Dating companies were not something I spent much time thinking about. I knew they exist, of course, but any thoughts of dating companies were like fleeting butterflies, darting out of reach, and never forming a full thought in my mind.
Then, my long-single friend told me she found a boyfriend through a dating company, making me examine the idea of dating companies more. She was fairly lucky - her first date with the dating company blossomed into a full-fledged romance, and he is now her current boyfriend.
"I'm happy for you," I told her sincerely, briefly wondering if I should give dating companies a try as well. It turns out I did not have to wonder too long.
A few weeks later, I was told that the very same dating company, Lunch Actually, was going to matchmake me as well.
Hello, serendipity. Perhaps my very own Prince Charming was finally around the corner?
Well… unfortunately, no Prince Charming appeared. However, my experience at Lunch Actually changed the way I looked at the art of matchmaking.
From someone who used to think that matchmaking was only for the desperate singles, I would not mind being matchmade again, especially by the dating professionals at Lunch Actually.
My first and immediate concern was simple. Can you really not JUST survive a date with someone you've never met before in life, but ALSO hit it off and eventually get married?
According to Lunch Actually, which has been in business for 13 years, the answer is a resounding yes.
"In fact, many of our successful matches get married quite soon after deciding to be an exclusive couple," Lunch Actually's assistant branch manager, Andrea Tan, revealed to AsiaOne.
My own friend and her significant other, both in their early 30s, are likely to be one of those couples mentioned by Ms Tan. After only a year of knowing each other, they have already applied for a Build-To-Order flat together.
After learning about the stories of some of their success couples, I felt even more excited about my upcoming matchmade date. While no guarantees are offered (because they are not a marriage agency, and I do understand that), having Lunch Actually take over the sometimes-tedious effort of trying to find my Mr Right was reassuring for my love life.
So, how exactly does Lunch Actually help so many singles find their happily ever after? Well, I've learned that:
1. Not everyone is eligible to join as a Lunch Actually member
My Lunch Actually journey started with a consultation at its office located along Cuppage Road.
This initial consultation is complimentary for all singles, and acts as an ice-breaking session with your very own trained dating consultant. My dating consultant was Ms Tan herself. Apart from details like my education level and religion, I was also asked about my hobbies, what I thought were my key character traits, and my preferences for a dating partner.
I have to admit, that for someone as reserved as I am, I felt quite uncomfortable sharing such intimate information with a complete stranger. Still, the privacy of the consultation room with just the two of us, combined with Ms Tan's casual and cordial disposition, encouraged me to be more forthcoming with the details.
"Getting to know you better will help increase the chances of matching you with someone who is truly right and compatible for you." Ms Tan told me.
At Lunch Actually, there is a compulsory screening session for everyone who wish to join as a member. The exclusive dating company only accepts people it can find matches for, based on the singles' personality and preferences.
"Sometimes, some singles come to us, but they may not be ready to date yet due to personal reasons. This is when we guide them towards Lunch Actually Academy, our coaching academy which can help prepare you for a relationship." Ms Tan continued. "As our founder Violet says, to find the right one, you have to be the right one yourself."
This stringent quality-over-quantity approach seems to work well for Lunch Actually. They boast a high match accuracy, with at least 85 per cent of their clients rating their dates as either satisfactory or excellent.
2. Lunch Actually helped me 'create' the man of my dreams
After my consultation, I had to complete a long questionnaire online. It contained both open and close-ended questions, asking me about my health history to my favourite kind of vacation.
I felt like I was building the man of my dreams, ala in life simulation game The Sims. I could choose my preferred partner's build, hair colour, character style (sophisticated, casual, sporty, etc) and so on.
Next,I had to write about my past relationships, dwelling into details such as how I met my exes, why we broke up, and what I liked and disliked about the men in my past.
It took me 45 minutes to complete the questionnaire, and honestly, it was a self-discovery process as well. I had never given this aspect of my life that much serious thought before, and I felt like I could look at my love life with fresh perspective.
Lunch Actually has over 5,000 clients in Singapore, each complete with their own comprehensive profile on in the dating company's database. Taking their clients' preferences seriously, it is an exhaustive search to find a match where both singles ticked each other's preferences.
After approximately four weeks or so, Lunch Actually found me my first date.
3. Blind date amateur? Don't worry - Lunch Actually preps you in advance
I was briefed about my mystery man by dating consultant Dhaniah Raheem in a short phone call. She summarised his attributes, hobbies, and also gave a rough description of his job without going into specifics.
Ms Raheem also highlighted the things I had in common with the man I was going to meet, and suggested them as possible topics to talk about during our first date.
While I agreed to meet this mystery man because his profile sounded interesting, Lunch Actually does allow their clients to reject the match, if the client does not like the sound of the match.
There is a maximum number of rejections, though. Singles can only reject half the dates they have in their dating package, so wield those rejections wisely.
With my approval, Ms Raheem then went on to book a restaurant for me and my date. She also helpfully emailed his profile to me, listing his interests and other materials taken from the long questionnaire.
Thanks to that, I made it through the first blind date of my life rather smoothly, even though I did not attend Lunch Actually's optional workshop named "I'm Ready for Love". Included in all Lunch Actually's dating packages, "I'm Ready for Love" has professional dating coaches guiding members on how to behave on a date, what to wear, and dining etiquette.
I did not attend it due to my tight schedule, but thankfully, a friendly dating consultant was always there to provide a tip or two. In fact, before I went on my date, Ms Raheem gently reminded me to touch on light topics, such as our pastimes and our travels.
"Do avoid talking about past dates and relationships, or other heavy topics like finances. You may save those for latter dates once you've gotten to know each other better." Ms Raheem concluded.
Throughout my experiences with Lunch Actually, I came to appreciate how the matchmaking business was not just about finding a date for you. It wants you to ace the date too, and potentially find lifelong happiness.
4. Lunch Actually performs constructive follow-ups
My BFF was naturally interested in how my blind date went. Another person who was as eager as my BFF about my first date was another of the dating consultants at Lunch Actually.
Dating consultant Joy Tay called me to ask about my feedback on the date, with questions about what I felt about the guy, if I liked the restaurant, and my rating for the whole episode. She also asked me if there was any room for more improvement in any aspect of the date.
For Lunch Actually, this is a crucial aspect of their operations. With more information, they can then fine-tune their selection of subsequent matches for their clients. These meticulous methods from beginning to end is why most Lunch Actually members usually get attached to their third or fourth date.
If you're single and busy but also looking for love, why not up your dating game with Lunch Actually? Their methods to find you a lifelong soulmate are far more effective than constantly swiping right.
As for myself, well. My first date went great, but as of now, we've decided to be friends. I've expanded my social circles to include someone I may never have met in my day-to-day life, but as for my love life, I guess this means another trip to Lunch Actually for me.
I'm sure by putting in effort to reach out for love, love will reach back eventually.
This article was sponsored by Lunch Actually.