For the moment, I'm not among the five million UK adults using internet dating sites. But since everyone I know has signed up to a site such as mysinglefriend.com at some stage, I can't rule out the possibility of nervously pitching up in a bar one evening with a copy of The Independent tucked prominently under my arm for a drink with some grainy profile picture made flesh.
For all the efforts of the rational parts of our brains, these occasions are always heavy with expectation. I've been on blind dates (the old-school, set-up-by-friends kind) and found it hard not to secretly believe this would be the last date I'd ever need to go on.
So I can well imagine if I turned up to meet an internet suitor who told me he was a criminal barrister, I might be pretty pleased at having lucked out with such a high-flyer. And if he then told me he was friends with Robbie Williams and hung out with Pierce Brosnan? OK, not the average Joe you expect to meet online, but it could happen... Oh, and he used to be married to the actress Sarah Alexander? Well, by now the alarm bells would be tinkling.
However, those are the exact lies Paul Bint used to win over a string of women he met through internet and newspaper lonely hearts. Bint, or "King Con", was convicted last week of five counts including fraud and theft, although his previous convictions total 150. Over the years he has posed as everything from the director of public prosecutions to a ballet dancer to con freebies and friendship out of people.
Bint has been diagnosed with an "untreatable psychopathic disorder" and is an extreme case. But his exploitation of internet dating throws some light on our odd new obsession with projecting our "best" selves into cyberspace, while paradoxically readily accepting others' constructions as truth.
From picking a profile photograph to listing your favourite bands, dating has taken the performative nature of identity to a level that borders on the absurd, where few of us can say that the information we post has not undergone some kind of editing.
Perhaps there is something weirdly comforting about seeing the person you would like to be pinned down in words and pictures, which is probably why we find it so easy to believe that prospective dates are as funny, rich and well-read as they claim.
Bint claims his crimes have always been motivated by a desire for the approval of others – maybe I'm being duped like the rest of his victims, but I found his explanations quite sad. Even sadder, however, is that, albeit on a much less serious level, an awful lot of us are doing the same thing as Bint for the same reason.Reuse content