Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Would like to meet......

I have an article about new ways to meet people in this week's Body and Soul in Saturday's Times. You can read it there (where there is a great picture!)

Or you can read it below....

From The Times
November 22, 2008

Singletons find love at singing and dance classes
Forget speed-dating, performing arts classes are increasingly playing Cupid to those looking for love

Sarah Ebner

Adam Mattison-Ward is no Gene Kelly, but acting, dancing and singing have changed his life. He met his girlfriend, Anne, in a singing class, and is convinced that shared interests and the buzz he gets from performing led to his “amazing” new relationship.

“I wanted to do something completely different,” says Mattison-Ward, a television producer. “I'd been with someone for 11 years, but that had come to an end, and I was interested in meeting someone new. The only thing was, I wasn't sure about the best way forward.”

The 34-year-old wanted to meet someone “like him”, with similar interests and values. And like an increasing number of today's singles, he rejected internet dating in favour of joining a performing arts evening class to de-stress and learn new skills, as well as to meet someone new. “I'd always been interested in drama and singing, and when a friend told me about the City Academy performing arts school, I signed up. I got such a kick out of it. It gave me a new identity and inspired me. And it quickly introduced me to new people.

Everyone's in the same boat

“When you meet somebody in this way, there's far less pressure. Everyone's in the same boat, so you're all supportive of each other, and of course, you lose your inhibitions. You know everyone's seen you make a fool of yourself singing and dancing, so you can't be embarrassed. You also know you have some interests in common - otherwise you wouldn't be there.”

Mattison-Ward started at the academy, based in North London, in December 2007. In March, Anne joined his singing class. He was smitten.

“To meet someone and hit it off with them instantly is amazing,” says Adam. “We have such fun and enjoy the same things. It's like a clichĂ© - to find love when you're not seriously looking.”

There are more singles than ever in the UK (6,622,000 aged between 25 and 44 in England and Wales in 2006, compared with 4,657,000 in 1996 and 2,532,000 in 1986 - and these figures don't include the divorced or widowed). Around 8 million people use some form of online dating service, evidence suggests that it often doesn't end with a lasting relationship. A survey by YouGov found that only a quarter of people who used internet dating sites were confident that they would find the person they were looking for, and many lapsed members insist that the pool of potential partners is simply too broad.

“We mustn't raise the internet's status too much,” says Dr Lisa Matthewman, a chartered psychologist at the University of Westminster and an expert in romantic and sexual relationships. “There's such potential to portray yourself - and of course for others to portray themselves - falsely. It can feel artificial and impersonal. Classes, particularly classes in the performing arts, can be more fruitful as inhibitions are cast aside and friendships quickly formed. You build up an emotional connection as well as a physical one. People are looking for all sorts of values in their partner, and it's hard to see how you can get those from the superficialities asked for by internet matching sites.”

Bridget Ragazzini, 39, a publishing executive, initially turned to the internet when she split from her fiancĂ© three years ago. “I started with such high expectations - it seemed a lot less daunting than speed dating, which I tried and hated - it's all about first impressions. However, I quickly discovered that while prospective dates sounded wonderful in their profiles, in real life' we would struggle to find things in common and there would be no chemistry at all.”

Ragazzini persevered for a year before logging off for good. “The whole experience was actually a bit depressing, and shook my confidence in the dating process. Instead, I resolved to focus on myself for a while. I'd enjoyed acting at university, and signed up with my local drama group. I attended an open audition one Saturday, which was pretty scary, but I quickly found myself opening up. The nicest thing about it was that there were so many people like me there - thirty and forty-somethings who were interested in the theatre and up for a laugh. By the end of the day, we'd acted together, eaten together, laughed together and were really bonded. I left with five new numbers in my phone and found the whole experience really liberating; I felt more confident and open to new experiences as a result. The theatre group has definitely expanded my social circle, which can only be a good thing in the search for a partner.”

Andrew G. Marshall, a relationship expert and author of the forthcoming book The Single Trap: How to Escape it and Find Lasting Love, sees clear problems with what he calls “conventional dating” and is fully in favour of expanding social circles and interests to meet new people. “The problem with internet dating and speed dating in particular is that we judge people so quickly when they walk through a door,” he says.

