The Berkshire love experts
PUBLISHED: 15:37 03 February 2020 | UPDATED: 15:37 03 February 2020
Sarah Rodi speaks to the relationship gurus to learn some lessons in love this Valentine's Day
It's the biggest day of the year for romance - 14 February; Valentine's Day. And with this in mind, it has got us thinking about the modern dating scene and what it's like in Berkshire. How and where do people meet these days? Back when I met my husband, we didn't even have mobile phones. We met on the steps of a nightclub and hit it off. We arranged to meet the next week for our first date, and I was an hour late with no way of letting him know. Thankfully, he waited and the rest is history.
And, once we've found love, how do we hold on to it? In these busy times, how do we achieve personal relationship happiness?
I spoke to two local love experts, one who assists people in finding love, and one who helps couples hold onto it. They have some great tips.
Then, turn the page to discover our round-up of romantic ideas of things to do on Valentine's Day this year. Don't let the day go by without telling them how you feel.
Hayley Bystram is the Founder and MD of Bowes-Lyon Partnership, an exclusive matchmaking agency that caters for eligible individuals, mainly in the London and Home Counties areas. She lives with her husband and their two children.
"I started the agency as an antithesis to online dating. In this modern world we have never been more connected but yet people don't seem to be connecting on a personal level. With lifestyles that seem increasingly busier and more demanding the opportunities to meet new people seems to be few and far between," she says.
So how can Hayley help you? "We offer a fresh and flexible approach to dating that is tailored to the individual and allows our members to enjoy the dating journey, whilst we do the leg-work," she says. "The agency started in 2009 and we have two offices; one in Central London and one in Surrey, and we celebrated our 10-year business anniversary last year.
"Many of my members live and work in Berkshire and over 75% of my new business in the area comes from personal referrals and recommendations. I love the fact that people want to help their loved ones, friends and associates. There is a real sense of community and generosity."
I love a bit of matchmaking myself - I even got my best friend and her now hubby together at my own wedding, so I'm intrigued to find out how Hayley does this.
"We start with a no-obligation, face-to-face meeting that enables us to understand your lifestyle, relationship history and future aspirations and requirements in a partner," she says. "Both parties go away to consider matters and, if we feel we can offer a service that meets your needs then we progress to starting a membership.
"We create profiles for our members, offer a complimentary photo-shoot and then we begin with introductions to compatible individuals. The membership is offline - members join us for a confidential service and individuals are hand-paired with each other."
Each member is assigned a dedicated matchmaker, who Hayley says often becomes more of a confidante and friend. "We communicate with our members on a weekly basis, discussing feedback from each introduction," she says. "By not using technological shortcuts we believe there is more heart and soul in our membership service. This makes the dating process more enjoyable, which results in more successful matches."
Their members range from being in the mid-thirties to mid-seventies. Some are looking for marriage and children in their future, and some are divorcees and widowers who don't know where to start in the dating process. "What they all have in common is that they lead fulfilling, independent lives and join us to meet an equal partner who shares their lifestyle and aspirations and their desire for a long-term relationship," Hayley says.
"In 10-plus years of matchmaking we're hugely proud to have many successful relationships, marriages and even families to our name. We have a natural instinct for compatibility between individuals.
"We work within a niche market that means our members are similar from the start. The only thing we're leaving to chance is the chemistry and spark, which we unfortunately cannot bottle!"
Thinking about Valentine's Day, I wonder where Hayley advises her members to go on a first date. "A simple and thoughtful date is the most memorable. You don't have to spend lots of money to impress. A stroll through Great Windsor Park or a walk along the Thames encourages stimulating conversation with all the sights along the way. Keep a first date light and easy; an after-work drink or a weekend coffee. It makes the experience less daunting and it's much better to keep things short and sweet and leave a date on a high, with the anticipation and excitement of meeting someone again."
Lastly, Hayley insists it's not a race to the finish line and that you should enjoy the journey. "Our members all have the goal of meeting someone for a long-term relationship but the process of getting there should be fun and enjoyable. The secret to a successful relationship is meeting someone who inspires you and opens your eyes to new things on a regular basis, and you are able to do the same for them."
The relationship coach
Juliette Smith is a relationship coach and counsellor based in Maidenhead.. "I grew up in Reading and Berkshire feels like home to me," she says. "It's a great location for work as I have clients in London as well as locally, and I love the countryside and the river."
Juliette has been coaching for 20 years because she enjoys helping people be the best they can be. 10 years ago she moved into relationship coaching and subsequently she trained as a counsellor.
"I realised people all around me were becoming disconnected from themselves and others, and I wanted to do something to help," she says. And now her clients are predominantly couples: "I love what I do; it's my passion. I get an enormous amount of satisfaction from helping people put the heart back into their relationships."
Juliette's counselling begins with an informal conversation where she discovers more about you, the issues you're facing and what you're looking for. "We will focus on solutions and the future but we won't ignore the past, if it's stopping you from moving forwards," she says. "And in just a few conversations, you will learn how to overcome your relationship problems and have the relationship you desire."
Juliette explains one of the core issues in the world is that we don't value difference. "We see difference as a threat and on a macro scale, that's what begins wars," she says. "But if we are curious and celebrate difference, it can keep things interesting."
"Many couples I see have become disconnected as they don't understand each other. But seeing conflict as an opportunity means you can learn about your partner from it."
So, what are Juliette's secret tips to a successful relationship? "Well, don't accuse, blame or criticise, as this will only result in defensiveness," she says. "Instead, ask for what you want without demanding and express your feelings respectfully.
"If you really want your relationship to last, focus on maintaining your connection with each other. Treat each other with respect and show your appreciation for one another regularly," she says. "But if you do find yourself in a crisis, don't wait to get help. A third, unbiased party can really make a difference. If you'd like to see me, I can meet you in my consulting room or speak to you via Skype."
Juliette also has some exciting news. She has just launched her first online course for individuals - about being confident to be yourself (whether you're single or in a relationship) - and in the spring she will be launching one for couples on how to improve your relationship. "It will give you advice about seeing yourself and your relationship more positively," she explains.
If you want to give your relationship a boost, Juliette recommends looking at yourself first. "I love Gandhi's quote: 'Be the change you want to see in the world.' I believe if you focus on changing the way you are behaving in your relationship first, things will inevitably improve."