A few months ago I was contacted by a professor of sociology at St. Thomas More College University of Saskatchewan to participate in a study on matchmaking in North America. We spoke for around an hour by phone and after she completed her research, she sent me the research document filled with incredibly interesting discoveries about matchmaking.
Interviews lasted 52 minutes on average, and were conducted between March and May 2013. Participation in the research project was voluntary and entirely confidential, and the project obtained research ethics approval from the University of Saskatchewan’s Research Ethics Board. The final sample discussed here consists of conversations with 20 matchmakers representing 19 different companies (the one instance of matchmakers from the same company involves 2 matchmakers at different company branches in 2 distinct regions of the country).
This professor presented to a group of national and international colleagues in June and in a recent email to me said, “I was surprised to discover that many sociologists who study relationships and dating have little awareness of matchmaking’s place in the dating industry, and of why clients tend to seek out a matchmaker.”
This project’s main aims are to improve social scientists’ understandings of the North American matchmaking industry by interviewing matchmaking professionals and gaining insight into 1) why North Americans are turning to offline, personalized matchmaking services to assist with serious dating/couple formation, 2) the extent to which use of matchmaking services is connected to geographic and time constraints in clients’ lives, and 3) identifying other major motivations, choices and constraints involved in clients’ decision to work with a matchmaker.
I have extracted some of the findings for this blog yet did not include the entire publication. The publication is titled: MATCHMAKING IN NORTH AMERICA: An emerging option for couple formation
The sample consists of 11 Canadian-based and 9 American-based matchmakers, for a total of 20 matchmakers. While 6 of the matchmakers say they frequently work with clientele or seek matches for clientele beyond the country in which they are based, most carry out the majority of their work and source matches for their clients within the country where their company is headquartered Sixteen of the matchmakers are the founder/co-founder and/or CEO of their company, while 4 are COO and/or senior matchmaker. The matchmakers have worked an average of 7.3 years in paid matchmaking work, and 18 report that matchmaking is their sole or primary job. (Some matchmakers noted that they had engaged in unpaid matchmaking work prior to working as paid matchmakers, but since this work was largely sporadic and casual, it is not included in the average years of experience.)
Matchmakers’ educational backgrounds, from most common to least common field, are 1) social sciences and social work, 2) business, finance and management, 3) arts (general), 4) hospitality and tourism, 5) law and education (tied). In terms of major field of employment prior to paid matchmaking, participants mentioned (from most to least common) 1) sales, financial services and client services (including sales at online dating agencies), 2) hospitality and the cultural sector, 3) management and headhunting/corporate recruitment, 4) social work.
When asked how and why they have chosen to work as matchmakers, participants spoke to a combination of factors that influenced their career choice. Consistently, matchmakers mentioned how their awareness of having the right skills or aptitude for the work influenced their decision to become paid matchmakers. They highlighted either excellent people skills (in particular, being highly intuitive or gifted at reading personalities and sensing others’ needs, and relating easily to people from a variety of backgrounds) or a combination of people skills and business acumen (namely knowing how to attract desired clientele and market their services effectively) as core components of their skills and aptitudes. In addition, several matchmakers mentioned that their extroversion is an asset, and that they feel energized by their interactions with others. The matchmakers’ core skills and aptitudes were most often recognized and praised by others (friends, family, former colleagues, mentors) prior to individuals making the transition into matchmaking work; in a few instances, successful attempts at casual matchmaking with friends and family members fueled individuals’ desire to take up matchmaking professionally.
The skills and aptitudes noted above, however, were necessary but not sufficient causes for individuals to pursue work as paid matchmakers. All matchmakers also noted awareness of a business niche to be filled in their geographic area— either no other matchmakers worked in their focal geographic area, nobody in their geographic area focused on the target demographic they had in mind, or nobody in their geographic area used the particular matchmaking approach or method that they intended to use.
In the study, several matchmakers emphasized that being self-employed and/or having a flexible schedule added to matchmaking’s appeal, and 5 matchmakers spoke in detail about how their decision to work as a matchmaker came after (or as part of) a major—and often jarring—life transition that pushed them to reevaluate their personal and professional goals. For these matchmakers in particular, but for several others as well, there is a clear empathic dimension that they bring to their work with clients.
Seven matchmakers spoke openly about having “been there” in the same dating trenches as their clients, and could attest to the challenges and disappointments of dating, particularly in mid-life with diminished opportunities and venues for finding a long-term partner. Read this feature on Linx in Fortune to hear about my having been there ‘in the trenches’ just like so many readers here. I get it!
