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When Alex Fontaine ed an upmarket dating agency, she was looking forward to meeting the man of her dreams. Like an increasing of career women who find themselves single in their 40s, Ms Fontaine decided she needed expert help to find a husband.

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So says "Susan" of the thousands of pounds she spent ing up to The County Register introduction agency.

The fact that Susan does not wish to be identified by her real name demonstrates how highly she values her privacy. And that to her was one of the main attractions of the County Register. Susan is 63 years old. She had read about the agency several years ago, not long after her husband had died. Then inwhen she felt she was ready to meet somebody new, she decided to take the plunge and contacted the agency.

Introduction agencies do pretty much what they say on the tin - they introduce people to potential partners to whom they think they are well suited.

The 'boutique' dating agency promised i'd meet eligible high-flyers all i got was an it worker in an anorak called terry!

Discretion is the name of the game. Your picture won't be plastered on a website for anyone to see: instead, your name will be added to the agency's private database. They interview all clients before taking them on, asking them about their expectations and sometimes even visiting their home.

People who approach them are nearly always looking for a long-term relationship, so they are asked questions such as "Where do you see yourself in three years' time? Heather Heber Percy, founder of the County Register, says people's expectations are high.

Often clients who work long hours come to her, seeking help. While Karen Mooney, founder of the Sara Eden agency, says: "If people have unrealistic expectations, we don't take them on. It doesn't matter how much money you throw at us, we can't wave a magic wand. But turning someone away is a delicate process, she says, particularly if you are dealing with someone who has been bereaved.

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If you are accepted though, the agency will then pre-select potential dates for you. And the more you are willing to pay, the more bespoke the service. For instance, a higher premium may get you your own personal matchmaker and priority introductions to new members, or the agency may even place personal adverts on your behalf if necessary and then screen the respondents. The kind of money we are talking about is much more than you would associate with an online dating site. Some dating websites are completely free to use. For the more popular ones like mysinglefriend.

She met someone whom she went out with for a period of time, but the relationship later ended. A couple of years later, she reed the agency and has since met somebody new, with whom she "is in the first stages of something".

She admits that if the fees had taken up a large chunk of her savings, she would have thought twice about subscribing, but she was lucky enough to be in a financial position where she could afford it. I thought it was probably worth it paying for the quality of the service and the security of privacy.

She adds that it worked for her - someone a bit older, who has never wanted to go to a bar to meet someone and who didn't want to put her picture online. The fees themselves have to cover a variety of costs, which are enormous, according to Heather Heber Percy.

The price of finding love: how much would you pay?

Then you create a profile for them and you present the details to the client. She also has to pay for six full-time staff who cover 2, clients between themthe costs of running two offices, plus the costs of travel all over the country.

But she prices it like that as "a conscious effort to try and keep it at a reasonable cost". And ideally, she will introduce two people who "click" relatively early on in their subscription, so they don't need to use up their full quota of introductions.

She is passionate about the business she started 27 years ago. We're not a company who makes a huge profit," she says. But she concedes that not all agencies may share her motives.

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Karen Mooney from Sara Eden says that interest in the industry has grown fold since she started her agency in She admits that the start of the recession had an impact on business, as people were panicking about losing their jobs. But then things turned around. Nor has the rise of dating sites such as match.

She admits that it has taken away the bottom end of the market, creating a clear divide. But it has also "brought dating into people's homes and now people are more willing to go into an agency", she says.

Heather Heber Percy, meanwhile, says that for all the people who meet someone on a dating website, there are many who don't. Many of her clients, she says, are people who have tried online dating and found it was not for them.

And she is confident that introduction agencies have a secure future. Are we losing the art of flirting? The County Register. Interview process. Not for everybody. But acceptance is not guaranteed. Premium services.

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Matchmaking costs. Dating sites' influence. More on this story. Published 14 February Related Internet Links. Sara Eden.