Lessons in love: dating advice from people who’ve made it work

Meeting on Tinder, life as a young widow, whirlwind engagements and new arrivals

It’s Valentine’s Day on Tuesday, the annual consumerist love-in for those in relationships and the inevitable feeling of being left out by those who are not. Relationship advice can often feel gimmicky or manufactured, a series of unrealistic instructions or muddled cliches. So we went to the source. What lessons do people experiencing different relationship scenarios want to pass on, from making Tinder work for you, to dealing with the death of a partner, from having a baby to navigating a whirlwind romance?

The Tinder Couple

If you're looking for a partner, how do you turn a Tinder date into a relationship? Sammy Lee from Galway got on Tinder "because I was in my 30s and single, and I was sick of people telling me I wasn't trying hard enough!" After a few dates – "nice guys but not for me" – she gave it a break and returned to it six months later and matched with Niall Fortune, from Cavan. "Instead of going on a one-on-one date, we were both going to Longitude [festival] so we said we'd meet at that. It was a group of friends meeting another group of friends with everyone in good spirits, a lot easier than sitting in a bar staring at each other doing an interview process."

While Tinder offers quick access to dates, just having that choice and option and ease doesn’t mean that will suit everyone. Lee, like many people, admits to not being “the most confident person on dates. Some of them were very interview-y, and that’s hard. I just found it a bit stressful. I’d be a bit more nervous than most people, so I felt that if there was a group of friends involved, it’s not as focused on one person and you don’t feel in the spotlight as much.”

At the festival, Lee and Fortune went to see a band together, and after returning to their friends, met up again later. “As the night went on, the drinks were flowing. It was good craic. You know yourself; at a festival everyone is in good form, it’s really relaxed and you mix with loads of people anyway.” A second date came sooner than expected when Fortune, perhaps after a few shandies, bought a ticket to the second day of the festival that night and met up with Lee and her friends again the following day. They have been together for nearly three years. “If I was to go back to my younger dating self,” Lee says, “I would say definitely make the first move. The other person could be waiting for you to make the move as well . . . You’ve nothing to lose by sending a message.”


Sammy’s lessons:

  • Avoid 'interview'-type dates: "you want to have a bit of craic with someone."
  • Avoid meals on first dates: "Eating in front of somebody, trying to talk with your mouthful, I just didn't find it comfortable."
  • Be brave: "If I to be back in the dating world, I'd be a bit more confident. Follow up with texts. I think I was playing it too cool perhaps . . . I'd be braver if I was back again."
  • Mix a date with your regular group socialising to take the pressure off.

The Death Of A Partner

How do you cope with losing a partner and the difficulties of finding love after? Sinead Hingston was 30 and pregnant with her first child when her husband Geoff, 37, died suddenly on holiday in Portugal. Since that loss, she began a new relationship, but it hasn't been easy. "I guess I'm lucky that I was young, I was only 30 when it happened. I wasn't your average widow – that sounds bad, but I wasn't in my mid-60s, mid-70s. My current boyfriend is one in a million. There's not a lot of people who would take on what he's taken on."

Hingston shared her story on Facebook, and went on to talk about it elsewhere in the media, something she felt broke the taboo of speaking about death. "I'm very vocal about my husband, he was a massive part of my life; my little one's dad. It's an Irish thing: people die, you move on and not talk about it. I'm just not built that way. I think just being honest. My current boyfriend, from the moment I met him, I said to him how vocal I was of Geoff and how there were pictures everywhere. There are no pictures of Lily and Geoff together, but he did exist and he is her dad."

Hingston says she’s an open person, but her husband’s death made her more “black and white, which you have to be when you watch a 37-year-old husband stop breathing and dying in front of you”, and her tolerance for sweating the small stuff evaporated. The mantra that “life is too short” has coloured her communication since then, saying that you have to step back from small arguments unless there’s a very valid point for having them.

One thing that Hingston and many others struggle with is other people’s reactions to going from losing a partner to finding another one. “You have that constant thing that people are going to judge you – ‘she’s moved on quite quickly’. It’s six years in July. I think Irish people can be very judgemental when it comes to what you should do . . . It’s what makes you happy and what gets you through, it doesn’t take away from what you went through, but it’s still your life. You still have to get up in the morning.”

