Match-making expert discusses dating and relationships

With Valentine’s Day approaching, thortful exclusively interviewed match-making expert and owner of award-winning dating agency Cupid In The City, Siobhan Copland, to discuss 2024 dating trends, such as ‘date-gap’ and ‘slow dating’, as well as first-date etiquette, long-term relationships, finding the perfect match, and more.

Just keep on reading to discover why coffee shops and dinner dates are the worst places to meet, the exact way of resolving the awkward bill payment at the end of a date all the way to why the TikTok loyalty test is such a dangerous game and how to handle a catfisher.

This interview is the perfect source of information for new daters and long-term couples ahead of the most romantic day of the year.

First Dates

What are the best and worst dating locations for a first date?

“I personally don’t like coffee dates, I find them a little too formal, and coffee shops are often overcrowded, so it feels uncomfortable to be meeting someone for the first time, queuing up for 10 minutes to get a hot drink, and then you may not even get a seat!

I’d recommend picking an actual venue rather than meeting at a tube station. Unless you are planning to stand by a clock tower with flowers, it is totally unromantic and stressful to be looking for someone in a busy crowd, to then wander around hoping to find somewhere.

It really is the thought that counts, so think ahead to where will be comfortable, warm, relaxed, and ideally book in advance to ensure you have seats waiting. I am quite fond of activity-based dates too, a couple I recently set up went to a glow-in-the-dark arts class for example.

It gives you a focal point of discussion and helps you to be present, and not go into interview mode of asking a bunch of questions which can be quite intense, so I think, particularly if you are someone who gets quite nervous on dates,  a dinner date will increase your nervousness and intensity, so I would suggest an activity which you can focus on, and focus on the fun.

Dinner, I suggest, for when you are more comfortable, but ensure there is the option to get a nibble, hunger can change our moods quite significantly.”

Which foods should you avoid eating?

“Anything with a lot of garlic and onions. Just in case you do go in for a kiss, and before you order nuts or shellfish, check your date doesn’t have any allergies. I’d also recommend not eating anything that puts you at risk of making a mess, such as spaghetti and soups.

No one really wants to hear slurping on a first date meal and avoid foods like ribs where you might get food stuck in your teeth. You don’t want your date to have to tell you about the spinach that’s been sitting in the front of your mouth after ten minutes of conversation, as let’s face it, they will be thinking less about what you are talking about and more about how to tell you.

How should you approach someone if you aren’t sure, it’s them?

“I would always try to get their number first or offer yours so you can text or call when they have arrived. But I would also message them first if they don’t feel comfortable giving their number to say you will be at a landmark, say for example, waiting outside the red phone box wearing a navy shirt.

I also always suggest smiling first if you think it is them, you can usually tell by the way someone smiles back whether they are really taken aback, there is usually some eye contact that suggests some recognition, and a nod.

So, look out for body language, and if you can’t see them after a few minutes, position yourself somewhere away from crowds and send a message describing where you are and what you are wearing.”

How should you react if you’ve been catfished?

“With catfishes, they rarely want to meet in person, or at least say they do but come up with a bunch of excuses because they really relish the attention they get from their online persona.

But if someone shows up looking nothing like their photos, I would be very upfront and say, ‘I am sorry but I am not comfortable continuing with this date as I was led to believe I was meeting someone else – you aren’t the same person from the photographs and dishonesty is a total deal breaker’, and leave.”

How should you greet a person on a first date? Is it polite to kiss on the cheek or is that overwhelming someone’s personal space?

“I think for the first interaction I would avoid such close physical contact, if at the end of the night you are at ease with each other, you may want to end with a kiss on the cheek.

Read their body language and how close they have been towards you throughout the night. Are they making strong eye contact, do they lean towards you? At the start though, a smile eye contact and an upbeat ‘hi nice to meet you’ will do fine!”

How can you settle any pre-date nerves?

“If you have time, a little workout and shower could work to ease some tension, try not to have caffeine before as it can make you jittery. Get there before your date so you have time to get seated and relaxed, say 15 mins before, and stick on some music or read a book till they arrive; best to look occupied rather than nervously looking around.

Which topics should you avoid talking about?

“Exes, anything that also makes you appear that you are of a negative mindset like complaining about your job, complaining about poor treatment from others. Try to keep things light and fun to boost your chances of a second date.”

What are the worst things you could say on a first date?

“I think it is not necessary to ask questions like why are you single or how long have you been single? Stick to feel-good topics – opening up someone’s relationship profile could make them upset – they could have recently come out of a tough break up and it’s taken them a lot of courage to start dating again. Also, definitely avoid politics, having different opinions could end up in complete disaster.”

How can you show you’re interested without being too keen?

