Monday 5 December 2016

Dating through the ages - six people tell us how it's done

Published 17/01/2016 | 02:30

Actor and stylist James Butler. Photo: Steve Humphries
Actor and stylist James Butler. Photo: Steve Humphries
Joyce Grundy, would have loved to have met someone after her husband died. Photo: Tony Gavin
Nichola Connell McGrattan works part-time in sales, PR and marketing. Photo: Tony Gavin.
Valerie Brown is looking for a relationship and not one night stands. Photo: Tony Gavin
Jen Ronan is looking for a biker with tatoos. Photo: Sean Curtin
Richard O'Leary is really enjoying the dating scene. Photo: Fran Veale

Whether for fun, love or companionship, people across the country are putting themselves out there in the hopes of meeting someone special. We talk to six men and women aged from their 20s to 70s, to see how it's done.

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20s: "Now that we have marriage equality, I need to leg it off and find a husband, of course!"

James Butler (26)

An actor and stylist from Dublin, James is fashion editor of MFI magazine.

"I've been single for two years and wouldn't say I'm actively seeking a relationship. I'm only 26 so there are more important things to focus my time on now, like my career, but that's not to say that I would turn something down if it arose. And now that we have marriage equality, I need to leg it off and find a husband, of course!

"The old-fashioned, traditional ways of meeting someone seem to be gone, and everyone seems to have apps like Tinder or Grindr now, but I wouldn't be a fan. Nowadays, it seems that if you see someone you like, you have to suss them out through social media first. So you might like three of their Instagram pictures, for example, and if they like three of yours back, you know you're on the right path.

"Social media has definitely influenced dating, as you are almost judging someone before you meet them based on how they present themselves online. Also, people can have different personas online.

"People are often afraid to take a leap and go up and introduce themselves to someone on a night out. While I wouldn't be shy, I wouldn't be particularly brazen either in terms of going up to someone. I don't specifically go to gay bars or clubs, and the good thing about going to regular bars is that you're guaranteed to spot any gay guys there. Mind you, it's hard to tell at times because everyone dresses well these days.

"While people are obviously attracted aesthetically to other people initially, once they're a bit of craic and don't take themselves too seriously, that's what's important. I might have something to say if they wear an old pair of battered deck shoes, although you can always change that by bringing them shopping. Then there's the opposite end of the spectrum, where you worry that some people may spend more time looking after their eyebrows than dating you, so a happy medium is what you're looking for.

"Getting married and having children is something I'd like in the future, maybe in my mid- to late-30s. You can't really predict, of course. I might meet someone or else I could get hit by a bus tomorrow."

To borrow a few clichés, it's a truth universally acknowledged that love makes the world go around. It may be the thing we all want most, but it's also the single biggest generator of fervent hopes, crushed dreams and dramatic complications, no matter what age you are.

Here we chat to six unattached people from different decades to find out what they're experiencing in matters of the heart at their age. Whether single, divorced or widowed, gay or straight, with children or without, each has a fascinating story to tell about looking for love.

30s: "My dream guy would basically be someone from the TV show Sons of Anarchy, who has a bike and tattoos"

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Jen Ronan (37)

From Limerick, Jen is a writer and blogger at jenronan.com

"I've had one long-term relationship, but haven't been in a serious relationship in my 30s. My younger sisters have had the opposite experience, because while I jump haphazardly from fancying one person to the other, Amy married her childhood sweetheart and Barbara has met someone through Tinder.

"I suppose I'm not openly looking for love. I'm not into clubbing and you'd never find me in a rugby superpub. I hang out with friends in a couple of 'old man locals' where I know everyone, and if I could meet another hermit who likes watching Netflix, that would be great.

"I love to go to heavy metal and alternative gigs, and because Limerick isn't as massive as Dublin, you tend to see the same people, which isn't great for opening the horizons.

"I've made a resolution to go to a few more gigs in Dublin, as the metal scene is a fantastic place to meet nice guys. They've spent their whole life being part of a minority and being slagged in school over the music they like, so they're way more centred. My dream guy would basically be someone from the TV show Sons of Anarchy, who has a bike and tattoos. If they happened to be really sound and nice and loved their family and had really good friends, that would be great.

"I went on Tinder before but my motives weren't entirely noble. I met three or four guys over two years, and we had one night of great craic. I was very lucky because all of them were really great, honest, fun guys, and it didn't feel sleazy at all. I just felt that I'm in my 30s now, so why should I not have a casual fling? Once you keep safe and get yourself checked out, why not?

