Looking for love: the modern guide to dating this Valentine's Day
With almost half of single men and women searching for 'the one', romance in Ireland is alive and well. But what's the best way to go about finding a partner these days? Regina Lavelle goes through your options
So it's Valentine's Day. Named after a Christian martyr, to whose remains lovelorn Irish pilgrims flock each year to "pray at the shrine in the hope of finding romance" (according to Wikipedia). Of all the reasons to visit a shrine, though, praying for mercy to the patron saint of dating is one of the better ones. Because God knows, you will need it.
Dating can seem like national service. Everyone has to do it. It can take years. It'll make you consider inventing a daft excuse to dodge the romantic draft, and afterwards you'll invariably be described as brave. But you'll possibly be wounded.
So how are we dating now? Research suggests we're still quite romantic.
According to the LoveUncovered survey conducted by AnotherFriend.com into the Irish market, almost 50pc of Irish women seek the unicorn otherwise known as 'the one'. Forty two per cent of men are hunting the same creature. Irish men are slightly more romantic than Irish women. When asked if 'the one' existed, 61.1pc of men said yes, compared to 57.8pc of women, while almost 50pc of men said they believed in love at first sight compared to 41.7pc of women.
We are also, apparently, virtuous. Respondents in the same survey said that in their own personal dater's hierarchy of needs, personality came first, and job last. But this, says Hugh Redmond of 2Connect, which organises group events and speed dating in Dublin, Galway and Cork, isn't really the case.
"Women are far more fussy," he says. "Men are a bit more open-minded. They think, 'Okay maybe she's not 100pc my type, but she's a good laugh and there's a bit of craic here. Women put a bit more emphasis on looks than guys do. I see it when a hot guy walks into a room, 99pc of the girls will pick him. I can almost predict who they'll choose."
Redmond says that a date's earning power factors highly in Irish women's choices.
"Women want to know what he's bringing to the table with employment, is he a hard-working professional, does he have his own place, does he look well, does he dress well. It's a bit back to the old days," he says.
"Women's expectations are an ongoing issue. And I've stood up in front of groups of women and said: 'The reason you're single is because your expectations are too high.'
"When I look at my statistics - and we've had over 20,000 people through our doors - a guy might pick four or five out of 10 people, a girl would pick two out of 10, maybe."
That's all very well but how do you choose what dating avenue is right for you? Here's a precis of what you can expect. First, a word of warning. Meeting a stranger is still meeting a stranger and while some apps do verify identities using social networks, the same cautions should always apply, irrespective of platform.
Sprang to fame in the late 90s and early Noughties, speed dating is enjoying something of a renaissance as users become frustrated with apps and websites.
How it works: Put daters in a room and mix vigorously. Previously every dater was assigned a number and each of their opposite number would 'tick' them if the interaction seemed promising. A new speed dating event held in Dublin's CHQ offers a mix of app and 'in real life (IRL)' dating. Each dater has a profile which users swipe depending on how attractive they found each other.
Best for: App-o-phobes or, 'Tinder refugees', as Hugh Redmond calls those suffering app ennui. "I get a lot of people tired of using apps. It can be a waste of time. The people we're seeing in the last 18 months have been hired by the big tech companies. They have money and they're trying to meet new people."
Dating apps are mostly location based, using your phone's GPS. You create a profile and based on your criteria, your app stores a catalogue of men (or women) who fit the criteria in your area. Then you swipe left or right for yes or no. If they like you, you can message each other. It's kind of like snap, for people. The behemoth is Tinder, the original swipe app, which was swallowed by the Match Group, which also owns match.com, PlentyOfFish and OkCupid!.
Although you must be 18, research by Ipsos MORI in 2017 showed that one in six Irish teenagers over 15 were using the service, while 200,000 Irish people had an account with 50,000 logging in every day. Its big competitor, certainly where women are concerned, is Bumble, which requires women to make the first move. Then there is Hinge and Happn.
Best for: The uber-confident. Tinderers especially are a notoriously fickle bunch and rejections come thick and fast. It's not for nothing that when you Google 'ghosting' (ending a relationship by suddenly cutting off all communication), the first suggestion is 'Ghosting on Tinder'. For further study, see the excellent - if very explicit - @tindernightmares Instagram account.
Relationship coach and psychology lecturer Annie Lavin says that newcomers to apps shouldn't underestimate how brutal they can be.
"Online dating requires a certain amount of resilience - you need to be able to bounce back after a ghosting. You need to be able to manage your emotional state after you've been rejected in multiple ways.
"When people come back on the scene, it would be a wise thing for them to seek support before jumping in."
Despite the popularity of apps, there is still a buoyant market for web-based products. Some offer algorithmic solutions to finding your errant plus one. Notable sites include eHarmony, Match, PlentyOfFish and OKCupid.
How it works: Depends on the site. Some require you to submit a detailed personality questionnaire to be assessed and matched, others are more of an app affair, with your probability of success premised on the classic looks/proximity matrix.
Best for: Over-30s looking for a relationship. "That group of people are using Tinder, PlentyOfFish, Bumble," says Annie Lavin. Redmond agrees that PlentyOfFish is the one most of his clients talk about, aside from Tinder and Bumble.
The old-fashioned route
Experts believe more people are returning to face-to-face activities to meet a partner, such as sport or social clubs.
How it works: Think of a thing you enjoy. Find a club. Sign up. "Technology and apps are great. But they're for twenty-somethings and, frankly, unless you look like a model, you won't get noticed," says Redmond.
"I'm a big fan of getting involved in clubs - parachuting, chasing butterflies or whatever. But it allows you to meet people who have similar passions. I'm in a hiking club and over five years, there must have been five weddings because these people are alike - they love the outdoors, they love keeping in shape."
Lavin agrees. "There's an over-reliance on dating apps where we live in a country where there is still the opportunity to meet people in real life. Getting out, joining a club, even going to the pub - these are still great ways to meet a partner.
Best for: Those willing to invest time for a relationship or a friendship.
For speed dating events coming up, see 2connect.ie. Relationship coach Annie Lavin can be found at therelationshipcoach.ie.