The expression ‘online dating’ seems to crop up everywhere nowadays. Websites such as e-Harmony, Match.com and Plenty of Fish are thrust at us constantly. It’s the cool way to try and meet the person of your dreams and, of course, totally socially acceptable.
However, meeting a partner through a dating agency wasn’t always considered to be hip. In fact, quite the opposite is true. You were sad, a social outcast, desperate even, if you had to resort to paying an agency to introduce you to a potential partner. The shame of it…
Let me take you back to 1996…
I had ended a six year relationship and after a few months of singledom felt it was time to go on the hunt for a new man. I was in my late twenties and having met the majority of my previous boyfriends in pubs and clubs, I felt this was not something I wanted to do again. But how else was I realistically going to meet a decent man? My workplace was definitely not an option. Most of the guys I knew were attached, so short of bumping into ‘Mr Right’ in the street, it was unlikely to happen. I knew of a couple of girls at work who had met their partners through an agency called Dateline and although they were fairly open about the fact, they were the subject of a lot of office gossip. My mum also had a friend that had met her husband through the same agency, and had suggested that I should think about joining. I was appalled at the suggestion. I wasn’t a sad character. I didn’t need to join the ranks of the ‘desperately seeking’ . However, over the next few weeks, the idea grew on me. So, I decided that it wouldn’t hurt just to find out a little bit more.
I was an avid reader of Cosmopolitan back then, which was one of the glossy magazines where Dateline placed their colourful ads showing cheesy grinning couples. I cut the reply coupon out, filled in my details and posted it off with apprehension.
A few days later, I received a glossy A4 folder containing various forms, leaflets and a paperback book, which told the reader how they could find love with Dateline, and featured some success stories. It sounded perfect. Too good to be true. They convinced me to join. What could ever go wrong?
You were required to fill in a very lengthy questionnaire, mainly consisting of multiple choice questions, which attempted to elicit as much information as possible about an individual. I recall that one of the questions asked how attractive you thought you were. The choices were average, attractive or very attractive; I boldly ticked attractive. The magical Dateline computer would then process all the answers you provided and churn out a list of perfect matches. The cost of membership was £150 per year. For that you got an initial list of six names of potential matches, and your name would also appear on lists sent to people you were matched with. I convinced myself it was a good investment to find everlasting love.
This is how I imagined the Dateline computer to be (Image from Carry on Loving – 1970)
A week or so later, I received my list of matches. Six names, addresses and telephone numbers of men within a 20 mile radius of my home. Reality then hit. I was going to have to pluck up the courage to contact these men. I decided to leave it a few days to get used to the idea. Once I felt bold enough, I looked down the list of names. Which name to pick? I decided the first one was the best place to start, I was a nervous wreck. Just the kind of woman you want to call you on a Sunday evening. He answered, and I introduced myself and said I had received his name from Dateline. He informed me, in a very pompous manner, that he had met someone already. Not a pleasant experience and I decided I didn’t have the nerve to do it again. So, I decided to write a letter to the next name on the list, Jonathan. By hand, using proper writing paper – it was before the internet and email were in common use in homes, and I didn’t have the luxury of my own PC and printer back in 1996. I recall that I spent ages drafting a letter to Jonathan, and no doubt filled it with complete drivel.
Meanwhile, I received a phone call on my landline a few days later from a guy called Mark; he had received my details from Dateline as part of his list of six names. We had a brief, nervous chat, and arranged to meet in a local pub on Saturday lunchtime.
I was incredibly nervous as I walked into the pub. No photos were used by Dateline, so you had no idea what someone looked like before you met them. You relied on a few brief details exchanged beforehand. We did find each other, and the date lasted about an hour. That was enough. He was incredibly boring and just the kind of person I didn’t want to meet, He went to great pains to tell me about how he liked to watch ‘The Magic Roundabout’ when he was ill. He told me that he liked to take his time with these things and didn’t fall in love on a first date, but he might contact me again. I wanted to tell him that he was quite safe from my attentions and not to bother contacting me again, but instead smiled sweetly and said that I understood. I felt quite unsettled by the whole process. If he was the type of guy I was going to end up meeting, I’d rather not bother. I stopped to buy a bottle of brandy on the way home. To make things worse, when I got home, there was a reply from Jonathan waiting for me; he had met someone from outside Dateline.
That was it as far as I was concerned. I was not going to contact anyone else and if I got any more calls, I would say I wasn’t interested.
A week or so later, I got another call. My resolve not to bother went out of the window. Another date was set up. And then it started in earnest. I received call after call, night after night. I didn’t arrange to meet everyone I spoke to, but in the space of three months, I met 16 men. One day, I had a date at lunchtime and another in the evening. I met some of them two or three times One thing that was common throughout was that most of the men I spoke with, and met, worked in professions where there were few women, with engineering being the most common.
I also had my fair share of dating disasters along the way. I was stood up a couple of times. Bored to tears a number of times. But if was all fairly innocent, as in no sexual encounters. In fact, there was never any suggestion of any, and to be honest nothing was further from my mind. Apart from a guy called Alex that is. We met quite a few times, and he was a bit quirky, quite different to all the others that I met. He came round to my house for a meal one night, and I had suggested that he stay over (in the spare room) so he could have a drink. I was hoping that he might sneak into my room during the night. But to my disappointment, he didn’t. I decided to take him a cup of tea the next morning, and my clumsy attempts to seduce him failed. So that was the end of that.
The last man I met through Dateline was with no 16. Shortly afterwards, I received another letter from Jonathan telling me that he was now single. I wrote and told him that I had now met someone. And the not-so-lovely Mark did contact me again, some two months after we met. I took great delight in telling him I was inundated with male attention, and I would not be meeting him again.
And I ended up getting married (eventually) to no 16…