m 5ft 9in tall. I also like tattoos. What else?
All the things that are hard to quantify. I want loyalty, loyalty and loyalty.
I want a strong man, who is secure in himself and can stand up to me because I can be a handful. I also know what I do not want. I do not want a man who plays tennis.
This proves to be problematic because I live within striking distance of Wimbledon and want to meet someone locally.
I quickly discover there are a lot of people around SW19 who like tennis, or play tennis or watch tennis.
Give me a break! If they even mention tennis, I swipe left.
Swipe, swipe, swipe.
Apparently swipe fatigue is a thing now. I see why.
MAYBE I’LL FIND LOVE WITH A WOMAN?
On all the apps I have to specify whether I am looking for a man or a woman — or both. Let’s live dangerously. I tick ‘both’. I have been with a woman before and, yes, I am open to the idea.
Why not? Let’s face it, I have been disappointed by men, so maybe a woman would have my back more.
I chat to a few women.
There is one girl who is very good-looking. She’s a single mum like me, but our exchanges aren’t romantic at all.
She helps me by chatting about her experiences with online dating. It occurs to me that this is also a way of just making friends. There are a lot of lonely people at the moment.
CHEMISTRY… BUT HE CAN’T COMMIT
Well, hello! I am matched with a man who lives in another part of London. Let’s call him Mr Islington. I arrange to meet Mr Islington in Richmond Park. Never mind the men, lockdown is making sure I get to know all the parks of London.
I won’t give too much away about this one, because we are still in touch, but he has come out of a long-term relationship, too.
And he has a dog! A gorgeous dog, a poodle-cross who is just so friendly. He is black with a white beard — the dog, not the man.
We go for a walk. There is chemistry. Actual chemistry. He tells me I look more attractive in real life than I do in my picture.
We just walk and talk, about our lives, our dogs.
I go home on a high.
I definitely don’t need to use my emergency signal to my friends.
Everyone who is doing online dating needs one of these, by the way. My signal is to send a thumbs down emoji to a girlfriend, who will then call me with an urgent catastrophe I need to deal with that minute.
Mr Islington and I agree to keep in touch. I want to see him again. And his dog. He does as well.
Over the next few weeks, we have a couple of dates/walks. I could see this going further. I tell him my real name, and he goes home and Googles me.
It doesn’t change anything. He isn’t freaked out — everyone has a past — but at the same time it’s clear he isn’t ready for a relationship. He can’t commit.
Lilly (pictured with Boris Becker in July 2013) admitted that she is still an dating app novice, but will definitely be keeping an eye on the apps in the future ‘just in case’
HE BRINGS FLOWERS, THEN SITS ON THEM
I’m not giving up on Mr Islington, but there are plenty more men out there. I decide to focus less on nice eyes and go with their online biogs instead.
Another man stands out. He likes garage music, as do I.
We arrange to meet in Battersea Park. I’m in my gym gear now, primed for a quick getaway if needed. I can’t find a parking space and I’m late, so I park on a double yellow. Maybe this one will be worth the fine.
What are my chances? Slim, it turns out. He is very keen. He calls while I am parking and wants to come and meet me.
No! I don’t want him to know what car I drive. We meet where we had planned. He is tall. Phew! He also has a massive bunch of flowers and a bottle of champagne with him, which freaks me out. It’s nice, but a bit much, no? For a walk?
And how can we walk with a great bunch of flowers?
We end up having to sit down on a park bench, which I am panicking about because it’s breaking the lockdown rules.
I sit down and put the flowers between us, so we can at least observe social distancing.
He sits on them. He is sitting on my flowers!
He opens the champagne and plays music on his iPhone, but really loudly. I know we bonded over our music but it’s the middle of the afternoon and there are children playing and the music is going BOOM! BOOM!
He keeps saying ‘have more champagne’. I can’t get over my poor flowers. It is time to employ my emergency escape, so I sent an urgent text. My friend rings and I tell him I’m so sorry, but I have to run.
GIVE ME A BREAK – YOU ARE NOT 45!
My girlfriends and I all have horror stories. They tell me of men who turned out to be married, or who used fake pictures.
I get my own disaster anecdote when I meet another man in yet another park.
This one says he is 45.
Now I’ve been quite strict about ages. I don’t want anyone who is over 50 because I want him to be able to keep up with me. So I pitch up to meet this man and it’s immediately obvious is he not 45.
I say: ‘What age are you really?’ He says he is 54 but he got confused when filling in his biog details and got the numbers the wrong way round. This is a new one for my girlfriends.
We’ve never laughed so much.
IT’S A GIGGLE, BUT I WANT TO DRESS UP
So that’s where we are up to. I’m still a dating app novice, but would I recommend them?
Well, there are advantages. I’ve never laughed as much — not always for the right reasons, but still…
I quite enjoyed my park dates, too. If nothing else, I learned that it’s possible to date in your gym gear. Maybe a man gets a truer picture of the real you that way.
Will I go back to the dresses and the heels, though? Yes. And I’ll keep an eye on the dating apps too — just in case. It’s a definite swipe right for that one.