Many single people in their 30s and older find bars and clubs hostile environments in which to meet somebody, and can find themselves increasingly isolated and lonely as the rest of their friends pair off, settle down and have children.
Thomas (35) was single for over a year when he heard about a matchmaking agency, Intro, and signed up.
“A few of my friends had been on dating websites, but I didn’t like the idea of being in a shop window where everybody could look at your photo. I had heard some bad experiences of internet dating, but I liked the idea of the introductions agency because it was very discreet.”
Having been in two serious long-term relationships, Thomas found himself single while most of his friends had settled down with partners and young families. His job in computer software meant he worked long shifts and he had no “wingmen” to join him on the regular dating scene.
He’s been on five dates with five women through Intro, and even though “they were all lovely”, things “fizzled out”.
“I was very apprehensive doing it but I’m really glad I did. It was an amazing experience overall and the kick up the arse I needed to get back dating again,” he says.
Old-fashioned matchmaking agencies such as Intro, Two’s Company, TopMatch, Singlelista and the Cork-based Two Hearts Meet have all spotted the opportunity to provide introduction services to people who are either fed up or too busy to keep trying.
Rena Maycock (33) and her partner Feargal Harrington (29) from Kinsealy, Co Dublin, who were introduced by Feargal's brother, set up Intro Matchmaking (intro.ie) in 2011 and have more than 1,000 members on their books.
The idea came to Maycock on a Saturday night out in her local bar, Gibneys of Malahide, when she noticed a well-dressed, attractive guy aged around 40 clutching a pint near the bar.
She assumed he was waiting for friends or a partner but noticed over the course of the night that he was still standing there alone and realised he was trying to meet somebody.
Having been single herself for many years, Maycock says the singles scene can be grim for men at times, especially when they’ve lost their “wingman” to marriage.
Aware that men tend to be shy of joining online dating sites, the couple decided to build their agency and brand around men. Today Intro has members on its books ranging in age from 22 to 79.
Rena even had a call from a 90-year-old man last week interested in signing up and, she points out, there may be interested women in their 70s and 80s .
"Intro is not an internet dating site – in fact it's the opposite," she says. "We meet all of our clients face-to-face, we complete a detailed profile for them and, on that basis, we arrange suitable matches, going so far as to actually arrange the dates rather than passing along personal information such as phone numbers."
The main difference between matchmaking agencies and online dating sites, according to Maycock, is that the agencies accept only those who are actually available and looking for a relationship.
“Many of the guys who come to us are sick of being rejected in bars after building up the nerve to chat to a girl. Girls can be cruel. And women want somebody with pure motives, not to discover six months down the line that the man of their dreams is actually married with three kids or is not interested in settling down,” she says.
Another couple who set up their own matchmaking service four years ago are Jennifer Haskins and Bill Phelan of Two's Company (twoscompany.ie) who met through a dating agency. Both divorced with grown-up children, Jennifer (in her 50s) believes that their shared life experience gives them a greater understanding of the challenges and pitfalls facing their clients.
With a background in counselling and psychotherapy, Haskins is aware that many people looking to meet a new partner following a relationship or marriage breakup or the death of a partner may not be emotionally ready. She is planning to offer workshops to help to prepare people for the new journey they are embarking on.
While Two’s Company has clients aged 25 to 80 on its books, they have a particularly high level of success with the over-50s, she says.
“Women in their 30s tend to be quite idealistic. They know exactly the kind of man they want and they are interested in nesting and having children. People coming out of another relationship or who have lost a partner are looking for a partner, a companion and somebody with shared values.”
Describing their company as the “more serious, professional end of the market”, Haskins says women need to be aware of the impact that rejection or ridicule can have on a man’s confidence – even an outwardly confident man.
“Marriage breakups can also be tougher for men. Women will discuss and analyse their problems with their female friends but if a man tries to bring the topic up with his male friends, they tend to shy away from it as they are not comfortable discussing issues of the heart. So men can feel very isolated after the death of a partner, separation or divorce.”
Alison Keating, a psychologist at the bWell clinic in Malahide, advises single men to take the risk of walking up to women and asking them out, knowing they may say no, because there is satisfaction in taking risks, even when they're uncomfortable. "It can take a lot of courage and the social rejection can be cruel at times. If somebody gets rejected again and again, it can really affect their confidence and sense of self worth," she says.
Keating advises women to “be kinder” to men who approach them, even if they’re uninterested. “I wonder how it would be if women had to make the initial icebreaking move. You don’t have to go out with them but you don’t have to hurt their feelings either,” she says.
The cost of membership of Intro Matchmaking Agency is €495 for 12 months and includes a face-to-face meeting with the Intro staff and five guaranteed introductions. The cost of standard membership at Two’s Company is €595 for six months which also includes a meeting with the agency and the guarantee of a minimum of four introductions.