There are countless online dating services now; most well-known are Match.com, eHarmony, and Guardian Soulmates. Yesterday evening I heard about another one, Flirt.com. As its name suggests, it is a lot more raunchy and explicit in its claims than the more romantically named ones:
“Join the world of free online dating with Flirt.com, make new friends and start hot all-night affairs. We’ll show you a short cut to all forbidden pleasures and to 1000s of personals of frivolous men and women looking for passionate lovers or hot mistresses in the UK.”
However, judging by the reviews it seems that these kinds of lurid sites are full of computer-talking bots rather than real people. Despite this automated fakery, many people still try their luck. And some get lucky. One young lad I met on the train last night was going all the way to Worthing to meet in the flesh the girl of his dreams, whom he’d been flirting with on the website for the last two weeks. Moreover, he was prepared to travel far and pay a lot to see her. He’d come all the way from Nottingham to meet her in a hotel. He’d never been south in his life, let alone London. This was the biggest adventure of his lifetime.
As we chugged out of Victoria Station he jumped around the carriage snapping photos with his phone of the twinkly lights on the bridge across the Thames. Then he tried to snap the fireworks as they kept popping up in the dark against the backdrop of the London skyline.
His excitement was palpable.
He asked me if he and his mate (who only looked 14 but seemed far more streetwise) were in the right bit of the train going to Worthing (the train splits into two at Hayward’s Heath and the first 4 carriages go to Littlehampton and the remaining 8 to Lewes). I nodded and then we got chatting. He was a bright ginger-haired boy, about 16-17 (although claimed to be 18) with several teeth missing and wearing crumpled, chav grey trackie bottoms with matching grey hoodie.
He called his Worthing date his North Star. Very touching.
He then started telling me how he was from a broken home, been in trouble, and now wanted to start a new life in Worthing with his flirt.com lady. His dream has always been to meet someone, get married and raise kids, and be a proper mum and dad that would live together. This was going to be his first proper girlfriend – at least that was what he hoped. I could see there was a lot of damage hiding behind the missing teeth, but it was lovely to see such romantic idealism shining through.
He was very twitchy and soon went off to the toilets to get changed. His mate (with no matching date), on the other hand, just played a video game throughout the journey. When he came back, he had an air of self-consciousness, this time donning an even more crumpled stripy t-shirt, but obviously one of his favourites. He sat down and carefully folded his carapace hoodie, putting it neatly in his backpack. Care that you take when in a care home.
He suited the nickname Ginger.
Ginger and his mate had been travelling already for 6 hours. I asked them how long they planned to stay in Worthing. Ginger piped up wistfully “maybe forever”. He kept looking at his mate and saying he had butterflies. His mate looked back blankly and just smiled. But I could see them very clearly fluttering all around Ginger.
Ginger’s mobile then trilled loudly. Nervously, he answered it. It was the flirt.com lady. She asked where they were. He looked at me and I shouted East Croydon. Ginger then added: “the lady on the train says we are in the right carriage and would be there in an hour.” I liked the ‘lady’ touch. Bode well.
We went through a tunnel and he lost her signal. She’d already had a few drinks and he seemed a bit put out.
The boys then suddenly realized they were sitting in First Class and that gave them a thrill. The ticket lady eventually came by and they scarpered into the next carriage. She gave me a knowing wink as she followed them. Then she left the train and they came scampering back into my carriage – only to be shooed out again by the next ticket inspector. It became a playful cat and mouse game – their childhood innocence getting the better of them, along with the butterflies.
As the train came into Hove, I stood up, walked over to Ginger and handed him a fiver, suggesting he buy his lady friend a nice cocktail (I am a big softie when it comes to kids with a shard of hope stacked up against such a mountain of damaged background). He swiftly put it in his pocket and thanked me quietly. Then he told me his name was Stevan – emphasizing it was spelt with an ‘a’ and not an ‘e’. I do hope flirt.com works out for him and is not the scam many unhappy campers have written about online. It is a long way for a boy so young and sweet to be duped and have his looking glass life shattered.