The Sharp End: I'm making love happen

Always the moderator, never the groom, Dave Waller mans a dating site's phones.

by
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Love. It will bring us together, it will tear us apart. And, with the rise of online dating, millions are being made from it. We'd just have to spend our working lives knee-deep in come-ons and crushed hearts. Or so I think as I join match.com for a day as a customer-care assistant.

I'm no online dater. I browsed a couple of sites once but found the whole thing a chore. Much like shopping for clothes. Trying to pick a partner from pages of profiles is like riffling through racks of shirts. Only harder, because people are capable of independent thought. A new jacket won't tell you to sod off just because it caught you hanging around outside its house at 6am.

But that's just me. There are plenty of people for whom the digital Cilla provides a lorra lorra luck. Match.com reckons that 20% of newlyweds under 30 met on the internet, while Mintel claims that at any one moment, 5.2 million singles are online looking for love. Even our esteemed editor met his wife on a dating site. It's the 'new natural', says Katie Sheppard, head of relationships at match.com, when I arrive.

Katie hands me over to Alex, head of customer support, to train me in moderating - checking the site's personal ads and images for inappropriate use. This policing is impressive. A chap calling himself Expertcock is asking female users if they want to see it. Even his talented member can't stop an instant deletion.

The 12-strong customer care team are dab hands at spotting scammers who create false profiles to get close to people. 'This one's rubbish,' says Alex. 'He says he's 30, and he's apparently searching for someone between 40 and 73.' Still, we have to be careful. Someone shut down a 30-year-old's account once when the bloke just happened to have a thing for septuagenarians.

It's a paid-for service, and the group prides itself on helping people who are genuinely looking for love, not those peddling filth. Indeed, the most offensive thing is the kind of English some use. One guy boasts of being 'domestocated'. I wouldn't date him. Alex tells me that poor grammar can be a deal-breaker, especially for women; I hope they dig the way I dropped in a semi-colon.

Soon, I'm on the phone having a conference natter with a happy customer, Rita, 46, about her impending marriage. 'Love is out there, you just have to take a leap,' she purrs.

Back among the personal ads, Frederick90 wants to meet 'somebody god-fearing, slim with a little heavy buttocks'. Most people are less particular. They just want someone they can curl up on the sofa and drink wine with. 'If normal is for you, then I'm for you,' writes one man, hamming it up.

As a single bloke, I'd find it hard having my working day dance to the rhythm of daters' hearts: the longing, the hopes, the disappointments. I'm not sure I could cope. I'd wind up either an alcoholic or a sex fiend. The team are having no such trouble: four of them met their current partners on the site.

And it's odd having access to intimate dialogues, especially as many are careless about what they write online. I'm privy to an exchange between Kevin and Lou. He tries to get her to 'go Dutch' and pay back what she owes for their recent date. He puts the debt at £4. 'It's a little more than that, but that'll do,' he says.

After lunch, I'm entrusted to moderator Matt, and sit in on his calls. 'Hopefully, I'll get someone shouting down the phone at me,' he says. His wish is granted: an irate Yorkshireman complains about being overcharged. Matt does a sterling job, and the customer hangs up satisfied. They only get angry calls like that once a fortnight, he laughs. But he shows me an e-mail accusing the team of being 'salacious, predatory rerverts' (sic).

Soon, I'm taking calls myself, the best one from 'alightworker', who starts telling me all about the other sites he's tried, including one specialising in extra-marital affairs. 'I've never seen anything like it,' he says. 'Women lying naked on the bed, asking whether I'm into all this stuff.' 'Like what?' I ask, trying my hand at close customer banter. 'Bondage and stuff,' he says. He has 'done the scene', he tells me, had the Jaguar and the motorbike. 'I'm tired now,' he says, 'I want to settle down.' Match.com should be able to help. The team are trained to spot the time-wasters: for every oddball Frederick90 there are plenty of genuine Ritas.

Alightworker is certainly hopeful. I take a card payment for the initial fee, and sell him a subscription to the site's psychometric service too. I tell him to enjoy searching the site. He urges me to try the affairs website. Who says romance is dead?

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