Tuesday 25 July 2017

Meet the singleistas - Paula MacSweeney and Teodora Sutra on what it's really like to date in Ireland

Modern daters: Paula MacSweeney and Teodora Sutra. Photo: Naomi Gaffey
Modern daters: Paula MacSweeney and Teodora Sutra. Photo: Naomi Gaffey
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

They're young, successful, beautiful - and still on the market. Kicking off our dating special, our repoter talks to radio presenter Paula MacSweeney and model Teodora Sutra about what it's really like to date in Ireland today.

'When you approach 30, your Facebook page gets flooded with people getting engaged, having babies and getting married. You kind of feel like you're the only one left," says Paula MacSweeney.

It's a scenario that will be all too familiar to people of all ages right across the country, especially at this time of the year - both online dating sites and matchmaking agencies report that January is by far the busiest month for new sign-ups.

But Teodora Sutra says that it's not just a matter of putting your eye on someone. Despite being one of the country's top models, Teo (25) has been single since her last relationship broke up in January 2015. "I'm a little bit too chicken to ask someone out," she admits, "but I suppose if you see someone you like, you should go and get them."

Teodora Sutra. Photo: Naomi Gaffey
Teodora Sutra. Photo: Naomi Gaffey

Alas, in Ireland, a country that has only embraced a dating culture in recent years - and is still, let's face it, a bit embarrassed about the whole notion - it's not always that simple. According to the most recent Census figures, there are 392,000 one-person households in the country. That should mean that there's a healthy number of eligible singles out there - but how do they go about finding each other?

Determined to meet her own Mr Right, last year Paula (30) embarked on a campaign of online and speed dating in Dublin. The Today FM broadcaster went on one date every week for eight months and documented her experiences for the Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show.

Online dating is currently the third most popular way for people to meet a romantic partner in Ireland, after meeting through friends or in the pub. According to a recent Irish Life survey, 24pc of people here have tried online dating. Tinder alone claims to have 15pc of Ireland's population signed up. Globally, one in five new relationships and one in six new marriages are estimated to have begun online.

As Paula discovered, however, it's not just as simple as sign up and instantly find your soulmate: online dating involves hours spent writing your profile, searching for potential matches and unanswered messages. It can be an experience bruising to even the most robust of egos. And that's all before you even go on an actual date.

Today FM presenter Paula MacSweeney. Photo: Naomi Gaffey
Today FM presenter Paula MacSweeney. Photo: Naomi Gaffey

One of the chief reasons for bad dates, according to dating coach Hugh Redmond, is that many people are so used to texting and messaging they often don't know how to talk to the opposite sex face to face.

To address this need, he established singles events company GetOut.ie eight years ago. It organises fun singles events every week all around the country, including speed-dating, hiking and weekends away. Many of the younger people who attend are what Hugh terms "Tinder refugees" who have become disillusioned with online dating.

Hugh is also the founder of Late Date, which organises social dances for unattached people over 50. He finds that this approach works well with people of that age group, who may be daunted by the rigours of dating in the online world. Another option is a more traditional matchmaking service, such as Sharon Kenny's Matchmaker.ie. Sharon, who has 760 people on her books, meets each person individually for a consultation, and ascertains their interests, desires and even attractiveness. Then she matches them with people that she feels would suit them.

Clients pay €450 to get three dates, and Sharon keeps in close contact with them. "I think the personal touch works better than anonymous dating sites," she says. "And if people are paying that fee, you know they're serious about investing in their romantic future."

Smitten: Paula with her boyfriend Aidan.
Smitten: Paula with her boyfriend Aidan.

For Paula MacSweeney the romantic future is looking bright. Five months ago, she matched with a guy on Tinder and they have been in a relationship since. For Teo, there are more dates ahead - something she finds to be equal parts daunting and exciting.

Overleaf, both women share their experiences of being a singleista in modern Ireland and we bring you the expert tips on how to date like a pro.

