Welcome to Carpe Diem Personal Introductions, the bespoke introduction agency for the over 50s

Carpe Diem
Personal Introductions

Leading the way for a new generation over 50.

Press

Article from 'The Lady', 6th January 2012...

"What are the chances of finding love in middle age? Pretty good, thinks Sarah Howes, who founded her own dating agency for women (and men) over the age of 50. Barbara Want spoke to herThe Lady

If you're looking for for love, I have a New Year’s resolution for you,’ Sarah Howes enthuses. ‘Throw away that list of everything you’re looking for in a man. Forget what’s on it and NEVER think about it again. Then you stand a chance of finding what you’re actually looking for.’

Sarah should know what she’s talking about. Her agency, Carpe Diem, sprang from the kernel of a ‘hunch’ three years ago, that older people (of both sexes) weren’t being catered for in the dating world. Hoping to penetrate an untapped market, she placed an advert, and when the phone started to ring off the hook, ‘we knew we were on to something. It was mainly women who called at first, then the men started coming forward – at one point we didn’t have enough women to go round.’

Her first few ‘matches’ fell into place quickly, lulling her – and her business partner – into a false sense of security. ‘We thought, this is easy! But then the hard work started.’ That hard work was understanding what made two people likely to get on: simply sending them on a lot of dates wasn’t enough. There are probably millions to be made by anyone who discovers the formula for predicting the elusive ‘chemistry’ between two people, but until that happens Sarah seems to have hit on something that might at least boost the odds of finding it. It’s The List. The one that needs to go in the bin. And ladies, it is WE who are slaves to The List – of qualities we want – nay, INSIST on – in the perfect man. And it seems it’s The List that’s causing us all the problems.

‘Women come to me pleading they are desperate to meet a man,’ says Sarah. ‘But then The List comes out and it’s full of reasons why anyone I suggest isn’t right. I’ve had women discounting men because they aren’t tall enough. Or they don’t have the ‘right’ number of children. Or they live in the wrong part of the country. Or they are widowed and they don’t want to live in the late wife’s shadow. Or he’s divorced, so he must have something wrong with him.

‘The Lists are getting longer. I think it’s because we live in a society in which we think we can order up just what we want; a sort of Identikit person. But people have lives, and emotional baggage. I sometimes wonder whether women do this on purpose to protect themselves from ever having to find someone.’

Harsh words, but the story of my friend Jen convinces me Sarah is on to something. It’s something of a middle-aged love story, so if you’re squeamish about romance, look away now…

Jen was widowed in her late 40s after a long and happy marriage and for years she despaired of ever meeting anyone again. Her mother’s words probably didn’t help: ‘At least you’re not yet 50, darling…’ (‘But I will be NEXT YEAR,’ Jen wailed.) Finally, about a year ago, Jen tentatively, hesitantly and bravely dipped her toes back into the dating world. It’s not the easiest place to be in your middle years.

In Jen’s case The List of qualities she wanted in a man went something like this:

  • Must live in the southeast, preferably London (Jen is a Kensington girl)
  • Must be a high achiever with a degree, preferably from a top university (like Jen)
  • Must work in the ‘real’ world, meaning anything but the City (she’s a writer and likes to think of herself as a ‘creative’)
  • Must love animals and preferably be a vegetarian (like Jen)

After Sarah introduced Jen to several eligible men who wined and dined her in Mayfair’s best restaurants, she added:

  • Must not enjoy sailing. Categorically. ‘Because I hate boats,’ was all she said when I asked why.

High 50In the space of about six months Jen met 14 men: they all ticked the boxes on The List but none was ‘quite right’. Then Sarah suggested Jen meet Richard. What was wrong with him? ‘Nothing at all. He’s lovely. It’s just that he used to work in the City, lives on a farm in Devon, is passionate about sailing and at the weekend, shoots grouse. And pheasant. Possibly even deer, but I didn’t dare to tell her that. Oh yes, and he didn’t go to university. I’m not sure they had a single thing in common actually, but I thought it was worth a try.’

So lukewarm was Jen that she had to be cajoled by Sarah into meeting Richard for lunch. However, lunch went well, but Jen wasn’t sure it was worth meeting Richard again. The thought of him walking across a grouse moor in plus fours simply didn’t ‘do it’ for her. Sarah persisted. After four meetings, Jen rang Sarah to say she and Richard had fallen in love and were planning to spend their lives together.

