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Solo Sabbatical

1 The dating agency

Here at Solo we are all about promoting the positives of being single. We do understand, however, that nothing in life is static and you might want to take a break from your solo status from time to time. There is nothing wrong with having a sabbatical – in fact we’re here to help you look at some of the options out there. So in our first issue we take a peep at the dating agency.
OK, so dating agencies might still be associated with desperation, but for the past year in Dublin a dating agency with a difference has been busily uniting those singles who aspire to become double. It’s Just Lunch is a dating concept that began in Chicago in 1991 by a woman whose engagement was called off. It’s all quite simple. You become a member and, based on your likes, dislikes and preferences, you’re matched up to a potential partner in a stress-free, hassle-free manner. As the company name suggests – it’s just lunch. Or an after-work drink. Whatever it is, it’s no big deal. But there is, of course, a fee, which is explained over the phone before you present for interview. For a 12 month membership, it’s €699, with a guarantee of 14 introductions. And for six months it’s €499, with a guarantee of six introductions. As soon as you decide you’re ready for that first date you pay up front and there is no other fee after that. You can avail of special offers to renew membership and you can also put it on hold if, for instance, you meet someone that you want to pursue a relationship with. And in fairness, the guaranteed number of dates is just that – the guaranteed number. If you so desire you can have many, many more, which would mean that ultimately you would be getting plenty of value for money.
So, if you are single and looking, what does It’s Just Lunch involve? Well, for starters it is all very discreet – thank God – as I discovered when I pressed the buzzer on a door beside Waterstones on Dawson Street. Inside I was pleasantly greeted and ushered into a quiet room with a clipboard, pen and form to fill out – all a bit like going to the doctor actually. The questionnaire was shorter than I’d expected as I was asked to reveal the basics such as my height, weight, colour of eyes and hair, religion and ethnic background. I had to specify as well what it was I was looking for. Had I come because I wanted to meet lots of different people? Was it because I was looking for a steady relationship? Or was I seeking marriage? I chose the first without hesitation. Being single and on the hunt for a husband is a tad over-ambitious in my eyes. We all need to learn to walk before we can run.
I also had to tick various boxes stating my preferences regarding my would-be date’s ethnic background, religion, marital status and whether or not there were children on the horizon. And I was asked to write three qualities that I considered very important in a partner. So far, so straightforward. Although I did wonder would I be classed as having low standards because I said that looks weren’t all that important to me and I didn’t mind if my man was divorced or widowed and had children living with him.
Soon I was joined by company director Anne-Marie Cussen, who, after quickly perusing my forms, got settled into asking me the preliminary stuff. Had I ever done anything like this before? Had I tried internet dating for example? Was I from Dublin? No, no and no. We briefly discussed my education before moving onto my interests and hobbies, the topic of work and whether or not I was happy with my chosen career path. Job satisfaction – or dissatisfaction– was important to note, I was told. It can make or break a union.
It started to get a bit more personal as I was asked about my family, who I chattered vaguely about for a few minutes. But it was when I was asked about my last relationship that I started to feel like I was in therapy. There was something about the small room, the comfortable chairs facing one another and the conversation about old loves that had been lost. You felt a bit swayed between dismissing all dialogue about previous boyfriends and giving into the urge to just totally dump on this stranger by confessing all your horrors of heartbreak, past and present.
By the time we were finished the rather lengthy session – I mean interview – I was (thankfully) told that I was a successful applicant. Apparently not everyone that comes in is taken on because some people simply have too many demands, which inevitably can’t be met. Someone might, for example, only be seeking a childless partner of a particular religious persuasion. Or a person might only want to meet a like-minded individual – such as someone who only wanted to date a man/woman who wanted to get married. I, apparently, had not requested anything so extreme that I would be turned away (this led me back to the paranoia that I’d exposed my standards as being too low of course). Quite the opposite in fact. If I wanted to go ahead with the membership there was a number of men I would be matched up with as soon as was convenient for both parties. I did my interview on a Friday morning and I could have been going on my first date at the weekend, if I so desired.
“Those who are more open tend to meet more people and have more fun,” Cusson told me, which prompted me to ask what sort of people are on the books as members.
“We have clients from the age of 20 up to 60,” she said and I couldn’t help wondering what kind of 20-year-old needs the assistance of a dating agency to find love.
“People who are not into the social scene that Ireland has,” Cusson said simply. “They like the idea of meeting someone in a no-pressure setting where you already know that there’s some common interests. A lot of people who would be really into sports for instance would be looking for like-minded people.”
The male to female ratio is 50-50 on the books of It’s Just Lunch, she added, and she and her colleagues are kept going interviewing all the time, meeting people from all walks of life. There’s just three of them running the office and they have ‘great fun’ doing the matchmaking.
Cusson believes there is market in Ireland for what It’s Just Lunch is offering, not least because people have more disposable income now.
“I wanted to do something like this ten years ago but the market wasn’t right. We’ve become a bit more advanced in Ireland, but it’s harder to meet people now. People don’t mingle. They sit in their groups when they’re out.”
The company has many extroverted men and women on their books, she said, but they are finding it more difficult to connect with others on the social scene. And while a dating agency carried something of a stigma with it some years ago, that’s not the case any more and they have come across members of both sexes who range from the attractive to very attractive. It’s Just Lunch partners with many restaurants in Dublin – such as The Farm, Odessa, Sixty6 and Coopers – and sometimes there are so many dates to organise on one night they run out of restaurants, especially on a Wednesday, which is ‘date night’ apparently.
So, it would appear, it’s a popular route to take if you’re unattached and looking to change that. I could go away and think it over in the meantime, I was told, and if I wanted to take the plunge and become a fully-fledged member all I had to do was say the word. And pay the €499 or €699 of course, which is easier to justify if you think of how much you would spend socialising in the hope of meeting someone. But, at the same time, becoming a member of It’s Just Lunch involves more socialising, so it’s definitely an expensive club to be in. Still, nobody ever said that love was cheap.

For more information go to www.itsjustlunchdublin.com or call 01 6724060.

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