A friend of mine (single, female, 31) is convinced that there's a conspiracy to make Valentines Day the new Christmas. 'I saw my first Valentines card on January 2nd this year,' she says with disgust. 'Soon you'll be able to buy the horrible things before Christmas. Nobody cares about single people any more.'
But they do in fact they've never cared more. Now that one on three British homes have just one occupant and the number of single women had doubled since 1970 one in two women under 50 are now single the capital's event organizers are falling over themselves to attract the Bridget Jones pound' (and whatever the male equivalent of that is). If you're single and solvent then there's a promoter who'd love to meet you.
And if you imagine that the modern singles event is in any way related to its Nineties predecessor (ie attended mostly by pigeon fanciers and axe-murderer look-alikes) then prepare to be surprised. In 2003 the scene is all about time-poor young urbanites paying somebody else to sort out their love lives for them. The idea is that while your busy making money, getting on to the property ladder and all that other stuff that needs doing before you're 40 somebody else is arranging for you to meet your ideal partner in a venue with tasteful fittings and flattering lighting. I in the same way that there's no shame in paying someone to pick up you dry cleaning, goes the argument, there's no shame in paying someone to sort out your social life.
A quick internet search immediately presents the urban singleton with a dazzling array of options. How about www.cosmoparty.co.uk, the online service which allows you to meet potential partners over cocktails in a loft, during a date at the Tate or over a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape at a wine-tasting evening? Then there's www.speeddater.co.uk , the worlds biggest speed-dating agency (for those who've been lining on Mars, speed dating involves a series of three minute dates with up to 40 different people. It's been shown on Sex And The City, too). And you can be certain that the stigma attached to getting strangers involved in your love life has gone when you happen upon www.greatboyfriends.com, the website where single men come complete with a recommendation from their ex-girlfriends.
For the purposes of research, I decided to sample a little of what London had to offer the unattached. After much rallying of my single girlfriends (these things are always best attended in packs) I selected a speed-dating night in Farringdon followed by a night's clubbing at Chemistry the biggest dating party ever held in Britain. If the gang could pull one bloke between them then the evening would be deemed a success.
When I turned up at the speed-dating evening in the discreet 'Chinese room' below Farringdon's Cicada bar, I discovered things were running behind schedule. The trouble with speed dating is that it relies on having equal numbers of men and women and two of the guys had gone AWOL. Apparently one had nipped out to get a burger (bad move probably has commitment issues and onion breath) and the other to the loo (even worse clearly scared or a drug addict, or both) but it did give me time to check out the talent. To my relief not one of the men (all aged 25-40) looked remotely like an axe-murderer and, in fact, most of them were far too good looking to be single and straight.
Once Mr Burger and Mr Loo had returned we were given a quick introductory speech. Each date would last three minutes and then the men would move to the next table while the girls stayed put. We were told not to give our surnames or our phone numbers, advised not to begin by talking about work and given a piece of paper of on which to record our impressions of our various dates.
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