Love may blossom over the office water-cooler or in the meal-for-one frozen food section of your local supermarket, but for others, the perfect partner might prove harder to meet.
Raising a family single-handedly, longer working hours, less socializing and financial restrictions mean that for many, the traditional ways of meeting potential suitors are being replaced with online dating and social media sites.
After an unpleasant experience with a man she met online, Dubliner Jennifer 47 , a divorced mother of three, decided to join a dating agency in her native city. While its head office is in Dublin, it has representatives in Belfast and Jennifer says she is seeing a marked increase in the number of people from Northern Ireland signing up.
That really has to evolve. What we promote is real human interaction. Having worked in manufacturing for many years, she had the necessary entrepreneurial skills to put her plan into action. She sold up her bakery business and went back to college, to study psychology, counselling and executive coaching. Also, having been married, separated and divorced with three grown-up children helps me to empathise with other people.
I come at it from a non-judgemental approach and try and understand what it is that I can do to help others. She found speed dating — an organised activity where people meet would-be partners through a series of short conversations — a strange experience, while internet dating left her feeling too vulnerable.
Potential clients undergo a telephone assessment first, then a face-to-face interview, which Jennifer is quick to point out is relaxed and informal. If the team feel there is someone on their books that is a suitable match, they will take the new client on. But, as Jennifer stresses, this only happens if she is confident she can make a good match.
And the interview process is the best way of separating the wheat from the chaff. In seven years we have never had one incident, not even a hint of anything happening. We are very safe. People are investing physically, financially and emotionally in this process. It really does sort out the men from the boys, the women from the girls. They have made a decision to come to us, they are looking for a life partner, a soul-mate.
She also went over to England to check out dating agencies there. And though she is currently single, she did meet a man whom she went out with for several years. I was meeting people on a one-to-one basis. There was no juggling around or anything like that.
It was all very respectful, secure, honest and transparent. I have to be ultra professional. Nevertheless, she admits that her clientele are still reluctant to go on record and talk publicly about their experiences.
Our clients come from right across the board and we have memberships to suit all budgets and types. As time goes on that is building and building. Jennifer finds that when it comes to looking for love, men are less pro-active.
So why would we not apply this to our love lives? If I want to meet someone, then what am I going to do about it? I can go to a bar or a club, take up a hobby or sport, or join a dating agency. Then the universe will respond. Everywhere in the world, there are lonely people from 19 to 90 who want to feel loved.
Others says to me: But why should we differentiate? They have as much right to be loved as someone in their 20s. Last year was a particularly bumper period for happy endings, with a total of 10 proposals. She prefers to maintain a discreet distance from the loved-up couples, but says she gets plenty of thank you cards in the post.