So if Jen’s story is proof that The List should be dumped, what does it show about Jen’s mum’s view that once a woman hits 50, it’s tough to find a man?

‘The idea that for older women it’s all over is simply not true,’ says Sarah, her normally mild manner strained by frustration at hearing this oft-peddled line. ‘I have men on my books who are more than happy to meet women their own age – and older. They want a woman with a shared history. Above all, they want a best friend.’

As if to make a point, on the day we meet, Sarah took a call from a client, a 64-year-old man whose partner (to whom Sarah introduced him) has just left him – for a younger man. ‘He thought she was The One,’ she says, ‘but she’s ended it to move in with a 50-year-old. She’s 75. No one will believe it, but it’s true.’

Older women these days know how to look good and have been through enough testing times to take a relaxed view on life. And there are plenty of men who appreciate that. ‘I believe the more intelligent the man, the less of an issue age is,’ says Sarah. ‘I’m amazed at the quality of the men I meet. I have this intuition test: when I sit in front of a man I ask myself – if there was a fire, would he get me out? The men on my books are good men.’

But it’s a notoriously tough business to be in (emotions run high and common sense can run low), but Sarah claims success rates of around 70-80%. In the past two months she has matched 13 couples. ‘None would have met if I hadn’t persuaded them to forget what’s on The List.’

Sarah clearly is a persuasive woman. But she does know what she’s talking about, just ask Jen – she is planning to move to Devon, which isn’t as far from Kensington as she first thought.

High 50

Article from 'High 50' written by Catherine Mansel-Lewis, 24th May 2011...

'Living together apart, or LTA, is the new way forward for 50-plus singles, says Catherine Mansel-Lewis

Dating for the over-50s can be a complicated affair, and finding a soulmate is just the first step. Many people want to meet someone outside their circle of friends and work, but this could mean meeting someone who doesn’t live locally, and moving can be a step too far.

By rethinking how a relationship can work, rather than jumping in by moving in, couples can ‘live together apart’ (LTA). You both keep your base, but spend quality time – weekends and holidays in particular – together.

There are good practical reasons not to drop everything and move. Not least, it could be impossible. Property could be tied up with children, elderly parents could be living nearby, or business commitments could make moving a non-starter. And a new partner may have the same issues.

According to Sarah Howes, owner of introductions agency Carpe Diem, LTA works well for new couples who are reluctant to uproot and sacrifice their independence.

“Meeting new people can be daunting at the best of times. A lot of our new members, although affluent and attractive, may have reached a low in their life, having lost a loved one or gone through a traumatic divorce. Then there is the prospect of giving up life as you know it to move in with someone new,” she says.

Howes encourages her clients to be more adventurous in looking for a partner (when they are ready). LTA is one way to manage a relationship that people can bear in mind.

She says: “Consider this: holidays alone will be a thing of the past. At weekends you can alternate the shopping and truly enjoy each other’s company, accepting life as it comes without the youthful pressure to settle down.”

Howes has clients who have found that LTA works for them. Charlie, a widower aged 54, is an odds analyst for an online gaming company and lives in Putney with his twin boys. Georgia, 52 and divorced, runs a thriving event management business in the Cotswolds, with an enviable little black book of Gloucestershire clients and a daughter away at university. The couple met 18 months ago through Carpe Diem and have been weekending with each other ever since.

“Charlie’s twins are 17,” says Georgia. “It would be unfair to expect them to move on my account, with exams coming up and the strong friendships they’ve formed at school. Having lost their mother, I simply couldn’t ask Charlie to relocate. It would be too much of a traumatic upheaval to expect the children to move at this important stage in their lives.”

Charlie agrees: “I don’t expect Georgia to give up her business. To be honest, the boys are quite capable of looking after themselves at weekends and I enjoy the break. As well as the finer things in life,” he says, reaching for Georgia’s hand.

When Sarah Howes has signed up a client, she may make suggestions for dates, but also understands that people can be picky. Nonetheless, there are times when she will stick her neck out. One client was Jane, a Fulham property developer with metropolitan tastes, who was hoping to meet an outgoing man who lived nearby.

Robert, a quiet academic from Herefordshire, called the agency and Sarah “had a hunch”. Despite not immediately matching Jane’s profile, the two were put in touch. A date was fixed for a meeting, but Jane got cold feet and cancelled. However, Robert persisted and invited Jane to stay for the weekend. Sarah says: “She rang me, telling me it was too far and asking if I would cancel on her behalf. I persuaded her to go, as I was beginning to see similarities coming through.”

