Starting a relationship can be a tricky time for many desk-bound IT professionals. This is particularly pertinent at this time of year, with only four days to go until Cupid fires his arrows of love across the land. In fact, there are eight million people in the UK between the ages of 16 and 64 years old who are single.
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Given this statistic, meeting other single people should be relatively straightforward. But it's not. The majority of ITprofessionals are working long hours in demanding careers, and a growing number of these people are spending at least part of the week working from home, which can make starting a relationship more difficult.
However, it is not all doom and gloom for the single IT professional. There is a solution at hand and it's not scanning the classified sections of the newspapers. No, the answer to this particular problem is the Internet.
"The Internet has taken dating agencies out of the classifieds. Web sites enable us to present a much more professional and exciting image," says Conrad Morris, managing director of UK agency Club Sirius that launched its Web site in 1998.
It costs £821 a year (or £771 if you join through the Web site) to sign up with Club Sirius. "There are cheaper sites but you pay for what you get. We send an interviewer round to visit new members in their home to draw up a detailed personal profile. It acts as a security check, making sure people are who they say they are. It also means the profiles reflect what someone else has said about them and not what they have said about themselves," says Morris.
Admittedly,the number of dating agencies offering full online facilities is still small. However, chairman of the Association of British Introduction Agencies, Lynn Davies, believes it is only a matter of time before more follow suit. "At the moment agencies are wary of the security issues of e-commerce especially as they carry such personal information and deal with people who usually live alone and could be vulnerable if someone got hold of that information. But the Internet will be the way of the future," says Davies.
One of the pioneers of online dating is US-based Match.com. Launched in 1995 the company boasts 2.5 million members worldwide, including 50,000 in the UK and Ireland. "The Internet addresses the problem that professional, single people face today. It's fast, affordable and convenient. If you know you are looking for a non-smoking Catholic in his 30s who wants a long-term relationship, you can put in the details and come up with 70 possible matches," says Match.com vice president of romance (yes, that really is her title), Trish McDermott.
When you join Match.com your e-mail address is stripped out and replaced with an anonymous name, although a growing number (nearly 30%) of members are opting to put their photos with their profiles.
Far from being a last resort, McDermott argues that meeting people through an agency makes perfect sense - and she has the figures to prove it. Since it launched, Match.com, which costs about $15 a month, has precipitated 200,000 relationships and more than 1,000 marriages.
"Traditionally, you start seeing people on the basis of physical attraction. Youthen spend the next weeks, months, even years trying to work out whether you are really suited, whether you have the same values, and so on. Going through an agency you first look for compatibility and then the romance follows," says McDermott.
It certainly worked for 32-year-old Chris West, who runs his own computer games company from home. He says, "I was just surfing one night and there was a banner for Match.com advertising its free seven-day trial so I filled in a questionnaire. I started getting e-mails from all over the world."
But one of the respondents in particular caught his interest - and fortunately she lived in Southampton not South America. "There are some people that you just click with instantly and it's the same on e-mail. Yvette e-mailed me and we got on straight away. Soon we were e-mailing each other every day and then she plucked up the courage to phone. We eventually met and that was that," says West.
Though West admits that he had his doubts about the type of people he might meet on the Web, the couple have been together for nearly 18 months and are blissfully happy.
A quick search on Dateline's database confirms that a high proportion of members areITers.After typing in my specifications online (non-smokers, 15-mile radiusof London, university educated), a list of 10 potential matches were found - eight of them were IT professionals, and I didn't even mention IT in the search.
So what are you waiting for? You may have missed the boat for this Valentine's Day, but join an agency today and you could be booking that romantic weekend away for two before you know it.
The pros and cons of online dating:
- It's easy - you can have more than 100 potential matches on your screen within minutes
- You can do it in your lunch hour or in the middle of the night
- It's more private than walking into a high-street agency
- You can check how compatible you are
- Your boss might be intrigued to know why 'dating agency' comes up so frequently on your screen
- You may be disappointed if you have high hopes - people can seem more flirtatious and interesting via e-mail
- The love of your life may live miles away