I sit sipping coffee at the boardroom table of a swanky Mayfair office. The vaulted ceiling looms far above me, and outside the bustle of money – and people involved in the art of making it – is palpable. I imagine what deals might have been done across the polished smooth wood of this grand oval table. What negotiations might have been made. Things gained, things lost. And I think about my own concessions and victories in the thing I’m here to talk about: love.
You can call it what you will: dating, mating, hooking up, playing the field. I call it love. Because that’s what I’m trying to find: the proverbial diamond in a whole lot of digital rough. I don’t believe in ‘the one’, because I’ve already had three loves in my lifetime, and I’m sure there will be many more. But love is what I’m searching for, as I flick endlessly through profiles of men smiling from far flung beaches, men with arms clad around their mates, men holding babies, men having a drink in a bar and inexplicably to me – men holding giant fish.
I am not a dater who despises dating apps. Far from it. I think they are a means to an end. I’ve met some awesome people on them. I’ve had experiences I never would have otherwise had. During the pandemic, they were a literal lifeline to other single people like me, living alone. And they made me feel less isolated. But… as yet they haven’t worked for me when it comes to finding a long-term partner, and that all illusive love. If the definition of madness is doing the same thing and expecting different results, then I have been officially mad for three years now.
Which is how I find myself here, on planet Mayfair, being interviewed by Hayley Bystram, founder of professional matchmakers, Bowes-Lyon Partnership.
Over the course of a couple of hours, Hayley basically got my entire life story out of me. From my childhood to my education, career and of course, dating history, we covered the ground easily and in chatty way that instantly put me at ease. It was strange, explaining to a complete stranger who I am, and why, at the age of 36, I find myself single in the big city. But then I reasoned: I have about five different conversations online every night with faceless men I hardly ever actually meet – maybe I should give this a go instead?
The questions she asked weren’t easy. Some probed into difficult or painful territory around kids (I want them), and break-ups. But I’m so glad she asked. If the men she would match me with were getting the same line of questioning – I had hope that the calibre of person I’d be sat opposite in future would be infinitely more engaging and ready to date than what I’d encountered in my own efforts. It felt like having my very own dating bouncer, screening out those not ready or eligible to get into club Sarah.*
All Bowes-Lyons members are screened this way, with face-to-face meetings with a member of the team to prove they are who they say they are (and look how they say they look in their pictures).
A few weeks later, I get an email with a few potential matches sent over, with profiles for me to pick from. Bowes-Lyon matchmakers will write you a profile (you can tweak it, don’t worry) and you pick three pictures to go with it. As I looked through the five men Hayley sent me, I was already impressed. Professionally accomplished interesting men beamed out at me. No men holding fishes. No mention of them wanting a ‘partner in crime’ or ‘someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously’. Instead of relying on visual stimuli, the pictures included are small. The point is to find out about the person, and see why they might have been picked to match you.
I picked Mark* because of his smile, and the fact he’s sporty (like me) and a week later we sat in a wine bar chatting about climbing (him), wild swimming (me) and our devotion to our respective nieces and nephews. He followed up the next day asking for a second date but the chemistry wasn’t there for me. Still, it was one of the most pleasant dating experiences I’ve had all year.
The next match arrived a month later. ‘Sarah’, Hayley trilled, excitement coming off the screen in waves. ‘I want you to meet Paul!’. You know the phrase ‘has it all on paper’? Well, I think I finally get it now after reading Paul’s profile. Tall? Check. Good job? Check. Loads of mad hobbies? Double check. He just seemed like a good egg. Our numbers were switched (the matchmakers at Bowes-Lyon only give the gentleman the woman’s phone number after both parties have agreed they’d like to meet) and Paul popped up in my Whatsapp within a few days.
We chatted pretty much non-stop for over a week before a first date was even mentioned. I have a bit of dating-app PTSD from all the pen pals I’ve acquired in the last three years (you know, the men that want to just message endlessly but never want to meet up?) so I was nervous, but eventually he asked if we could do cocktails. This was the first time in a long time I realised I was both excited and nervous about a first date. I actually cared this time.
It was one of those perfect London dates. We met at 7pm, and didn’t leave till the bar closed around us at 2am. There wasn’t a single break in conversation, and even through the brooding lighting and heavy scent of whisky, I could tell we were both beaming ear to ear.
Reader: I’m afraid I did not marry him. I know. It’s gutting. No one is more gutted than I am, believe me. I went on five brilliant dates with Paul. We cracked each other up, we snogged, life was good. But he called it off before things got serious because deep down, we could both tell he wasn’t really over his last relationship. We’re still friends, actually, and I’m grateful that we met. But that’s not the reason I’m telling you this story.
I’m telling you this because: the quality of the person I met through a matchmaker surprised even me. I was sceptical. The fees are high (membership starts at around £10,000 a year). It’s not for everyone. But… If you’re hitting a wall in your dating life and you need to be reminded that good, fun, interesting people are out there – you might just be pleasantly surprised. Paul wasn’t on any dating apps. We genuinely would not have met any other way. It gave me hope at a time I really was starting to lose it, and reminded me that when the right person comes along, connections are actually not all that difficult to forge. I think in dating, as it is in life, you get out what you put in. If the amount of effort someone is putting into finding a partner equates to a hastily written bio and some swipes on an app – is it any wonder that some of the connections you make are just as superficial? The biggest difference with a matchmaker is that you feel confident that the other person is as invested in the process as you are. It takes just one element of risk out of the big dating gamble. So it didn’t work out this time? That’s the luck of the draw. At least now I finally feel like I’m sitting at the right table.
* Names have been changed
Click here for more information on Bowes-Lyon Partnership.
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