Sick of Tinder and pointless texts, Rebecca Holman tries out Berkeley International, a personal dating service which costs between £10,000 and £50,000 to join. She gamely goes on two dates....
Sometimes my love life feels like a late night trip to the fried chicken shop. Tinder, hook ups and one-night stands are the ultimate in fast food dating – fine if that’s what you’re in the mood for, but unsatisfying and guilt-inducing if not. Plus, things seem to move so fast that every potential relationship is over before I’ve blinked. And, as I’m always complaining, everything has become so cloaked in ambiguity, that there are 67 different levels of ‘not being in a relationship’ you have to go through before you’re allowed to call someone your significant other.
So, when I was asked if I wanted to try out Berkeley International, a personal dating service for the slightly more discerning patron, it seemed like a nice change of pace. Essentially, if Tinder is Clapham High Street; Berkeley International is Cannes.
The agency was set up 12 years ago by former hotelier Mairead Molloy when she saw a gap in the market for a high-end, personal dating service. They don’t use algorithms to match their clients, everything is based on personal introductions, the feedback they accumulate from you after each date you go on, and a good dose of gut instinct. And – here’s the crunch – it costs between £10,000 and £50,000 to join. It sounds like a mind-boggling amount of money to me, but with 12 offices around the world and more to follow, they’re clearly doing something right.
Before I get ready to go on my dates, I meet Mairead to discuss my possible matches (Mairead deals with the international business, while the lovely Jo manages the London office and usually deals with local clients). “People are more discerning now – they care about wealth, family background, DNA,” she explains.
I assume when she mentions DNA she’s referring to genetic disorders, but I’m wrong: “They want to know what their kids are going to look like – they want to know what gene pool they’re going to be in.“£20,000 gives you access. People put invest in it so they can meet someone like them. Nowadays people have much higher expectations. The birth of mobile phones, social media, tweeting texting and chatting online have changed human nature. People cancel by text now. And that culture has spread into the dating world – people want what they want.”The agency is designed for cash-rich, time-poor people who don’t have countless free evenings to spend scouring bars, or online dating sites, for a potential partner – they want to cut to the chase.The set-up is distinctly old-fashioned, as Mairead explains: “We introduce you to a few people, and if you want to meet up, and they want to meet you, then we give the guy your number. The man calls you, the man arranges the date, the man picks you up, none of this ‘I’ll meet you at the tube at seven’ business. It’s not old-fashioned necessarily – it’s nice.”As it happens – and this is probably more due to living in London than a lack of chivalry - both of my dates arranged to meet me in bars, rather than picking me up from my flat (although I’ve no idea how I’d have explained away the one-legged drunk who sometimes sits on my front wall if they had done. My living arrangements aren’t exactly in keeping with someone who has 20K to burn).And guess what? I had a nice time. Not mind-blowing, not terrible, just quite normal. We didn’t go anywhere ridiculously expensive, for one date we went Dutch, for another he paid. They were both much more interesting than I thought they’d be (for some reason, I was expecting a pair of soulless bankers who hadn’t left the office since the Royal Wedding). My attempts to pretend I’m the sort of person with money to burn failed miserably, but I don’t think they noticed.But it was still very different to going on a date with a random bloke I met in a bar, or someone on Tinder. Mainly because the emphasis was on getting to know each other – there was no expectation that we’d be going home together at the end of the night (as Mairead had already said “it’s certainly not a shag-fest”). I found out far more about both my dates than you normally do when the wine’s flowing and you’re busy trying to work out if the other person’s going to make a move or not.Both evenings ended at a civilised hour with a peck on the cheek – after which, Jo calls me with feedback – which is excruciating. I feel like I’m in the dating Olympics, and I’m going to get a row of zeroes from a panel of judges who will criticise my terrible small talk and the fact that I went to the toilet six times in three hours (tiny bladder).As it happens, although I had a lovely time with both men, I felt pretty ambivalent about seeing them again, and told Jo as such. Despite this, it still stings a bit when I hear that one of my dates agrees with my assessment. Normally, if you go out with someone and don’t feel like there’s much chemistry, you just stop replying to their text messages. The other party gets the message pretty quickly, and that’s the end of that. When someone says it out loud it’s surprisingly difficult to hear.Like everyone I’ve become so used to virtual interaction, and to an ill-defined dating life characterised with shades of grey, that the whole experience felt quite alien. In many ways the experience was easier – a third party conducting things meant there were no miscommunication, and the amount of money people were sinking meant everyone was pretty committed to meeting a partner. There was far less ambiguity.No-one likes to hear constant negative feedback. We cushion our interactions with the opposite sex with euphemisms and half-truths, lest we hurt their feelings or they hurt ours. We limit ourselves tentative text messages and emails so we never get hurt. But how much time are we wasting in the process?That’s the point though – Berkley International is designed for the sort of people who have neither the time or the inclination to mess around. And maybe that’s something plebs like me can learn from.