In the past it has concerned itself with such pressing matters as whether to serve guests from the left or right at dinner (the left, if you would be so kind); how to address an envelope to a Marquis or a Duke (The Most Honourable the Marquis of… His Grace the Duke of…) and how many weeks before a wedding should invitations be sent out (six to 12).
But life moves on. And now after linking up with the dating site Ourtime, Debrett’s has fallen hook, line and sinker for the modern world by producing a Guide To 50+Dating all about how to find love online.
And why not? The world can be a lonely place and it is not easy to meet new people – especially in the autumn of your years.
More than 15 million people in the UK are registered for online dating and one in five relationships now starts online.
After pubs and through friends, it is the third most popular way to meet a partner. So the silver surfers’ time has come.
Using online dating later in life can be a difficult hurdle, but Debrett's is here to help
The trouble is that the likes of Tinder, where you mainly just look at a face and swipe left (to reject the person) or right (to “like” them), are geared overwhelmingly to appeal to young people with limited attention spans.
Indeed the whole dating game has changed dramatically since most over-50s were in the first flush of youth. Laptops, mobiles and tablets hadn’t even been invented so tips on how to negotiate this particular minefield are long overdue.
To cut to the chase, just where are we on sex? The guide says that the over-50s should rip up the rulebook and “forget everything you were told 30 years ago”.
Modern romance often involves a briefer “courting” period “so don’t feel that you’re jeopardising future prospects if your instincts are telling you to throw caution to the wind – whether it’s a hug, a kiss or an overnight stay”.
Ourtime’s research shows that nearly a third of the over-50s would “sleep with someone on the third date or before”.
Only 14 per cent are prepared to wait for six to 10 dates before becoming intimate with their partner. “Over-50s daters become physically intimate much quicker than those in their 20s and 30s,” says Ourtime’s dating expert Kate Taylor. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
First there’s the matter of how to present yourself on one of the many dating sites. Much of modern life seems to be about talking yourself up, with people posting endless pictures of themselves looking as glam as possible and having the time of their lives even if they are miserable.
“Much like a CV, your profile should be honest and not too self-promoting but not overly self-deprecating either. Excessive modesty can come across as negativity or cynicism,” says the guide.
Taylor believes that writing an online profile should be like “introducing yourself to someone at a party” and that you “don’t need to divulge health issues, problems or your innermost thoughts – keep things upbeat”.
And what sort of picture should go with the words? Well, it might be tempting to dive into a scrapbook and find one of yourself with no wrinkles and lots of youthful confidence but the Debrett’s ruling is that a photo should be no more than 12 months old. Honesty is the best policy, to coin an oldfashioned phrase.
Dating profiles are not an exact science, but there are ways to excel
The over-50s are advised to include one full-length body shot and a closer portrait. They should make sure they’re the only person in the picture – “an innocent friend or family member could easily be misinterpreted as a former flame” – but it’s fine to pose with a pet.
In fact almost 25 per cent of over-50s think a pet improves a profile picture. It is certainly a good way of filtering out those who might be allergic to a dog or a cat or even a budgie, for that matter.
In the world that Debrett’s normally inhabits, it is men who traditionally make the first move and men who can expect to pick up the bill at the end of dinner. But online dating is “an egalitarian plane and women can now take the initiative too”, according to the guide. First impressions are important.
“Keep your opening message light-hearted and brief and make it personal: mentioning something you particularly like about a person’s profile will show that you are singling them out.”
But then comes a warning: “Don’t be creepy… it’s far too early for come-ons or innuendo.”
One of the pleasures of getting older is that you are no longer quite so worried about what other people think of you whereas those living under the tyranny of youth are in desperate need of approval.
Conversely when it comes to online dating, older people might expect an immediate response from any online suitors and could be easily discouraged. Don’t panic.
“When I was online dating I started a new job and was too busy to check my mailbox for three weeks,” says Taylor.
“When I eventually did, I found a lovely message from a gorgeous man and he is now my husband.”
The guide says that once silver surfers have exchanged five messages it’s time to propose a date – a proper date, not just a “we should have a drink sometime”.
You might be getting nervous by now but you are in good company. The stigma about dating total strangers is long gone. Celebrities such as Anne Robinson, 73, Sharon Stone, 60, Teri Hatcher, 53, and the singer Moby, 52, have all tried it long before Debrett’s got involved.
Older people dating online may have a few surprises along the way
The guide also forbids bringing along a friend as a chaperone. Two’s company but three’s a crowd. My own suggestion is also to switch your phone off and never, ever be tempted to show your date pictures of your grandchildren.
But whereas the over-50s would have been brought up with the rule that topics such as religion and politics should be avoided, the guide says they are “rarely off the menu nowadays but be sensitive to your date’s opinions and background before launching into a tirade about Brexit”.
Best to avoid Brexit altogether, I would have thought – and President Trump. President Putin and chemical attacks in Salisbury might not bring much to the table either if romance is in the air. “Awkward silences are often the most dreaded part of a first date,” says the guide.
“But asking plenty of questions can help prevent the conversation running dry.”
The good news for the over-50s is that online dating does not require a follow-up after the first date if you never want to see the person again.
“If there was a clear lack of chemistry between you there is no need for further communication,” says the guide.
But if the date has gone well you don’t have to deploy a strategic delay before responding. Go for it. Research shows that almost one million over-50s are already using online dating but that they tend to get in a muddle over just what to do and say.
To have Debrett’s, the etiquette bible, guiding them about their behaviour should put a spring in their step along the path in search of long-term companionship.