Catherine Townsend: Sleeping Around

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The Independent Online

My friends think I've gone insane. It's not just that I'm thinking of joining a dating agency. It's more that I'm on the verge of paying several thousand pounds for the privilege. I certainly can't afford it. I've been saving for years for a rainy day, but a deluge of inappropriate men wasn't exactly what I had in mind.

Being a columnist and novelist can be isolating, and after completing my second book at midnight, I wanted to celebrate the moment with someone a bit more, well, meaningful than the sushi delivery guy. Casual sex is easy to find, but asking friends to set me up has led to me wading in the very shallow end of the dating pool. My friend Victoria's last effort ended with me in blind date hell with her fiancé Mike's mate, whom she assured me had a "fantastic personality", which is date-speak for "five-foot two with a hunchback and comb-over".

So, instead, I thought I'd try a different approach, and got the idea of using a headhunter in my private life after my friend Amy admitted that she'd paid an elite London-based dating agency to introduce her to her boyfriend Richard, a dashing entrepreneur who also happens to be a very nice guy.

The screening process that agencies provide is especially tempting, considering the drawbacks of the internet, where women subtract years and pounds and men add inches in height. Also a lot of the men I meet online seem overly fascinated by the fact that I write a sex column, probably because they Google me before we meet.

Soon it became clear that the path to true love doesn't come cheap. Several of the agencies' websites look dodgy, and the high-end ones that seem to provide a thorough service have fees that range from £6,000 to a jaw-dropping £60,000. Still, a happy ending is something I want even more than a fully paid-off mortgage.

My friend Mark, who's a hedge-fund manager, loved the logic, but suggested that I undercut the agencies. "The problem with friends setting you up is that there's no pay-off for them if things go well. But if things go wrong, they have to hear about it or take sides. What you need is a bonus scheme."

So he suggested I draw up a list of the general qualities I'm looking for – and then offer cash to anyone who can hook me up with a suitable candidate. "Are you serious?" I asked him. "That's so... unromantic."

"It's not! Your tenacity makes you successful in your job, right? So why not in your love life?"

He had a point. So Mark and I made the rules: whoever introduces me to Mr Right gets £3,000. My criteria are: over 35 (I like older men), over six-foot-one (I'm 5ft 10in), successful, clever, funny, loyal and kind. At the very least, I'm hoping the challenge will expand my social circle. And if it just leads to more casual sex? Hey, I can live with that, too.