28 Dates Later by Willard Foxton: Part Two, The Married Woman

In which Willard considers having an affair.

So, my second date. I'd convinced myself that to keep the blog interesting, I should split 50/50 between "dating sites no-one in their right mind would go on" and "dating sites that are in theory normal, but are probably full of weirdos anyway". I've currently got dating profiles on 10 "sensible sites" and 8 on "weirdo sites".  

Sadly, my first date (with the Biter) was from OK Cupid, a fairly normal site. So... date 2 has to be from my list of scary sites. Now, I'm not quite ready to go on WomenBehindBars.com (Dating ladies in prison) or SurvivalistSingles.com (Dating for people preparing for the Apocalypse - tagline "Don't face the future alone"). I thought I'd go for weird, but not *too* weird; that's how I ended up on AshleyMadison.com - the dating site where married people go to look for affairs (tagline - "Life is short: Have an Affair").  

As you can imagine, it's a pretty seedy place. It's not cheap either - for men, anyway. Women join for free, and message for free, but men have to pay about £40 for the privilege of being able to send 100 messages; when you run out of messages you have to buy more. You can also spend more money for being moved on to the front of the search results, being advertised in emails - you really can sink quite a bit of money into it, if you want to. Fortunately, I spotted a cheap deal (thanks, google adwords) and got a free day as a "Priority Man". I might add that to my business cards :)  

Filling out the profile was challenging - as well as the normal essay entitled "Women should date Willard: Discuss" there's a fairly exhaustive list of sexual checkboxes (illustrated below). I wasn't even aware "Erotic tickling" was a thing.  

As this is partly journalism, I was tempted to turn all the dials to "extraordinarily opened minded pervert" and see what rolled in, but instead, bearing in mind I do actually want to go on nice dates, I checked "Cuddling & Hugging", "Kissing", "Conventional Sex" and "Open to Experimentation", or as I like to think of it, "Vanilla is the most popular flavour FOR A REASON".  

Anyway, I saved it all, pressed send, and unlike most dating sites, I started getting messages right away - within 2 minutes of my profile being approved. It seemed being a "Priority man" was working. I replied, and was repeatedly complimented for my ability to spell, and also the fact I was interested in actually talking to women, knowing their names, you know, that sort of basic human interaction. It turns out, in the world of Ashley Madison, if you don't instantly segue to asking to see a woman's breasts in text speak, you are quite the player.  

So after about an hour of chatting, I arranged a date. She was a "professional, 39, attached but seeking men". The only thing she liked that I hadn't listed was "Bubble Baths for 2", so I figured I was likely to come out of this date unscathed, at the very least (it's only writing this I've realised she could have been "the drowner", but hey, she wasn't). We had similar interests, and to be honest, if she hadn't been you know, married, I would have probably have been really excited.  

Instead, on the day of the date, I left work with a leaden weight in my stomach. Was I really going to do this? Go on a date with a married woman? But I girded my loins, and turned up to the bar. She turned up, obviously having come straight from work, in a very sharp, very expensive suit, and we immediately got down to a good chat. She was lovely, very entertaining, extremely smart - the very definition of the successful career woman. We shared life stories over a couple of gin and tonics.   

Inevitably, the subject of her family life came up. She had three kids with her "apelike" husband, and after the birth of her first child, he'd largely lost interest in her. They now slept in separate rooms, and hadn't had sex in three years, but both were relatively traditional, staying together "for the sake of the kids". That said, she wanted a bit more in her life. We got talking, stayed in the pub for dinner. She told me about other people she's met on Ashley Madison - apparently, being a woman on a dating site largely populated by men is not at all pleasant.  

She gets plenty of attention; as many as 250 messages a week (meaning, by my calculation, she generates about eighty quid a week for the owners of Ashley Madison), but the vast bulk of them are, as she put it, "total creepers". She was very good looking, so got a huge amount of messages that were explicitly sexual. She said she'd been sent hundreds of keys to men's private online photo galleries, but had learned not to look, as almost all of them would be walls of pictures of cocks and torsos. She showed me a few (I explained, for the blog), and some men will literally write messages on their penises in marker pen, then take photos of them, and send them. It's very odd, this online dating lark.  

It was all in all, a pleasant evening - right up to the point where her phone rang - I could see from the display it was her husband calling. She made a clearly well-practiced excuse, and it wasn't like he turned up brandishing a fire axe (a shame, for blogging purposes), but it left an odd taste in my mouth. We both agreed that while it had been fun, and we'd probably stay in touch as friends, I wasn't the man to have an affair with.  

I imagine a lot of online dates end like this - the person is nice enough, but there's no real spark. At least it was a nice evening, and hey, no wounds or infections. So, a win.   

But still, the search continues!

This post originally appeared at 28 Dates Later. Stay tuned as we catch you up with all Willard's disastrous dates so far over the next week.

Willard Foxton is a card-carrying Tory, and in his spare time a freelance television producer, who makes current affairs films for the BBC and Channel 4. Find him on Twitter as @WillardFoxton.

