I’ve already sat for ten minutes trying to decide what to call this article, but in the end I decided to call it exactly what it is. This is one of those stories you read in magazines and you think to yourself there’s no way that can possibly be true, but this one, to my surprise, is.
About 18 months ago I started a new job in Glasgow and in my training group I met an older gentleman who’d recently moved home to Scotland having lived in America since the age of 5. He was fascinatingly interesting and yet strangely peculiar, pleasant and odd all at the same time, but ultimately a decent bloke.
I came to learn he was the religious type. His views were at times outdated, even if he did always have the best of intentions. He had split from his wife some years ago, the epitome of a bitter divorce battle and yet he still spoke with such warmth and respect for women and longed only to find someone to settle down with. It sat well with me the way he spoke, a gentleman in it’s truest form even if it was a tad cringeworthy at times.
As I got to know him better however, I realized that his ‘longing’ to meet someone was verging on utter desperation. I’ve spoken at length before about desperation. It’s not a crime and it fleetingly happens to us all at some point in our lives, but desperation can be a very dangerous thing. It clouds our judgement and more often than not, leads to poor if not crazy decision-making.
A few months had passed by when he told me he’d signed up for an online dating site, no surprises there. It’s quick and easy and has become more and more commonplace than ever before. What did surprise me however, was the particular website he had singed up for. If you’re eager to meet someone and want to settle down as quickly as possible surely you’d sign up for a site that allowed you to meet people in your local area or your city or at least your country! Why on earth he had signed up for ‘RussianCupid.com’ I’ll never know. I’m convinced he’d fallen for a pop-up advert somewhere and genuinely believed Svetlana really was ‘waiting for his call’.
I asked him more about the website, I was curious as to how it all worked. It was then that his eyes instantly lit up as he told me with great enthusiasm that he’d already ‘met’ someone. He couldn’t believe his luck, a girl had messaged him within minutes of signing up, even though he hadn’t added a profile picture yet. I was mentally holding my head in my hands. He went on to tell me how lucky he’d been that she’d messaged him first because for men to make first contact it cost an extra £14.99. It was a scam in it’s purest form.
Thankfully, within a few days he realized this. Sadly though he was convinced that only this particular person wasn’t real and had decided to persist with the same website despite numerous warnings from anyone with a brain. A week later came Russian girl number two. This one less than half his age – naturally. I warned him to be careful this time, to keep in mind what had happened before, to tread with even just an ounce of caution and to recognize the usual warning signs. He didn’t – naturally.
‘Oksana’ was a nurse in the centre of Moscow who didn’t have internet access at home and so could only message him from work. She only ever messaged at the same time – 7pm, Monday to Friday. Warning sign? Of course it was. What 20 something living in a big city doesn’t have internet access? A few days later I asked how it was going and he gave me an almost breathless look of sheer joy. He stuttered for a second as he pondered where to even begin with his declaration of love for yet another fictitious Russian girl. Once again he’d been drawn in hook, line and sinker. By this point he’d become a scam artist’s wet dream.
I asked if he had any pictures, “oh I have 16 pictures” he replied in a fading American accent. Sixteen? Very specific I thought to myself. Sure enough he’d been sent a fair few pictures. What didn’t seem to alarm him however, was that every single picture was a poorly shot amateur modelling picturing. Photo after photo in fields, lying in grass, bent over a sink, on the train, at a bus stop, even in the frozen food section of a supermarket. No selfies, no photos with friends or family, just a steady stream of photos from what looked like a low budget Eastern European porn flick.
I must stress at this point I do not wish to be overly harsh on him. He was a nice guy after all, but the excruciating naivety of a man of his age was infuriating. How could he convince himself so strongly that this was real? He wouldn’t listen, no matter how many times myself or anyone else tried to tell him.
Eventually the messages dried up and he admitted his mistake. This realization was sheer relief for me, he wasn’t my responsibility but I seemed to be the only one with any persistence in trying to make him realise what he was getting himself into. His latest failed romance however, would not deter him. He was insistent that online dating was still the right path for him.
This time I was expecting him to join Match or Plenty Of Fish but no next up was ‘Christian Dating’ a site notorious for scam artists looking to capitalize on the naivety of generous Christians and sure enough more messages from Russians! Nothing against Russians, but If I were him at this point I’d be running for the hills at the sight of anything remotely Russian – unless it’s white and comes in a glass.
This one was a little more blunt, I almost respected her for it as it would save me weeks of watching him get his hopes up only to be let down again. Within two days she was asking for money to fly to Scotland and start a life together. Two days?! It seems online dating is serious business in Russia. My colleague, sadly, gave in to her request following a very creative sob story she drip fed to him over a series of late night messages. With the best of intentions, he handed over his entire three month bonus. I’d seen first-hand how hard he’d worked for that bonus. I was sad for him but also overwhelmingly disappointed – I’d warned him so many times. From this point onwards he was convinced she would be moving to Scotland. He went as far as to moving to a bigger house in preparation for her arrival and had planned to greet her at the airport in full Highland dress – honestly. As the days and weeks passed by I kept asking when she would arrive and was given the same answer for nearly two months “in two weeks”. As it turns out she had been demanding more and more money and when he refused, she stopped messaging.
I hoped this would be the final time he would fall for such schemes and thankfully it was. This wasn’t to be his final venture into the world of online dating, but at least it was the end of a pretty horrendous run. He’s the only guy I’ve ever known who’s had three successive relationships without hearing their voice or having any form of physical contact, must be a new record.
The final twist in this tale involved a Dutch woman, half a tank of petrol and a migrant crisis at Calais. One last bash at Christian Dating proved to be a bit more fruitful this time. He met a woman called Christina. They shared his religious beliefs, her love of experimental cooking and a mutual love of all things Bruce Springsteen. They talked for hours on the phone most days, not just at 7pm, Monday to Friday. After three weeks he flew to Brugges where she had been working to surprise her, not knowing that she had in fact already returned home to Amsterdam. Christina, touched by his gesture drove all the way back to Brugges with no money and half a tank of petrol to pick him up. What was supposed to be a spontaneous weekend turned into a three week holiday thanks to the ongoing ferry issues at Calais and in those three weeks it seems they both found a soulmate. It all seems a bit too much to comprehend even now, but it’s a true story nonetheless. Christina has now moved to Scotland, living in the house he’d rented for the Russian.
This is obviously an extreme story, a complete one-off. In the end it seems online romances aren’t the evil of the dating world after all, but my old colleague certainly made things difficult for himself. There are endless lessons to be learned from this story. Don’t let desperation make your decisions, don’t sign up to obscure websites, don’t date fake Russian models, don’t send strangers money and if you travel abroad to meet your new squeeze make sure you go to the right country. Ultimately though, don’t give up. You’ll find what you’re looking for – eventually.