"Irish guys have more charm, but Latvian men have more manners"

Teodora Sutra

Model Teo (25) is originally from Latvia. She has been single for a year

While stunning Latvian model Teodora Sutra (25), was in a long-term relationship in recent years, it broke up in January 2015. She found it very strange being back on the dating scene again.

"I was so used to being with someone that when I went on nights out, I wasn't seeing guys I liked because I wasn't used to thinking like that," she admits.

"It only registered with me later that I could flirt or say yes to a date if I wanted. That took a bit of getting used to, but it was kind of exciting and sometimes scary. I wasn't stressed or nervous, because in my head, I thought: 'If it goes well that's great, and if it doesn't, that's OK.'

"Sometimes there wouldn't be a connection there or I'd just prefer to have the person as a friend, and if they asked me to go on another date, I'd get sweaty and nervous and try to think of a really nice way of saying we should just be friends. I find that very hard to do as it's an awkward situation."

While Teo didn't join any dating sites, she was asked out via Facebook message on occasion. She tends to go for guys who are older and more mature, usually over 30. "I don't know why, it just happens that way," she says. "The older guys are less wild, I think. I'm attracted to very manly, almost old-fashioned men rather than pretty boys who are really into themselves. I go very shy and quiet when I fancy someone, but if I wasn't that attracted to them, I wouldn't be nervous and would chat to them like I chat to a friend.

"I am kind of serious but I like to have fun. My type of guy is someone like me who is positive and lives life without moaning. I'm not into intense, brooding guys."

Given that Teo is a model and very beautiful, does she get a lot of unwanted attention from men? Or conversely, do they get intimidated and presume she's out of their league?

"I have been told I'm intimidating but I think that's quite funny because I'm not at all," she laughs. "The people I have dated have been very mixed in looks, personality and age, so it's random. I could never tell by a photograph if I like someone or not, as it's always something quirky that makes me like them - maybe their dimples or laugh."

Teo loves food so dinner dates appeal to her, and even if the date doesn't go well, at least you got a nice meal, she jokes. She has lived in Ireland since she was eight, after her mum Zane settled in Wexford when her marriage ended. Teo also retains close ties to Latvia where her dad Agris, sister and grandparents still live.

She has only dated two Latvian men, and insists that she prefers Irish guys, whose charm gets to her every time. However, she finds Latvian men more old-fashioned and gracious when it comes to manners. "I think a lot of Irish men think it's embarrassing to open the door for you," she says. "They're trying to keep up a cool image and don't want to look nerdy, but I like guys who are confident enough to have manners and open the door for me."

Teo says that she would never work up the courage to ask someone out on a date, as she would be scared of rejection. She feels that this is a flaw because if you like someone, you should be able to go up to them and if they say no, well that's life.

"I went on a Tinder date every week for eight months"

Paula MacSweeney

A radio presenter at Today FM, Paula (30) is from Kilkenny. After being single for two-and-a-half years, she recently started a relationship

Studying arts at UCC followed by a master's in Dublin naturally provided a fertile dating ground for Paula MacSweeney to choose from when she was younger, but once she hit 25 and was still single, the Today FM Early Breakfast presenter embarked on online dating. She had various online dates, although some were pretty horrendous. "I remember meeting a guy who was very nice and the date was going fine, until he tried to sell me a stolen TV," she laughs, incredulously.

"On another occasion, one guy annoyed me so much that I actually ended up leaving the pub without telling him. He had been very nice, but after a few drinks, he asked if I wanted to go back to his place for a drink? I said no and he mumbled, "I promise I won't try to penetrate you." I was shocked and then he got way too grabby, so I said I would be back in a second. He rang me the next day to apologise and I said it was OK, but seriously, was he for real?"

Paula went on to meet someone through work and entered into a relationship that lasted two years. When that ended, she took time out for girlie holidays and hanging out with friends. She had just started working on the Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show, where she is showbiz correspondent, and had bought a house in Dublin. "I think it's important to know how to be on your own too," says the Kilkenny native who recently turned 30.

