views

Dating gets personal

I&nbsp; FEEL like I&rsquo;ve stepped into a scene from Sex and the City, where Carrie is investigating a new dating technique. Indeed, right now I am the Carrie figure, here to observe how exactly a new matchmaking service does its business. The women I am meeting &ndash; all glossy and stylish in sharp designerwear &ndash; are assembled in the chic Paramount members&rsquo; club at Centrepoint to discuss (over drinks and stunning views) the characters of a batch of romantic hopefuls.<br /><br />If this sounds like something you already do with your friends over drinks, think again &ndash; these ladies are deadly serious and very professional. They are the emissaries of Just Courting, a new company that uses the matchmaking skills of its employees to help members find the One. All participants answer a revealing questionnaire about themselves (&ldquo;do you see the world as very simple or very complicated?&rdquo;) before being interviewed by the ladies. After the interviews, the panel of super-sleek women &ndash; with backgrounds in recruitment, casting, marketing and advertising &ndash; sit together, profiles and interview notes in hand, and set about making matches. <br /><strong><br />PERSONALITY TEST<br /></strong>This is what I have walked in on, even if it does look more like friends having a natter. I&rsquo;m curious to know just how personality matching can be outsourced to a group of urbane strangers. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re here to gauge what members truly value and go from there,&rdquo; one of the women says. <br /><br />Just Courting, which launched in June, was founded by eight unlucky-in-love Londoners, who between them had tried 30 dating techniques &ndash; the women gathered in Paramount are among them. They form part of an &ldquo;introductions team&rdquo; that proudly bypasses internet profiles, photos and data sharing in favour of personality tests (on paper, referred to as the &ldquo;initial filter&rdquo;) and face-to-face meetings. The service caters to people between 20 and 50 and at the moment, stands at 6:4, women to men. To join, you must be London-based, professional and interested in finding a partner &ndash; and, one gets the impression, the right sort of person. <br /><br />The panel of matchmakers look so sharp and modern &ndash; they are people in the business of monetising love after all &ndash; that it is strange to hear them sing the virtues of &ldquo;good old fashioned&rdquo; matchmaking and &ldquo;traditional courtship and romance&rdquo;.<br /><strong><br />AWKWARD<br /></strong>Yet that is what Just Courting is about (the clue is in the name) &ndash; only a bit better. &ldquo;People often feel obliged to get on with someone that a family member or friend has set them up with,&rdquo; says one of the team. &ldquo;It can be awkward, especially if the person&rsquo;s awful. When it&rsquo;s arranged like this, people are totally free to act as they feel and the matches are made more objectively, rather than by people who mean well but might misread things.&rdquo; The panel strongly feel that online dating is a seriously flawed system, pointing out to me that profiles aren&rsquo;t necessarily even true, and that the kind of information you submit makes it more random &ndash; and less likely to work &ndash; when you finally do meet. <br /><br />It would appear members are in good hands. The interviews, which happen over &ldquo;a glass of wine or a latte&rdquo; are probing: including questions about dream jobs, the way people feel about their parents&rsquo; relationships and the reasons their last relationship ended (&ldquo;did that special someone get away?&rdquo;). The panel recalls interviewing a girl who admired her parents&rsquo; marriage; against temptation, they refrained from pairing her with a man who seemed right for her, but came from a broken family and felt cynical about marriage. They find out who smokes, who drinks, who loves travelling, what people say about their work-play balance.&nbsp; <br /><strong><br />MATCHMAKING<br /></strong>Once the team has identified a match, it sets them on their way by arranging a venue for the date. These include cookery classes or meals at swish venues including Quo Vadis and Moro. <br /><br />After that, you&rsquo;re on your own. But Just Courting expects a few misses; after all, when you sign up (or are &ldquo;invited&rdquo; to sign up, after an interview), you pay a three- monthly membership fee. That&rsquo;s time for a lot of matchmaking &ndash; as to whether it leads to a match made in heaven, read City A.M. reporter Rob Davies&rsquo; account of his Just Courting date below.&nbsp; <br /><br />Online registration (in which you fill in a 24 question form about yourself) is free. There&rsquo;s then a &pound;55 fee to arrange an initial meeting with a matchmaker, and an additional &pound;195 for three months&rsquo; membership. www.justcourting.com