Along with demonstrating empathy for clients’ situations, most matchmakers also emphasized, but usually spoke positively about, the significant emotional labor involved in matchmaking. They stressed that matchmaking is “not easy money” for the emotional investment it demands, involves “intensive coaching,” “a lot of hand holding” and “being like a sister or cheerleader” who will offer reassurance and support through a process that often leaves clients feeling vulnerable. That said, most emphasized that they find their work immensely rewarding and feel that the satisfaction of creating lasting matches offsets any emotionally draining aspects of the work. Two matchmakers said that they have been “yelled at many times” by clients, and attribute these incidents to clients’ unrealistic expectations (this theme is explored in greater detail below in the Major themes and trends section). These matchmakers went on to explain that matchmaking requires a thick skin, and that matchmakers must actively coach clients in setting reasonable expectations.
I couldn’t agree more with the paragraph above. This work is NOT for anyone who is susceptible to becoming overly emotionally over their work. I’ve remained a systematic Silicon Valley machine for over a decade now as I keep incredibly focused on my business. I am a tightly scheduled, master of organization, and relentless in the pursuit of my clients happiness (often it means running on limited sleep and my friends being irked with my contestant hamster wheel work ethic approach-especially when I am so hard to schedule fun things with.)
I also have learned to have a thick skin due to the nature of this business. For instance, yesterday I got a scathing email from a passive member client because this particular person has not found love yet (granted this person has received many matches and I’ve been extremely judicious and professional along the journey.) A “Patti” would have YELLED back and told the client to go “F-yourself and Get Out Of My Club!” but I’m not like that- AT ALL. As clinical and calm as I had hoped to be, I was really affected by the nature of the email. It was just so out of the blue. When I had been this clients cheerleader…then all of a sudden what felt like poisonous arrows being thrown my way had totally engulfed me. A fact for everyone- I’m not Copperfield as much as I think that would be tremendously cool, I just don’t seem to have been given those talents to perform matchmaking “magic.” Thus, at the end of the day, I too, am human.
An interesting trend I have found in running Linx is that I am not surprised by the number of eager, bright-eyed folks who want to open their own matchmaking firm. Most of these people contact me wanting to “team up” and “create a strategic approach to merge networks” when they are in the infancy stage of their businesses. Sometimes I hear “at Harvard Business School” we learned that “you are supposed to create alliances as such.” Um, ok?!
I listen and hear what they have to say but in most cases, I have turned them away. I wish them success, luck, and know they will be swimming in a big ‘ol sea, probably feeling a lot of anxiety about how to even begin. Yet that feeling of anxiety can be channeled into good stress as it happens to be THE MOST exciting time as the seeds have been planted and the business starts to blossom. Once you begin something like this, it starts to multiply very quickly taking on complex new directions, a whole host of wild demands/requests. I hate saying this but the fact is most of these aspiring matchmakers sink and move onto a new career. They are unable to handle the pressure, have the sheer focus to get the business off the ground, maintain their professionalism, be ethical, establish a brand, grow a network, do a good job at the actual matchmaking and so on.
Back to the study…Major Themes and Trends from the study
1) The role of the Internet and Internet dating in clients’ work with matchmakers
Matchmakers estimate that an average of 2/3 of their clients have tried online dating before seeking out their services. Within this population, the majority have ceased dating online by the time they contact a matchmaker, and most have turned away from the method because of frustration and dissatisfaction. While 2 matchmakers said that they see Internet dating as a positive or worthwhile strategy alongside working with a matchmaker, the rest spoke to how it has negatively affected dating and/or daters’ mentalities by fostering a “kid in the candy store” mentality whereby daters are always searching for the “bigger, better deal” instead of focusing on getting to know the people they date. Several matchmakers noted that this attitude of trading up or treating dates as disposable had soured their clients’ attitudes toward online dating, and the majority said that they do not advocate Internet dating, whether as a stand-alone dating strategy or strategy alongside working with them. Matchmakers against online dating also noted that the strategy does not offer a worthwhile return on the dater’s time investment, particularly in the case of the high-earning professionals who make up the bulk of matchmakers’ clientele; further, it does not offer the discretion that matchmakers’ clients typically seek. Matchmakers also noted the tendency for dishonesty and misrepresentation among online daters, and said that their female clients, in particular, often turned to matchmaking as a way of avoiding the disappointment and frustration connected to daters’ misrepresentations (namely surrounding martial status, age, current physical appearance and financial/career stability).
