Looking for Love?

PUBLISHED: 12:30 24 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:33 20 February 2013

Illustration: Flo Fitzgerald

Illustration: Flo Fitzgerald

Harriet Mellor scoures the county for romantic opportunities for Devon's singletons

Harriet Mellor scoures the county for romantic opportunities for Devon's singletons

Ask most Devon singletons where they go looking for love and the most common response is either a snort of derision or downright despair. Unless you live amongst the bright lights of Exeter, Plymouth or perhaps Torquay, with access to a social life and more humans than cattle, the opinion seems to be that romantic opportunities are almost non-existent.

In villages and small towns, single men and women really are like rural buses a rare or discontinued service. For females, single socialising means a night out with the married girls, as long as their husbands are hidden away.

Community life means any spark of romance is quickly seized upon and dissected, says Rachel Beckett, 42, a glamorous, but single, mother of two. Where I live, everyone knows everyone including the fact Im single and my ex-husband. If they do see you out with a man, they all start staring and nudging, even coming over to interrupt. Ive found its better to spread your wings and date further afield. By further afield Rachel means shes using more proactive methods to find a partner.

This is 2011 where dating by the internet, agencies or group outings has shed their stigma and become the norm. Ringing around some of the most appealing organisations, it seems a lot of Devons singles, of both sexes and all ages, are signed up to at least one of them.

For those who prefer the guise of friendship, group socialising and a personal point of contact, Amit, run by Helen Ashford, has weekend social events throughout the county. Id say the majority of people over the age of 40 whove been in relationships didnt choose to be single. Its usually down to divorce or being widowed, so I see people at their lowest ebb. Its ever so hard when you come home on a Friday night and think what am I going to do now?

Helen is extremely discreet and sensitive to her members needs, making sure new recruits go to smaller informal gathering to avoid intimidation, that there are equal numbers of men and women, and at balls will never let a DJ put on slow dances. I believe the only way to fall in love is by expanding your social life, meeting up regularly as part of a group, and having fun.

Rebecca Wellaway, centre manager andcounsellor at Relates Exeter branch thinks its great way to date as long as you have the right attitude. At Relate, were definitely seeing an increase in couples whove met online or through agencies. The key point is to look at it with a sense of humour, and have fun even if the person is not the one. We would always advise too to have a healthy level of caution. Hopefully the e-mailing before you meet up will give you a sense of that person and a bit about their background.
However, the main advice is that dating can be more fickle and transient this way, so keep it in perspective.
If you do feel something for the other person,"Rebecca continues, you need to protect yourself emotionally by not investing too much too quickly, or youll end up on a rollercoaster of highs followed by plummeting feeling of rejection if they dont feel the same way.

For those who become serious and committed, Rebecca recommends Relate for those at the beginning of their relationship, especially if they are blending kids into the mix. We are now trying to encourage early intervention rather than waiting until you reach a crisis point somewhere down the line. If you dont have children, do you both want them? If you have them, but are trying to all come together and build a new life, then our family therapy can help each member work it out."www.relate.org.uk

Look at it with a sense of humour, and have fun even if the person is notthe one

Whats out there for Devon singles?

Events are listed in their members magazine, and range from their popular Sunday walks with gastro-pub lunches, to cycling, canoeing, theatre trips and special charity balls. Age group 40+. 01752 590283 or 01392 770070.

I started the Devon Social Group purely as a way to make friends, says Andrew Haglington from Tavistock. Then Cathy phoned to ask about joining and we spent four hours on the phone before meeting for a meal. The pair married and developed DSG countywide with events to suit all tastes and pockets from meals out to far-flung holidays. There is either Budget or VIP membership, with 50 off in February if you quote Devon Life.

With 200,000 registered singles, 40% of its members are from Devon. CEO Neil Stanley explains: Online dating in the South West has only really got going in the last two and a half years. Before that it carried a bit of a taboo. Ive found the regional focus works because in the South West people feel they have a certain culture and pace of life. Use a good, current profile picture, not one that is a decade out of date. Include your interests in your profile text to provide talking points for other members, and keep it upbeat. A senior section is being launched to coincide with Valentines Day.

Action dating!
If wining and dining is too contrived, try dating via recreational pursuits. Meeting through a shared interest gives you much more to talk about and do together.

Dating and social networking for sailors and watersport lovers with many members from our South West coastline, extending UK-wide and abroad. If love is not at the top of the agenda, then dip your toe in with friendship and crewing. Says the sites Erica Joyce:"I believe its important for couples to have similar interests the family that plays together, stays together. Too many relationships fail because couples dont have a common interest, and they lead separate lives and start drifting apart. Membership is free with optional upgrades for premium membership.

Designed by single golfers for golfers who want to be matched by game, handicap, geography or chemistry. Membership free then from 6 per month.

Yes, theres even dating sites for dog owners, or ex-dog-owners whod like to unite over their love of all things cuddly and canine!

Purely rural
Out of town doesnt mean dowdy or parochial. Although not just devoted to Devon, some of these sites have been started by cool young country dwellers. They can even help farmers find a wife!

We have many from Devon and thousands of members from the South West, says founder James Vestbrick. Our target is people from the countryside where it is naturally harder to meet new people. There is also mature.kissinggates.com which provides a more specific service for 50+ members to find each other.

Started by two sisters who saw a huge gap in the attractive rural market. With over 40,000 members covering single farmers, equestrians and mud-lovers in general.

Another site devoted to all regions and age groups with over 300,000 registered members. With a countryside discussion chatroom operating 24/7, members can log in around duties like livestock or harvesting.

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