Dating apps are now the most popular way for people to connect. But as the new movie ‘Last Christmas’ portrays, real-life romances still exist and, according to Deirdre Reynolds, even flourish.
First of the festive rom-coms, Last Christmas, hits cinemas nationwide here today.
Featuring a 20-something who finds love without the help of her smartphone, however, for some millennial viewers, it may be hard to believe.
Inspired by George Michael’s classic Christmas song of holiday heartbreak, it’s nonetheless sure to ring a jingle bell with those looking for their very own ‘someone special’ online.
Since exploding onto the meet market in 2012, dating app Tinder has been downloaded a dizzying 300 million times, with Limerick lads and ladies revealed to be among the most active users in the world in the company’s most recent ‘Year in Swipe’ annual review.
Yet, for almost four in 10 young people, it’s the least preferred way to meet someone new under the mistletoe, according to a BBC survey of more than 2,000 16-34 year olds.
Also, close to a third of those who use dating apps like Tinder, Bumble and POF admitted doing so because they’re “too shy” to approach someone in real life.
Perhaps Last Christmas stars Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding will offer singletons here fresh ho-ho-hope by taking their search for romance offline this festive season.
“It’s very difficult in Ireland because we haven’t given ourselves permission yet to talk to people we find attractive in everyday situations,” says sex and relationship therapist David Kavanagh.
“You can’t just go up to somebody you think is gorgeous in a garage and say, ‘Let’s go for coffee’, but if you meet the same person through a dating app, it almost gives you a licence to have a conversation.
“You can be talking to somebody for three or four weeks through a dating app, get their Whatsapp number, chat away and then just stop talking for no reason, and that can be very hard.”
A staggering 92% of online daters have fallen victim to ghosting, where a potential love interest suddenly vanishes into thin air, a recent survey by Dating.com found.
Around this time of year though, it’s Marleying — where an ex suddenly gets back in touch at Christmas — that singles need to watch out for, warn the experts.
“The most frequently asked question when people contact us is, ‘Are there any decent people left?’” says Feargal Harrington, co-founder and CEO of Intro Matchmaking, a professional matchmaking agency based in Dublin.
“People say, ‘I’ve been on Tinder, I’ve been on POF, I’ve been on Bumble, and I’ve been called fat and ugly if I don’t respond within 30 seconds of receiving a message.
“It’s gotten very superficial. People are going on 20 dates a month a lot of the time, and they’re peering over the shoulder of the person they’re with because they’re thinking, ‘Well, I’m with Tom now, but Harry who I’m meeting tomorrow said he goes to the gym four times a week so he’ll be more attractive’.
“There are decent people sprinkled throughout the likes of Tinder or POF, but it’s spending the three hours a night — almost like a job — to find out who the nice, genuine people are.”
Designed using the same ‘variable ratio reward schedule’ as gambling and lotteries, it’s no surprise that Tinder can feel addictive, or getting a match like hitting the jackpot.
But just like doing a quick pick, losing out can also cause that rush to reverse.
It’s a theory backed up by a new study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships in August, which found that compulsive use of dating apps can make swipers feel lonelier than they did in the first place.
Swipe fatigue caused by playing the numbers game is also one of the most common complaints heard by Mairead Loughman since setting up her own matchmaking company in 2016.
“From my research, people are talking to about 14 people on average at any one time online,” says the founder of Love HQ, which runs nationwide dating events A Table for Six and The Farmer Wants a Wife. “Somebody’s always going to be taller, thinner, richer, more successful, funnier. Nobody’s going to be giving their 100% focus.”
People do meet people online, concedes Loughman, who often advises clients unaccustomed to dating to use apps to practise chatting up people and getting chatted up.
“It’s often great fun, and you can chat to them for ages, but very often people don’t want to meet up, or when they do meet up, there’s no chemistry.
“Really all dating comes down to chemistry. It doesn’t matter how well you get on over text message or on the phone, you have to meet each other. It’s a physical thing whether or not two people are compatible — that’s why a lot of people come to me.”
More than four decades after John B Keane penned Letters of a County Matchmaker the idea of employing a real-life Cupid certainly doesn’t seem as embarrassing as it once was thanks in part to the Instagramification of the #matchmaking industry.
In September, a record 15,000 people flocked to the opening weekend of the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival, where singles rely on touching matchmaker Willie Daly’s 150 year-old ‘Lucky Book’ — not swiping right — to meet their match.
Accountant Kayliegh McEntee (28) from Dundalk didn’t even have to go that far when she met her fiancé, Sean in a local bar on a spontaneous night out.
“I met my husband-to-be through a mutual friend on a night out at home,” she says. “He was living in Dublin and just happened to be visiting my friend who was in college with him.
“We got engaged in April this year and get married in July 2021.
“Sean took me to Disneyland Paris for my birthday and proposed during the closing fireworks. It was so dark I thought he was joking at first until I saw the ring.
“For me, it was the perfect proposal.”
One-to-one matchmaking with LoveHQ.ie costs €100, while tickets for A Table for Six and The Farmer Wants a Wife events, which match three single ladies and three single men (or six same-sex singles) on a group dinner date, cost €50 excluding dinner and drinks.
Membership of Intro.ie, guaranteeing five dates with matches approved by seven separate staff members over an unlimited time period, costs €795, with Christmas gift vouchers proving particularly popular among mothers and sisters of eligible men, says Harrington.
But going analogue doesn’t have to cost a cent this party season.
“We’re not Americans,” jokes Kavanagh, author of Love Rewired: Using Your Brain to Mend Your Heart.
“We can’t just approach people in the local supermarket. It’s a much better idea to join societies, groups or go to events where you’re going to meet people who enjoy the same kinds of things as you.
“Again, you have that licence to talk to somebody because you’re in a book club, for example.
“I think if you’re single, you’re going to have to develop a tough resilience,” he cautions those hoping to find love offline this Christmas.
“For every 10 people you introduce yourself to, maybe nine of them are going to say, ‘Sorry, I’m married’ or ‘I’ve no interest in you’, but one person might go, ‘OK, let’s do coffee then’.
“If you’re open to the fact that you’re going to be rejected, and you expect it, then there’s no reason why you can’t approach people that you find attractive.”
Back at Love HQ, the proof is in the Christmas pudding for Mairead Loughman who has three weddings, five engagements and eight babies, and another on the way, to her name.
But the matchmaker is perhaps her own best advertisement after meeting her German boyfriend, Stefan, simply by being open to chatting to real people — not just profile pictures.
“I’m very lucky,” she says. “I have a great, great man. I actually just met him out in a bar in Keoghs off Grafton Street on a random sunny evening.
“People need to open their eyes.
“We put so much effort into our careers and everything like that when really the most important thing is meeting someone special.
“There’s no better experience in the world than finding love.”