While not directly connected to online dating, but also concerning the negative impact of new(er) technologies on dating and couple formation, 8 matchmakers spoke extensively about the negative effect that they see text messaging has had on dating and relationships. They explained that communication by texting is problematic insofar as it 1) is prone to causing greater misunderstandings, and therefore greater insecurities, in a couple (particularly in very early stages of dating); 2) is less polite than speaking over the phone or in person (again, particularly in the early stages of dating), and fails to convey respect or serious intent when a man uses text messaging to ask a woman out on a subsequent date; 3) takes new couples away from the face time and phone time that help them develop a deeper understanding of one another and determine compatibility and chemistry. Five matchmakers said that they give explicit phone and texting etiquette instruction to clients—their suggested texting etiquette usually involves zero text interaction until the relationship is firmly established and exclusive. Once the relationship takes off, matchmakers suggest very limited use of texting for very quick logistical conversations (e.g. “Meet me at the restaurant at 6 p.m.”). Matchmakers spoke of their extreme disappointment when clients do not heed their advice about texting, and say that texting has caused unnecessary dating “drama” in clients from the 20s up to their 70s. There does not appear to be a particular age group that is most likely to ignore matchmakers’ texting etiquette.
2) The role of career/career development in men and women using matchmakers
Particularly in younger clients (i.e. those up to their early 40s), matchmakers noted a common theme of work/career demands that have kept clients from looking seriously for a long-term partner until they reach an age when opportunities to meet eligible singles have dwindled (i.e. until most peers that they meet through social and work activities have married or paired off into relationships). In particular, they see this in their clients who are entrepreneurs, whose work has been particularly all-consuming and left little time for dating. There appears to be no significant gender gap regarding career demands and use of matchmakers—in this sample, matchmakers spoke equally of men and women whose careers have left minimal time for forming relationships. For matchmakers’ clients, career development has precluded relationship formation mostly because of time restrictions, but geographic mobility and multi-city living connected to the client’s career also appear to play smaller roles (and male clients cite mobility and multi-city living as factors more often than women).
Whereas some matchmakers spoke of their clients’ career demands and impact on dating factually and uncritically, others took a more critical view that clients have not “had” time to find a serious partner because they have not made time to do so. Those who took a more critical approach said that they frequently coach clients on the importance of carving out time for dating and building relationships and the need to prioritize relationships or find reasonable work-life balance in spite of career demands. On this note, 3 matchmakers expressed disappointment in some of their clients’ “stalled” relationships that have not progressed (or have progressed very slowly) toward marriage because partners continue to invest heavily in their careers at the expense of their relationship.
3) (Un)realistic expectations about the product and process
When asked what they find most frustrating or challenging about their work, matchmakers most commonly spoke about their clients’ unrealistic expectations with regard to the matchmaking process and outcomes, and relationships more broadly. Several matchmakers commented that when meeting and developing a rapport with a new client, they are careful to say that they do not sell or offer love per se, but rather the opportunity to meet high-quality individuals with whom a client may form a loving and committed relationship. Particularly at the outset of the matchmaker-client collaboration, matchmakers note that some clients have an unrealistic expectation that they will meet the love of their life, and that this will happen quickly. While matchmakers agree that meeting the love of one’s life is a central aim of the matchmaking process, and are pleased when this happens within a short time frame, many must remind clients to be patient and to realize that a match with a compatible individual may not yield the chemistry and mutual interest needed for love to develop. They are also careful to balance statements about how successful they have been in matching clients with a disclaimer that they cannot guarantee a long-term match as an outcome of their collaboration. Matchmakers also expressed concern at several clients’ conflation of compatibility in a relationship and the idea that a relationship requires no work or compromise; they were surprised by how often clients expect a serious relationship to thrive with little work at communication and compromise.
Several matchmakers pointed out that their clients tend to be “Type A” personalities who are highly driven and used to getting whatever they ask for. In some cases, this manifests in unrealistic demands or expectations about who they will be matched with. Did you ever read the incredibly well written piece featuring a Linx client as he searches for the one in San Francisco Magazine? This story showcases some of the wild demands from Linx clients.
