My date with Mr 'eBay' Lonely Heart

By TANYA GOLD

Last updated at 22:00 29 December 2006


Here I am sitting in a restaurant, eating steak with Mr Lonely Heart.

Mr Lonely Heart is Adam Croot, a 39-year-old insurance operations director who this week offered a very strange lot on the internet auction house eBay. He didn't offer a tricycle. He didn't offer a duvet cover. He offered himself.

Two months ago Adam was in love. He was dating a woman called Laura and together they booked a holiday at the Couples Swept Away Resort in Jamaica (does he know it sounds like a disaster movie?).

A few weeks later Laura called the whole thing off and Adam was left with a broken heart and two £1,200 tickets to Paradise for Valentine's week in February.

Most men would have wept, or got very cross. Adam put the holiday up on eBay, and included himself in the lot.

'Any sensible person would just get a refund, but unfortunately the Virgin flights are non refundable', he wails. He has added some photographs of himself - in a dinner jacket and in ski clothes, like Roger Moore as Bond - and claims he is 'the spitting image of Brad Pitt'.

He threatens to 'reserve the right to end the auction early if anything strange happens, after all I could get abducted by aliens and not be able to go myself; at least that way I could claim on the travel insurance!'.

It may not come to that but, in case it does, I have invited Adam Croot out for a date. Who is this eBay lothario and what does he really want?

Has he bitten off more than he can swallow, feeding himself to the insomniacs of eBay? (These are, after all, the people who prowl the internet at midnight, recklessly bidding for spoons.) Or are they the ones who should be worried?

He walks in, handsome yes, in the English way (English handsome means I can look at a man without wanting to be sick), well-dressed and clean.

My first question is: 'Are you looking forward to your holiday?' He smiles, takes off his jacket and says: 'I am scared s**tless.'

Adam grew up in Lancashire. His father is a retired bank manager; his mother a physiotherapist. She is, he says, 'disapproving' of the eBay jinks, while his father warned him 'to be careful'.

Adam was married 'a long time ago' to a woman whose name he won't tell me and they have a daughter, Rebecca, now 18, whom he raised alone. They live in Wokingham, Berkshire, with a cat called Bobby.

So what happened with Laura, Mr Lonely Heart? Who smashed your heart into the dust? He met her on an internet dating site called Match.com.

'But why internet date?' I ask. 'You are not hideous - you have all your own teeth.'

He answers: 'I am hopeless at dating because I got married at 18. I never had to practise and I have never been able to get women. I am shy.

And internet dating is a safe form of dating because the worst thing that can happen is that they will ignore you. You have not been shunned.'

He tells me about the virtual romance scene. It seems a torrid world, full of female loonies and depressed men.

One prospective date emailed him to say: 'God told me to write to you.' Others, he remarks tetchily, have terrible spelling and grammar. (He is a Radio 4 buff.) But it brought him to Laura.

They 'got close' this summer. He describes them roaming the New Forest, swimming in the Channel and considering climbing Mount Snowdon.

Then, last month - it was Laura's 40th birthday and Adam bought her a diamond necklace and baked a Victoria sponge cake - she rang him to say: 'You're not the one.'

I ask him if she broke his heart; I think she did, because he isn't eating his chips (which are very good). 'At the time, yes,' he says, with a faint smile. But he's a man - the heartbreak was invisible.

Then, one late Friday afternoon - an hour when singles contemplate suicide - he decided to flog himself (and Couples Swept Away) on eBay.

Previously he had used it only to buy and sell diving gear - it's a brief step, I muse, while eating Adam's chips, from selling breathing apparatus to selling your heart.

'It was a Eureka moment,' he says. 'I was upset and I didn't want to miss the holiday. However much I loved Laura and wanted to go with her, I wanted to go on the holiday. I thought it would be cathartic. I thought it would help get it out of my system.'

I wonder, did he do it out of rage; he must have known it would attract attention. 'Of course she upset me,' he says.

'Of course I was hurt. But I don't feel any

resentment. Ultimately, I loved her. I loved her enough to let her go.'

Why, I ask, did you choose Couples Swept Away? (Again, I think of honeymoon couples being swept out to sea, screaming.) He says, rather primly, that he looked at a travel website where more than 95 per cent of the feedback was positive. 'I like getting bargains.'

So who will buy? On his eBay page he has banned men - Swept Away is for heterosexual couples only - 'women with jealous husbands' and 'grannies'.

He mutters that he doesn't want a 'bunny boiler'. Nor does he want 'a thickie', 'a Patsy (from Absolutely Fabulous)' or 'a woman who is so sure of herself she just' he trails off.

