Introduction agencies are some of the fastest-growing businesses of the last decade. And its all because of you. An increasing number of directors now pay third parties to help them find the perfect mate. Wendy Smith explains why.
FABULOUS SALRAY, FABULOUS HOME, fabulous prospects – and still free and single. That appears to be the profile of most of today’s working thirtysomethings. They have everything they want – except a relationship. And they’re not overjoyed about it: today’s high-powered executives are prepared to spend thousands of pounds in the search for Mr or Mrs Right.
The main beneficiary is that discreet little personal organiser, the dating agency. The Association of British Introduction Agencies (ABIA) says there are more than 700 dating agencies in the UK. According to Karen Mooney, Vice-Chairman of the association and managing director of Sara Eden Introductions, the difference from the £15m it chalked up in 1990 and a quantum leap from the £1m it made in 1981.
It was the pre-millennium year that really witness a dating industry bonanza. In 1999 there was a 35 percent national rise in the number of sign-ups with introduction agencies as singles rushed to find a mate for the year 2000.
Mooney’s own agency grew by 75 percent last year. Her clients include bankers, lawyers and doctors and people working in IT and media businesses.
“More and more individuals are choosing not to leave their happiness to change and are planning on making things really happen for them,” says Mooney. “Increasingly, busy professional people want a hand-picked, personalised service to help them find the right partner.”
Too busy to socialise –
Of course, cynics may consider people who pay this kind of money to be sad, mad or just plain silly. What is wrong with the more traditional methods of meeting a mate through families and friends or at parties and in pubs? Isn’t paying someone to find a partner just a step too far and, in itself, woefully unromantic?
According to Cary Cooper. UMIST Professor and author of the annual UMIST And Institute of Management Quality of Work/ Life survey, the long hours working culture is preventing people from using those “more traditional methods”. Cooper believes that if the boom in dating agencies is sad it is only because of what it says about British working life. “We may have the longest working hours in Europe and that makes us more competitive, but it is damaging relationships,” he says/ “People don’t have enough time to forge relationships anymore. Everyone is on a short-term contract and working longer hours with fewer staff. They feel they have to be in early, leave late and generally be seen to be there.”
Cooper thinks that the single person often draws the short straw when work schedules are set. “Senior people are perhaps reluctant to keep the married person with a family in the workplace doing overtime, but less reluctant to keep the single person there who is perceived to have no commitments.”
The overworked single person hoping for a relationship can be left in an impossible situation. Meeting people outside the office is difficult; meeting them in the office is often unacceptable. “At the end of the day, the only place people can make relationships may be at work – but some employers may not like that,” says Cooper.
Increased mobility of the workforce has exacerbated the problem. As well as putting in long hours, directors and executives are often forced to travel away from their friends and communities to find and maintain work. Face with these constraints, they regard paying an introduction agency for help as a sensible option.
The same way as you would get a personal trainer to keep fit or a headhunter to sort out your job, you now go to an introduction agency. This is not the least line of resistance – just the best way.
According to Mooney, there are other social factors behind the dating agency boom. Principal among them is the changing role of women. Rising expectations and increase opportunities mean women no longer “make do” when it come to finding a mate/ “The previous generation would have never seen single women owning their own homes. Now that women have careers and have achieved more, they are getting far more choosy about their life partners,” she says.
Mooney denies that an arranged date is unromantic. “What it means is that our clients are fishing where the fish swim.”