Specifically, 5 matchmakers said they often work with clients who expect to be matched with people who are, in the matchmakers’ words, physically “way out of their league” (namely, older men asking to be matched with much younger and/or much more attractive women, or women requesting matches with much younger and/or physically fitter men). In these cases, most matchmakers take a soft or diplomatic approach in suggesting that these unrealistic clients broaden their search criteria. Typically, the client acquiesces to the matchmaker’s suggestions, but 2 matchmakers cited repeated instances of being yelled at by clients when the clients perceived their matches or the matchmaker’s suggestions to be sub-par. Another matchmaker, who did not report having been yelled at, nonetheless spoke about how being a matchmaker requires developing a “thick skin” to deal with difficult and demanding clients.
4) Stigma and awkwardness
According to matchmakers, most people who self-select into working with a matchmaker “get” the idea of hiring a professional to help them with their love life. Many clients outsource work in other areas of their lives, so do not see anything awkward or shameful about extending this model of efficiency into the realm of their relationships. That said, nearly half of all matchmakers noted that they have clients who express feelings of embarrassment during initial meetings. Matchmakers consistently noted that this is more common amongst their male clients, for whom “ego gets in the way,” than it is for women who tend to approach matchmakers with greater confidence and minimal or no feelings of shame about using their services. For male clients who express initial embarrassment, matchmakers say that this feeling tends to fade as the client becomes more involved in the process.
But, whereas most clients express little or minimal embarrassment to matchmakers about working with them, most also tell matchmakers that they keep their use of the services a secret from friends, family and colleagues; this is largely out of fear that they will be negatively judged for their inability to find a partner on their own. Matchmakers are very rarely invited to clients’ weddings, since clients do not like to go public with how they met their partner. I am invited to many weddings and in some cases not. Often clients will share their stories here.
Overall, matchmakers spoke optimistically about their expectation that the practice will continue to lose its stigma and become a more widely respected form of couple formation. They also mentioned that many clients view matchmaking as a much less stigmatized activity than online dating.
5) Issues surrounding gender
Several of the themes outlined above touch on gender, but the issues below deal most directly with gender. When asked about what their clients are seeking in a partner, matchmakers responded that clients typically say they are looking for a mixture of traditional and modern elements in a relationship. Specifically, clients of both genders prefer dual-career relationships, regardless of whether they also desire children within the relationship. As one matchmaker puts it, men are showing a strong preference for “Michelle Obama” type partners (i.e. true equals in the private and public spheres). Another matchmaker summarizes a similar trend in clients’ desires as “bimbos are out,” and explains that male clients find career women most desirable. While matchmakers and clients express a preference for egalitarian relationships, 5 matchmakers said that they encourage their clients to blend the egalitarian model with male chivalry and believe it is always a man’s job to organize and pay for dates. As one matchmaker phrased it, couples should get “back to the basics” of men taking the lead romantically while respecting fundamental gender equality.
6) Defining “success” in matchmaking
Although the majority of matchmakers interviewed say that marriage is the ultimate goal of their services, they define “success” in matchmaking as anything from a matched couple going on a second date to a matched couple getting married. Another matchmaker defines success as finding the right caliber of person for a client—someone who is outstanding, regardless of where the match leads after the first introduction. Most often, matchmakers define success as the moment when a matched couple becomes exclusive, regardless of whether the relationship culminates in marriage. Many matchmakers emphasized that success, to them, is not just about making matches that last—a collaboration with a client is always a success if it engages the client in a process of personal growth (and, oftentimes, improved self-confidence) that opens the door to finding love and living authentically.
Matchmakers reported mixed feelings when matched clients (typically clients whose contracts have since expired) “fall of the grid” and quit keeping in touch. Some matchmakers are diligent in keeping in touch with former clients long after their collaboration has ended, but most do not—typically because they do not want to “pester” former clients. Some “snoop around” (e.g. online) to find clues as to whether a couple they matched months or years prior is still together.
7) Reality TV: Helping or hurting matchmaking’s reputation?
This was not a topic that I expected to discuss consistently with matchmakers, but it came up often. Matchmakers spoke positively about how reality T.V. shows about matchmaking—i.e. Millionaire Matchmaker (Bravo), Arrange Me a Marriage (BBC), Love Broker (Bravo) —have raised the overall visibility of the profession. At the same time, they expressed concern at how some portrayals of the matchmaking process, particularly those on Millionaire Matchmaker episodes, are highly sensationalized and do not reflect typical client-matchmaker, affiliate-matchmaker or client-affiliate relations. In particular, matchmakers noted that their approach is more “subtle” than the approach of matchmakers typically found on reality T.V. shows, and that their clientele is “classy and discreet” as compared to the brash clients featured on Millionaire Matchmaker. They are confident, however, that the general public is aware of the disparity between matchmaking in reality shows and typical matchmaking processes.