‘It’s like online dating for happily married women in their 40s’

‘I have just enough freckles and I’m never without red lipstick,’ my son read from the au pair’s application. ‘That’s off her dating profile’

The au pair filter: 'We ruled out anyone who couldn’t drive or sounded like they were looking for sexual adventure or didn’t like leaving the house. We put a line through everyone who seemed never to have actually met a child.'

The au pair filter: 'We ruled out anyone who couldn’t drive or sounded like they were looking for sexual adventure or didn’t like leaving the house. We put a line through everyone who seemed never to have actually met a child.'

 

The problem with writing a column such as this one is that there’s always a risk your words will come back to haunt you.

It is a mistake, I’ve learned too late, to make public declarations about things like giving up midweek wine drinking or not joining any more gyms during the month of January or never getting an au pair. I have stumbled on at least two of these. Literally, once or twice. Lately, though, it looks like I’m about to stumble again.

After too many recent juggling-related mishaps, I have come to the realisation that the only thing for it – for this life of unpredictable work schedules and frequently travelling second parents and childminders spread into the far corners of the county and small people frequently stricken with winter viruses – is an au pair.

She says she’s ‘romantic’. Why would we want a romantic au pair?

I set up a profile on some au pair matching websites, with my own smug warning ringing in my ears. Irish people are not cut out for au pairs. We’re too keen to be liked. Too inclined to say the opposite of what we mean, I declared in these very pages with the luxury of one whose childcare arrangements were, at the time, relatively straightforward. We are a people more comfortable in servitude than being served. We clean before the cleaner arrives. Here I am, one year on, redecorating before the au pair arrives.

Looking for your first au pair is like dating again for happily married women in their 40s. I say “again”, but I’ve never technically dated. I met my husband when I was 20, before Sex and the City came to Ireland and introduced us to Cosmopolitans and this American phenomenon called “dating”. Before that, “dating” meant a shift in a nightclub, pub, or taxi rank. If you managed all three in the one night, and a kebab on the way home, you knew it was serious.

There was no swiping right, no Tinder, no messages mockingly left on “read”. There was only standing in draughty hallways with freezing fingers fumbling to get coins into payphone slots. The benefit of this was that lying to yourself was so much easier. Of course he lost your number. Of course he tried to call when you were out. Of course your flatmate forgot to tell you. If you wanted to be certain of ever actually seeing one another again, you had to move in together and then, after a whirlwind romance of, say, 10 to 15 years, you got married. It was all so much more straightforward.

So I missed out on online dating but I imagine this is what it’s like. I’ve crafted a profile that tries to make me sound warm yet in control; likeable yet direct; the kind of person who wouldn’t say “Sit down there while I make you a cup of tea” when she really means “Look at you sitting there Snapchatting all day and not a child in the house washed.”

Then I enlisted the services of two of the wisest people I know to help me go through the applications.

“Not her,” said the nearly-10-year-old immediately, as I examined the photo of a friendly-looking Brazilian.

Why not? “’I have just enough freckles and I’m never without red lipstick’,” he read aloud. “That’s straight off her dating profile.”

Before I could investigate this prescient but slightly worrying insight, the 11-year-old was writing another one off. “She didn’t tick the box for ‘willing to work with single parents’,” she pointed out. “We’ll have none of that in this house.”

We sent them an introductory message, and then we were into stage two – hope, disappointment, denial, rejection

What about her, I asked. Nope, they both said immediately. “She says she’s ‘romantic’. Why would we want a romantic au pair?” Her? “She doesn’t say anything about liking children.” Her? “Her hobbies are making ponytails and watching cartoons!”

We ruled out anyone who couldn’t drive or sounded like they were looking for sexual adventure or didn’t like leaving the house. We put a line through everyone who seemed never to have actually met a child. The stuff about children having pure souls was a giveaway, the children decided. Then we put an X through everyone who wanted to be an au pair “because I’m not happy with my life”.

Out of a pool of 32,676, that left roughly six.

We sent them an introductory message, and then we were into stage two – hope, disappointment, denial, rejection, hope again. After a bit of messaging back and forth, two of them ghosted me. Two more turned out to be unsuitable on the grounds of enquiring about the exact dimensions of the bedroom they were going to be sleeping in or the kind of car they’d have. That left two: a calm and gentle vegan photographer from South America, and a sweet Italian who winningly confessed to never having minded children before and not knowing how to use a washing machine.

That’s not winning, my husband, returned from his travels, said. She’s 24. That’s incompetence.

But she has such nice eyes, I replied. It’s possibly a good thing that I missed out on online dating. I may not actually be cut out for au pair hosting either, though I still have high hopes for the vegan photographer. I’ll keep you posted.

joconnell@irishtimes.com

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