Glass of wine in hand, the man sitting opposite me in the restaurant was in full flow. While he was droning on about his work commitments, I zoned in and out trying to work out how on earth I was going to get to through this first date. I had expected to meet an eligible bachelor, but he had turned out to be so boring that he made me want to stick asparagus up my nostrils.
This memory came flooding back when I read about, Tereza Burki, a City financier who, last week, successfully sued a Knightsbridge-based elite matchmaking service, for the return of her £12,600 annual fee after they failed to find her the man of her dreams.
A couple of years ago, I too joined an expensive matchmaking agency. I had just come out of a seven year relationship, and was on the wrong side of 50.
I soon tired of online dating and receiving messages from over weight baldies who peppered their emails with childish emojis. I hankered to find Mr Right-for-me, a man who was suitably educated and a successful professional.
And so this is how I found myself, throwing money (my entire savings to be precise) to an upmarket matchmaking agency in central London. The agency claimed to filter out the undesirables, the mediocre and give clients the personal touch, so I handed over the hefty sum of £6,000.
As I waited to be matched with someone from their ‘extensive database’, I idly imagined my handsome date, cashmere polo neck, a bit academic and kind. We’d eat steak tartare and swap notes on our latest clever box-set find and favourite novels.
How could I have got it so wrong? The reality was an array of terrible matches, a growing sense of alarm and a flaming row in a flash restaurant in Chelsea.
The first indication that all was not as I had expected came when I met personal matchmaker at a Park Lane hotel for ‘tea and an interview’. "I’m sitting in the corner of the drawing room, blonde, green dress, books on the table!!!" she pinged through on my iPhone. We chatted about holidays in southern Spain, men with bad haircuts and my ideal date.
"So, are you a psychologist?" I asked, eager to press her on her method of assessment.
"Oooh no, I’m just a people person. I love people," she trilled.
I told her how I loved folk music, my favourite film was The Deer Hunter, and enjoyed weekends in the countryside. So far so banal.
'I paid £3,000 to a dating agency, but there weren't enough men'
A few days later she emailed me with the details of W, "a successful entrepeneur who had travelled extensively and also liked folk music". When I met him at a pub in Richmond, I was shocked. I was expecting a cultured and dynamic man, instead I got a man in a pair of jeans, a moth eaten jumper and the table manners of a modern day Baldrick.
And therein lies the rub. These agencies trade on their exclusivity, yet the men I met were far from the international super elite they promised. And the so called experts were a group of ex pr girls with swishy hair and ability to write up a nifty ‘press release’.
The thing I found most unnerving though was not being allowed to see what my date looked like, let alone have a pre-date chat with them before we met. All so important if you are to get a feel of someone.
It wasn’t too much of a surprise then that they rarely got it right. For the next few months, I dated up and down the eligibility scale. Some men were pleasant but dull, others who said they wanted to be in a relationship but were burdened with so much baggage they were toxic.
I was expecting a cultured and dynamic man, instead I got a man with the table manners of a modern day Baldrick
There was the 65 year-old American with a stunning property portfolio who broke the rules and googled me, only to inform me that I was too old for him.
The funny looking barrister, who invited me to his St James’s club, and turned out to be prickly and aggressive, and a man who sold jumpers who took me to dinner in the Fulham told me I should have worn a clingier dress. After he spent the entire meal chatting to a group of twentysomething blondes at the next table, I left in disgust.
I was about to call it a day and demand my money back, when my matchmaker sent through the detail a publisher from Oxford. We met at a pub near his home.
On date two, he said he said he really liked me and whisked me away to the Cotswolds. Not wanting to appear presumptuous he booked two rooms. I was quietly hopeful.
But very quickly the debonair man who had seemed laid-back in London had morphed into a raging chauvinist in the countryside. When I started to chat to waiter in Italian, it became clear that my date was not happy. He muttered something under his breath and rolled his eyes like a stroppy teenager.
"I WAS WONDERING when you were going to let me join your conversation," he boomed. I tried to laugh it off but clocked this was a man with a fragile ego.
It is a tough time for midlife dating today, and there are a lot vulnerable educated women like me who are so desperate for love they are willing to try anything whatever the price. Yet, the quality of men were, I no different to those on online dating sites.
I learnt the hard way, but my advice when it comes to dating is: trust your instinct and meet through friends of friends.
It is bound to be more accurate. Oh, and it is free.
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