Pucker up to spend some dosh on love
Sick and tired of the lonely hearts club? Maybe it's time to cough up for a dating agency or a matchmaker, writes Louise McBride
IF you're spending another Valentine's Day on your tod, you might be tempted to dip your toes into the world of dating agencies. But with some agencies charging from €500 to €800 a year, do your research before jumping in. Otherwise you could end up almost a grand poorer -- and with no sign of Cupid's arrow heading your way.
THE speed dating merry-go-round isn't for shrinking violets -- but it is a cheap way to get out and meet people. It generally costs between €20 and €30 to head along to a speed dating event, where you get to meet around 15 single people a night.
At each event, you get a score card where you keep track of who you've met -- and whether or not you'd like to meet them again. A few days after the event, your agency will tell you if any of the people you like also took a fancy to you -- and you can initiate contact with them if you wish.
As agencies rarely vet or interview those who turn up for speed dating, there's no guarantee that the person (or people) you take a fancy to is either single or who they say they are.
Among those that run speed dating events in Ireland are clickdating.ie, datefinder.ie and getout.ie. It generally costs about €25 an event with clickdating.ie and datefinder.ie, and about €29 with getout.ie. Most events -- which are targeted at specific age groups -- are held at pubs or hotels. "Most of those who speed date are in their late 20s or early 30s," says Aidan Kearney, managing director of clickdating.ie.
If the idea of speed dating turns your stomach, you may be more relaxed about meeting single people at a quiz night, singles party or over dinner.
At getout.ie, you pay about €25 to attend a quiz night for singles, from €20 to €29 for a singles party, and €50 to 'dinner date'. "The whole idea of dinner dating is that two girls and two guys sit down at a table and after the appetiser, they move on to another table to have the main meal with other people, and so on," says Hugh Redmond, founder of getout.ie. "We organise groups of between 10 and 40 people for dinner dates." Single events are small group gatherings and like speed dating, there's little screening of the people who book into them -- so your age could be the most you have in common with someone you meet there. "If you're online dating, and are not getting anywhere with it, consider group events," says Redmond. "A lot of people don't have time to spend trawling through the Net -- and there is no substitute for a face-to-face meeting."
If, on the other hand, you like to put off face-to-face meetings until you've done your own research, you could try your hand at online dating. Choose a website that offers a free trial before deciding to join.
It usually works out cheaper to pay upfront for a certain amount of time, rather than month by month. For example, with maybefriends.com, you'll pay €22.99 a month to join but if you sign up for a year, it costs €170 upfront -- which works out at about €14 a month.
Maybefriends.com has a six-month subscription for €97.50 or a three-month deal for €51. With anotherfriend.com, you'll pay €144 upfront for annual membership, €54.75 for a three-month subscription or €24.95 a month if paying monthly. The international online dating agency match.com charges about €89 for six months, €68.50 for three months and €34 for one month. Match.com says it will give you six months free if you signed up for six months but didn't find "someone special" during that time. With online dating, you post your profile onto a website and you -- and other members -- can search a database to find your perfect match. If you track down someone you like, you can send them a message and suggest a meeting -- but you must be a paying member to do this.
Clearly, the anonymous nature of online dating means it is open to abuse. As there is little vetting of people who sign up for online dating, the person you're flirting with over the internet could be no more the Brad Pitt or Cameron Diaz they claim to be than the man in the moon.
Internet daters tend to be aged between 30 and 50, well-educated, urban-based and with a high disposable income, according to Grainne Barry of anotherfriend.com. "We approve every profile and we can ban the user from the site if there's a problem," says Barry. "Members can block others from sending them messages if they wish."
The main advantage of online dating is that it is instant access to thousands of single people -- but you need time and patience. "The more you put into online dating, the more you'll get out of it," says Jill McGrath, founder of maybefriends.com. "There are thousands of people in our database. You have to be selective when doing your searches -- but not too dismissive. Be open to meeting various people and giving it a try. We have an average of one wedding a month through our site."
If you are willing to pay someone a few hundred euro to track down the man or woman of your dreams, you could try a matchmaker such as TopMatch Ireland, Ammarose Introductions, Fairway Friends or itsjustlunchireland.com.
Such agencies interview you when you join to get an idea who'd be a good match for you, and they then set up one-to-one meetings. Matchmakers like this will cost you. You could easily pay almost €100 for one date with someone -- as well as the cost of your meal, drinks and babysitter (if you have children), yet still end up meeting someone who's married or who you want to run a mile from. True, these agencies vet members before they join -- usually through interviews and checks of passports or driving licences. But as they're still largely relying on members to be completely honest, there's no guarantee that your few hundred euro will land you a whirlwind love affair.
Annual membership at itsjustlunchireland.com, which guarantees to introduce you to at least 14 people, costs €799, while a six-month deal which guarantees to introduce you to at least six people, costs €599. You meet your date over lunch, brunch, or after-lunch drinks. If you meet "someone special" before your membership is up, you can freeze membership for a year -- and reactivate it if the relationship fizzles out.
With TopMatch Ireland (www.topmatch.ie), you either pay €400 a year for the Express deal (which guarantees at least four introductions), or €550 for Premier membership, which runs for two years and guarantees at least six introductions.
"Some people are disappointed that they're not getting the dates they should," admits David Merren of TopMatch Ireland. "I've two answers to this -- there are more ladies than men on the books, and I'm now getting more people dates. It's important to keep an open mind. A lot of people are very selective when they join -- they may decline an introduction with someone because they're from the northside instead of the southside. We genuinely try to get like-for-like matches by personally meeting people before they join."
Fairway Friends (www.fairwayfriends.ie) organises golf, wine tasting and hillwalking events. Annual membership costs €235 and the company is currently offering a free month's trial. With the golfing events, groups generally go out in fours -- two men and two women.
Ammarose Introductions (www.ammaroseintroductions.ie) charges €495 for annual membership or €350 for six months. "Membership includes an unlimited number of introductions, depending on availability," says Ammarose founder Mary Mitchell. "We ask people not to judge the people they're introduced to too quickly. People are usually more apprehensive at the start, so it's a good idea to meet someone at least three times so they get a chance to relax."