Dating - Love is in the air

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Dating

Fed up looking for romance in all the wrong places? Worry not, our resident love expert Anna Millar finds there is a thriving dating scene out there

Not so very long ago, the idea of one of your friends owning up to joining a dating agency would have been unimaginable. Most of us would rather have walked over hot coals or lie on a bed of glass than admit to something which carried such social stigma. But in the last few years, there has been a discernable sea change. It seems most of us now know someone who’s doing it, done it or thinking about doing it, whether it be as a potential cyber suitor, through one of the growing number of dating companies, holidays for singles, the intriguingly named ‘dating in the dark’ or speed dating events.

With an estimated four million singletons currently roaming the UK, statistics published last year show that no less than two thirds of single people looking for love have signed up to dating agencies, with well over half of these being online.

Dating newbie, Rachel Sparks, a 27-year-old designer from Glasgow, says the trend has gone full circle: ‘I was sitting in the pub last week and of my four single friends, two have profiles on [dating website] match.com and one has already met someone through the same site. The other is going speed dating next month, as part of a work night out. The question being asked over one-too-many pints is no longer “why you are single” but rather “what are you doing about it?”’

The dating playground has become a formidable force for those too shy or too busy to focus on their private life. By far the most popular way to find potential partners is cyber dating. Once an unlikely bedfellow for those pursuing true love, technology has come calling and the cyber suitor has answered. If the mounting hype is to be believed, everyone from Mr Right to Miss Right Now is just a mouse click away.

A recent report from Nielsen, the internet research provider, reveals that one in three internet users have utilised the web as a way to meet a potential dating partner. And, while meeting through friends and in pubs and clubs still tops the list, the internet currently stands as the third most popular method for getting a date. Meanwhile, 43% of singles admit to Googling someone on the internet before a first date.
Paul McGee, a 32-year-old accountant from Fife, says he was surprised when two male colleagues offered to put him on TV property expert Sarah Beeny’s dating site, mysinglefriend.com, on which singletons call on their friends to help sell their wares. He says: ‘I was initially absolutely mortified but they sold it to me pretty well. Each of them had tried a variety of websites and said it was just a great way to get to know people. One is clearly just looking for a cheeky fling; the other is looking for something more serious. Their online profiles allow them to get that out in the open.’ McGee has since found true love. His mate who was looking for a ‘cheeky fling’ is currently on likeminded girl number nine.

As the popularity of dating websites has risen, so too has the relative level of obscurity of the sites on offer from sugardaddies.com to uniformdating.com for those looking to be even more specific in their partners of choice.

Alex Burmaster, European internet analyst at Nielsen says a shift in perception and the logistics of dating online will only continue to boost figures. He says: ‘One of the advantages of the web is that it provides access to a large number of different types of people in every geographical location imaginable. That is particularly appealing in our increasingly cluttered lives.’

Burmaster continues: ‘You can access a dating site seven days a week but finding friends to go out with every night could be difficult and going out alone isn’t easy. When you factor in the cost as well – one night out in the UK could easily cost more than one month’s subscription to a dating site – it’s easy to see why the web is such a popular option for finding a date.’

Not that current dating trends look set to smash any Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus theories. According to reports, 33% of internet users admit to lying to some degree on their online profiles. As in life, it pays to read between the lines. Polls suggest that, regardless of the dating method in question, women are more likely to be looking for friendship or shared interests than men. Men, on the other hand are more likely to be looking for an intimate or short-term relationship than women. Men are also four times more likely to look for a no strings fling than women.

Rachel Davies, a 32-year-old accounts manager from Glasgow says: ‘The key with all types of modern day dating is to go in with an open mind. It’s about just having fun. My friend and I occasionally sign up to speed dating events just for a laugh to see what happens. It certainly feels more productive than a night in the pub moaning about being single.’

Davies adds: ‘It’s about finding what works for you. I know a happily married couple who met online and I know of someone who’s been coasting on sites for two years waiting for Mr Right. I’m on date six or seven now through a dating site and I’ve learned that it pays to be specific. If it says in the income box, “I’ll tell you later” chances are it’ll be dinner at McDonalds and then home. Know what matters and don’t waste your time with people that don’t tick your boxes.’

