No Time To Date

Sacrificing career aspirations for romantic relationships has led time-poor professionals to seek analogue solutions says PENNY McCORMICK


When Anne-Marie Slaughter, the first female director of policy at the US State Department published her now seminal op-ed “Why Women Can’t Have It All”, in The Atlantic, her sentiments echoed what many business women already knew: that sacrifices are made constantly when building a career. Working in Washington during the week, Slaughter inevitably missed valuable family time, and lamented her part-time weekend parenting skills which were responsible for her son’s declining performance at school. She decided to leave her job with Hillary Clinton, and is now President and CEO of the New America Foundation think tank. If Slaughter queried the notion popularised by Helen Gurley Brown in 1982 of “having it all”, it seems that the challenge of career versus love is still very much a current issue.

Taking up this baton, a recent Forbes survey of 615 professional women aged from 22 – 50 upwards documented that among the significant sacrifices women make, the most commonly cited was the lack of time for romantic or family relationships. Other sacrifices included postponing having children, overlooking emotional and physical wellbeing and leaving little time for leisure activities or self-care.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that many ambitious women find themselves singularly successful but also single. Take Kelly* who runs her own award-winning business and who acknowledges her personal life is collateral damage in her career trajectory. “When you run your own business it can be all-consuming so, outside of work, playing the ‘dating game’, or frequenting the latest hotspots in town can seem like hard work.” Factor in long days in the office, followed by networking events or travelling for client meetings and those hoping to nurture a fledgling relationship often find a strain is imposed through no fault of their own. Time away can lead to a lack of connection with partners – whether married or single – forcing the inevitable choice to prioritise work over personal relationships. Understandable if you’re on your own, maintaining a job to survive financially is paramount.

That the dating game has also changed does not help women of a certain age. Where books such as The Rules, Act Like a Woman, Think Like A Man or He’s Just Not That Into You once provided a (often amusing) steer on male thinking, the advent of online dating created a whole new language and etiquette to master. Former editor Joanna Coles in her new book Love Rules: How To Find Love In A Digital Age talks about DADD – Dating Attention Deficit Order, where lack of focus and an eagerness to see who else is on offer creates a sense of transience and instability. Then of course there is a new language to master. Sexting, ghosting, benching, haunting and so much more. Finding a flattering selfie or profile photo are minor problems in comparison to security breaches or worrying whether your profile on a pop-up window might be seen by colleagues or employees. In some cases, the algorithms that promised to take chance out of the equation and find infallible matches turned out to be curiously inefficient.

It’s not all negative, though. Online dating helped those who wanted to dip a toe in the water, to practice their dating skills and meet new people. As Jeannette*, an entrepreneur, acknowledges, “Building a business has taken up a lot of my energy and enthusiasm and while I have met a lot of lovely men online, they are just friends now – it was a question of timing.”

Ah yes timing, there’s the rub. Time wasted online or meeting men who you don’t click with and are not in possession of the x-factor (or even z-factor) means more professionals are seeking to take back control. Apps such as Bumble require women to make the first move to avoid online harassment. It’s not only common for women to initiate a date – it’s now increasingly expected.

And while there is an abundance of services online, the trend for analogue meetings is on the rise. Kelly observes, “Looking at other professional women who are friends, I see more successful relationships and casual dates coming via social events, golf or even the gym. The businesswoman, mum or whatever other identity you might have can be left in the locker room.”

The retro face of dating is also seen in the increasing reliance on matchmakers. This approach is more time-consuming, more expensive. It’s also lower-yield and doesn’t lend itself to casual “hook-ups”. But it’s age-appropriate (who over the age of 29 really has the resilience for swiping back and forth?) and brings some dignity back into the game. One of the foremost matchmakers globally is Irish woman Mairead Molloy who runs Berkeley International. Having been in the business for 17 years, Molloy is known for her intuitive matching techniques, as well as her super-rich clientele, who pay up to £50,000 to meet their soul mates. With a head office in London, there are satellite offices in Paris, Cannes, Brussels, Melbourne, Milan and beyond.

Catering to the cash-rich, time-poor in Ireland is Jennifer Haskins, founder of Two’s Company elite dating service, who meets Molloy regularly at industry events in London. For Haskins, single is a relative term. Single can mean separated, divorced, widowed or annulled. She admits the latter is not technically accurate but wants to be as transparent as possible when screening new members. After ten years in the business, her empathetic approach is clearly working. When we meet at her premises in Dun Laoghaire cards line the mantelpiece – they are in fact testimonials from the numerous matches (647 to be exact) she has made. The former psychotherapist admits her directness can be a shock to the many business professionals who seek her services. Feminine but firm, she won’t take on someone if they are not in the right mindset or emotionally available (sometimes she advises counselling), if they are what she calls “new nesters” – testing the water and wanting to jump ship (“it’s not fair for the matches”), if they are in the middle of turbulent divorce litigation, (“complex”) or need to work on their social skills or self-esteem (“a recurring problem”). It’s not about signing everyone up. “If I don’t feel I have any matches available on my books, I’ll put potential clients on a waiting list. It’s about the long rather than the short term fix. Online dating has actually done us a great favour,” she admits. Haskins makes the analogy between employing an estate agent to sell a house to a professional managing your romantic life.

An initial interview, after a fact-finding phone call backed up by identity verification, may take from one to two hours, with four tiers of membership with varying benefits starting at €695; Standard, Gold, Diamond and Elite. On her books are singletons from their mid-20s to mid-70s from all over the country. Haskins, or one of her team (some are former members) conduct the process, which is designed to be as detailed as possible with a priority placed on values. “When someone’s values are compromised, relationships break down,” says Haskins. “We don’t operate on algorithms – I prefer paper profiles. We will often have a light-bulb moment when talking to candidates and think who they would best get along with. I’ve rarely been proven wrong.” Peak times for joiners are August and January. “Christmas and New Year are emotional bombs, as is Valentine’s day, when we have a flurry of activity from October onwards.”

Haskins asks clients to look at dating through a new lens, to meet matches from the perspective of friendship first. Often she helps to break self-repeating patterns and promote self-awareness. The personal reward for Haskins is that she is in a career that can change the course of someone’s life. Not many jobs have the same impact. Additional research by Emily Hourican.

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