Jane went, and they are now a couple, spending their weekends in the country and the week in London. Like many of Carpe Diem’s clients, they are LTAs: sometimes together, sometimes apart – but always an item.'

The Lady

Extracted from The Lady, 9 February 2010 ....... 'When my friend Alison told me she was working for a dating agency called Carpe Diem I was intrigued. I defy any of us not to nurture a secret curiosity about how the dating game works. Alison's job is to 'vet' applicants, making sure that they really do have the 'great SOH' (sense of humour) they claim and that 'curvaceous and petite' does not mean five feet nothing and weighing in at ten and a half stone. In a world of speed and internet dating, this attention to detail appeared initially reassuring - until Alison told me Carpe Diem specialised in the over 50s.

Of course, I scoffed. Fine for men but surely women over 50 were forever destined to gather dust on the shelf? The lyrics of the 1934 song 'Nobody Loves a Fairy when she's Forty' seemed too appropriate - and we are talking about women a decade on. It was hard not to be sceptical about the idea that there were men out there Desperately Seeking 50+ Susans. Then Alison invited me for lunch with the agency's founder, Sarah Howes, who arrives swathed in caramel velvet that emphasises her clear skin and sparkling eyes.

Sarah explains that Carpe Diem is not a dating agency but an introduction service. They offer 'Premier Pairing', a bespoke way of putting people together.

'The secret of successful pairing is the management of expectations. We're realistic and we're not promising love at first sight but we are certain that you're going to meet someone with similar interests and values. We match people up on personality, interests and shared experiences.'

Sarah is fastidious about first impressions. 'I'm acutely conscious that taking the first steps to meet someone new can be daunting, especially for people who might not have much confidence or who haven't been in a relationship for a long time. So it's vital people are made to feel comfortable. If they don't feel they can talk to Alison or me, then we're off on the wrong foot.'

'Most of our clients are looking for life partners. We get a lot of widows and widowers and divorcees who are not after a quick fling, but want someone to share their life with. So we take huge care in getting it right before making an introduction.'

The Lady

Later Alison tells me that Sarah has several clients she thinks I would like. Sadly, the fee of £4,800 is beyond my budget. However, this is chicken feed compared with prestigious agencies Gray & Farrar or Berkeley International where fees start at £15,000. Some websites, like Drawing Down the Moon, do not even announce their fees.

'I believe in total transparency. There are no hidden extras. We charge a one-off fee and there will be no other charges during the membership period.'

Seventy per cent of Sarah's customers are satisfied and judging by the personal testimonies on the website, people are thrilled to find that the process was not a humiliating beauty contest but a caring attempt at matchmaking. Indeed, Sarah has been labelled a 'latter day Mrs Bennet' by The Spectator's Dear Mary column.

'Dating has become such an intimidating minefield and our approach is caring, holistic and very discreet. We would never put your details out there. Plus, if the person you're looking for is not on our books, we'll go out and find them.'

Sarah is doing so well that, unusually, she has managed to attract more men onto her books than women. 'It's because we're under the radar, we are 100% discreet.' When I ask if I can talk to any of her clients who have found true love or if I can go on a date, the answer is 'No!' So you'll have to find out for yourselves if her formula works. Carpe Diem is far too discreet to let me do a test run for you.'

The Lady

Letter from the spectator magazine september 2009 ....... 'Q. I am a 58-year old-widower and well off. Having done the rounds of dinner parties for the past two years (as one of the few eligible men of a certain age in the country), I am socially worn out. And still on my own. I know a couple of male friends who have enrolled on dating agency sites but I am not the internet type. I hardly every check my emails, let alone, excuse the pun, femails. If only there was a modern-day Mrs Bennet who could introduce me to somebody I haven't met before. Can you advise? Name and address withheld

A. You can clearly afford the luxury of a bespoke introducer, so why not employ such a third party? They will interview at length, scrutinise and effectively screen a likely match for you, this seeing off time-wasters and the criminal classes. Think of them as a headhunter who, instead of searching for the head honcho of UK plc, will aim a carefully targeted bow and arrow at a candidate who, theoretically at least, should be compatible with you. Carpe Diem Personal Introductions will cost around £4800 but for that you will carry on meeting people until harmony has been achieved. Call the personable owner Sarah, on 020 8313 0918, for more details.'