Tuesday, 17 April 2012

HE’S SO WRONG, HE’S MR RIGHT

What are the chances of finding love in middle age? Pretty good, thinks Sarah Howes, who founded her own dating agency for women (and men) over the age of 50. Barbara Want spoke to her

Written by Barbara Want
If you're looking for love, I have a New Year's resolution for you,' Sarah Howes enthuses. 'Throw away that list of everything you're looking for in a man. Forget what's on it and NEVER think about it again. Then you stand a chance of finding what you're actually looking for.'

Sarah should know what she's talking about. Her agency, Carpe Diem, sprang from the kernel of a 'hunch' three years ago, that older people (of both sexes) weren't being catered for in the dating world. Hoping to penetrate an untapped market, she placed an advert, and when the phone started to ring off the hook, 'we knew we were on to something. It was mainly women who called at first, then the men started coming forward – at one point we didn't have enough women to go round.'

Her first few 'matches' fell into place quickly, lulling her – and her business partner – into a false sense of security. 'We thought, this is easy! But then the hard work started.' That hard work was understanding what made two people likely to get on: simply sending them on a lot of dates wasn't enough. There are probably millions to be made by anyone who discovers the formula for predicting the elusive 'chemistry' between two people, but until that happens Sarah seems to have hit on something that might at least boost the odds of finding it. It's The List. The one that needs to go in the bin. And ladies, it is WE who are slaves to The List – of qualities we want – nay, INSIST on – in the perfect man. And it seems it's The List that's causing us all the problems.

'Women come to me pleading they are desperate to meet a man,' says Sarah. 'But then The List comes out and it's full of reasons why anyone I suggest isn't right. I've had women discounting men because they aren't tall enough. Or they don't have the 'right' number of children. Or they live in the wrong part of the country. Or they are widowed and they don't want to live in the late wife's shadow. Or he's divorced, so he must have something wrong with him.

'The Lists are getting longer. I think it's because we live in a society in which we think we can order up just what we want; a sort of Identikit person. But people have lives, and emotional baggage. I sometimes wonder whether women do this on purpose to protect themselves from ever having to find someone.'

Harsh words, but the story of my friend Jen convinces me Sarah is on to something. It's something of a middle-aged love story, so if you're squeamish about romance, look away now...

Jen was widowed in her late 40s after a long and happy marriage and for years she despaired of ever meeting anyone again. Her mother's words probably didn't help: 'At least you're not yet 50, darling...' ('But I will be NEXT YEAR,' Jen wailed.) Finally, about a year ago, Jen tentatively, hesitantly and bravely dipped her toes back into the dating world. It's not the easiest place to be in your middle years.

In Jen's case The List of qualities she wanted in a man went something like this:

  • Must live in the southeast, preferably London (Jen is a Kensington girl)
  • Must be a high achiever with a degree, preferably from a top university (like Jen)
  • Must work in the 'real' world, meaning anything but the City (she's a writer and likes to think of herself as a 'creative')
  • Must love animals and preferably be a vegetarian (like Jen)

After Sarah introduced Jen to several eligible men who wined and dined her in Mayfair's best restaurants, she added:

  • Must not enjoy sailing. Categorically.

'Because I hate boats,' was all she said when I asked why.

In the space of about six months Jen met 14 men: they all ticked the boxes on The List but none was 'quite right'. Then Sarah suggested Jen meet Richard. What was wrong with him? 'Nothing at all. He's lovely. It's just that he used to work in the City, lives on a farm in Devon, is passionate about sailing and at the weekend, shoots grouse. And pheasant. Possibly even deer, but I didn't dare to tell her that. Oh yes, and he didn't go to university. I'm not sure they had a single thing in common actually, but I thought it was worth a try.'

So lukewarm was Jen that she had to be cajoled by Sarah into meeting Richard for lunch. However, lunch went well, but Jen wasn't sure it was worth meeting Richard again. The thought of him walking across a grouse moor in plus fours simply didn't 'do it' for her. Sarah persisted. After four meetings, Jen rang Sarah to say she and Richard had fallen in love and were planning to spend their lives together.

So if Jen's story is proof that The List should be dumped, what does it show about Jen's mum's view that once a woman hits 50, it's tough to find a man?

'The idea that for older women it's all over is simply not true,' says Sarah, her normally mild manner strained by frustration at hearing this oft-peddled line. 'I have men on my books who are more than happy to meet women their own age – and older. They want a woman with a shared history. Above all, they want a best friend.'

As if to make a point, on the day we meet, Sarah took a call from a client, a 64-year-old man whose partner (to whom Sarah introduced him) has just left him – for a younger man. 'He thought she was The One,' she says, 'but she's ended it to move in with a 50-year-old. She's 75. No one will believe it, but it's true.'

Older women these days know how to look good and have been through enough testing times to take a relaxed view on life. And there are plenty of men who appreciate that. 'I believe the more intelligent the man, the less of an issue age is,' says Sarah. 'I'm amazed at the quality of the men I meet. I have this intuition test: when I sit in front of a man I ask myself – if there was a fire, would he get me out? The men on my books are good men.'

But it's a notoriously tough business to be in (emotions run high and common sense can run low), but Sarah claims success rates of around 70-80%. In the past two months she has matched 13 couples. 'None would have met if I hadn't persuaded them to forget what's on The List.'

Sarah clearly is a persuasive woman. But she does know what she's talking about, just ask Jen – she is planning to move to Devon, which isn't as far from Kensington as she first thought.

FIND LOVE ONLINE

To increase your chances of meeting your match, get connected online. Here are seven of the best...

Carpe Diem: A personal introduction agency for the over-50s, specialises in matching mature, like-minded people, making the first steps in meeting someone new less daunting. The one-off fee of £3,500 gets you an unlimited number of introductions, sent to you each month: www.carpediemintros.com

Online dating site Guardian Soulmates boasts the claim: 'where like-minded people find great dates'. You can join for free and browse through thousands of people's profiles straight away to see who catches your eye. The most taxing bit is probably creating a user name that sums up your personality in under 25 characters: www.guardian.co.uk/soulmates

At Meeting Millionaires, the ultra-rich can meet other ultra-rich people. Strictly for the well-to-do, the power of your purse is checked when you sign up: www.meetingmillionaires.com

Dating For Parents is a meeting place for single parents, which takes the worry out of mentioning the fact you have little ones when you're trying to date. Free to join: www.DatingForParents.com

For dating with a scientific approach, try PARSHIP. Here, you are lead through the PARSHIP test, which identifies relationshiprelevant character traits, habits and interests. Then go ahead and enter your own criteria for the partner search and fi ll in your profile: www.parship.co.uk

My Single Friend is the place for those well-meaning types who can't believe their best friend is still single. They push all your best qualities so you don't have to, meaning the cringe factor of the manhunt is greatly reduced: www.mysinglefriend.com

Those seeking a long-term relationship should head to Match Affinity. Users take a free affi nity questionnaire, browse compatible matches and send their first message to each other free. You can search by race, religion, and more: www.matchaffinity.com



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