The reality was an array of terrible matches, a growing sense of alarm and a flaming row in a flash restaurant in Chelsea.
The first indication that all was not as I had expected came when I met my personal matchmaker at a Park Lane hotel for “tea and an interview”. We chatted about holidays in Spain, men with bad haircuts and my ideal date. “So are you a psychologist?” I asked, eager to press her on her method of assessment.
“Oooh no, I’m just a people person. I love people,” she trilled. I told her how I loved folk music, my favourite film was The Deer Hunter and I enjoyed weekends in the countryside. So far, so banal.
A few days later, she emailed me with the details of W, “a successful entrepreneur who had travelled extensively and also liked folk music”. When I met him at a pub in Richmond, I was shocked. I was expecting a cultured and dynamic man, instead I got a man in a pair of jeans, a moth-eaten jumper and the table manners of a modern-day Baldrick.
And therein lies the rub. These agencies trade on their exclusivity, yet the men I met were far from the super-elite they promised. And the so-called “experts” were a group of ex-PR girls with swishy hair and ability to write up a nifty “press release”.
The thing I found most unnerving, though, was not being allowed to see what my date looked like, let alone have a pre-date chat with them before we met. All so important if you are to get a feel of someone.
It wasn’t too much of a surprise, then, that they rarely got it right. There was the 65-year-old American with a stunning property portfolio, who broke the rules and googled me, only to inform me that I was too old for him; the barrister who invited me to his St James’s club, and turned out to be prickly and aggressive; and a man who sold jumpers, who took me to dinner in Fulham and told me I should have worn a clingier dress.
I was about to call it a day and demand my money back, when my matchmaker sent through the details of a publisher from Oxford. We met at a pub near his home.
On date two, he said he really liked me and whisked me away to the Cotswolds. Not wanting to appear presumptuous, he booked two rooms. I was quietly hopeful.
But very quickly the debonair man who had seemed laid-back in London morphed into a raging chauvinist in the countryside. When I started to chat to a waiter in Italian, it became clear that my date was not happy.
“I WAS WONDERING when you were going to let me join your conversation,” he boomed. I tried to laugh it off, but clocked this was a man with a fragile ego.
It is a tough time for midlife dating today, and there are a lot vulnerable, educated women like me who are so desperate for love they are willing to try (and pay) anything. Yet, the quality of men was, I found, no different to those on online dating sites.
My advice when it comes to dating is: trust your instinct and meet through friends of friends. It is bound to be more accurate. Oh, and it is free.