YES

BARBARA KINGAN 46

MY EXPERIENCE is that dating agencies are a complete waste of money - that's why this week I turned to a PR agency to find me romance.

I joined quite a large dating agency three years ago, two years after I broke up with my husband, and I was given the whole glossy brochure treatment with a couple on the cover looking incredibly in love. They promised to find me my perfect match, and wanted to know what my interests were, how far I'd want to travel and all sorts. So I told them: I love the theatre, I'm a non-smoker, I'm romantic and I love a good chat. But none of my matches had nothing even remotely in common with me.

One man they set me up with lived over three hours away by car which was unfeasible. When I met another date, I thought I'd been set up by Jeremy Beadle. He was about 23 stone, bright red in the face and he absolutely reeked, he whistled when he talked. It was horrific. After 15 minutes I pretended my children were ill and left. Then there was a man who I fell in love with after five month's dating but it turned out he was already married, which was an incredibly upsetting experience.

But the worst one was a man who seemed very respectable and nice and had a very good job. We went on two or three dates and I really liked him, and it was then he told me he'd been abducted by dragons! I'm not joking, his eyes glazed over and he said he'd been taken to the land of knowledge where this dragon had sat him down and told him the meaning of life for eight hours. He said he was telling me because he knew he could trust me. It was very frightening and I felt incredibly disillusioned.

I've tried internet dating agencies as well and I've had no luck whatsoever. I'm bubbly and fun and people tell me I'm quite attractive and I look at people who've found love and think, "why have I been so unlucky?"

It's not just dating agencies that are lacking. I've been to singles clubs that are a waste of time. They're full of grotty men who are already drunk by the time you get there, and a lot of them are married. And my experience with personal ads is that there's no chance of success.

But at least with singles bars and personal ads you're not spending much money. Dating agencies aren't cheap - a couple of hundred pounds is a lot of money to me - and I've joined three so far. Quite a few of them simply don't have enough people on their books, so they just send you a list of names, keep their fingers crossed and hope that you hit it off with whichever Tom, Dick or Harry they put you in contact with.

My kids are all for my PR idea venture. I dearly hope that this will be the answer to my problems. I'm desperately sick of the singles scene and all I'm looking for is some good conversation and a bit of romance. I just won't be going to a dating agency to find it.

NO

SUE FENTON

40

I KNOW, hand on heart, that if I hadn't signed up for a dating agency I'd be on my own now, instead of happily married.

I'm very much a stay-at-home type and after my first marriage broke up after 17 years, I found myself very, very lonely: not just when we split up, but for several years afterwards. I'd had bad luck with men, and I was on the verge of giving up on ever meeting someone who would love and respect me and make me feel wanted.

Part of my problem was that, as a piano teacher, I work from home, so meeting people wasn't easy. All my friends had partners, and where would I go on my own? There's still a stigma about women going out into bars or restaurants, and I'm not the sort of person who could book a table for one and sit in a corner. It's just sad, isn't it? I'd rather not go out at all if that's all I could manage socially.

I remember Valentine's Day when I was 37: I'd just moved into a new house, bought brand new furniture, and should have felt happy. But all I got through the mail was a BT bill. I felt quite sorry for myself. That's when my friend suggested I try a dating agency.

That was in April last year. I was given six names and the last of the six turned out to be my future husband, Colin. I called him on the Monday, met him on the Friday, and two weeks later we were engaged! Two years on we're still blissfully happy.

Some people will say that's just good luck. I call it fate, but yes, there is an element of chance there. But even if I hadn't met Colin, a dating agency would have been well worth the money for me. For example, I met one perfectly nice bloke - very clever, polite, and friendly. We weren't right for each other but we said we'd keep in touch and we had a fun time. Had I not met Colin, I'd still have had the opportunity to go and meet some nice, characters, have a meal, gone to a show, and formed some platonic friendships along the way. I would never have had the chance to do anything like that if I hadn't joined a dating club.

Previously I had tried alternatives to dating agencies. I called someone from a lonely hearts column once, and it was a disaster. The voicemail message explained, really pompously, that the man in queston earned very good money, was off to the Maldives for Christmas and that his last girlfriend was blonde and size 10. I'm a size 18 and I thought, "well that's that". I was just an ordinary person looking for some love and comfort. I tried blind dates too and I vowed never again. The last bloke I met needed a personality transplant.

I think there are dating agencies, and then there are dating agencies. I paid about pounds 150 to join Dateline and it's the best thing I ever did. I'm so happy with Colin - he's so good, so loving, so considerate, there's nothing about him I don't adore. I'm so happy I'm almost scared by it. I drew up a list once of my criteria for the perfect man, and my friend crowed with laughter, saying "Susie, men like that don't exist". They do you know. I'm madly in love and always will be, and it's thanks to Dateline. I really believe that.

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