Karen Jamieson, a 28-year-old receptionist and speed dating success story says: ‘In my case, the first hour of actually meeting was excruciating. But it’s a bit like fate. If it works, it works. It’s about putting yourself out there.’

If online dating is at the forefront of modern day dating, speed dating and its many offspring are not far behind. Ian Shore, one of the organisers for speed dating network Ditch or Date, reports that business is booming and rubbishes the idea that agencies like his are for ‘losers in love’. He says: ‘The more research we do, the more we see that it’s younger people between 20 and 35 more than ever now wanting to use this service. The stigma’s still there to a certain extent but it’s much smaller as slowly people are realising that it’s not just losers who attend these things, it’s people wanting to really find someone and sick of doing it on a Friday night six pints down.’

‘Sure, online is popular but the appeal of meeting someone face-to-face and reading their body language in a comfortable, fun setting, is never going to dwindle. If anything it is just going to get bigger and bigger.’
Sarah Mitchell, a 25 year-old post-grad student, works in Edinburgh but decided to travel to a speed dating event in Glasgow to help preserve some anonymity. She agrees with the Ditch or Date ethos: ‘I was embarrassed that it felt like I was giving up but I was getting more and more disenchanted with the whole trying to meet while clubbing thing.

‘I suppose I just wanted to get out of my comfort zone. You just have to be savvy. There has to be a level of awareness that you should trust your instincts. Online didn’t work for me because I didn’t want to have to filter through mail from a pile of nutters. I just wanted one night’s fun to see if anyone was out there.’

Social networking and dating clubs such as Urbansocial.com run regular events in Glasgow and Edinburgh. And speed dating continues to attract the crowds with mixed results. Lock and Key parties are also in vogue. The premise is simple: women are given a lock to wear round their neck and men are given a key. The aim of the evening is to match as many locks and keys as you can throughout the evening.

Another option is the so-called Your Chemistry experience. Before the event, willing participants can get to know each other via an online messaging service. On the night itself, potential love matches are kept busy with activities typically including salsa dancing and speed dating. A wall full of Polaroid snaps ensures plenty of opportunity to leave a personalised message for anyone who appeals.

Food and drink are also playing an increasing role in modern day mating rituals. Dinner in the Dark events are generally held in up-market establishments and tend to attract professionals. Guests are led into a pitch black restaurant one-by-one by waiters wearing night vision goggles and placed at tables of four to six people. Five courses later you call on the senses at your disposal to decide if you have met your match.

Alternatively, Dating with Drinks in Glasgow is less structured still, allowing those attending more time to chat and socialise while having something to talk about in the form of a wine tasting event or occasionally cocktails or beer.

For those looking to combine love with culture, the National Galleries in Edinburgh now plays host to special singles nights. And it doesn’t stop there. Travel companies like Events Together offer a full range of breaks in the UK and abroad to sociable singletons, often including activities such as white water rafting, abseiling and mountain biking to help break the ice.

One man or woman’s romantic heaven is another’s hell. But as our dating hopefuls show, love is out there. So don’t lose heart, get out there and if at first you don’t succeed …

Some names have been changed.

Fast love

Michael Callaghan gears up for a night of speed dating
I never thought I’d go speed dating. I’ve been single for a while, not always unhappily, and like most other single souls I can give you many reasons why this is the case.

Sometimes out of choice, often down to plain bad timing, but perhaps mostly because I’m picky. At least I’d like to think this is the case. I’m sure there are other less flattering reasons but I’ll choose not to dwell on them here.

Still, I never thought that the slightly strained, production-line nature of 20, three-minute mini-dates with 20 women would appeal to me. Also rightly or wrongly I felt the whole process carried an air of desperation about it, and I was reluctant to admit that of myself. However, when a friend suggested I check out a speed dating event I overlooked my fears and convinced myself I might enjoy it.

So, with a spirit of adventure I paid £19.95 and registered for the evening’s frivolities at The Grape in Edinburgh, along with around 40 other predominantly professional-looking 20 and 30somethings. Looking around I saw that the mostly solitary men, much like myself, seemed to variously exude an air of both terror and intrigue, and were entirely outnumbered by the tightly knit groups of women determined to have fun. Slowly, however, I began to worry that I might not belong here. A friend who’d had a bad speed dating experience had complained that he hadn’t had much in common with the women there. I began to worry that I’d be stuck for conversation.