“It has to feel reciprocated, so I think put it out there that you would like to meet again and gauge their response. If they seem pleased, try to book a second date on the first date by checking each other’s availability the following week.

Once a week for early dating in the first month is about right, and not lots of texting in between. You could even make it clear you are not big on texting when you are first getting to know someone, you prefer to get to know each other when you are face to face.”

Should you bring a gift to a first date? How much should you spend?

This is the only time I can agree on your presence being the present for the first date, gifts are something to work towards and have more of an impact once an emotional connection has been built. Plus, overspending or a gesture that’s too big could scare your date, and you don’t want to make them feel bad if they’ve brought nothing for you!”

Splitting The Bill / Ending the Date

What is the etiquette for splitting a bill, who should and shouldn’t pay?

“I think the etiquette is that whoever invited the person there should really pay for the first time, and after 2 or 3 dates I think it is polite to suggest splitting or to make it your treat.”

How can you avoid awkward conversations about paying or not paying it?

When the bill comes, I think it is always polite to ask. It doesn’t matter who says it first, but I would always approach with “How would you like us to handle the bill?” If one person insists that they will get it, then respond graciously and thank them for their generosity and kindness, that is enough. You don’t need to then say, ‘ok I will get the next one.’ It’s not about owing, it is about accepting someone wanting to court you effectively.

If they suggest splitting, then you go with that. Always be prepared to pay, but if the person wants to treat you, let them, don’t make a fuss. Don’t instantly assume you’re getting a free meal though, it will leave you annoyed if the other person wants to split it. And finally, a big red flag – don’t bring the bill up at the start of the date, don’t instantly say “We’re splitting this, aren’t we?”, or “You’re paying, aren’t you?”, as it will instantly make things feel awkward.”

Long-Term Relationships

How can you let someone know you’re still interested?

“I think consistency and communication are what makes it clear. So, focus on those two things. So many people keep things inside and don’t express how they feel, which can lead to distancing and tension.

If you want to show you’re still very much interested, you have to risk putting yourself out there. Even if it’s not reciprocated, you are more likely to know where you stand by making your stance clear.

What are the best small gestures to bring back the spark?

“Compliments cost nothing but mean a lot. Continuing to make an effort with your appearance, dressing up when you meet, and smelling good too – these things may be for you, but also signal to your partner you care about continuing to seduce them and maintaining that level of attraction.

Planning regular date nights – if you haven’t got the budget to eat out, look up a recipe online and cook together and play music in the background to set a mood. Words are also powerful, a nice card with thoughtful words, not just on occasions that everyone celebrates but also when they have had a tough time at work. It’s all about staying tuned in with each other and empowering one another.”

Are there any key signs that show your relationship is in a rut?

“The same routine can make people feel that they are stuck in a rut, if the energy feels low between you both it’s important to have those open and honest conversations. Like businesses, have quarterly meetings, as a partnership you should regularly have a check-in, but not in a way where you are blaming and criticising.

Communication breakdown is the number one relationship killer, and busy work schedules, like commitments and responsibilities, mean sometimes your relationship may end up feeling like it’s last on the list, but you must prioritise your relationship, or you will both feel neglected and taken for granted, and that’s where many problems may stem.”

What should you look out for if you think your partner is cheating?

“Sneakiness with their phone, not wanting to leave their phone lying around, hiding the screen when you sit nearby, being on their phone a lot more often. But ultimately your intuition tells you something is off, so instead of playing detective, it is always best to follow your intuition.”

What is the secret to a long and happy relationship?

“Friendship, strong physical connection, mutual respect, trust, forgiveness, and honest open communication.”

What do you do if you start fancying someone else in a long-term relationship – is that normal / should you raise it with your partner?

“I think if you find yourself developing an attraction to someone else, it is nothing you need to automatically raise with your partner, it is possible to develop slight crushes on people but it doesn’t mean there is an issue in your relationship, it is human nature to still find other people attractive even when you are committed and loyal to your partner, but it is how you act upon it.

If you find yourself obsessing over another person or wanting to make contact with them frequently, that is when it becomes an issue and could result in an emotional affair developing, so it’s important not to let it go unchecked for long. You need to also check in with yourself as to what it is about this person, and what excites you. It could be addressing that you are feeling a little bored of your relationship and this person brings exciting new energy, and that is when you need to consider ways to reinvigorate your current relationship.”

What do you think of the new “name a woman” loyalty test trend on TikTok?

“The loyalty check test is a dangerous thing to get into. If you must play detective to find out if your partner is loyal then that is probably enough of a sign that your intuition is telling you this isn’t the person you are going to end up with.