It was around this time last year that the bubbly Paula decided to give the dating scene another go. She downloaded Tinder, and found the whole experience fascinating. Even the bad dates were grand, she says, as they made good stories to tell the listeners to Ian's show.

"Always meet in public places though, as you have to be careful," she says of Tinder dating. "If you're looking for the sexual stuff, it's there, but it certainly wasn't what I was looking for. What bothered me was the people who seemed to just want a penpal - they wanted to chat and not meet up. It made me think that they could be in a relationship already and just wanted a distraction, and I wasn't up for that either."

How did Paula find it when she actually met up with someone she had been messaging in person, because let's face it, we all put the most carefully curated pictures of ourselves online, don't we? Did she find that people didn't always match up in reality to the image she had swiped right on?

"You can't hide what you really look like when you go to meet someone," she says. "I remember one guy looked really good in his photos, and when I met him, he was still handsome but I didn't fancy him in real life at all. You have to meet someone to see if there is that connection.

"It works both ways, as I have met guys that I thought were lovely and would have loved to meet again, but they had no interest in me."

Paula also tried out The Anton Savage Show singles' night and was interested in speed-dating, and if someone approached her via Twitter and asked her out, she would always agree to go out with them. Mind you, this method backfired for one unfortunate teacher who tweeted her publicly to ask her out, and went into school the next day to find that his students had written the text of his flirty tweet to her on the board. He was suitably mortified.

Paula found that coffee dates worked best - if the encounter was awful, she wouldn't be stuck there for the whole evening. Her sister always knew where she was going and who she was meeting, and would text to check that everything was OK.

"I remember I made an excuse to leave one date that was particularly bad, and as I walked outside, the guy came out and tried to kiss me," Paula recalls. "I was trying so hard to avoid him that I fell off the kerb onto the ground, which was so embarrassing. I couldn't have made it any more obvious but even after that, he asked if I would like to see him again. I don't know how in God's name he thought it went well!

"Generally I would just say, 'Look I think you're lovely but I just didn't feel a spark,' as that's the nicest way to do it. I have had it said to me many times, and at the start, it can be upsetting and makes you feel hideous, but there is so much choice out there and people want to meet someone that they really get on with, so you can't blame them."

Paula went on one date per week for eight months, and had second dates with a few people. Then, she met a lovely 34-year-old called Aidan on Tinder. They matched and, within two days, had gone out on a date. Five months on, it's going very well for the couple. Paula says she thought Aidan was gorgeous and was delighted when he sent her a message. He works in finance and had never heard of her before, and one thing that impressed the self-confessed grammar Nazi was that he could spell.

"He knows the difference between your and you're," she smiles. "He was smart and his grammar and punctuation were beautiful. He was really funny and there was good craic between us and we just got each other. We met for a drink, had a kiss at the end of the night, and met again.

"He deleted Tinder after a few weeks. We were into each other and weren't seeing anyone else, and now we're talking about moving in together. He's a really lovely person and things are getting serious for us, and I feel so lucky."

While research suggests that people's chances of finding someone they click with online are not that much greater than randomly meeting people at bars and pubs, that has not been Paula's experience. Tinder is great for choice, which means that you can be like a kid in a candy shop if a better offer comes along, she counsels, but you have to remember that you're dealing with people with real feelings.

"I would absolutely recommend it, as you hear horror stories, of course, but you also hear great love stories," she says.

 Photos by Naomi Gaffey

How to do first date smalltalk

If you’re feeling stressed about having to impress with your witty repartee and are worried about awkward silences, Maria Lynch of Motivated Joyful Living, an executive and confidence coach, offers the following advice: “Before you go out, set a positive intention for yourself that the date will go well. Our perceptions and expectations will impact our confidence levels on the day,” she says. “Keep expectations minimal and a perception to be open to new opportunities. Perhaps the approach of meeting a new friend is better than the prospect of meeting the possible love of your life, which will make the situation more emotionally charged.A date is ultimately a conversation between two people.”