Armed with my name badge, pen and scorecard (yes, just like golf), I took my seat, and began the uncomfortable and unnatural process of interviewing potential candidates. Here’s what I learned: three minutes can be a tortuously long time when you’ve nothing in common, and little to say to the otherwise perfectly nice young woman sitting opposite you. I’ll admit I spent much of the time squirming, wringing my hands in desperation under the table, and by the time I left my scorecard remained blank from both disillusionment and a lack of any hint of mutual chemistry.

Sadly, my conclusion at the end of the night was that speed dating really isn’t for me. But, if it sounds like fun to you, then chances are you’ll enjoy yourself, and perhaps meet someone special. However, if it sounds like the most potent form of torture around then I would counsel you to trust your instinct and stay away. You can get a month’s worth of online dating for the same price.

Diary of a cyber suitor

Michael Phillips logs on to a lively online dating scene

7am Wake up, switch on computer.
7.10am Shower.
7.30am Log on and check emails. Three new women like my profile and have ‘winked’ at me. Result. Check their profiles and see that all consider looks ‘very important’. I chicken out of winking back.
8am Leave for work.
1pm Go and buy sandwich to eat at my desk.
1.20pm Log on to my yahoo account. A girl called Lucy, who I’d tentatively emailed last week, has mailed me back with a picture: it’s grainy and difficult to make out. Never a good sign.
1.30pm Log on to another dating site I’m a member of and check out any new recruits. Wink at a couple and risk one without a photo because she’s put horror movies down as something she likes.
2pm Back to work.
6pm Get home. Put dinner in oven and log on. Ask Lucy to send another picture and offer some more pictures of myself. Decide it’s time for a new pic, so spend a good 30 minutes positioning the digital camera for a decent shot. Eventually give up and send her an old one of me looking active, standing below Ben Nevis. I fail to mention that I was on a stag do and never made it to the top.
7pm Head to the pub to watch the footie.
10pm Arrive home, bit worse for wear and in a moment of bravery suggest a date with Lucy (who lives seven miles away) for Friday night. She emails back almost straight away and agrees. Nice one. Scan some other sites and delete emails from anyone who’s clearly just sending generic ‘How are you’ mails out to a whole host of guys.
10.30pm Watch TV.
Midnight Get ready for bed and have one last look before logging off. I can see that an Aussie, new to the city, is online right now, so I risk winking at her. We exchange emails and chat for an hour before she admits that she’s just looking for ‘a friend’ and is only in town for three months. Waste of time. I log off and consider what I’ll wear for Friday’s date.

What a corker

Susan McIntosh signs up for a wine tasting dating event

Dutch courage goes a long way when you are trying to find Mr Right, so I suppose that’s why I got involved in a new type of dating event, which incorporates cocktails or wine tasting. It shifts the focus and helps numb the embarrassment, which is a pretty tempting mix for someone who’s confident in every area of her life apart from relationships and dating.

As a bit of a technophobe, I’ve always been bemused by the whole online thing. I’d much rather meet someone in the flesh than sift through loads of emails from strangers.
The first couple of times I signed up for wine tasting dating events, I went with girlfriends but that wasn’t very effective. We sat in a huddle before and straight after and it was all too easy to treat it as just another night in the pub. I think men were too scared to come and talk to us too.

More recently, I’ve been going on my own. At first it was awful; the opening strings of ‘Desperado’ by The Eagles still plays in my ears every time I reach the door. But it gets easier and at least I’m trying. You can tell pretty quickly who’s serious about the whole business of dating and who’s looking for an easy fling. The first time I flew solo was comedy dreadful. I drank double gins the whole way round and by the time I made it to man number five, I could barely remember my own name, never mind judge him on his three-minute showcase.

Sometimes I wonder how many times I should give it a try before I give up and accept he’s just not out there and then I remember that it doesn’t need to be one thing or another. I don’t need to choose clubbing with my mates or serious dating. I can do both. I’m just widening the playing field.

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