In my early thirties I was in a career in which I was mixing mostly with much younger people and shared a flat with several people in their twenties. One by one they found partners in the more orthodox ways and became rather worried about my fate. They encouraged me to join a dating agency and I did so with reluctance. I was too busy (or too scared or sceptical) to take advantage of their list but found a reply from a free advertisement in their singles magazine interesting. I contacted the writer, moved in with him a year later and married him a year after that. We were different generations, different races, different religions and from vastly different backgrounds, and it is hardly likely that we would have met any other way. I enjoyed a short but very happy marriage until my husband died suddenly.
After a period of grieving, I felt that I needed companionship again and once again joined the same agency. At this time I was in a totally different career where I was in contact mostly with elderly people and rarely met anyone my own age. I married the first person I met and have been very happy ever since. Once again my husband and I came from vastly different backgrounds and it is unlikely that we would have met in any other circumstances. We do not hide how we met, although I would imagine 90 cent of the people who attended our wedding knew how we had met.
I feel that some of the disparaging remarks made about people in some of your letters shows more about the inability of the writers to be creative and adventurous in their choices or a lack of enthusiasm for sharing anything with anyone. So he wears synthetic clothes - does that make him akin to Frankenstein? Most women are capable of surreptitiously changing a man's wardrobe given time and opportunity] So the lady is fat, is she? Have you any idea, sir, how many men are married today to ladies who were thin yesterday, or vice versa? And what exactly is YOUR build?
Too many single people hold in their minds a picture of the Perfect Mate; too many divorced people hold in their minds their bitterness and past mistakes, or deep down want a clone of their 'ex' without his or her faults. Most men seem to want women 15 to 20 years younger than themselves, and are then surprised when they find they have little in common. Most women seem to want solvent, unencumbered, successful businessmen. This is unrealistic and unadventurous. Be flexible, be friendly and be optimistic. Don't expect perfection and be prepared for a few disasters on the way but don't give up too easily.
Elizabeth, London SW2
AN EXPENSIVE AND HUMILIATING EXPERIENCE
I write as a disillusioned client of a now defunct introduction agency. Against my better judgement I joined an agency, Datalink Gold, whose literature was aimed at professional and business clients with above-average incomes. It was stated that each member was interviewed personally so that introductions could be more accurately matched to individual personalities and their particular requirements. This personal approach also weeded out unsuitable clients.
So far so good. A very courteous and charming gentleman visited me and helped me to complete the application form. Even at that stage I retained some scepticism and, to give credit where it's due, I was in no way pressurised to part with cash. However, after some weeks of indecision and doubt, I decided to take the plunge and sent off my form with the pounds 425 fee.
At first all went well. I received three profiles which matched up fairly closely to my stated preferences and which arrived within 10 days. Three pleasant encounters resulted, but none appealed enough to want to progress the relationships. Within six months, however, I was beginning to receive profiles which were complete mis-matches, and finally met two gentlemen 'recruited' by Datalink to go on their register without charge, who had been approached because their names appeared on some other computer dating list.
The whole episode has proved to be an expensive and somewhat humiliating experience which has served to remind me that you should be guided by your own gut feelings in all matters, and especially so when it comes to matters of the heart.
WE MARRY IN SEPTEMBER
I don't think I fall into the typical 'desperate' stereotype people think of when they talk about Dateline or the like. I am 29, quite attractive, an Oxford graduate, and a successful solicitor. I have an excellent social life and many friends, and yet I had been entirely single for over six years. Finally I heard someone talking about the personal column in the local paper. It was virtually free to put an ad in and only pounds 2.50 to reply. I talked to lots of friends about it and then replied to one ad: the bloke turned out to be a born-again Christian security guard - not quite what I'd had in mind.
So I put my own ad in. I was amazed at the response (over 30 letters). Four of them sounded very interesting and I put them in some kind of order. I spent the whole day panicking about ringing number one, but finally phoned that evening and, much to my amazement, we talked for an hour and 20 minutes]
We celebrated our first anniversary together in April and we're getting married in September . . .
Sarah Jane, Sheffield
PERSONAL INTERVIEWS, NOT IMPERSONAL FORMS
I enrolled with Dateline after my partner of 12 years left me for her boss and a way of life with 'less responsibility'. I say this because it was important in what I told the agency I was looking for in a prospective soulmate. I stressed that I was not interested in somebody who put their work before their family but to little avail, as most of the responses were from women for whom their job was a number one priority.
I asked that any further names sent to me, or two whom my name was given, should be women who wanted a family life and long-term commitment, with any career taking second place. Once again the names provided were not suitable. I thought the whole process was a bit of a 'meat market' anyway, as one was expected to form some idea of the character of the person on the strength of one meeting, which seemed totally inadequate.
I have since found an agency that for the same price (approximately pounds 100) carries out an in-depth interview, rather than giving one a huge form to fill in. After the interview, one name is selected as a possible person to meet; if they would like to meet you, a meeting is arranged.
Dating agencies can work but they should rely more on personal interviews than long impersonal forms and match people one at a time instead of dishing out half a dozen names, sometimes, it seems, almost at random.