Exploiting the second relationship window – a dating expert explains

January 14, 2013


At the back of most single people’s minds is the hope that one day soon they will meet someone special.  Perhaps they have never met the right person. Maybe they married the wrong person.  Perhaps they want to start a family or find a suitable partner to be parent to their own children.  Whatever the reasons, there is a plethora of single people out there scouring the country in search of love.  Not surprisingly, the singles business has capitalised on this demand for partners and there is a burgeoning market of websites, advertisements, singles clubs and introduction agencies all promising to find true love for their clients, in exchange for money.

But is it possible to click on your perfect life partner in cyber space and meet in your email Inbox?  Or is the personal touch more effective?  However easy it is to join social networks and line up a string of dates online, in the end it’s all going to boil down to chemistry and one’s approach to relationships.  And as some women who are getting older start to panic, they must surely overcome their fears and learn not to prejudice or jeopardise an encounter with a potential Mr Right.

I got married and had my children in what I thought then was the nick of time.  Casting my mind back, I remember those feelings of urgency, desperation and despair.  I recall doing the sums – checking to see how old someone was when she’d had a baby, exhaling with relief when I read how a 45-year-old celebrity had just given birth, and mentally doing everything I could to buy myself a few more years.  If I could just meet ‘the one’ and have babies.  And hey, 37 isn’t really that old, is it?  What if there isn’t a man on the planet who wants to be with me?  How empty will my life be if I never have children?  It must be a volume thing.  If I can meet 100 ‘suitable’ men, then one of them must be OK, mustn’t he?  I’m an ideal prospect and I’ll be spoilt for choice… Won’t I?

Unfortunately, the metronome ticking of biological clocks is symptomatic of the ageing process in childless women over 35.  For some women, the emotions surrounding the desire to have a child can be extremely powerful, overwhelming even.  And if they aren’t kicked into touch, they can prove destructive.  It was much easier for our mothers’ and grandmothers’ generations:  Women then didn’t have the same career aspirations as women today; feminism hadn’t yet decreed that we could have it all; the Pill hadn’t been invented and married women couldn’t even pay tax or have a mortgage without the intervention of their husbands.  I can remember as a child family jibes about an aunt ‘who nearly missed the boat as she didn’t get married until she was 28’.  I also resolved that I would get married at 21, just like my mother, and have my first baby when I was 25.  Little did I imagine I would have to add around 18 years to both those figures in order to aspire to the status of ‘married with children’.

When I was about 12, my mother told me that the best time in a woman’s life is when she reaches 30.  By then, she has a husband, children and a family home.  She is still young at heart, but also worldly wise and she still has her looks and energy.  When she reaches 30, a woman has reached her personal zenith.

That rather saccharine image may well have been possible for some women in the 1960s and 70s, but today, things seem to have been shunted on another ten years.  Forty is indeed the new 30.  It now takes a bit more than an additional decade to assemble the whole package.  But it can, and is being done.  You only need to look at the statistics to see that in the UK women are marrying later and the ages at which they are giving birth are continuously setting new boundaries.

So a few years ago I arranged a meeting with personal dating agent and relationship expert Mairead Molloy.  A fresh-faced thirty/forty something herself, for the last decade she has run Berkeley International, an elite introduction agency.  I wanted to find out about relationship prospects for this burgeoning demographic of single women and uncover the secrets to success.

Mairead is a guerrilla matchmaker.  Armed with her mobile phone and an encyclopaedic knowledge of her clients, she juggles the needs of everyone.  She consoles the disconsolate, sends flowers to the disappointed and eggs on the romantically cautious.  For those who need it, she’ll demand a diet and exercise programme to get them in shape.  And Mairead is upfront and personal with anyone with bad hair, urging them to get an appointment at Michaeljohn and ‘sort it out, for God’s sake!’  But it’s her mix of agony aunt intuition and empathy coupled with perspicacity and passion that enables her to connect with everyone she meets.  Her phenomenal success at linking people to their life partners ensures a home mantelpiece chock-full with wedding invitations.

Although it costs thousands of pounds to have your name in Mairead’s little black book, her reputation for zoning in on the perfect partner guarantees a steady line of hopefuls at her door.  For many years Berkeley International has boasted an extraordinary record of introducing successful and intelligent people to equally discerning life partners.  The agency has almost 2,000, mainly professional people on its books – 50:50 men and women – spanning all ages, but with the majority between 30 and 45.

Having married into an Irish family myself, I am well accustomed to the frank, say-it-as-it-is approach of the Irish, so over afternoon tea in her exclusive Mayfair club, Mairead from County Wexford gave it to me straight.

Mairead says that all her clients want to settle down and live happily ever after.  ‘Isn’t that what everyone wants deep down, if they are honest? That’s what I aim to do – get people married.  But this is a two-way thing:  I have to work with people who have the right attitude to the opposite sex as well as to themselves.

‘I know within the first two minutes whether or not a person is going to be successful at finding love.  It isn’t about how attractive or successful they are, how developed their sense of humour or about the expanse of their bank balance:  it’s all about how happy they are within themselves.  That’s the key.  It doesn’t matter how much a woman’s got to offer, if she is desperate because time is running out, this will show and it will scupper her chances – not just with us, but through any other means too.  I have seen it happen literally hundreds of times.’ Harsh words, perhaps, but Mairead speaks with first-hand experience of having met more people seeking a life partner than the rest of us.

