I Went To A Matchmaking Agency To Cure My Dating App Fatigue

Photographed by Serena Brown
At 31, I ended the relationship that was meant to be the relationship – the one I would spend the rest of my life in. 
There was something lacking and it hadn’t been there from day one. That something is fundamental for love but we can’t quite work out what it actually is, so we call it chemistry. 
The break-up happened very fast and shook my world. The future we’d planned together for over a year vanished overnight. But I felt optimistic; I now knew what I wanted, it was just a case of finding it, so I joined various dating apps
Apps are a great tool to bring new people into your life, which is especially useful if, like me, the majority of your friends are married and you have a bad habit of recycling past lovers. 
The last time I was single, just over a year ago, I had a good experience using apps. Most dates turned out to be pleasant enough experiences. Some so pleasant that they led to a little heartache when things didn’t work out. 
This time was different, though. I wasn’t getting as many matches as before and I wondered if it was because my age was 31, not 29. My matches would send me weird or negative messages. One guy frightened me by following and messaging me across multiple social channels and then sent me an incoherent but nonetheless threatening text message after he’d seen I’d blocked him. I asked my other single friends what they thought of the apps; everyone universally agreed that they suck. 
Recent studies show that endless scrolling can make us lonely and depressed. As I swiped through endless profiles of guys who say they’re looking for "someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously" or that they want to "debate the topic of pineapple on pizza", I thought, Surely there’s another way?
Then the inevitable happened. I came across my ex on Bumble. It was time to take this offline – would a matchmaking agency be able to cure my dating app fatigue?

As I swiped through endless profiles of guys who say they're looking for 'someone who doesn't take themselves too seriously', I thought, Surely there's another way?

The idea of matchmaking appealed to me. It sounded so high end and I fantasised about dates in fancy restaurants with older hedge fund guys. 
I hoped it would be like getting your eyebrows done, that I could kick back and relax while someone else got to work and did it all for me. 
I hit Google. It turns out there are a lot of matchmakers in London and most of them look pretty awful. I spoke to one woman who had spent £12,000 on an agency which sent her on a series of random and incompatible dates. She later went on to meet her partner on Hinge. 
Eventually, I found Mutual Attraction. Their website had a younger feel to it and a quote from their founder spoke to me: "We’re kind of like the dating agency for people who don’t use dating agencies!" 
I’d found the one. 
Caroline Brealey founded Mutual Attraction when she was in her 20s and experiencing dating fatigue of her own. At £4,000 for a six-month membership, Mutual Attraction’s fees are cheaper than other agencies, but it’s certainly still for those with a serious disposable income. 
"The trouble with app dating is you’re so used to putting things in a box," Caroline told me. "Women say, 'He must be five foot 10'. And actually, does it really matter? Normally, it doesn’t if it's the right person. And that's sometimes where people are going wrong with their search, they've restricted it too much on things that don't matter. And actually, if you met somebody in a bar and you hit it off with them, you wouldn't know if they were five foot nine or five or 11."
She went on to say: "Men, they always want younger, and it's really frustrating. Again, if you met at a bar, you wouldn't give a shit if somebody was 35 or 36 or 37. But we've become so used to specifying a certain age range on dating apps." It would seem that when it comes to dating, our discriminations are wider than the gender pay gap. 
"Another problem," she adds, "is people expect to feel this chemistry straightaway and it just doesn’t always happen. And so you have to give people a chance. Because of apps, there is this perception that there’s always something better out there. Before the apps, you would have given someone a chance, but now we expect it to be quite instant and it’s just not for most people."

The trouble with app dating is you're so used to putting things in a box. Women say, 'He must be five foot 10'. And actually, does it really matter? Normally, it doesn't if it's the right person.

