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Illustration by Fay Shelton
Finding love in the sun home
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Photo by Suzannah Larke
Love in the sun couple
Angel and Tamara
Back in the day when the world was less mobile, less technical, less rushed and less choosy, finding a romantic partner was a completely different challenge from today. Nowadays, those new to the dating game may be forgiven for dipping one toe in the dating sea then pulling it straight back out again, confused and daunted by what has become a lucrative and multi-faceted business. One clear sign of this is the proliferation of websites covering the topic, with literally hundreds of them now offering singles the chance to find love online, on holiday, on tours and even on board ships.
According to the Instituto Nacional de Estadisticas (Spanish National Statistics Institute), 23 percent of the Spanish population now lives alone; some 10 million people. Although that figure includes those who have been divorced or widowed, the trend to get married later or enjoy a single lifestyle is one that is rife throughout Europe, and a sign of the Western world’s shift away from the traditional family set-up.
A survey undertaken by Parship, an online dating agency, found, however, that out of the eight European countries surveyed, Spanish singles are the happiest in Europe and revel in a life of fiestas and friendships before settling down, while the English are the most likely to be lonely-hearted. For anyone taking the plunge and moving to a new culture, finding someone to share their new lifestyle with can be daunting. As Louise Ponder, manager of The Britannia Pub in Empuriabrava on the Costa Brava, said: “Many of my customers are single and would like to meet someone, but it can be difficult in a small town, especially for the older age group.”
The good news, however, is that all the options available for meeting people gives you a range of ways to find love, and online technology in particular has opened up whole new worlds for discovering romance.
In Spain alone, there are dozens of internet dating agencies, all slightly differently marketed, but with a focus on helping you find your media naranja (other half; literally ‘half-orange’). Some even offer a money-back guarantee. And, despite some bad press in the early days, the success of internet dating has been phenomenal, not least because the technology puts like-minded people easily within your reach, and there are millions of people in the same boat who you might otherwise never meet.
In almost all the internet dating sites, users compile a personal profile giving age, location, a brief physical description and a list of interests, likes and dislikes, plus the all-important ‘what you are looking for’. The technology then selects, or allows you to do so, people that match your preferred criteria. The trick is to be very clear on what you are looking for as this will help the matching process and help you screen carefully. Photos are optional and profiles are always screened before they go ‘live’. At an average rate of between €20 and €30 a month, it is a cost-effective and convenient way to find prospective partners.
Through this system, on a typical day, you could receive virtual winks or kisses, emails and maybe even a marriage proposal in your inbox. You can also chat to people online without giving away any personal information. Generally, a wink lets someone know you like the look of them, which is perfect for shy people, passive types, those in a rush or those with a lot of potential matches, while an email gives you the chance to find out more about someone you like the sound of. (Marriage proposals from people you’ve never been in contact with before are probably best avoided until things get really bad.) The next step is to get writing, or winking, and arrange a date.
Although there are dozens of Spanish-speaking sites, the English-language www.Iwant2meetyou.com is aimed at foreign residents here, while the general information web www.expatica.com also has a dating site attached to it.
Online dating no longer has the stigma it once had, and is generally seen as an accepted part of modern dating life. According to web-based magazine Science Daily, an online survey undertaken in the UK in 2005 of six different online agencies found that out of 229 people aged 18-65, 94 percent went on to see their “e-partner” again after building up a relationship over the internet, with 18 percent of these relationships lasting over a year. “Given that the most successful relationships lasted at least seven months, and in some cases over a year, it seems that these relationships have a similar level of success as ones formed in more conventional ways,” Dr Jeff Gavin, of the University of Bath, whose team conducted the survey, was reported as saying. “We found that men tend to be more committed to the online relationships than women, possibly because the anonymity of writing gives them a chance to express their emotions more readily than in real life,” added Dr Gavin.
In these busy times, speed dating has also grown popular. Unlike internet dating, speed dating allows you to meet people face-to-face straightaway and have a five minute conversation with them. The basic premise is that an equal number of men and women sign up for the date night; at the event itself, the women stay seated in one place, while the men move around, chatting to each woman until a bell denotes their five minutes is up and they must move on to the next woman. Participants fill out a score card to jot down details of the people they have met, and then tick boxes at the end of the night to denote preferences. If you tick someone who has also ticked you, then you have a match, and the organiser (or the technology, if the ticks are done via internet) provides each matched couple with the other person’s contact details. The rest is up to them.
Despite sounding scary, speed dating evenings are great fun, and a very effective way of meeting like-minded people. Events are often organised according to age group and language to optimise successful matches. For Sarah Allibone, manager of Barcelona's rapidly expanding DateClub Spain, the advantage of speed dating over internet dating—or even going to a party—is that you get a chance to speak to everyone, which means you may be pleasantly surprised when you get talking to someone who you might not have initially made an effort to get to know.
