Love actually: Changes in dating rituals since 2000

From blind dating to speed dating and now social-distance dating, Deirdre Reynolds charts the changes over the past two decades
Love actually: Changes in dating rituals since 2000

From blind dating to speed dating and now social-distance dating, Deirdre Reynolds charts the changes over the past two decades

Two brides, 20 years apart, one shared dream of happily ever after.

When Feelgood first hit shelves in 2000, wedding planner Linda Scott was busily putting the finishing touches to her own big day.

Two decades on, as the mum-of-two and husband Derek toast their 20th anniversary, now bride-to-be Ciara Kenny is the one getting ready to exchange vows with fiancé, Jonathan.

Although a generation and several counties apart, the two strangers are united by an odyssey shared by millions of others the world over: the search for lasting love. From blind dating to speed dating and, more recently, social-distance dating, it’s a sometimes seemingly impossible quest that’s taken up more than one or two of these pages over the years.


Jennifer Haskins
Jennifer Haskins

But while dating trends may come and go, some things will never change for Cupid, according to professional matchmaker Jennifer Haskins.

“People will always need a platform to meet somebody,” says the director of introductions agency, Two’s Company. “Whether that platform is internet dating, a dating agency, the likes of Tinder or joining lots of clubs or going to bars.

I don’t think the qualities that people are looking for in a partner have changed. Everybody is looking for somebody who’s solvent, somebody caring, somebody articulate, somebody who’s emotionally stable — not somebody who’s just coming out of a relationship.

“For women, meanness is a huge negative. A lot of women will say to me, ‘I want a guy who’s generous’, not necessarily financially, [but] emotionally generous, generous with his time.

“For men, it’s very much about chemistry — always has been, always will be.”

Linda Scott with husband Derek on their wedding day.
Linda Scott with husband Derek on their wedding day.

It’s only 20 years since Monaghan native Linda wed her teenage sweetheart after a five-year courtship which began in the workplace, yet in a world before Whatsapp and FaceTime, to their 18-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son, it may as well be 200, she jokes.

“Believe it or not, we’re together since I was 16,” says the 41-year-old, who works at The Four Seasons hotel in Carlingford.

I started waitressing in a hotel in Monaghan and he had just qualified as a chef. We became friends and it just grew from there.

“When we started going out, there was no mobile phones — you wrote letters to each other and rang each other’s house phones. It was very, very different.

“Our daughter laughs when we talk about [it now]; she’d be WhatsApping and things like that — I’m like, ‘There was none of that in our day.’”


But the biggest “leap forward” in the evolution of dating since the turn of the millenium came earlier in 2012 with the arrival of Tinder to smartphones everywhere, making dating, or frequently just mating, as easy as swiping left or right.

By 2015, Vanity Fair even held the app, which now has an estimated 50m users worldwide, responsible for the death of romance and the “dawn of the dating apocalypse”, in a viral article by Nancy Jo Sales.

For social care worker Ciara, who downloaded the location-based app after moving from Dublin to Wicklow three years ago, it was less about hooking up than settling down.

Bride-to-be Ciara Kenny with fiance Jonathan
Bride-to-be Ciara Kenny with fiance Jonathan

The 29-year-old is now preparing to say ‘I do’ to the very first guy she met after swiping right.

“I didn’t know anybody, so I said, ‘Maybe I’ll go on Tinder — everyone else is on it’,” she says.

“The guys that I was chatting to were like, ‘When can I see you?’, ‘Can you add me on Snapchat?’, can you this, can you that. But myself and Jonathan [exchanged] really long messages on the app for ages before I gave him my number.

We were chatting for six or eight weeks before we went out with each other.

“I wanted someone a little bit old school,” says Ciara, who, just like Linda, is set to walk down the aisle on the couple’s fifth anniversary in August 2022.

“Someone ambitious and hard-working who knew what they wanted. Him being a dad, he had a bit more cop on than other lads.

“There was no messing. I just think when you know, you know. My twin sister Orla is getting married next year, and she also met her fiancé online on Plenty of Fish.”


Pheromone dating, where singles sniff out a lover based on scent, DNA dating, where couples are genetically matched by scientists, and eye gaze dating, where participants stare into each other’s eyes without speaking, are just some of the post-noughties fads other singletons have turned to in pursuit of their own fairytale ending.

In the post-Covid age of Zoom dating, however, now the ‘old normal’ looks likely to become the ‘new normal’ when it comes to romance, predicts matchmaker Jennifer Haskins, who founded Two’s Company during the last economic crisis of 2008.

“People thought I was mad starting up a company in a crash,” says the businesswoman, whose concept sits somewhere between personals website and matchmaking app Bumble on the dating timeline. “But the recession put a lot of emphasis on the simple things in life.

“During the Celtic Tiger, people were out all the time socialising — all of a sudden, there was a change of focus to staying at home, and being with a partner. It didn’t cost anything to go for a walk, whereas up to that, it was all about fancy restaurants, and it’s no different now.

At the moment, I’m inundated with people making inquiries, and I’m telling them what I did three months ago when this all started, when it was OK to go for a walking date — just get out there, meet up for a walk and keep to social distancing.

As an executive dating coach, Iain Myles has seen his share of bizarre dating trends, but after almost a decade of ‘ghosting’, ‘breadcrumbing’ and latterly ‘whelming’, believes today’s search for love in lockdown could prove the most defining of all. “Post Covid-19, I foresee a greater demand for stability, as opposed to shorter-term flings,” says the coach, who specialises in teaching men how to approach women.

“I believe that daters will appreciate the value of relationships more following the lack of social contact, loneliness and despair experienced during lockdown.

“I imagine a return to very old-fashioned dating as the habit of socialising in parks, as opposed to indoor venues, continues indefinitely. I wouldn’t be surprised to see wacky picnic dates, as well as meeting potential partners in parks, as a trend of the future.

“Either way, I always tell my clients to put a little extra thought and effort into the courtship process,” says Iain.

“Putting more thought into your messages or choosing where to go on a first date costs nothing, so there should be no excuses.

“It also helps you stand out from the crowd, which is something that will never go out of fashion in dating.”

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