Can you run a relationship like a business?

Lovebirds, yesterday
"People are afraid of being alone but there's nothing more lonely than being in a relationship that's wrong," Claire Brummell, relationship expert
  • | by Rebecca Lees

If you’re using terms like ‘insights’, ‘strategies’ and ‘solutions’, you’re probably at the office buried deep in a business plan, right?

Well, perhaps not. What if you’re planning your next date or taking a new approach with someone you’ve been seeing for a while?

As the shops fill up with bouquets and cards heralding the annual love fest that is Valentine’s Day, it’s easy to get carried away in a mist of heart-shaped balloons and last Rolos. But what if successful dating required us to ditch the rose-tinted specs and be a little more pragmatic?

This time of year is big business for dating sites. But, according to relationship specialist Claire Brummell, the strategic planning should start well before you sign up and pen that profile proclaiming you have an ‘eclectic’ music collection and love travelling.

Claire runs successfulbutsingle.com, a site for busy business people who have climbed the corporate ladder but who have been unable to match success at work with fulfilment in their relationships.

Clients can have one-to-one sessions with Claire to reflect on past relationship patterns and to discuss the three main areas that people commonly need help with when it comes to finding – and keeping – true love; pre-dating, dating support and cultivating a relationship.

“Relationships aren’t easy,” says Claire. “So many people are struggling with dating and have no idea where to start, so my aim with Successfulbutsingle.com was to create something very simple and step-by-step, rather than throwing people in at the deep end.”

One of the areas where Claire reckons that people need help is pre-dating. “People are putting themselves out there before they are ready, carrying baggage from previous relationships or desperately needing to be in a relationship to be complete,” she says.

“Dating can be very scary and confusing if you’re not in the right place and, if you’re feeling a bit insecure and needy, you will end up with the people you’re not really looking for. There are a few common dating pitfalls, amplified by the way we are dating these days. We are dating online and using technology in our interactions with the people we’re dating.

“One of the big mistakes I see so many people make is not being themselves and being who they think the other person wants them to be. The problem with this is you can’t maintain that forever and the facade is going to slip.”

Being yourself sounds easy enough, but what about Claire’s next strategy – embracing rejection? “We are afraid of rejection, but the thing I encourage people to realise is that rejection is awesome… if the person you’re dating is not right for you!” she says.

“They are doing you a favour by walking away. People are afraid of being alone but there’s nothing more lonely than being in a relationship that’s wrong. You can only limp along for so long. So I encourage people to go out and be yourself and find the people who genuinely want to be with you.”

If you thought getting ready for a date simply entails deciding what to wear and managing not to spill toothpaste down it before leaving the house, the prospect of all this coaching might sound remarkably like preparing for a job interview. Luckily, though, there’s still plenty of room for the F-word (no, not that one).

“It’s supposed to be fun!” Claire says. “Rather than homework, think of it as short cuts. Like anything in life, you get out what you put in. The challenge is that nobody teaches you about this stuff. Most of us are kind of bumbling along and getting our hearts broken.”

Claire is certainly speaking from experience here. “I was that girl, going through relationship after relationship and thinking there must be a better way,” she says. “I was one of those completely driven career women working in IT, being very competitive and always trying to ‘out-man’ the men.

“At the time, I would have said of course I was happy, but in reality I was absolutely miserable. It was not fulfilling and I was not enjoying work or dating – it was a disaster!  A lot of people come to me having spent their lives focused on their career then they wake up one day wanting to be in a relationship. They have no clue, as they haven’t cultivated the traits to be able to be in a relationship."

TV presenter, property developer and self-confessed matchmaker Sarah Beeny agrees that dating can be hard for people, but has a different take on how to look for love.

“I’m not sure it needs a matter-of-fact approach,” says Sarah, who founded Mysinglefriend.com a decade ago after a gaining a reputation for setting up her single friends successfully.

“It needs everyone to relax more and look not at what they want but at what the other person might want. We live in a world where we’re completely self-obsessed.

“When it comes to dating we ask ‘what do I want them to do for me; what would make me happy?’ Maybe the better thing would be to ask what we could bring to the relationship and how could we have fun."

While online dating has certainly worked – from a business point-of-view– for Beeny, she also sees its flaws. “Online dating is massively successful but perhaps one of the downsides is that some people think that it’s like a shop where you go in and pick what you want. I think the temptation is to treat it like going into a big clothing store and heading straight for a slinky designer dress, thinking: I have to have it! Yet actually it might not look good and you would be better off heading for the buttock-lifting jeans!"

Sarah reckons that the ‘catalogue’ nature of these sites doesn’t necessarily lend itself to building good relationships. “With a dating site, you can go through and pick all the ones that look like Brad Pitt or Elle Macpherson - whereas they might not want you. If I was single and a man told me I had been selected from a long list of requirements I’d tell him to sod off! The key is to have fun and not try too hard. I know a lot of people who have just planned to have fun then ended up with someone special thinking: I don’t know how that happened!”

Sarah has been with her own husband and business partner, Graham Swift, since her late teens and credits him with much of her success. And the key to their getting together was remarkably simple: “Graham made me laugh and I liked him and fancied him,” she says.

A decade after founding My Single Friend, Sarah is still happily matchmaking.

“Very proudly, I have two friends who sat together at my 40th and who just got engaged last week!” she says. “So, of course, I feel personally totally responsible for that!”