‘Our success rate at finding partners for women in their late thirties or early forties is defined by certain factors.  If she’s normal, if she’s content with her life, if she’s unburdened by emotional clutter from previous relationships and if she’s not coming across as desperate, then we have little trouble creating a near perfect match.  But there are a lot of ifs to consider, and it’s sad that so many content, happy, well-adjusted women seem to self-destruct when they hit their late thirties.’

I had read somewhere that Mairead referred to ‘relationship windows’ in defining optimum timeframes for people to meet and settle down.  In response she says:  ‘Your twenties are for having fun.  Some people settle down then, but I don’t get many 23-year-old ladies asking me to find them a husband.  However, by the time they are around 28, subconsciously, single women become aware about relationship windows.  In their minds, they have about seven years to meet someone, settle down and have a family, as there is a perception that this relationship window slams shut at 35, drastically affecting their chances of finding love and a life partner.  I see a stream of highly organised, focused women in their early thirties who don’t want to miss out, so they come to me to help them.

‘Typically, they’re educated, overworked, high-achieving and financially independent.  They imagine that they’ll settle for anyone and walk into our offices professing to have an open mind.  But often the reality is that they are on a precarious fulcrum, and the slightest setback could tip them into mainstream desperation.  Peer pressure and our media-obsessed society require them to conform to acquiring the ideal husband:  someone of a similar age who is tall, rich, hilariously funny, popular and handsome.  They choose to overlook the reality that most men have one or maybe two of these attributes, but for every upside, there’s a downside.  Whatever happened to finding someone who is fun, kind, gentle and loving and can prepare a decent Sunday roast, or who has the potential to be a lifelong soul mate?’

I asked Mairead why, if women are aware of the relationship window, they miss out on it. ‘There are two main reasons:  first, some women become consumed by their personal and financial independence and are simply too busy for commitment.  At 37 they suddenly look up from their iPhones and ask, ‘Hey, where’s the man in my life?’  And second, they’re having affairs with married men – and we do get a lot of these.  Believe me when I say that married men, when they promise to leave their wives, never do.  It is a case of ‘always the mistress, never the wife’.  Don’t go there if you want to settle down with someone and have kids.  It just isn’t going to happen.  Married men want their sex on the side – they don’t want a costly divorce, a downgraded lifestyle and everlasting monogamy.’

Like a beacon of hope to the woman reaching the end of her thirties, Mairead has identified a second relationship window, which opens up roughly between 38 and 44: ‘We have on our books, a host of women within this age group who are divorced, with or without children, who have come out of long affairs or are single and looking for a husband.  I match them with a whole band of fortysomething men who might also be divorced and don’t want more kids, or with guys ready to do it all over again.

However, Mairead’s biggest placement challenge is for the woman of 45 who has missed her second relationship window.  She says:  ‘A 45-year-old woman wants to date a man who is around 47, or perhaps a good-looking 50-year-old.  But the sad fact is that a 47-year-old man wants to find a 40-year-old woman.  Stalemate is reached when the 45-year-old woman doesn’t want to date the sixtysomething man who wants to go out with her.  And yet she’s terrified of facing 50 alone – and that comes across big time.’

This all seems very ageist.  Why is everyone so hung up on age when the rules of attraction are based on looks, personality and chemistry?  Mairead says:  ‘People are obsessed with their age.  Just about everyone I interview lies about their age too.  The saddest thing is I see so many lonely people. I hear, ‘I just can’t go to weddings and parties by myself anymore.’  All they want is to have someone to love and be loved and for companionship – age is actually irrelevant.’

Today, finding love through dating agencies, online dating and by placing lonely-hearts advertisements is widely acceptable.  The desire to meet someone is there, it just seems that huge numbers of people just don’t know how to settle down.  Maybe with all this choice, they are always searching for someone better – they don’t know when to stop.  Also, it would appear this epidemic of loneliness has made women so paranoid that they are segmenting their lives into windows of opportunity.  If finding love is paramount, why is everyone failing?

In response, Mairead says, ‘We do have a lot of success with women in their late thirties, but as I said earlier, this mostly boils down to their attitude to men and themselves.  It’s worth highlighting what men want:  men like confident women who are not in any rush.  They like a bit of mystery and want to experience the thrill of the chase.  They don’t want someone with screaming ovaries handed to them on a plate demanding a wedding and instant procreation.

‘So, as we evolve socially to seek fulfilment a decade later than our mothers’ generation, we have to re-adjust to make our lives meaningful.  Scary and impossible as it sounds, relationship success is about slowing down.  Not giving up, but letting go of all that self-imposed pressure.  Your life won’t end if you don’t meet someone, but to be happy, you have to fulfil yourself.’

I asked Mairead about success.  What, in dating agency speak constitutes success, and what is her success rate?  ‘We consider an introduction to be successful when a relationship goes beyond six months.  Eighty-nine per cent of our introductions for people under the age of 34 are successful.  In the age bracket 35–50 we currently have a 72 per cent success rate.

‘I’m very selective about who we take on as clients.  Our fee levels generate high expectations from our clients and our business thrives on successful introductions.  Our success rates are high because we are discerning.  Regretfully, I do have to turn away some people, both men and women, because I don’t believe I can help them.’

I wanted to end my interview with Mairead on a positive note, so I asked her what advice she would give to a woman in her late thirties who is angling to fill her second relationship window. ‘Just be happy within yourself.  Do this by distracting yourself away from the gnawing worry about meeting ‘the one’.  Take up some new interests, travel, or do something daring or caring. Smile, laugh more, and be optimistic and open-minded about everything.  If you can create an aura about you that is positive, confident and content, everything else will fall into place.’


Interview by Annie Harrison.  Extracted from Finding Mr Right: The Real Woman’s Guide to Landing That Man




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