'At a party, I'm always wary of people's response when they ask what my job is,' says Paul George, an accountant who has recently set up Prolink, a dating agency for members of his profession. 'We do have this image of being dull, lifeless and boring, which has been very damaging.'
In a social situation, we often judge others by their choice of occupation. Tell them you're a dentist, stockbroker or teacher and people will respond with interest. Admit you're an accountant and interest may quickly switch to indifference. 'We are judged differently,' says Mr George. 'Friends I know believe that they haven't got a fair chance with someone if they say they're an accountant straight away.'
He believes that Prolink, aimed at accountants but also open to other professions, will give his colleagues an opportunity to break down these barriers and stereotypes. 'At least they can get to the dating stage and prove that there is more to them than their job title.'
Set up six weeks ago and advertised in Pass, a magazine for trainee accountants, Prolink has attracted nearly 300 responses. Applicants have to complete a four-page questionnaire, giving details about themselves and their ideal partner.
Questions are prioritised in order of importance, with 'smoking' and 'politics' at the top of the list, followed by 'children - if desired', 'education' and 'religion'. 'Looks aren't that important,' says Mr George. 'I base my matchings on other qualities, such as profession and education.'
For pounds 85, applicants will be kept on a database for a year, during which time they will receive lists of potential dates. He sees his role as that of a middleman, passing on telephone numbers and organising meetings for potential couples.
'I've just had a call from an accountant desperate to be fixed up by Friday,' says Mr George, who is working flat-out to organise members' mailing lists, and set up formal dates by the end of the month.
Although there are much larger dating agencies catering for all professionals, Prolink has so far succeeded in targeting a small but profitable corner of the market. According to Frances Pyne of Dateline, the computerised dating agency, in the last two months 10 per cent of all applicants have been accountants.
Hillie Marshall, director of Dinner Dates, reports a similar trend. 'We certainly do get more of them at our dinners than any other profession,' she says. 'They're really coming out of the woodwork at the moment - out of about 30 people on each date, at least four will be accountants, often more.'
Is this a reflection of their personality or just the nature of their work? 'The ones I've met have had as much vitality as anybody else,' says Ms Pyne. 'Long unsociable hours and lots of studying makes them feel isolated and that's the reason they come to us.'
Ms Marshall also believes that the glut of unattached accountants is due entirely to their work environment. 'It's a very solitary occupation,' she says. 'Burying your head in numbers all day is hardly conducive to meeting people.'
One reason why more accountants use dating agencies may be that their occupation requires a specific set of character traits, which may or may not attract a certain sort of person. Peter Forsyth, psychologist and managing director of Careers Analysts, sets aptitude and personality tests for potential accountants. 'We always say it's tough if you want to be an accountant, but rate strongly on the feelings side.'
Too much spontaneity and creativity is, he says, out of the question. 'We wouldn't recommend someone who is a wild extrovert, or too bold and venturesome. It wouldn't rest easily with their job.' Instead, they should be good on reasoning, facts-orientated and highly disciplined.
'Accountants are fairly fastidious,' says 32-year-old Peter Protopapa, who responded to Prolink when it was first advertised. 'Perhaps dating agencies are just another way of ensuring we don't leave anything to chance.' Coming from a traditional Greek-Cypriot background, he feels that Mr George's agency is preferable to the meetings his family has tried to arrange for him.
'Prolink is contrived,' he concedes. 'But at least you have a chance to chat and get to know someone without an audience.'
Spending hours revising for exams was another reason Mr Protopapa decided to contact Prolink. 'If you're studying three or four times a week, relationships take longer to build up. I'd like to meet someone who understands what I'm doing.'
His previous girlfriends have always had different jobs which, looking back, he feels may have been a disadvantage.
'In my job, we do tend to talk jargon. If a partner doesn't appreciate what you're discussing then they'll just assume you're a boring old accountant.'
Yet according to Ms Pyne, the last thing accountants are interested in is other accountants. 'I think they find the prospect of talking about balance sheets and current liabilities very tedious.'
Similarly, Ms Marshall has never yet witnessed a romance between two accountants. 'They generally want to meet people who are in a more gregarious setting. The first thing a lot of them say to me is, 'Don't tell anybody what I do.' '
Mr George hopes that his agency will help his colleagues to overcome this sort of embarrassment. Mr Protopapa, looking forward to his first Prolink date, certainly won't be coy about his occupation. 'If somebody doesn't like what I do, then that's just their bad luck.' Luckily, as far as romance is concerned, it seems there is no accounting for taste.
For a Prolink questionnaire contact Paul George: 081-367 3078
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