Could she – a dating expert – predict whether there will ever be chemistry between two people?
"You 100% can’t predict it," Caroline said. "And that's one thing that we never know if it’s going to be there or not." Science agrees. The truth is that we still don’t know exactly what attracts two people to each other. 
Then Caroline told me something that I didn’t want to hear. "We tell clients to use dating apps because if you're serious about finding love, you should be doing everything in your power to find it. Because at the end of the day, yes, you're paying us. And yes, we feel so much responsibility, but it's your life and you need to take control of your life." 
Her words rubbed against my impatient nature. I’m the product of a technological revolution that brought us convenience above all else. I get annoyed if I have to wait more than two minutes for an Uber, pay for everything on my phone so my hand doesn’t have to reach for my wallet and Ocado delivers my groceries because I find supermarkets so intolerably dull.
"We can send people into space, so why can’t we order a great date with the same ease of ordering a pizza on Deliveroo?" I recently whined. 
"The service is a lot about the support, the advice and the mindset," Caroline explained before introducing me to her resident dating coach, Laura Yates
"I don’t think I’m sorted as I like to think I am," I confessed after telling Laura that I worried I was too shy but also too confident, and that I feel like any guys I do like cool it off with me as soon as I show any interest.  
"People are quick to blame the dating apps, but neglect to work on themselves," Laura replied knowingly.  And then she gave me a piece of advice that I wish I’d had tattooed on my wrist when I was 16: 
"Go on people’s actions, not their words." 
She continued: "Dating can be a really good way for us to establish our boundaries – to be really clear on what we want and what we will tolerate." Again, I thought of my teenage self and lamented that this was an area of growth that I still hadn’t managed to achieve in over 15 years. 
I’d only been single for two months but I already had enough examples to discuss with Laura of guys confusing me with their mixed messages. She told me to trust my intuition.  

People are quick to blame dating apps, but neglect to work on themselves.

laura yates, dating coach
"I’m not saying the man always has to take the lead," she went on, "but you know if there is an imbalance of communication, you will know if you're texting more than he is, you will know if you're pursuing it a little bit more than he is."
After some diving and dodging from me, we finally got to what might be holding me back: my fear of rejection and the feeling that I always get rejected. "It’s a fear I’m trying to overcome," I said. 
Laura asked why I feared rejection so much. "What is it about? Is it that you fear people won’t like you?" I said I didn’t know but remembered the young girl who’s still inside me, who was called fat by the first boy she liked. 
Laura went on. "I'm sure there have been times where you haven't been rejected, where you have asked for what you want and you haven't been, quote unquote, rejected." I knew Laura was right but I still struggle to change that narrative I have for myself. 
"Rejection is rarely about us, it's always about more," she explained, putting it in terms I’d never considered even though, when you think about it, they make perfect sense. "Rejection means we weren’t in alignment with what the other person wanted. It means they wanted something different, but we do tend to take things very personally. Remember that this isn't all about you. It's also about what the other person is feeling about where their life is going, and what they're looking for at that specific time." 
Laura then got practical with me. We talked about my lifestyle – namely the fact that I work from home. 
"Every time you leave the house, it’s an opportunity to meet someone," she said.  
"But Laura," I cried, "I like not leaving the house. I hate working in cafés. They’re too cold and I prickle like a hedgehog if someone sits too close to me. I loathe having to ask someone to watch my laptop every time I need to go to the loo." 
"If you want to meet someone then you have to be prepared to put yourself out there in the places where people are, even if that means doing things slightly differently," she replied. When you put it like that, it’s hard to argue. 
I considered what new pursuits I might enjoy doing but told Laura I doubt any single guys would be attending storytelling events or singing in the local choir. "But the key is, if you really want to do it, then go do it anyway," she said. "Because it's really important that you don't make the things you do all about meeting someone. When you do things that make you feel good, you attract people to you more effortlessly." 
I liked the sound of that so I signed up to talks and events that interested me, including a Sofar gig because someone told me they’d met their boyfriend at one.
I didn’t meet my boyfriend but I had a great night out with my friend and I discovered new artists I liked. Perhaps I was emitting more attractive vibes already. 
Laura also told me to put my phone away and smile at people to be more approachable while out and about. I did. Someone talked to me at the gym and I thought – no matter the outcome – that this was a much nicer way to live. 
Mutual Attraction then set me up with dating photo company Hey Saturday. Photoshoot prices start at £127 and if I could put a price on a confidence boost and increasing your chances of finding love, it’d be higher than that. 
The founder, Saskia Nelson, told me confidently that "good quality images will attract good quality dates." 
I hadn’t had my photoshoot yet and I was already feeling better. She added that it’s important to have the right attitude. "You need to ask yourself – would I date me? We have these high expectations on someone else, but then we sit at home watching Netflix all weekend and moaning about our lives." 