Chuka Umunna speaks at the launch of Labour's education manifesto during the general election. Photograph: Getty Images.
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After so badly misjudging the leadership contest, how will the Blairites handle Corbyn?

The left-winger's opponents are divided between conciliation and aggression. 

When Labour lost the general election in May, the party’s modernisers sensed an opportunity. Ed Miliband, one of the most left-wing members of the shadow cabinet, had been unambiguously rejected and the Tories had achieved their first majority in 23 years. More than any other section of the party, the Blairites could claim to have foreseen such an outcome. Surely the pendulum would swing their way?

Yet now, as Labour’s leadership contest reaches its denouement, those on the right are asking themselves how they misjudged the landscape so badly. Their chosen candidate, Liz Kendall, is expected to finish a poor fourth and the party is poised to elect Jeremy Corbyn, the most left-wing leader in its 115-year history. For a faction that never ceases to underline the importance of winning elections, it will be a humbling result.

Though the crash has been sudden, the Blairites have long been in decline. Gordon Brown won the leadership unchallenged and senior figures such as John Reid, James Purnell and Alan Milburn chose to depart from the stage rather than fight on. In 2010, David Miliband, the front-runner in the leadership election, lost to his brother after stubbornly refusing to distance himself from the Iraq war and alienating undecided MPs with his imperiousness.

When the younger Miliband lost, the modernisers moved fast – too fast. “They’re behaving like family members taking jewellery off a corpse,” a rival campaign source told me on 9 May. Many Labour supporters agreed. The rush of op-eds and media interviews antagonised a membership that wanted to grieve in peace. The modernising contenders – Chuka Umunna, Liz Kendall, Mary Creagh, Tristram Hunt – gave the impression that the Blairites wanted to drown out all other voices. “It was a huge mistake for so many players from that wing of the party to be put into the field,” a shadow cabinet minister told me. “In 1994, forces from the soft left to the modernising right united around Tony Blair. The lesson is never again can we have multiple candidates.”

While conducting their post-mortem, the Blairites are grappling with the question of how to handle Corbyn. For some, the answer is simple. “There shouldn’t be an accommodation with Corbyn,” John McTernan, Blair’s former director of political operations, told me. “Corbyn is a disaster and he should be allowed to be his own disaster.” But most now adopt a more conciliatory tone. John Woodcock, the chair of Progress, told me: “If he wins, he will be the democratically elected leader and I don’t think there will be any serious attempt to actually depose him or to make it impossible for him to lead.”

Umunna, who earlier rebuked his party for “behaving like a petulant child”, has emphasised that MPs “must accept the result of our contest when it comes and support our new leader in developing an agenda that can return Labour to office”. The shadow business secretary even suggests that he would be prepared to discuss serving in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet if he changed his stances on issues such as nuclear disarmament, Nato, the EU and taxation. Were Umunna, a former leadership contender, to adopt a policy of aggression, he would risk being blamed should Corbyn fail.

Suggestions that the new parliamentary group Labour for the Common Good represents “the resistance” are therefore derided by those close to it. The organisation, which was launched by Umunna and Hunt before Corbyn’s surge, is aimed instead at ensuring the intellectual renewal that modernisers acknowledge has been absent since 2007. It will also try to unite the party’s disparate mainstream factions: the Blairites, the Brownites, the soft left, the old right and Blue Labour. The ascent of Corbyn, who has the declared support of just 15 MPs (6.5 per cent of the party), has persuaded many that they cannot afford the narcissism of small differences. “We need to start working together and not knocking lumps out of each other,” Woodcock says. There will be no defections, no SDP Mk II. “Jeremy’s supporters really underestimate how Labour to the core the modernisers are,” Pat McFadden, the shadow Europe minister, told me.

Although they will not change their party, the Blairites are also not prepared to change their views. “Those of us on this side of Labour are always accused of being willing to sell out for power,” a senior moderniser told me. “Well, we do have political principles and they’re not up for bartering.” He continued: “Jeremy Corbyn is not a moderate . . .
He’s an unreconstructed Bennite who regards the British army as morally equivalent to the IRA. I’m not working with that.”

Most MPs believe that Corbyn will fail but they are divided on when. McFadden has predicted that the left-winger “may even get a poll bounce in the short term, because he’s new and thinking differently”. A member of the shadow cabinet suggested that Labour could eventually fall to as low as 15 per cent in the polls and lose hundreds of councillors.

The challenge for the Blairites is to reboot themselves in time to appear to be an attractive alternative if and when Corbyn falters. Some draw hope from the performance of Tessa Jowell, who they still believe will win the London mayoral selection. “I’ve spoken to people who are voting enthusiastically both for Jeremy and for Tessa,” Wes Streeting, the newly elected MP for Ilford North, said. “They have both run very optimistic, hopeful, positive campaigns.”

But if Corbyn falls, it does not follow that the modernisers will rise. “The question is: how do we stop it happening again if he does go?” a senior frontbencher said. “He’s got no interest or incentive to change the voting method. We could lose nurse and end up with something worse.” If the road back to power is long for Labour, it is longest of all for the Blairites. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 03 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Pope of the masses