Jo Hemmings
Renowned dating coach Jo Hemmings answers your online dating questions and queries

Online dating tips

Got a burning issue about online dating and don't know who best to ask? Dating coach and relationship expert Jo Hemmings has the answer.

Jo has years of experience in coaching and consulting singles on dating issues. She is a well-known broadcaster, journalist and author of three books on dating. Jo offers sensitive, grounded and practical advice on your dating concerns. Whether you are having trouble meeting someone, or getting past the first date or whether you simply are unsure of what you really want or struggle with flirting and date ‘etiquette', Jo is here to help.

This month:

Dear Jo

I recently started dating a lovely guy, but there's one big problem – he doesn't know my real age.

I am afraid that I took three years off when I first went internet dating and now three years later, I am still the same age! He is 28 and thinks I am 32 – I am not sure how impressed he'd be if I told him that I was really 38!

When should I tell him the truth? My friends say wait until we know each other better, but I want to get it out in the open. What should I do?

Lauren M, Harrogate

Dear Jenny.

This is always a difficult problem. While I would always encourage someone to be truthful about their age on any dating site, there is often the problem of men, especially, looking for women younger than them, which means that it's easy to open up more possibilities by knocking a few years off our own age – especially if we're looking pretty good on it!

It's also flattering to know that someone believes our ‘showbiz' age without question. However what happens is that our points of reference are different and this will inevitably trip you up. Memories of music and children's TV is a big give away of our actual age and it can be difficult to maintain the illusion of being younger than you really are when these kind of topics crop up in conversation.

Clearly he knows that you are older than him and it doesn't appear to bother him right now. So, with luck, another few years won't make much difference either. You can't really go much deeper into this relationship without telling him the truth, so go for it. You probably won't be the first woman that he's dated who's been economical with the truth about her age. If he's a decent guy and he genuinely likes you, it shouldn't trouble him too much, though he may be a bit cheesed off initially. If he heads for the hills without so much as a ‘see ya', then disappointing as this might be, it's better to know now than when you've really fallen for this guy.

Dear Jo

My boyfriend of three months has a daughter of seven who doesn't seem to like me much. I can understand that, but when she kicks up he always takes her side. I went away for a weekend with him; her and my parents and she made me cry in front of everyone. He ended up consoling her and my parents were disgusted with him and seem to have permanently taken against her. I think this will blow over in time, but I don't feel very supported by him - am I being too over sensitive?

Abigail S, Birmingham

I don't think it's a case of being over sensitive, but more that you need to take a step back from this difficult situation and try and see the world through the eyes of a seven year old.

Your boyfriend's daughter won't be blessed with your adult level of emotional maturity and it's almost certainly not a case of her not liking you, but she simply sees you as muscling in on her dad's time and love for her.

Coupled with your parents being around, this threat will seem almost overwhelming to her and thus any difficult behaviour becomes seriously magnified. Her jealousy and lack of ability to cope with someone who seems to be taking her mum's place in her father's affections will take it's toll anyway – so being on away, where she is likely to spend much more time with you, her father and your parents will seem like a helpless situation for a seven year old.

Reassure yourself that it's highly unlikely that his daughter ‘doesn't like' you – it's more about what you stand for than who you are, so don't let her attitude dent your own self-confidence.

Your boyfriend may well be feeling guilty about having split with his daughter's mum and is bound to indulge her more because of this.

There are a number of gentle steps you can take to repair what may seem like an impossible situation right now:

  • Firstly, it's important to realise that almost every potential step-parent will go through exactly what has happened to you at some time during their relationship.
  • You must ensure that you allow your boyfriend enough quality time with his daughter alone, to reassure her of his unconditional and enduring love for her, while also gradually easing yourself into fun days out together, where you can get to know her better. The weekend away, especially with your parents in tow, may have been a step too far, too soon.
  • You and your boyfriend must work together and agree on a few simply ground rules, while agreeing to support each other through this transition process.
  • Make sure that your boyfriend gently emphasises to his daughter that you are a couple, while also giving her the reassurance that she needs. This will help his daughter come to terms with the permanent nature of your relationship.
  • Try not to let her behaviour upset you in front of her – walk away from difficult times or change the subject to something you might do together that she likes. It's important that while she feels secure and cared for, that she doesn't start to control the situation by seeing the effect that she has on you.
  • Have a quiet word with your parents and get them to understand that while this may be a difficult situation at the moment, you and your boyfriend are working together to resolve the tension and that if they are to carry on seeing her, they must abide by the steps that you have agreed to repair the problem.

Dear Jo

I stupidly looked through my ex girlfriend's drawers when she was out and found that she had loads of photos of her previous boyfriend. I know that she was in love with this guy and I don't see why she should keep all this stuff. We had a blistering row and she said it was none of my business and that I shouldn't have looked through her things. I suppose I can be the jealous sort – but I do think that all traces of an ex should go before dating someone else. What do you think? I don't want to make the same mistake again.

Jonathan, London

Leaving someone alone in somewhere as personal as your home is really a question of trust and there is no doubt that you violated that trust by rifling through your ex-girlfriend's belongings. She was justifiably hacked off I'm afraid.

However, I think this is more about your insecurity and need for reassurance. Firstly you need to understand that ex-boyfriends make up part of a woman' emotional CV and unless a relationship ended up in bitterness or acrimony, it is quite natural for a woman to keep old photos and other memorabilia and it neither means that she is still in love with him or would prefer to be with him rather than you.

In fact, holding onto memories in the form of letters and photos is a healthy sign. It shows that rather than destroying all evidence of previous relationships in anger or bitterness, that they are kept with acceptance and affection. If she had kept all the ticket stubs and restaurant receipts or had framed pics of him on show in her home, then that might be a greater indication that she wasn't over him.

You need to develop a little more self-confidence in your relationships and concentrate on the here and now, not what went before. It's also important to respect someone else's privacy rather than rifle through their belongings, almost looking for an excuse to find something that will justify your jealousy. If you feel that jealousy is an issue, or has affected your relationships in the past, then think about buying one of the excellent self-help guides that are around, to get you through this more easily.

You can get Jo's books online:

"After reading this book I think I am beginning to see the light. I always blamed myself for relationships never lasting and can now see why. My confidence is increasing in leaps and bounds and I feel able to dip my toe into the dating game once again. Thank you Jo for this book, which I shall refer to again and again --- Watch this space."

This is a great book and I can't believe the previous reviewers didn't say how funny it was. Jo Hemmings writes as if she is one of your best friends, telling you stuff you know you don't really want to be told, but realising the truth of it. It is done with so much humour and knowledge that you can't possibly take it the wrong way."

"Smart, portable and sassy, The Little Black Book is a unique and personal dating diary for today's selective single woman.

© Midsummer's Eve 2007