'I'm basically a very nosy person!', says Monica Dyson

One of my ambitions which I don’t think will ever be realised is to become an agony aunt.I like to think I could succeed because I’ve had experience at the University of Life, but really, it’s probably because I’m basically a very nosy person.

Wednesday, 13th November 2019, 12:49 pm
Updated Thursday, 28th November 2019, 3:55 pm
Agony Aunt Marjorie Proops pictured in Sheffield in 1972
Agony Aunt Marjorie Proops pictured in Sheffield in 1972

Nevertheless, sorting out the affairs of the heart of ‘Lovesick from Low Edges’ or ‘Concerned of Chapeltown’ does seem quite an interesting occupation.

Throughout history, agony aunts, or lonely-hearts columnists have advised people who obviously wanted their private problems keeping anonymous. There are still some problem pages in magazines and newspapers, among them one in The Guardian featuring Ann Widdecombe which I tend to be a bit sceptical about and where she has recently given advice to a man who is having problems with the accumulated fluff in his washing machine and a concerned mum who has found a spliff in the sock drawer of her 14-year-old son! The Sun newspaper, always the choice of the serious reader, has agony aunt ‘Dear Deidre’ where journalist Deidre Sanders, who was originally a graduate of Sheffield University, has advised on matters of the heart for over 30 years. In touch with issues today has always been Virginia Ironside who gives advice on contraception, gay rights and sex education for children. But possibly the most famous agony aunt of all was Marjorie Proops, national confidante and family friend to readers of the Daily Mirror right from the 1950s until her death in 1996. Known also as a respected campaigning journalist, she advised on all matters of the heart but also abortion, drugs, illegitimate children and the pill, and outlasted ten editors.

You can still find the odd lonely heart columns around in some publications purely for finding dating partners but not nearly as many as there used to be. Of course, that is due to the ease with which someone looking for love or other can find it on Internet dating sites at the click of their fingers! One of the seemingly more respectable ones around in print is the Guardian Soulmates page, where you have been able to look for someone compatible with yourself since 2004. At least it limits the likelihood of finding anyone belonging to UKIP or having to explain that Marcel Proust was not a racing driver.

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There is even a new agony aunt in the shape of Amanda Knox, jailed for four years for murder in an Italian prison, who, now released, is writing a column in a Seattle newspaper called ‘Life, Love and Suffering!’

Finding a partner on the Internet is something people are doing in droves and it seems that online dating is growing faster among the 50-plus and way beyond more quickly than any other age group. There are Internet dating sites for the over-60s, as if you are retired, widowed or divorced, the likelihood of finding romance by the traditional methods becomes increasingly unlikely the older you get. You’re unlikely to go clubbing, or into pubs on your own and you won’t find someone at work, because you don’t work anymore, yet online there are literally hundreds in the same boat. The online dating business is worth £170 million with over 9 million people logging on.

A friend on becoming widowed a year or so ago, with indecent haste some might think, subscribed to sites called things like ‘Game, set and match.com’ or ‘Plenty of goldfish in the bowl.com’ She was like the Duracell Bunny dashing around between dates. Suddenly life became full of excitement for her. However, it seems that there certainly are pitfalls to be wary of! It’s often unlikely that people give a true picture of themselves. In fact, the actual picture they insert on the site may well be 30 years old or not themselves at all!

Women tend to be more honest in describing themselves. Men will always be charming, sporty, generous, funny and sensual. They may sometimes say that they are ‘carrying a few extra pounds’ when they are actually clinically obese! And more often than not, they are looking for a woman who is slim, elegant, attractive, solvent and younger! Well, she’s looking for George Clooney!

Professional advice on inserting online adverts is to make it clear that it’s just companionship you are looking for and if you arrange a date, make it for lunchtime so that you can plead another engagement if your chosen one turns out to be quite dreadful, spends the whole time talking about their past baggage and what wrongs their previous partner did to them! Your arthritis usually prevents you from escaping through the toilet window as you might have done if younger!

Personal ads in newspapers are nothing new and it’s thought the first one was a matrimonial advertisement appearing in a British publication in 1695. From then on, they were mostly from men seeking a wife and with an emphasis on looks and money.

During Victorian times the adverts had to sound respectable and dignified and were even used by the upper crust of European society by men who had passed their prime but desired heirs.

During the 1960s the wording of advertisements started to change with the ‘free love’ movement. People were looking for dates and flings and not necessarily marriage. Gay men advertised for partners but used ambiguously worded phrases like ‘extremely masculine’ in a time when they could have been breaking the law.

Today, dating and match-making services are on the Internet for virtually any category. It’s a very lucrative industry, and many have found love and happiness.