Now in my 40s, after my time in the City, I worked as a dealmaker for a large, ambitious internet company in the US, before realising a long-held dream of becoming a published author. More than half the UK population is now single, according to the Office for National Statistics, and the largely unregulated dating industry is estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of pounds.
Matchmaking services are emerging with increasingly adventurous fee structures — particularly in central London, which has more than its fair share of wealthy singles. Discretion and privacy are understandably sought by all involved, making it hard to get a reliable gauge of the success rate of these services before joining — or even indeed how they operate. Most of my London social set had settled into family life by the time I returned, and I knew I needed to consider other ways to meet a partner.
I soon eschewed online dating , which struck me as too time consuming and unpredictable. For years, people did not seem to know who they were meeting online, where photos and profiles could be notoriously misleading. Then, Tinder came along. Podcast Claer Barrett and guests discuss the costs of premium matchmakingDownload here Monday, 18 June, Tinder interacts with Facebook , making it more likely that you will identify others you know when dating online.
I was drawn to the idea of a personalised service that would be discreet yet effective, so I used the web instead to search for a traditional matchmaker. Most matchmakers I came across were clearly seeking wealthy, international clients, typically with offices in Mayfair. The one I picked appeared more down to earth, its premises located outside central London.
She was well spoken, in her early thirties, attractive and not pushy. Part of my brain began turning: Then, a house call. My matchmaker informed me that, to get to know me, she needed to visit my home. Exactly how all this fed into the matchmaking process, I never would come to know, aside from it perhaps confirming that I was good for the fees. Related article Why spend thousands on a matchmaker when there are so many free apps?
She enjoys walking, family, socialising. Less straightforward was my attempt to get that profile memorialised in the contract somehow. Yet my matchmaker was very good at not using aggressive sales tactics.
Take your time; look at other options, she advised, while emailing me teaser profiles: However, matchmaking is different. It deals in affairs of the heart. A contrarian, non-commercial streak in me embraced the romanticism of it all. Certainly I was persuaded that it would be odd, and probably indeed impossible, to pay a financial bounty upon meeting a romantic partner.
Moving in together, marriage? None of this adequately explains why per cent of the fees needed to be paid up front. This was never convincingly answered, perhaps because my agency never needed to. It would be unfair to call introduction services confidence tricks, but my role in the arrangement increasingly came to feel like that of the mark. There would be no close matches — not even a short-term relationship, let alone anything serious or marriage.
One of the very first matches was the most promising: But a month later, her calendar miraculously opened up. Within six months, my matchmaker had gone on maternity leave and was replaced by two other staff members. Before long, I asked for a partial refund and you can guess how that went. One curiosity throughout these match-made dates was that I, the man, invariably felt an obligation to foot all bar and restaurant bills. This was, apparently, the norm in these higher-end dating arrangements: Why should this be, in an era of greater gender equality?
Just how unbalanced could things get on this expensive dating journey? I was about to find out. Here, a deeper truth about the way this exclusive dating world works was revealed: There are different theories as to why this is, one being that women are more willing to invest substantially in finding the right life partner, another being the perception of a depleted pool of eligible men in other walks of life.
Unwittingly I asked whether this was pounds or dollars. It was pounds, of course; we were sitting in a Chelsea pub, not in the West Village. Her own eyes narrowed. Finally I offered alcohol.
Champagne, that ever reliable pick-me-up. Targeting vs the comfort of crowds Most dates were pleasant enough. Indeed, two women became friends. Matchmakers meet clients in person for just a couple hours of their lives, and feedback given after each date does little to alter this reality.
Understandably, everyone wants to put their best side forward on paper and in photos; profiles tended to be of little use ahead of dates. In exclusive dating as in life generally, much comes down to happenstance. Far more effective for me have been events where it is possible to meet several people on the same night. The most promising of all have been activities that I enjoy doing anyway, which include literary events, yoga and travel the Weekend FT is crammed full of suggestions for such activities, should you ever be stuck for candidates.
It makes conversation easier as you immediately have something in common with your fellow attendees. One distinctive newcomer in London is The Sloane Arranger, catering to a set that founder Lara Asprey defines as much by shared values as by type of education or physical appearance. The Picnic Project is a bespoke agency set up by Suze Cook, a former marketing manager at Microsoft, who spotted ways to improve the dating process while she was single.
If we took a fee from every person who contacted us, then we would probably be retired by now. For everybody else, my advice would be to consider your alternatives.
And keep your sense of humour. Daniel Pembrey is an author and freelance features writer. Copyright The Financial Times Limited Follow the topics in this article.