While Valentine’s Day is a chance for couples to celebrate, for singletons seeking a soulmate it is a reminder of how cruel the dating game is
Áilín Quinlan, Lifestyle Magazine, Sunday Independent, 11th February 2013
The business of love: Feargal Harrington and Rena Maycock set up dating agency Intro
This Valentine’s Day, Feargal Harrington’s phone will probably ring well into the early hours. Valentine’s Day is like Christmas Day in terms of the heightened feelings of loneliness it brings, according to Harrington, a director of the dating agency Intro.
The messages left with his answering service next Wednesday night/Thursday morning will graphically reflect the pain of reluctant singledom today – particularly amongst 30 and 40-somethings.
“Being single on February 14th can hit home very hard and it hammers people’s self-confidence. They really hate it. You have single people ringing at 4am and 5am on Valentine’s Day morning, upset, saying they don’t want to be single this time next year. Some would be very emotional. They really want to meet genuine, like-minded people.”
So what’s stopping them? Our drinking culture, lack of confidence, unrealistic expectations, lack of an appropriate venue – the list appears to be endless. But at the very top is the fact that despite a genuine longing for a soulmate, many Irish men won’t approach a woman unless they’re drunk.
In 2011 Harrington and his partner Rena Maycock set up Intro, a Dublin-based dating agency which travels the country to meet clients face-to-face.
Intro was established, he says, primarily as a response to the horror stories family and friends were bringing back from the dating scene. “People can go out on a Friday and Saturday night and spend up to €200 on taxis, drinks and so on, only to end up in a pub clutching a drink while people are falling all over each other,” says Harrington.
“What was coming back to us was that guys in Ireland don’t have the confidence to approach women unless they’re drunk – and then the women retaliate with a snappy remark because they don’t like it.
“Women in a group together can be quite intimidating, especially if they are all looking so fabulous – but the guy is fearful of rejection.”
Cormac, a mellow 36-year-old Dubliner, says his buddies regularly ask him to chat girls up for them.
“I’ve no problem walking up to a girl but a lot of guys have to have a rake of pints on them to do it”, he admits.
“My friends will often ask me to chat to girls for them and bring them over to our group. A lot of guys need Dutch courage to do that – and a lot of them don’t know what to say when they go up to a girl.”
“Some women can be horrifically rude”, he adds.
“They’ll walk off or talk back at you in a cheeky or unpleasant way and you have to walk away. But some guys won’t pick up on the signal to go and they’ll stay there and it can be quite humiliating for them,” he adds.
Social media may also be another reason for this male shyness, believes Harrington.
“Facebook, tweeting, texting etc means younger people have lost the ability to communicate face to face. It’s very impersonal, and in real life they aren’t able to cope because they cannot hide behind their smartphone or computer.”
But whatever the reason, the breakdown in traditional courting patterns has left women in a state of limbo, says Maycock.
“Women say they’re unclear who should approach who because men aren’t approaching women any more. Guys aren’t chatting women up; they’re not prepared to take the chance.”
At the same time a lot of men get prickly about being chatted up by women, she says; it makes them feel emasculated.
The result? A kind of Mexican stand-off between the sexes.
“Women simply don’t know where they stand,” declares Maycock, adding that a man might make eye contact with a woman all night, but when the lights come on at the end of the night he’s quite liable to just walk out the door.
“I find it really hard to meet people,” says Jennifer, an attractive 33-year-old singleton from Co Tipperary.
“Men don’t come up to you in pubs or nightclubs – women and men very rarely meet each other like that anymore. If a man does come up to you at the end of the night, your first thought is that he’s trying to get a leg over.”
But it’s not just Irish males who have a problem with drink, says Harrington.
“The girls don’t want to be chucking down pints, so in terms of weight gain, vodka is the safest bet – but it also gets them drunk very quickly,” he says, adding that many women meet up in someone’s house to get well-oiled beforehand.
“There’s almost a competition, as to who can get the drunkest before going to the pub.
“It’s the Irish mentality, drowning the nerves in a sea of alcohol and building false confidence – but ironically it completely undermines your ability to communicate with others.”
Often, he says, these are people who could be perfect for each other sober.
On top of that, says Harrington, many men make it clear in their interviews that they don’t like to see a woman drunk.
“They say they don’t want someone who knocks back the white wine – men are noticing that many women are becoming a bit too dependent on alcohol.”
Another big problem for people in their thirties or forties, says relationships counsellor Mary Kenny, is the lack of a venue in which to meet like-minded people:
“Often people who are on the bar and club scene are there for other reasons than for meeting someone for relationships.
“They may be interested in a fling or a one-night stand and a long-term commitment is not what they’re looking for.
“The problem being reported by my clients frequently is the lack of a place to meet people who are interested in a long-term relationship.
“A lot of people turn to dating sites and some have reported success but they’re not for everyone – you need to spend a lot of time emailing people who might not turn out to be suitable. Very often internet dating can be quite misleading.
“If you meet someone in person they can turn out to be nothing like they seemed on the internet.”
But misleading self-profiles are not just a problem on the internet – high expectations have encouraged many men to exaggerate their status.
“A lot of girls are high maintenance – they’ll ask straight away what you do, your address and whether you have a house – they’re trying to make a profile of you,” says Cormac.
“They judge a guy by his job, his address and the kind of car he drives.
“Men know women are like this and they’ll tell them big porkies because they know the girls have high expectations.”
Jennifer adds: “There are a lot of guys out there who’ll just tell you what they think you want to hear – you don’t know who they are or what they’re looking for and it’s very hard to establish trust.”
The dating scene in Ireland is “very cruel”, says Maycock, adding that clients have referred to pubs and clubs as “hostile environments”‘ and that female clients have expressed concerns about the motives of the men they meet at such venues.
But the problems don’t end when people do sign up to a dating agency – a ‘serial-dating’ mentality and wildly unrealistic expectations of a potential partner can damage their chances.
“Some people are going out three and four times a week on different dates with different people,” says Harrington.
“They’re thinking the grass is always greener on the far side, and they’re not investing in committing to the ‘here and now’, and giving the date a chance.”
Unrealistic expectations of the perfect partner are another major problem, says author and dating consultant Anne-Marie Cussen, who has just launched her new website www.possibledate.com
The author of ‘The Guide to Dating’, says people sometimes baulk at a possibly ideal match because their date fails to meet all their expectations.
Women, for example, can make it very hard for themselves by placing a huge emphasis on characteristics such as height – and don’t want to compromise.
“I had a client once who refused to meet a guy because he was just five foot six,” she recalls. “We persuaded her to go out with him and they ended up getting married!”
Women and men can be very set in their ways as to what they want in a partner, she says – she recalls another client who was seeking a partner, but only one who could match her portfolio of three properties.
In some cases, particularly during the boom, Cussen says, clients viewed partners as a kind of designer accessory.
“I found people wanted a partner the way they wanted a handbag .
“It wasn’t about sharing a life, it was selfish and self-absorbed and there was a real issue about the inconvenience of a full relationship. They just weren’t prepared to admit that to themselves. A relationship takes work, effort, investment, concern for another person – and a bit of self-sacrifice!”
Harrington puts it bluntly.
“If people are realistic enough to realise that what’s really important is character, common interests, good family relationships and, as regards career, being relatively driven, they have a better chance of success.
“We have an expression: “Those who can be pleased, will be pleased!”