Belfast Telegraph

Is Belfast really the best place to play the dating game?


By Kerry McKittrick

A new report reveals our capital is the best UK city in which to be single. Here, Miss NI Anna Henry, former beauty queen Gemma Garrett and Cool FM presenter Rebecca McKinney give their verdict on the study and share courtship stories.

Most of us have experienced the trials and tribulations of the single life at some stage. From the annoying barren spell to the excitement of a first date... and the occasional disappointing aftermath when Mr Right is just plain wrong.

This week bachelorette Anna Heaton (29), who is a regular on TV dating shows, revealed that she has been on 77 first dates over the last two years.

The singleton is determined to meet the man of her dreams before she turns 30. And she takes the matter so seriously she logs her dates' details on a spreadsheet where her would-be match is marked out of 20.

Anna has met men on dating apps, been set up by her friends and mum and even appeared on ITV's Take Me Out. With one first date roughly every five days, the single lady suspects she might reach number 100 before she hits the big 3-0.

But in Northern Ireland the news isn't that bad for those still hoping to meet their other half, according to a recent survey which assessed which UK city is the best place to be when looking for a mate.

The findings from Bateaux London placed Belfast as the top ranked city in which to be single. Compared to London, Manchester, Cardiff, Glasgow and Leeds, Belfast is the place to be for lively nightlife and an active dating scene. It's also the easiest city to live in while single with costs of rent, drinks and cinema being taken into account too.

‘I know what I want, but the city’s just too small to find it’

No pressure: Gemma Garrett isn’t sure if marriage and kids are for her

Gemma Garrett (36) is a former Miss Great Britain. She now works as a model and make-up artist. She says:

I think Belfast is a terrible city to be single in. Maybe it's because I live here but I find it harder and harder to meet people. Also, as I get older, I know exactly what I want and Belfast seems to be too small to find that in. If you go out on a date with someone then everybody knows about it in a couple of days.

Having said all that I have got really excited about first dates recently. It's always new and full of anticipation - I don't get nervous anymore, not like when I was 21. In my 20s a first date would have involved going for a drink but now in my 30s I prefer no alcohol when I meet a man for the first time. I don't need as much Dutch courage.

It's not just dating which is online now, but people's entire social life. And I'm guilty of this too with so much about my life revolving around social media. Despite that I would rather meet people in person rather than through an app. If I'm on a night out with friends I come home to a message the next day saying that someone I knew saw me. And I always wonder why they didn't 'hello' in the bar. For some social media appears to have become a crutch which they use instead of getting out there and meeting people in real life.

Finding love can't be scheduled in. So to put time limitations on meeting your perfect match before you're 30 like Anna, is a bad idea.

Of course women have ages in mind, especially if they want to have children, but there's a danger that they could end up settling for someone who is not right for them. There is a need in society to conform and get married but I don't feel that pressure. Having been divorced maybe marriage and children isn't for me? Unless a relationship is perfect, it won't be happening."

'I don't think you should be putting a time limit on meeting a partner'

City beat: Anna Henry likes Belfast’s cosmopolitan nightlife

Anna Henry (23) is the current  Miss Northern Ireland. She has a boyfriend, Darragh, and lives in  Portglenone. She says:

Belfast has a lot going for it because there's such a range of places to go to suit every person. There's the eateries and pubs in the Cathedral Quarter and on the Lisburn and Dublin Roads, which are great for nightlife, and there's something for everyone.

Because it's a big city it attracts people from everywhere so you never just meet Belfast people there. If you want to find the perfect 'one' the city centre is a good place to go to.

When it comes to dating, though, it can be difficult to meet people face to face these days because of social media. And it's so easy to hide behind your phone when you're contacting someone. Perhaps this has made people more anxious about walking up to someone and beginning to talk to them.

With apps like Tinder and Snapchat it's barely necessary to talk to people these days. Also we are judged by our appearance online now - and even that usually has some kind of filter over it.

It's easier to deal with rejection if it's over the phone via text so maybe some prefer to date this way.

I don't think anyone should have to put a time limit on meeting a future partner by saying they want to do be engaged or married by a certain age. All you're doing is putting pressure on yourself. As far as I'm concerned whatever will be, will be.

If Mr Right happens to be my postman then all well and good. The man who is meant to be for me will come into my life and he won't need to be forced or pushed or put on a deadline.

Dates are your opportunity to see if you like someone so it's important to be comfortable and casual initially.

I wouldn't have a formal dinner with someone on a first date.

Instead I prefer to meet for coffee or go for a walk so we can have a chat, then maybe go to the cinema after that. It's all about being yourself."

'If you go to London or Dublin guys are much more likely to say hello'

High profile: Rebecca McKinney’s not comfortable with online dating

Rebecca McKinney (30) is a stylist and co-presenter of the Cool FM breakfast show. She says:

I 'm single and a lot of my friends are single too. And, while I know I'm biased, I can't understand why they're single because they're such brilliant girls.

Belfast is a great city to be independent in. There are so many social options and things to do - great restaurants, cafe society and gigs to go to. Personally I'm not going to casually date lots of men which is a conscious decision because of my job.

So, because I have profile as a radio presenter it can be quite a difficult city to meet someone in. Of course, everyone is friendly here which is a great thing about Northern Ireland but, especially for women, it feels like we outnumber men here. And living in such a small place you always find people have a history with someone you know. Guys here aren't very quick to approach you at all. If you go do Dublin or London they're much more likely to come over to you and say 'hello'.

I've never had the nerve to try Tinder although some of my friends have really loved it and a guy I know met his wife on the dating app.

If it works for you, great but for me I'm not comfortable with it. It has certainly changed the dynamic of how people date - you're flirting on a phone instead of in person. And social media dating has had a massive impact on what it's like out in a social environment.

High profile: Rebecca McKinney’s not comfortable with online dating

Before I started working in the media I went on a lot more first dates - I'm more cautious now. While I would love to meet someone I'm certainly not desperate to date whoever.

My life is lovely and filled with amazing friends so I certainly don't feel any pressure to be looking for a boyfriend.

Yes, dating can be hard but going on 77 first dates would break my heart a little bit. I would rather take my time before rushing into something. I understand why women put themselves under pressure to settle down but it's a terrible thing to do.

I'm about to turn 31 and never thought I would be this age and single, but that's just the way it's worked out.

Marriages and families tend to happen later in life now because we are all doing things differently compared to our parents.

Finding love is about the right person, not the right time."

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