"Those guys kind of fulfilled a need I had then, but now I love the idea of finding someone, hugging, living together and getting a dog. I had to think hard about the idea of babies over the last few years, and realised that while I adore my niece Isabella and am an absolute sucker for her, having children is not really for me.

"Once I took that pressure off myself, I stopped being so obsessed with being lonely and trying to meet people. I think it must be terrifying to really want to have kids though, because if that had been the case for me, I'd probably be stuck in a relationship now with someone I didn't really want to be with.

"A smattering of us girls from our big gang are still single, and we all seem to be quite gutsy and strong. I'd have no problem asking a guy I liked out, but I've been shot down in the past so being forward doesn't seem to really work out. Really, I'd love Tom Hardy to come to his senses and answer my Tweets!"

40s: "It would take someone very special to make me want to enter into a long-term relationship"

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Nichola Connell McGrattan (48)

From Dublin, Nichola has five children and works part-time in sales, marketing and PR.

"I was married at 23 and we had five children, but the marriage ended when I was 43 after 20 years. I wasn't planning on dating really, but I began seeing a really nice Nigerian man I met when he called to the door selling for a utility company. After that, I went sailing and dancing and joined clubs, and had a great couple of years and lots of fun, which I think may have horrified some of my married friends.

"When my marriage first ended, five of my friends were in the same situation, so we'd get a taxi into somewhere like Café en Seine. We'd scatter to the wind once inside, and would meet up again at the end of the night. Gradually they started to pair off, and while I had two six-month relationships, I have a low boredom threshold and don't want to be sitting in watching TV with someone. I want to be out doing things and learning things, so I like to meet someone, have fun and then move on.

"I have been on Tinder, Badoo and Match.com, but find that the same guys come up. I have also widened the catchment area on Tinder because I see too many guys from around my area on it who I know are definitely not free. At one point, three of my friends discovered we were chatting online to the same guys from around the area. The thing is that even when you meet someone on Tinder, they're constantly being matched with other people, so there is a lot of competition.

"I'm happy to meet with someone twice a week and go for a meal or the theatre, but it would take someone very special to make me want to enter into a long-term relationship. Funnily enough, some of the men I've met want to have relationships and settle down. I am more discerning now than I was when I first started dating, because I drive to dates and don't drink.

"If I like the person, they might have the pleasure of my company overnight after a few weeks. The odd time I bring someone home I kick them out at half six in the morning so they don't meet the kids over breakfast, which might be embarrassing.

"My children are aged between nine and 24, and the oldest three are a bit horrified by the fact that I'm out dating and am not at home watching Coronation Street in my slippers. While my friends are talking about domesticated stuff, I enjoy meeting new men, because you meet all sorts of people and the conversations are all really interesting. By avoiding relationships and just dating, I think of the line from the Will Young song Leave Right Now: "If I lose the highs, at least I'm spared the lows."

50s: "I've made it clear that I'm looking for a relationship and not for one-night-stands"

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Valerie Brown (51)

From Meath, Valerie has four children and is director of tanning mitt company, gloveyourbody.com

"I was married at 23, but it ended in divorce 16 years ago, and six years later I entered into a four-year relationship. After that finished, I went back on the dating scene. My kids are grown up and already have a great father, so I'm just looking for someone nice for me. It can be difficult to meet somebody, because when you go out, most people are with their friends and it's hard to tell who the single people are.

"I'd like to meet someone aged 48 to 55 ideally, but my friends and I find that men our age often want to be with girls in their late 20s, while the older men want us. There's an awful lot of spoofers out there - some younger guys chase older women and pretend they're older on their dating profiles. On the other side, I met someone through a newspaper dating page who was at least twice the age he said he was.

"I joined a private members' club and went to the bars in upmarket hotels hoping to meet people, but some of the men you'd meet in those places seem afraid that you might be after their money, especially if they've been burned after splitting with an ex. I'm not after anything because I have my own independence and am financially stable, and would expect a guy of my age to be the same. Some men are broke though because they're paying alimony to ex-wives and looking after children, and I've gone out with some who can't even afford their bus fare home.

"I went online on sites like PlentyOfFish and AnotherFriend, but found there was a lot of chatting going on and nobody was actually asking anyone out. And the same guys were often on all the sites. I joined Tinder and found that there's a lot of really nice guys on it and it's become my favourite of them all. I'm very clear on my profile that I'm looking for a relationship and not for one-night-stands. If I decide to meet someone for a date, I'd get my daughter to drive me there and wait outside until I knew which way it was going. Sometimes I'd come back out very quickly and she'd say, "Jesus Mam, you didn't give that a chance," but I'd know within five minutes if it was going to work so there's no point in wasting people's time.

