Most fairy tales begin with a princess. Sometimes she turns into an ogre at sunrise. Sometimes she falls into a deep slumber. If it’s meant to be, she may choke on an apple or croon aimlessly from the tower she’s locked away in. The math is elementary. Damsel in distress + knight in shining armour = happy ever after.

But real life isn’t narrated by Walt Disney or Nicholas Sparks. And while I do watch reruns of Love Actually every Christmas, I’m not much of a romantic at heart. After generations of divorce statistics, ‘happy ever after’ seems like the impossible dream for anyone. But since I am 27 and yet to find my knight, my editors thought it might be er… interesting to sign me up with Lunch Actually, a local dating agency. Set up by Violet Lim in 2004, it has positioned itself as a matchmaker to the busy and, from what I see, also the socially awkward. Today, the company has expanded into Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. Sweeping it into the same box as Tinder and OkCupid, I was sceptical, if only because I wouldn’t dream of letting a stranger decide what or who is best for me.

I went through the protocol. I met a matchmaker called Rose and gave her a list of attributes I’d like in a partner – dog-loving and adventurous, for example. She followed with a questionnaire to narrow the search down. “Declare that you’re single.” “Describe your style and character.” “Should a guy pay on the first date?” “Would you also like to get two months of unlimited dates?” It reminded me of Abby in The Ugly Truth and her stupidly long checklist. So while Rose went man-hunting on my behalf, I found myself enrolled in a couple session with the Lunch Actually Academy (yes, there is such a thing), whose image coaches mould you into “the best version of yourself”. Maybe I needed it, maybe I didn’t, but I went in the name of journalistic curiosity.

Days later, I received an email. “You’ve got a date!” it read. It proceeded with “Chris is in his late 20s, he’s a civil servant, Chinese and Christian”, and a whole list of things the guy was into. This was meant to be a blind date, and that kind of vacuumed away that bit of mystery about him. That said, he sounded like the perfect guy. He liked cooking, dogs, sports, drinks and the sun.

I met him for lunch at a casual American diner, not before friends reminded me to not be myself and Lunch Actually telling me to “dress nicely”, “put on light make-up”, “keep the conversation light” and “thank my date if he decides to pay.” Anyway, he was nice and not at all awkward. He was smart too, a little cocky maybe, but we got along. This was his sixth match (he paid $2,800 for a year’s worth of unlimited dates) and he understood I was doing it for a story. Cool.

I tried to keep an open mind through lunch. We meandered through normal first-date talk, which turned out better than I had dreaded. I learnt we were both INFPs, we had friends in common and he had been dating someone for a month but they both want to keep their options open. The last would have be a deal-breaker for me, had it not been the social experiment that it was. All said and done, it was fun even if there were no sparks. I don’t blame Lunch Actually. At the very least, I made a new friend. So the premise of going on a blind date for a story took away some authenticity, but even if I forgot about all that for a moment, this isn’t the way I wanted to find my ‘happy ever after’.

At the end of it, he quietly paid for the meal. We shook hands goodbye and guess what, I remembered to say “thank you.”

Special thanks to Lunch Actually for making all the arrangements. If you’re having a hard time looking for someone decent, give it a shot.

This article was published in the November 2016 issue.

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