Money can't buy me love - or can it?

Mon, Feb 13, 2012, 00:00

IN THEORY, you can’t put a price on love but the reality is that finding it, maintaining it and celebrating it often comes with a hefty price tag. Valentine’s Day, should you choose to mark it tomorrow with a traditional gift, is not inexpensive – think €80 for a dozen red roses and not much change out of €20 for chocolates, with heart-shaped packaging.

Actively dating is also a potential money drain. A European Singles survey from last year found that Irish men are likely to spend an average of €106 on a date, compared to British men, who were likely to spend €60. But first of all is the small matter of procuring that date and should that prove difficult, there are options available to those who can throw money at the problem. Online dating is thriving.

According to a study conducted by the Oxford Internet Institute last year, one in 16 Irish people surveyed started their relationship online. Services range from the free, such as PlentyofFish.comto subscription- based sites like, where a month’s subscription is €29.90, although it works out cheaper if you sign up for a longer period. Premium membership, which is more expensive, offers specialised features such as pre-screen matches., which charges €49.90 for a month’s membership or €29.90 per month for three months, touts itself as being specifically for people who are looking for a long-term relationship and uses an 80-question-long test to find potential partners for members. Unusually for an online dating site, members’ photographs are not open for public viewing and a member decides if and when someone sees them.

While there are never any guarantees, does a greater financial investment result in a higher success rate?

“They know that a paying member is serious about dating and meeting a partner and they’re not going to waste your time,” says Grainne Barry of Another Friend (, Ireland’s largest online dating website with an estimated 60 per cent of the market share and some 587,675 registered users. It’s advisable to know exactly what you’re looking for, says dating expert and founder of online dating advice site,, Avril Mulcahy.

“The internet is definitely good for some people but there are many different sites and each one has their unique selling point. Some advocate a very short relationship, and some are looking for a more long-lasting partnership,” she says. “There are a lot of time wasters out there – internet dating donkeys, as I call them. They never want to go on a date because they’re either in a relationship or they’re just addicted to the internet and they just do this as a hobby. My advice is two or three emails over and back and after that you should be looking to meet up. After that, move on.”

Twitter and Facebook have made posting pictures and personal information online the social norm, but few online daters were willing to be identified for this article. “I know it’s fairly standard now and I do know a good few couples who have met online but there is still something of a stigma attached to it,” says Sarah, a 33-year-old nurse who signed up with Parship last year.

She has been on 10 dates and dated one guy for two months and another for four. Overall, she found her experience to be a good one, but has since cancelled her subscription. “It felt empowering initially but it can be a lot of work. I’m giving it a break for the moment, because I don’t have time,” she says. “Also, some things just don’t translate well from email into real life – tone of voice, a certain energy – and you do have to develop a thick skin. But people who are paying for the service are going to take dating more seriously.”

Singles events have gained currency, as a way to meet new people in a social setting that doesn’t involve spending hours on a computer, flicking through profiles.

Speed dating was once thought of as a bit of a fad but is now the acceptable face of dating and average prices for a speed dating night range from €20-€25. Some offer food and a drink and often it will be age specific, like the events organised by, where nights for 35-year-old pluses or 24-35 year-olds are offered. Wine tasting evenings, dinners, quizzes and outdoor activities are also proving popular. Ger McFadden, an accountant, runs First Date (, which organises speed dating and other singles events. She started the business to help her sister find a boyfriend. “I’d love to be able to tell you I did but I’m still searching for her, but a few couples have already moved in together, although as it only started late 2010 it’s too early for weddings yet.”

First Date supper clubs, which include a three-course meal, glass of prosecco on arrival and personalised matching service afterwards, costs €55. The wine dating, which includes €15 worth of wine, cheeses and personalised matching is €35. Brian Daly (31) who works in IT has attended a few of the events, and while he hasn’t met anyone yet, he recommends it as a night out. “The wine events are very good for Irish people. There’s no formal structure to it, the wine is a social lubricant and you get to meet people you wouldn’t normally meet. There are no forms or anything to fill out and you can just ask for somebody’s number or if you’re shy, get Ger to ring them the next day.”

Shauna, a 39-year-old environmentalist went on a First Date dinner in early January and is now dating someone she met that night. She had never online dated, was just out of a long-term relationship and was a “bag of nerves” about attending. “I didn’t have any expectations really. It was more to meet single people. I certainly didn’t expect to meet someone so quickly. I’m certainly not looking for my €55 to be refunded.”

Proper, old school matchmaking is proving popular again, particularly for the time-poor. It’s a more expensive option and membership rates can start from €300.

Two’s Company ( is a matchmaking agency for professionals where the €500 fee guarantees several things. “We meet all our people and spend anything up to two hours initially to get to know them and the type of people that they want to be introduced to,” founder Bill Phelan explains. “We verify that they are who they say they are via passports etc. We know that he or she is seeking a long-term relationship. Guys who are serial daters or sexual predators – they go on the net.” For six months you are guaranteed at least four dates. If the chemistry isn’t there, it’s on to the next introduction.” Phelan says that Two’s Company had three engagements at Christmas between couples who had been introduced in the previous six-10 months but stresses the confidentiality of the service. “We have members who are TDs, in TV and radio, people in legal practices.”

This need for privacy appears more pressing than the financial outlay. “In Ireland what we’re concerned about is ‘Oh my God, my brother or my cousin is going to see me’ although that’s changing,” says Another Friend’s Grainne Barry. “Facebook was a big driver because it made people more willing to put up pictures and information. In America, people will say ‘You’re not online dating, what’s wrong with you? You’re single, everyone uses them’.”