"I'm lucky that I have lovely friends to go out with at weekends, but you want a cuddle with a guy sometimes and all that side of it. I'd like to meet someone who is sociable and presentable and with whom I could have a nice full relationship involving intimacy. I'm not looking for marriage but if the right person came along, I would consider it, of course. But it would be nice just to have someone to go out with for a drink or a nice meal a few times per week."

70s: "I would have loved to have met someone else after my husband died"

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Joyce Grundy

Living in Dublin, Joyce is widowed and has two children and four grandchildren.

"My husband Sam died 13 years ago, only a year and a half after he retired from FÁS. He was a lovely man and it was a very happy marriage. I would have loved to have met someone else after Sam died, but it never happened. I'm lucky though, because I have a great relationship with my son and daughter and their families.

"Sam and I were married for 40 years and I was very lonely after he died. I got my FETAC Level 5 qualification and went back to work as a care support worker with Caremark when I was 69, looking after people with Alzheimer's. That was wonderful and I loved every minute and I did it until last year. I miss the work now because I enjoyed meeting people and their families. I'm an animal-lover too and have a cat called Rosie. I had a lovely dog Lassie, who has passed away now, and I found her great company after Sam died.

"A lot of my neighbours are widows, and there's nothing around here for us in the form of a widows' association or anything like that. There seems to be very few widowers of my age around. I have never been out on a date with anyone. I don't drink or smoke and maybe that goes against me, and I also don't drive.

"I heard about Late Date a few years ago, when I saw Hugh Redmond talking to Ryan Tubridy on TV, saying he was going to start up social dances for people over 50. I went along with my friend to a tea dance at the Garda Club and it was very good. The music was great, the people were very nice and the dancing was lovely. We really didn't want to be going into town though, so we were delighted when they moved it to Kiely's in Mount Merrion.

"There were all ages there, and the men who asked me up to dance all seemed to be in their 50s. I get on very well with people of that age, and maybe it's because I'm young at heart and don't think I look my age. I'm in my 70s but feel like I'm only about 60.

"I love talking to people and am never in bad humour. I enjoy shopping and listening to music like Michael Bublé, Rod Stewart and Nathan Carter, and have been with my daughter to see Michael Bublé and Neil Diamond in concert. I'm also very close to my sister who lives in Salthill, and we stay with each other and get on great. I try to make the best of things and am a very positive person, but I would love to meet a nice man to go to things with and have a bit of companionship."

60s: "I've put myself in the hands of a very professional dating agency"

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Richard O'Leary (69)

Living in Wicklow, Richard is a partner in a new recruitment company, Legal Risk and Compliance Executive Search.

"I was in two long-term relationships in the past and was engaged at one point, but I'm currently single and am active on the dating scene. In an ideal world, I would have hoped for marriage and children in my younger days. Back then, there was a very vibrant scene in Dublin through weekly rugby club hops, which were brilliant as a nice cross-section of people went to them. There was a very natural atmosphere there in terms of asking somebody up to dance or even just saying hello at the bar.

"For professional people, time constraints can be an issue, because by the time you come home from work and have something to eat, it can be 8pm and you may not feel like travelling back in to Dublin to socialise. For this reason, I've put myself in the hands of a very professional dating agency, because I've come to realise that this is the best way to go about it. They go into your background and likes and all that kind of thing, and are very good with matching you up with ladies who are comparable. I'm really enjoying the dating scene, and find Sharon Kenny of TheMatchmaker.ie's customer service excellent, as she works in a very human way.

"I'm a positive, young-at-heart individual with a zest for life, and I carry that philosophy forward when it comes to meeting ladies who match my criteria. I like professional-type ladies, ideally aged 55-plus, who are also positive and vibrant. I tend to dress 'smart-casual' for a date, so would wear nice slacks or cords, a nice shirt and jumper or sports jacket. I'd be a bit nervous beforehand, but the ice breaks when you meet somewhere lovely like the lobby of a nice hotel for coffee or a glass of wine.

"I also think dancing is a great, natural way to meet people and would totally endorse it. I've had some ballroom dancing training, so I go to a few Latin-American clubs to tango and rumba. I love that kind of music as it's very effervescent, exuberant and fun, and it seems to attract a nice type of genuine community, both male and female.

"The new craze for evenings of country dancing to people like Nathan Carter, Derek Ryan and Robert Mizzell is helping young people to meet now. While they're big in the country, it's very heartening to see them getting so popular in Dublin too, and there are great weekly dances in places like the Red Cow hotel. They create a genuine situation where boy meets girl and boy can ask girl to dance, and then they're over the first bridge in style. Once you go in the door, hear the music and feel the atmosphere, things take care of themselves after that."

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