The hikers who met on OutdoorLads
Paul O’Brien, 42, occupational therapy manager I had been living in Leeds, helping my mum who was very ill with cancer. After she died I moved back to London, and I was looking for ways to meet people and make new friends. After a big life change like that, you want to try different things. I’ve always enjoyed walking and I’d heard that OutdoorLads was a friendly and accepting group. My primary objective wasn’t to meet a date. But when I started I thought, “Well, maybe it could happen.”
I think this is better because you meet in real life; it’s not only about looks. Walking alongside someone allows you to have a good chat and find things in common without it feeling forced.
Mark and I just met by accident, really. I had become a walk leader after about four or five months. Every month there is a social event for people to meet up after work. You still have to have someone leading it, to welcome new people – and this time that person was me. I remember Mark arriving and thinking, “He looks nice.” He was standing on his own and I went and spoke to him to make him feel welcome. I was hoping he wouldn’t leave without me getting his number and at the end of the evening I made sure we left at the same time. I gave him a quick peck on a traffic island on the middle of the road and hurried off. Then I messaged him via the site. It was almost adolescent.
Our first dates involved a lot of visits to parks and cafes, as well as some walks. I thought, “yesterday you weren’t in my life, today you are”, and was open-minded about seeing where it went. After about three months I remember us having a heart-to-heart on my birthday and we both realised we were keepers.
I had tried online dating before
I think the relationship works because we have shared interests and values, we’re best friends and have a laugh. We’re both open to new ideas. We travel a lot, but soon there’ll be fewer holidays and much more walking on blustery weekends in London – we’re getting a cocker spaniel puppy.
Mark Allan, 42, charity chief executive I was in my late 30s and wanted to meet people by going out and doing stuff, and I’d heard about this organisation for gay men who meet up for walks and social events. It’s not a dating site, it’s about people getting together to do something they like (though lots of couples do meet that way). I didn’t plan to meet someone but it was in the back of my mind. I had done some online dating before, which was fine, but when you meet through a social group, there’s no pressure – you might just be drawn to someone you happen to like. It’s very hard to get that online.
I had been on a handful of walks by the time I met Paul on a social. Paul had organised it and was being Mr Sociable and introducing himself to everyone. I felt that he was chatting to me more than the others, so had a bit of an inkling that something was going on. We soon went on our first date and realised we have lots in common; we both really like to travel, and we like adventure.
In the three years since we met, Paul and I have been all over the world: Japan, Italy, Costa Rica, Europe and the US. After about a year of dating we went on holiday to Israel. We were splashing around in the sea in Tel Aviv and I just knew I wanted to make a serious commitment, that I wanted to be with him. I asked him to get married that evening, and a year later we had a small wedding in London with our family and friends.