In a blow for womankind, a City worker looking for love via a dating agency promising the “creme de la creme of bachelors” has been awarded a refund of £12,600 ($22,070) and £500 “for her sadness” by a High Court judge.
Tereza Burki, 47, who paid an elite introduction service to hunt for “the man of my dreams” – a “high-net-worth” individual to father her fourth child – was found to have been “deceived”.
For, despite the agency boasting 7000 theoretical members, only 200 of these could be considered active, only 100 considered men. As Judge Richard Parkes QC decreed: “You shouldn’t promise people who are in a fragile state of mind, in their mid-forties, the man of their dreams.”
It is a worthy principle. Only this is exactly the terms under which many dating agencies operate.
For there’s no fool like a middle-aged fool. I speak as one: Ms Burki and I are of the same vintage, albeit my lack of biological clock means that I am unlikely to resort to such measures. (Oh, and there is my partner; still, one can always upgrade.) Also I loved being single. Plus I’m too tight.
However, I do have friends, and am used to the moment when one of them confides, in the tones with which they would describe an STD diagnosis, that they’re about “do something a bit silly”.
One tries to be encouraging, at least once the cheque has been cashed. For, in my experience, dating agencies – especially the ritzier ones – tend to be weird, ageing male brat-orientated swindles – and that’s if they have any male clients.
Those that they do manage to unearth will be 25 years one’s senior, as lacking in personality as they are oral hygiene, and staggeringly, baroquely complacent. It’s not that said specimens don’t deserve love; it’s just that they don’t deserve it with any of my bright and brilliant friends.
And, actually, these men aren’t looking for love: they’re looking to buy themselves a no-fuss legal arrangement having spent their lives preoccupied by work, while not cultivating anything sufficiently approaching a personality to forge a relationship with anyone not desperate.
In these exorbitant last chance saloons, the male-female ratio is such that they can buy themselves a woman prepared to compromise.
You’ll know these matchmaking firms from the small ads pockmarked with their blisteringly naff names of the “Wish upon a Star”, “Top Notch”, “Dinner at 8” variety. The women who represent them are blonde with dodgy blow-dries and drink their coffee milky. For fees that can reach £100,000, they promise the earth and deliver only mortification.
However, in addition to her refund, Ms Burki was ordered to pay her agency £5000 in libel damages after writing a review describing it as “a scam”, as the judge accepted it was not a fundamentally dishonest operation.
Fat, egotistical granddads
A 30-something pal also considered going legal after a firm reacted to a complaint by informing her that such behaviour was “not endearing”, and that: “At some stage you have to look within and take responsibility for why things do not end up the way you want them”. This after presenting her with a clutch of fat, egotistical granddads for the sum of £15,000.
One of my dearest friends, clever, beautiful, charming – a woman I would marry in an eye blink – invested her savings in a rival matchmaker; an experience she describes as the most humiliating of her life. She had to pay for banal professional photographs (“Smiling! In a park! In a zip-up fleece!”), water down her interests (for being “too intimidating”), only to face mass rejection for being “too old”, by merit of being only 15 years younger than her potential paramours.
My own toe-dipping into this benighted realm came when an editor sent me to try an agency that routinely charges £60,000; a piece that could never be written up since I would have been forced to deploy the phrase “nouveau-riche dystopia”.
I was given my instructions by the agency’s owner. Instead of making the first move, I was to let my dates call me, then decide if they could bear to meet me. During this verbal audition, I was to tolerate questions aimed at assessing my genetic stock.
“They’re eugenicists?” I inquired. “Yes!” she trilled. Then, if I passed muster, I was to don a tight, Roland Mouret-style frock and meet my date at a five-star hotel bar. Think: hot office courtesan meets actual courtesan.
The first couple of conversations were so insufferably Alan Partridge that I had to decline their kind offers.
Chap: “I am on my massive yacht. Would you like to join me on said massive yacht?” Answer: not so much.
Number three was described as “cultural”, in that he had heard of Shakespeare. “Great, I used to teach Shakespeare at Oxford!” I exclaimed. “Don’t say that!” my matchmaker hissed, in a way that implied: “Or anything.”
We met at the Connaught, which was a shame, because I’d always rather liked the Connaught. He told me how successful he was – at work, at sport, at life. No questions were asked about my own existence, although he made clear that I’d have to renounce it to fit in with his schedule. He then talked about how he didn’t want a trophy wife, as if this were worthy of a Nobel Prize. Several years on, my buttocks have yet to unclench.
In the end, I discovered “the man of my dreams” at a party. There is nothing to unite us on paper. He is a rugged, outdoorsy type, who lets his clothes rot off him, keen on camping and country walks. I am a barely mobile sybarite, whose hobbies comprise reading, carping and swearing. No matchmaker would put us together. That is why it works.
The Telegraph, London