Maria suggests not having a fully rehearsed approach and prepared topics of conversation, which may have you sounding like a robot, and to show genuine interest in what the other person has to say, while keeping your body language open with eye contact and a natural smile. If you are feeling awkward, she suggests acknowledging it out loud and making fun of it. “In my opinion The most important thing is to stay genuine, warm hearted and to show respect for yourself and the other person. If all fails, still congratulate yourself as you are taking action and getting out there which is a big part of building your confidence,” she says.

Creating a great online profile

According to Tracey Ferguson, of Dating’s Little Helper — a service that helps people transform their online dating profiles — the biggest mistakes people make are either saying too much or saying too little.

“People tend to go on a long rant and say way too much about themselves. Attention spans have gotten so tiny you have to grab them in the first few lines. You can include a few hundred words and the rest should be ‘Message me and let’s chat.’” Tracey suggests setting out your deal breakers — perhaps you don’t want to hear from smokers or those who live far away. Using a little humour is always good.

“Put in two or three of your interests and then stop — everybody seems to be into mountain climbing right now. The flip side to this is if you list nothing and then people will have nothing to message you about.”

Photos are vital because they give the first impression and Tracey cites naked torso shots in bathroom and blurry shots as being two big no-nos. Wedding pictures too (“People think they look their best on their wedding day so they crop the ex out but you can still see their shoulder”) and pictures of you with your children, however gorgeous, should be avoided, not least because of privacy issues.

The bottom line is one good clean shot of you as you look today.

“Something that has happened in the last year is that people are becoming very defensive online,” Tracey says. “They’ll get in touch and if you don’t get back right away, you could be logging in to an angry message the next day saying ‘Right, forget it’. Give people a chance.”

She also recommends chatting virtually for a few days before suggesting a phone call so that you can hear someone’s voice. and the warm and intonation.And avoid risqué online names or trying to be too clever with them. “Keep it simple and positive,” Tracey says.

Online dating takes time and energy but it can work - here's one couple's story 

The new dating rules

It may be 2016 but age old issues of what makes for good dating etiquette — who should pay, how soon is too soon to call — are still unclear. Here, Jennifer Haskins, director of introduction agency Two’s Company, sets out some simple rules for dating:

● Always offer to pay

The controversial question of who pays on a date very much comes down to what the person’s values and expectations are. Some women may think it mean if a guy doesn’t pay at the end of a date, however, men do

like the woman to offer to at least split the bill. Suggesting going Dutch gives the man the chance to either agree or say he’d like it let it be his treat. If there’s a second date, the woman should pay if the man picked up the bill the last time.

● Don’t drink before you date

It’s not unknown for people to have a drink to relax them before a date and end up disproportionately drunk when they’ve a glass of wine with dinner. You definitely want to avoid a situation where one person is tipsy and the other person is being careful because you’re not on the same wavelength. Your date can feel they have to look after you and that’s not a good place to be starting off.

● Keep conversation bright — and NEVER mention your ex

I always say to people to keep it light and positive and focus on the good things in your life. When someone is going on a first date, they want to have a good time and they don’t feel that someone just wants to dump all of their past and history on them.

● Stay a minimum of an hour

Even if you do want to escape after 20 minutes, I think you need to give the other person the respect of spending an hour on a date, getting to know them. Be aware that the other person wants to have a good time too and that they’ve entered into this process in full heart and hoping to make the best of it. It’s about having mutual respect and make it as pleasant as possible for the other person.

● Call within three days

Forget old-fashioned notions about waiting seven days before you make contact after a date. People aren’t keener if you wait for a week to call them. They feel rejected. Two to  three days is ideal.

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

The Evolution of Dating - Irish women on searching for love

Date like the States - what our woman learned in New York 

Weekend Magazine

Promoted articles

Editors Choice

Also in this section