“With internet dating, you may spend ages building up a relationship by chatting and emailing and getting to know that person before you even meet,” Allibone said, “but you know within the first five minutes whether you are interested in seeing them again. It can take up a lot of time, whereas with speed dating...you have the chance to meet up to 15 potential dates in one evening.”
Placing a personal ad in newspapers and magazines is still a popular option, with many giving advertisees and respondents the option of leaving a voice message describing themselves in more detail. Some publications even allow you to place a ‘Seeking’ ad for free. Where available, a PO box number assures confidentiality, and allows more discretion for those uncomfortable advertising their wares in public.
For the more serious searchers, there are also professional dating agencies that do the matchmaking on your behalf. While these can be expensive, they are a valid option for those who do not have the time or inclination to plough through the reams of profiles on the internet or in the personal ads, and matchmakers will present only serious contenders.
So if you’re looking for love, don’t despair. There’s a plethora of options available to you, or perhaps you even want to take the initiative and set up special activities for people to meet others. As Louise Ponder said, “I think if someone were to organise a speed-dating event or a singles night here, it would be really popular.”
DATING SAFELY—SOME TIPS
- Just because you are in a foreign country, don’t let your common sense go out of the window.
- If you are meeting someone for the first time, always meet in a public place, don’t accept a lift and make sure someone knows where you are going.
- On the internet, screen profiles carefully and be realistic. People generally are very sincere about what they want, but don’t give out any personal contact details, like a phone number or personal email, until you feel comfortable doing so.
- Be patient—often it takes a few emails and a number of dates before you meet someone you like.
MEETING MY ANGEL
Tamara Blackman, 36, married to Angel, 38, for three years, with a son aged one and a daughter on the way:
“I came to Catalunya to make a change in my life—career, environment and men. I had no major responsibilities in the UK except my cats, which I had adopted. After a fun year here, and meeting a gym instructor and a Cuban waiter, I decided to try and improve my guy-meeting opportunities; I joined www.match.com [the Spanish site] to see who was out there. I uploaded a carefully thought-out profile, hoping that putting “looking for a sincere man for a stable relationship” would attract someone reasonable and not a “player” or a guy afraid of commitment. I waited the 24 hours for it to be approved and the next day, I received over 20 virtual kisses and long e-mails from Spanish guys telling me about themselves or writing poems. I was impressed, I never had this response in the UK—English guys would never write a poem or bother writing too much until they had established two-way contact, but these men were pouring out their hearts. I trawled through them one by one, looking at their photos and profiles. I think I replied to one. The following day, another 40 mails, and the next, more or less the same!
“I picked out some interesting men and communicated with them via the website without them knowing my email address. I was quite forthcoming in asking to meet for a coffee as I didn’t fancy a long email relationship with guys I hadn’t met face-to-face. I met about six guys. A couple became friends but there was clearly no love link.
“I had received one virtual kiss from a guy who looked very pretty, artistic with plucked eyebrows and a little pointed goatee beard. I decided to ignore/reject him as I thought he was the type to care more about his appearance than anything else. However, I was surprised three months later to receive another virtual kiss from the same guy, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt and we met for a coffee. The first time I saw him he was wearing a khaki-green top and was soldier-like with broad shoulders and a fit body. He was very good-looking with stubble and not “pretty” at all. We chatted openly about each other and what we were looking for in a relationship. We even said we both wanted to get married and have two kids in the future. After a month of seeing each other three to four times a week, I realised he had ticked all the boxes on my mental checklist and was the man for me. He proposed four months later and we got married five months later, timing it nicely with the summer and the ability for my large family (six nieces and two nephews) to come over and enjoy a summer holiday. We now have one child, another on the way and are happy in love! I finally found what I was looking for.”
“I joined match.com because, after going out clubbing with friends, I felt I needed to meet some more women but wasn’t sure what for, whether a long or short relationship. Through the website, I had several dates/romances with women and took them to nice places like Paris and Mallorca, and after meeting one girl in Tossa de Mar, I travelled to Norway to see her again. I also had a lot of shorter relationships with the girls I met but was hoping to meet someone special. I was interested in Tamara’s profile; she seemed a sincere and intelligent girl so I sent her a message but received no response. This was not unusual as for about every 10 messages or virtual kisses I sent, I usually received only a
couple of responses. I looked through my messages a few months later and realised she had not responded and wanted to try again.
“When I first saw her she was dressed in a smart, long, black coat with her hair in a pony-tail and was very pretty. I offered for us to get in my car to find a good parking space and café but she refused, for safety reasons I guess, which I found clever and the right thing to do. We agreed to meet in a nearby café, while I parked my car again. Everything we spoke about seemed to match with my point of view and was comfortable. After the first date I found myself full of hope and happiness and looking forward to seeing her again.
“We got married nine months later and I wanted to have the date we first met engraved on our wedding rings instead of the wedding date as I knew I could have got married to her on that day; since then, we’ve been growing together in marriage.”
Please note that a slightly different version of this article first appeared in Barcelona Metropolitan's sister publication Costa Brava Resident in February 2009