“We think they're too fat, too thin or too Primark for us. But the problem is that we're actually making a judgment on the most superficial of levels. What counts is whether we have a proper emotional connection with them, whether they complete us and provide balance. If you join a choir or a dance group, you talk to the other people there as human beings and you have room to talk to each other and to find out if there is a proper emotional connection rather than just lust.”

Marshall also has another explanation for why meeting in this way is beneficial. It's all to do with the difference between what he terms “bridging” and “bonding” capital.

“Bonding is like the friends in Sex and the City; people who are like you,” he explains. “It's very good for getting by and for emotional support, but it's a defined unit. You're not going to meet new people through this circle. Bridging, however, is quite different. It crosses existing groups of people, and is a great way to meet new people.”

Anne Birgit Saeves - Mattison-Ward's girlfriend - can echo that. The 28-year-old is a television production manager and joined classes at the academy to meet new people. “Taking a class is not like a pub or a club, it's a nice, safe atmosphere, where you meet people you already have things in common with. I wasn't really prepared to meet the love of my life, but when I met Adam, I did.”

“We thought it would help people destress”

Mike Ward, the co-founder of the academy, is amused, but not surprised that his evening classes in the performing arts now have a sideline in romance. “When we started the classes in 2007, the idea was that it would suit people in the City, those who wanted to de-stress after work, and also to express themselves. But while we're finding that people love the courses, it's also become clear that they don't just come to have fun, they also want to meet someone. It's a great place to develop relationships.”

Performance classes aren't the only option for those sick of internet or speed dating. Romance thrives more in an atmosphere conducive to relaxation and breaking down barriers, than the intense pressure of a “date”, as organisations like the adventure and social group Spice UK have found. Dave Smith, its founder, says he never pitches his “multi-activity adventure, sports and social group”, as a singles' club. The purpose “is to have fun, not just to meet people. Relationships blossom though, because this is a far more natural way to meet someone than singles nights or speed dating”. Spice UK members, he claims, now boast a wedding a week.

“We are all about coming together and having fun at the events,” he says. “But that can lead on to other things. I used to give people a spice rack when they said they were getting married. Then I started to buy in bulk. Now I've stopped, because it cost too much.”

You may not get a spice rack any more, but if you try something new, you will be adding more flavour to your life. And if you want to meet someone for a lasting relationship, you probably need to move away from your computer.

For more information about the City Academy, call 020-7704 3717 or visit www.city-academy.com

Don't fancy singing? Try these...

Charity fundraising

Having values and interests in common is always good ground for romance - especially, it appears, when it comes to the desire to help others.

The disability charity Scope has been running fundraising treks and challenges to far-flung locations, including China, Peru and Vietnam, for more than 12 years. Recently organisers have noticed that a number of participants have met their partner while taking part. “Kilimanjaro 08 with Scope was advertised as a life-changing experience and for us it has been,” says Graham Isaacs, 32, who met his partner Julie Evans, 31, on a Scope trek in July. “I think the environment of challenge and achievement with new people really brings personalities to the fore so it's a great way to meet like-minded people.”

Those taking part usually include a good mixture of men and women so the chances of meeting a partner or simply making new friends are pretty high. The average age is early thirties but there are twenty, forty and fifty-somethings too. For more information: email events@scope.org.uk or visit www.scope.org.uk

A new body and a new partner?

Research by Mintel has revealed that one in five private health club members met close friends or their partner at the gym. More than one in four saw it as a good place to meet “like-minded people”, and an increasing number of gyms are now organising social activities for their members.

Victoria Branch, marketing manager of Harpers Fitness, says that people tend to use their trips to the gym in two ways - to flirt, but also work out, or to switch off and work out. She says that the gym definitely appeals as a place to meet.

“There's less pressure,” she says. “If you're single and on a night out there is always that thought - will I meet someone? Whereas when you're in the gym you are relaxed and not usually expecting to meet someone in that way. Also, if you meet someone at the same gym you probably know that you are quite similar in terms of lifestyle.” www.harpersfitness.co.uk

Spirit of adventure

Dave Smith set up Spice UK because he wanted to join a club just like it, and couldn't find one. It began in Manchester, by offering outdoor pursuits each month, but now runs a variety of activities and get-togethers all over the country. Children are not invited. Membership is £12 a month, and there are currently 12,000 members. “It's about making friends and enjoying yourself,” says Smith. “It's best described as an adults' youth club.” www.spiceuk.com

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