There’s a huge trust risk here too, if you get it wrong and you’ve relied on something like TikTok to try and find it out, your partner will feel completely let down. These matters should be discussed privately before using a tool to intervene. You probably wouldn’t have gone straight on Jeremy Kyle without having a conversation about it all, would you?”

Research suggests that lots of millennials are breaking up right now, why do you think this is?

“I think social media guidance is causing a lot of people to be misguided, people who have no real experience with relationships giving advice and influencing people to approach relationships in a very discardable way.

The focus is to get what you can and dump them, calling most things red flags, when often they are simply things that come up in relationships that we need to navigate and work through.

Put time into your partner rather than looking at other people’s worlds and lives on social media, it’s all about perspective and sometimes people believe they can get more than what they already have, but in reality, you have something amazing, and you should work on it!”


How do you know what to look for in a person if you don’t have a type?

“Values are the glue that keeps a relationship going, so look for someone who has values aligned to yours. When dating, talk about your own interests to see if you have any familiar ground. The natural flow of the conversation is a key indicator that this person could be well-suited to you.”

What is a key sign you don’t have a connection with someone?

“It is more about a feeling, if you just don’t feel on the same wavelength, and you just have opposing morals and values, and you don’t feel conversation flows easily, that’s probably a clear sign. If you feel drained by them rather than energised from their company that is quite telling.”

What are the key attributes to knowing you’ve found the perfect match?

“You have the same values, a similar outlook on life, they get along with your friends and family, you have a good physical connection, they are the first person you want to call when you have news, time flies when you are together, and you can enjoy laughter, conversation, and comfortable silence.”

At a certain age, when is it too soon to talk about kids?

“I think it is always about being authentic, if you are intentionally dating because you would like to meet someone and eventually start a family, put it out there. You aren’t saying you want kids with them, but it is something you want in your future, you will also scare off people who don’t want the same and that’s a good thing!”

Changes in Dating

How has dating changed for 2024, from old-school routines to new etiquette?

“There is less chivalry in dating today, which many are hoping will make a return, but since the pandemic, dating slowed down to virtual dates, and somehow continued with this approach. This means there are fewer boozy dates, it is not ideal to meet someone for the first time just to get drunk together, it totally distorts your better judgement. “

“I am in favour of phone calls but not so big on video calls first, particularly for me I think the first impression on appearance is important and I would say it is better your date sees you walk over rather than looking up your nostrils on a video call.

It just feels less natural and not very enticing. A few voice notes are nice, it helps you to feel safer, particularly if meeting off an app, to hear someone’s voice, you can pick up quite a bit from it, and it also contributes towards building attraction.”

How do you approach the conversation about the bedroom situation? If you want to try something new, should you bring it up with your partner?

“It is important to be open with each other about what your likes and dislikes are, and also look at ways to keep things interesting and exciting, there are even card games you can get where you can ask those questions, make it fun rather than an intense discussion.”

Are you finding it more normal that people are looking to be in throuples and opening up their relationships? How should people introduce themselves to this?

“There have always been swingers and threesomes but now we are adopting these terms to make it sound new and trendy, I don’t think it’s new, it’s just when celebrities do something it kind of gives the rest of society the green light to be more open.

I would ask yourself if monogamy is really for you, or would you prefer a non-monogamous relationship, and be open about this with people you meet from the start. If you want to open up your relationship then it is about approaching it with curiosity to find out your partner’s values around this. If you choose to explore there are lots of events you can find where you can look around and see if it is your vibe and take part if you wish.”

Following on from the new date-gap trend, what do you think is a respectable age gap for dating, do you think it’s becoming more acceptable?

“Personally, I think up to 10 years is ideal. But it is really about whether your energy Is aligned, there are people in their 50’s who are more vivacious and energetic than people in their 30’s so it is about the individual and how you connect.”

Why do you think socially, more people prefer someone who is a different age? Do you think people’s personal tastes are changing?

“Well it has long been said women mature quicker than men, but ultimately it often comes down to having someone you can look up to, to learn and grow from, and I think it’s a false sense of security that with age comes wisdom, as age isn’t a direct indicator of levels of maturity.”

On the ‘slow dating’ trend, is it the norm to take things slower compared to previous years?

“I think since the pandemic people’s mindset has shifted, people have changed some of their priorities, and people have become more focused on values and want to date more intentionally.

So, getting to know people before meeting is something people still seem to want to do, we value our time more, as we know how precious it really is. I just hope more people would consider that attraction can also be slow and that just because you don’t have fireworks date one, doesn’t mean they can’t be what you need, a cosy fireplace later down the line.”

For more interesting reads like this, be sure to check out the thortful blog where we’ve previously delved into first date dos and don’ts, dating trends, and more.