I order pudding and tell him that if he is banning married women, old women, stupid women and mad women, he will not be left with a great deal of choice.

We progress to his dream girl. 'I don't want high maintenance,' he says. 'I have no problem spoiling the woman of my dreams mercilessly, but I want to do it because I want to do it - not because I have to.

'I want someone who wants to be loved and who is secure enough not to score points. Someone,' he adds a Mills & Boon flourish, 'who loves me for who I am!'

It is time to ask him, would you take me? 'Yeah,' he says, a picture of masculine nonchalance. He says the highest bid when he last checked was £950, but adds that 'some of the bids are probably fake. eBay is like that. You get people selling buckets of water'.

Will he throw in sex with whoever is his companion? Are we bidding for sex? (I know the question is vulgar but someone has to ask, I bet you were).

'That would be a no,' he says primly. 'It's my Catholic upbringing. I have standards. I am unashamedly romantic and I think people are designed to go through life as a couple and that there is someone out there for everyone.'

What about the sleeping arrangements? 'That has been a fairly consistent theme of the emails I have received,' he muses. 'I have a beachfront suite with a hammock and a king-sized bed. I know,' he sighs, 'I will be in the hammock'. Yes you will, I concur.

But he is glad the holiday is for only a week because 'even if we hate each other, we can grin and bear it. I could go diving'. I have an image of him in diving gear, standing at the bottom of a swimming pool in his flippers, like Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate.

He agrees to show me some of the bids for him, if I promise to maintain confidentiality and try not to rupture myself with hysterical laughter.

So far there have been 79 bids and Karlene (at £1,300) is leading the drooling pack; she is followed by Tamvon (at £1,280) and Housewife-Hunting at £1,200 (eBayers like strange pseudonyms). Maxkas77 bid a mere £5.99 - did that hurt?

Adam says, a tad defensively: 'It's only an opening bid. It doesn't mean anything' - just a reckless online one-night stand. As we stare at the internet frenzy he has generated, he seems slightly overwhelmed. He sighs and clicks the mouse to show me a Greenforce Umbilical Dive Torch, which he is considering buying.

But I push him back to his auction. It closes in eight days and Adam has intrigued the cyber desperate, there are requests for supplementary information, and messages of support. Tina is 'a very nice girl of 39 with standards. Grab your luggage!' she screams, electronically.

Someone else is bidding on behalf of their sister-in-law, and includes a link to a page where Adam can examine her photograph. (This seems passive aggressive to me; I would be furious if my brother-inlaw tried to buy me a man.)

Another girl would like to bid but cannot afford it, while someone called Jignee wants to come for free. 'I am a bit of a tight wad myself,' she writes. 'You may feel charitable and take ickle wee me?' (She bombed on the spelling, but Adam is too polite to show his disgust).

The bids roll out and I begin to fear for Adam's safety. 'Fun dead Princess' wails: 'You don't look anything like Brad Pitt. You're much more handsome.'

Girls from Wokingham, Mr Lonely Heart's parish, pop up to natter about Wokingham and one woman asks: 'Aren't you afraid you will end up with someone creepy?'

'Yes, of course I am,' mutters Adam, scrolling down and opening an email that says: 'Hello Adam! My name is Katey, I live in the U.S. and I was wondering if the ticket can be transferred so I could fly out of the U.S. You can email me back for more info and my pictures. Thanks!'

The next woman is 'not bidding because I don't think I would be able to escape from my children'. She is followed by a married woman who sighs 'too bad I can't bid'. There is a 'You are gorgeous!' and an anguished: 'God, you're cute!' But my favourite is: 'I'm a man and I am not eligible.'

The truth is, it's a cold world out there, stacked with Miss and Mr Lonely Hearts, each with a computer. As Adam scrolls through the women trying to buy, he ponders: 'I am enjoying the notoriety. It's good for my ego. But I shouldn't. It's quite strange.'

I ask again - would he take me? He says, very sweetly: 'If you fancy bidding, it would be fun to take you.' I preen, pout and point out: 'Darling, I Don't Pay. Ever.'

He is hoping for 'the love of my life. If the right person came along, I would take them for a penny'.

I point out that he doesn't have a choice, that the virtual sharks are circling and the winner takes all of him. And I leave Mr Lonely Heart silhouetted in the doorway, a good Catholic boy who did this one reckless thing. (He told me he has a Very Reliable Rating on eBay. He has never sold dodgy diving equipment.)

He waves goodbye and says defiantly, like a man who knows he's cornered but will take it like a man: 'I am going with the highest bidder. And I am not afraid.'

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