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First person: My many fictional lovers

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First person: Julia Moloney

First person: Julia Moloney

First person: Julia Moloney

They say that fantasy is a healthy part of any relationship. But what if you sometimes like to fantasise about being in a relationship with someone else?

Someone new, who is tidier, less stubborn or, since it's fantasy we're talking, is good deal richer. Someone who, oooh, sees dishes stacked high and dry on the sideboard, or an overflowing bin, and will just sort them, instead of gazing on, passive and perplexed, as if at some manner of domestic art installation. Oh yeah. My fantasy life is wild, let me tell you.

These days, as you may have noticed yourself, there's a great number of tools and services available to enrich one's fantasy life. Among the ones I like best are internet dating sites. To the attached, Tinder and match.com are like pornography for the heart. At your fingertips are thousands of available and handsome men who are not your boyfriend, but who appear to be advertising their availability for the position.

It's like window-shopping for a different life. Or, at least, for a different love life. The fact that dating profiles are one-dimensional and probably partly fictional is actually the best thing about them. There's about as much gritty human truth in the average dating profile as there is in a cartoon. And that can be a good thing, when you're looking for an escape from all the gritty human truth playing out at home.

Take Dave_will_be, to pick one profile at random. He could be addicted to crystal meth and living with his mother, for all it matters to me. In my head, he's a surfing enthusiast who runs his own tech company, takes a rather fine topless selfie, has good chest hair and likes to travel. We'd go to Costa Rica together with our surfboards, and he'd rub my back while I vomited saltwater through my nose.

We'd settle in a crumbling house in Cornwall that had a rusting camper van stacked on bricks in the back garden, where our children would play, and catch tetanus. The best thing about Dave_will_be is that I will never have to be nice to his parents, or watch him clip his toenails.

Or what about WLTM_76? The one with the glasses and acoustic guitar who calls himself a film-maker? We'd share bottles of red wine while he moaned about his travails in the wilderness of the experimental-cinema circuit. I'd get a whistle-stop education in the history of Taiwanese martial-arts movies out of the romance - but not much satisfaction; he looks like he'd be an anxious, evasive lover. After five months, it would all end badly due to irreconcilable differences over Orson Welles.

Internet dating profiles are both fun and dangerous precisely because they provide such limited and carefully edited material that they incite the imagination to fill in the blanks. When reading them, you feel confronted, not with a real person, but one version of a story, in which the viewer is invited to insert themselves at whim, like those paper dolls with different cut-out clothes. Internet dating sites trick you into believing that selecting a boyfriend is as easy as calling out for a pizza. They turn you from an active participant in a mutual, messy interaction into a consumer, with all the sense of entitlement about faulty goods and false advertising that a consumer expects. I'm surprised that more dates made online don't end with either party sending the other back home, with the complaint that they were "not what I ordered".

Although, to be fair, there have been a few moments that I'd quite like to do that with my own boyfriend. Not permanently, you understand, just for a quick trip to the kitchen for a couple of minor tweaks. To stretch the earlier pizza metaphor, my boyfriend is like a Siciliana - just because it's my favourite food, doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. I'd be a tiny bit happier if it came without anchovies. I'm pretty sure he feels the same about me. Especially in the moments when he catches me gawping at Tinder on my phone and wonders what the hell my problem is.

Sunday Indo Life Magazine