When my professional photos arrived, I replaced most of my dating profile photos with the professional ones. My matches increased almost instantly and my Hinge likes were exclusively on my new photos.

Oof. That struck a nerve. Although I don’t see myself as that sort of person, I had technically spent my most recent Friday night alone, methodically making my way through a large Domino’s pizza and watching a Netflix series back to back. Would I date me?
I got off the phone and completed the application form I’d been putting off for volunteering on the phone lines at a homeless charity. 
I met the photographer, Nicole Engelmann, on the streets of Notting Hill. She told me that she’s shot people from the ages of 18 to 76 for dating profiles and the service is more popular with men than women. Perhaps because guys are less likely to do photoshoots with their mates? 
When my photos arrived, I replaced four out of six of my dating profile photos with the professional ones. My matches increased almost instantly and my Hinge likes were exclusively on my new photos. This, coupled with changing my settings on Bumble to only show people who were looking for a relationship, made it all far more pleasant. 
Now Mutual Attraction was also ready to begin the search. Within hours, Caroline told me they’d found me a match. I nervously opened my date’s dossier and I was so impressed that I replied to her email with an obscene number of exclamation points. He wasn’t what I was expecting: he was 33 and an entrepreneur. I suspected we’d have mutual friends (and it turned out that we did).
Caroline told me to set up an email address which didn’t have my surname in it to avoid pre-date googling. My match then emailed me from his normal email address which had his surname, and it took me all the willpower in the world not to google him before the date. 
The day of the date came and the anticipation felt different from that of an app date. I took longer to get ready, I dressed up more than I usually would. On my way there, I didn’t have the sinking feeling that I usually get that I might be about to have a terrible evening. I could tell I was nervous because, during my journey, I was constantly switching tracks on Spotify. 
As I was coming out of the station, he messaged to say he was early and that I could find him at the bar. This was an excellent start. An internet date a few days before had left me standing in the cold for 20 minutes with no communication as to his arrival time or an apology when he got there. Another arrived 20 minutes late, gave no apology, then joked that he was late so he could run away if I’d looked different from my profile pics. 
The bar was low but I had a great time. 
He asked me questions about myself, something which is horrifyingly rare in the dating experience of myself and other women. We shared a love for Esther Perel, contentment with our life choices and an entrepreneurial spirit. I felt good after we parted ways and I was delighted when he messaged the next morning to say he’d had a nice time. 
This is a true story, so I’m afraid it doesn’t end well. 
Photographed by Serena Brown
After five days of messaging back and forth, I grew tired of having a WhatsApp pen pal and asked if he wanted to meet up again. After 25 hours, he messaged back. "So, having mulled, I really did enjoy our drinks 😊 … but I sadly didn’t feel the romantic spark – and feel it’s best to say this now!" 
The rejection stung. My pride was also dented. I hadn’t felt a spark either but I was open to seeing if that spark was something that might develop on a second date. It was nice to be able to tell all this to Caroline; she responded that I was "absolutely right to suggest meeting again" because "it's so rare that the elusive spark is there instantly." 

Rejection is rarely about us. Rejection means we weren't in alignment with what the other person wanted. It means they wanted something different in terms of a relationship but we tend to take things very personally. Remember that this isn't all about you.

laura yates, dating coach
"I find this is part of the 'dating app' effect -– people don't give things a chance and the time to develop. Such a shame," she added.
I felt satisfied that the teacher had sided with me. I then realised that a lot of my enthusiasm was because my date behaved with some basic human decency which, when you think about it, is worrying. He’d picked a great place, turned up on time and was interested in what I had to say. 
Sadly, the dating bar is now so low that these things felt special to me when they should be basic expectations. 
At the end of the day, though, it’s not just bad behaviour that makes dating so hard. Finding love, on apps or elsewhere, is something we can’t hack, shortcut, or optimise like we try to do in other areas of our lives. 
There’s no way to know if two people will feel that thing. So you just have to keep putting yourself out there and experience the possibility of it not working out. Because, as Caroline notes: "There is nobody on this planet who knows if there's going to be chemistry between two people. You'd be so rich if you knew what made two people fall in love, but nobody knows. And it's something that is either there or not there." 

Finally, Caroline offers me some wisdom which will now be my dating mantra. "You need to go, meet in person and give it time."

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