Hingston’s lessons

  • Do what makes you happy. We have no idea when our checkout day is. Make the most of the time we have left."
  • Talk about death and mental health, just because it can feel as though a culture doesn't allow it, doesn't mean you shouldn't.
  • Take your time with a new relationship . . . We did the whole long distance thing which was brilliant for us because of the situation. It's not your average relationships or situation. We got to know each other slowly."

The Newly Engaged

Sharleen Tuite and Jon Day both knew what they wanted, and didn't mind moving quickly, becoming recently engaged within a year of beginning their relationship. "I think going into a relationship, I knew exactly what I wanted," Tuite says. "I wanted to fancy somebody, somebody who made me happy and I found someone to buzz along with, someone to go to a festival with, chill out with, sit on the couch with and have loads a fun with."

It’s a common experience for a new relationship to move quickly when previous ones don’t work out, Day says. “It took me a while to figure out what I didn’t want in a relationship . . . if you don’t feel that magic and it feels like work, get out of it.” In the beginning, their relationship defied conventions, being long distance, and with a small age gap. “I’m a bit older than Jon,” Tuite says, “almost five years. My younger brother is older than Jon, and for me I was always like ‘there is no way I’d go out with someone my brothers’ age’. But I met Jon and it was like ‘it’s fine’.”

For Day, the distance aspect of the start of their relationship acted as a catalyst for them to make more of an effort. “We really had to try, not try hard, but decide what we wanted. We had to make a conscious decision: I really like you, I really fancy you, and that makes it more positive.” Day said he’s been hearing relationship advice for years, “but meeting someone that defied all of that ,you realise you should ignore all that stuff, and we’re proof that’s working out”.

Tuite cites honesty as an important starting-off point. “I think be honest from the start. You know how you feel, and if you want to make it work.”

“We weren’t dating for the sake of it,” Day says. “It was because I found someone who was really great, and I being up front about that . . . when you’re younger it’s quite natural, to listen to peoples advice, and to protect a part of yourself, but we were both quite honest with each other and what we what . . . If you love each other, it’s quite obvious, there’s no point trying to hide it.”

Tuite and Day’s lessons

  • Technology helps: WhatsApp is a godsend for long distance relationships
  • The conventions of distance, time and age don't necessarily count when you know the person is right for you, so don't overstate their importance
  • Be spontaneous and romantic
  • Don't play games, being up front allows everyone to cut to the chase and feel more secure

The New Arrival

One of the biggest pressures a healthy relationship can face is the birth of a baby. 2fm broadcaster and author Louise McSharry and her husband recently had their first child.

“We were kind of rushed into it because of my medical scenario,” says McSharry, who had fertility concerns while recovering from cancer. “We knew we wanted to have a baby at some stage, but it was rushed in the end so we didn’t have a lot of time to think about it.”

The expectations of having a child and the reality can sometimes jar, but it’s important to remember that’s normal. “I thought we’d be this adoring happy family and the reality is it’s a strain, it’s tough, you have to remind yourself to give someone a little kiss in the morning. It’s much harder than I thought because the big issue for me is that our relationship has always been very equal from day one; financially we contribute equally and in terms of domestically we contribute equally. You just can’t be that way if you have a baby if one of you is on maternity leave. I struggle sometimes with resenting the fact that I have to do more of the rearing.”

Being conscious of spending more time together has been crucial for McSharry and her husband, and one piece of advice she has is to try to take a holiday or some time away if you can while still pregnant. When the baby arrives, McSharry says maintaining some semblance of socialising has also been important, “before you have a baby you’re a person, and you’re still person after”.

Seeing her husband Gordon become a dad, has been hugely rewarding.

“It is lovely to see someone become a parent, and someone love something that you love as much as you do. To see Sam’s face light up when Gordon comes home is so lovely. Things I always knew about Gordon are highlighted. I always knew he was good and kind but they come in to play more when there’s a baby.”

McSharry’s lessons

  • Hormones will drive you crazy, but keep them in perspective, "If you find yourself Googling 'running away from your life', it's temporary! If it lasts more than a week, get some help."
  • Patience is a virtue. Male partners should be prepared for their female partners "to be a little unreasonable, or a little nastier than usual. It's a huge thing for women to go through, as well as breastfeeding which can be such a huge challenge."
  • Be easy on yourself and each other, "you're going to think you're doing things wrong but everyone feels like that. If you make mistakes, that's ok, give yourself an easier time."