#onlinedating | Soulmates changed our lives: couples look back at the Guardian’s dating service | Life and style | #bumble | #tinder | #pof

After more than 15 years of online dating, Guardian Soulmates has come to an end.

The service, providing a means for single Guardian readers to meet like-minded individuals, started as a lonely hearts column in the Noticeboard in the early 1990s. Here are some of the couples who came together through the platform over the years.

Claire and Jon Blakeway

“After a bad start with a bloke who put his rollerblades on the table and talked about only having 10% body fat, I was ready to drop the date I had lined up with Jon,” said Claire Blakeway from Cheltenham.

Forty-four-year-old communications worker Claire met Jon, also 44, who works in advertising, in December 2011 on the South Bank in London. Fortunately, this date worked out a bit better: “We had a fun evening and I was quite smitten,” said Claire. “He walked me back to Waterloo station at the end of the evening and we had a kiss under the big clock.”

Their relationship progressed and the couple were married in April 2015. They now have a three-year-old daughter named Lois. “I feel lucky to have found Jon,” said Claire. “He had set his parameters on Soulmates to finding a woman within a half a mile radius of his flat – I was fortunate to be living in his tight catchment area.”

Jane Tyndall and James Simcock

“Online dating wasn’t something I thought I would ever do,” said Jane Tyndall, 62, a retired deputy headteacher from Liverpool. “But at the time it was a sad part of my life – I had lost my father and my mum had a serious accident and didn’t know who I was – so I thought I would do something different.”

James and Jane. Photograph: Jane Tyndall

Jane met James Simcock, 63, a retired lecturer in June 2010. “I agreed to meet him for a coffee in Waterstones,” recalled Jane. “I figured it was a safe place, but also I thought that a man who likes books can’t be all bad. I drove home later that day thinking there was every possibility we would have a second date.”

When James first saw Jane’s profile, he thought she had a wonderful smile. “Having been a Guardian reader for 40-odd years, I thought the only way I was ever going to really find that special person was on Guardian Soulmates,” he said. They both later discovered that they had been living within three miles of each other for 20 years.

“We were sad to read of Soulmates’ demise,” said Jane. “Neither of us would’ve assumed we would try online dating, but it was the best thing to happen to us. Were it not for the Guardian, we would never have met and our lives would not be as wonderful as they are now. We’re still in the honeymoon period of our relationship, but we are definitely soul mates.”

Jessica and Chris Treen

“I’m tight and didn’t want to pay the £25 to join up, so I guess I owe the Guardian now,” said Jessica Treen from Stretford, who only got as far as a free trial.

Chris and Jessica Treen. Photograph: Jessica Treen

Jessica, 37, met Chris, 39, a writer, in 2009 after a friend suggested she try Soulmates. “I had just moved back to Manchester after four years in London and was feeling like my whole life had shifted backwards. I put only slightly more than zero effort into my profile and the only photo I thought was acceptable was one of me scowling by a water cooler.”

However, soon after, she received a message from Chris. “He told me he was idly scrolling through the site and joined up because he liked my photo,” recalled Jessica who works in radio. “Because I hadn’t paid, I could only choose from one of six pre-written replies. We tried to arrange a date, but the process was long-winded. In the end I Googled him and managed to find his blog and email address.”

The couple have been together for 11 years and married in 2014. “Back in 2009 there was still a bit of stigma surrounding online dating, and we didn’t really want to tell people how we met. However, now Guardian Soulmates is going, it seems awfully romantic – a badge of honour somehow.”

Neha and Simon

“I wasn’t very impressed at the time,” said Londoner Neha, 34, speaking about the first time she met Simon on a rainy in day in north London.

Neha and Simon. Photograph: Mark Leonard

“It was the end of a working week and Simon was a bit grumpy on our date. I left thinking I was never going to meet him again,” she said.

Simon, 36, a psychotherapist, felt very differently about their 2014 meeting. “I knew from the first moment that she was the one I’d been looking for.”

Neha said: “It’s been an interesting relationship as I’m Indian and he’s British, and during our time together Simon’s come to recognise his privilege as a white man. He’s known about how other people can be affected, but it’s not really impacted him before. This is especially felt because of our experience with the Home Office and me applying for a spouse visa – one time they wanted proof that I spoke English even though I studied for my PhD in the UK.

“We’ve learned a lot about what it means to live as an interracial couple. I never wanted to live here, but I’m here now and we’re really happy.”

Helen and Annie Marshall-Cole

“I could only have half a pint as I was driving, but we talked for about four hours,” said swimming teacher Helen Marshall-Cole about her first date with her now wife, Annie.

Annie (far left) and Helen Marshall-Cole on their wedding day in Maui, Hawaii. Photograph: Helen Marshall-Cole

Helen, 42, from Brighton, met Annie, 49, an employment lawyer, at a local pub in 2011. “I was living in a converted Bedford horse box on a farm in Sussex, while studying and working part-time,” said Helen. “Annie was staying in a friend’s spare room while job hunting. I kept chickens at the time and told Annie how I had found one of them in bed with my lurcher dog. We laughed all evening.”

The couple got married in 2016 in Hawaii. “We were in love very quickly,” said Helen. “Our families were very supportive, but some friends took against the relationship because I was known as a ‘new age traveller’, someone who lived in vehicles, and she came from a privileged background – but we proved them all wrong.”

Helen and Annie, who have adopted two children, were sad to hear Soulmates was going. “It allowed us to meet as we had similar beliefs and interests despite our very different backgrounds,” said Helen. “Neither of us would have used any of the new dating apps. Soulmates changed our lives for the better.”

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