From the elderly Yentas in Eastern European shtetls, to The Bachelor, matchmaking has a long history in almost every cultural group in the world. After all, isn’t it easier to find your perfect match when you can leave it in the hands of those with the most discerning eye, the most sophisticated personality evaluations, and ultimately the best neighbourhood gossip? But lately, the game has been changing, and your parent’s dating agencies are getting left behind in the dust.
Consider this – in the old days, prospective singles could meet and mingle at the public dances or church socials, but this has fallen out of favor. With the disappearance of many social spaces, and the rising value of individuality and privacy, many people who are uncomfortable with the cut-throat gamble of bars and clubs have no way to meet that perfect someone. Enter the commercial dating agency, who fills this gap, with phone, print, and video dating services. But with the popularization of the internet, more singles are looking to faster, cheaper, and more convenient options — and they’re going it on their own. In 1999, one to two percent of North American singles tried online dating. Now it is estimated that a staggering one in five relationships start online. A wide mix of over 1,500 online dating sites form an industry worth over $1.5 billion with 30 to 40 million North American users. And what had begun as user-directed window shopping has evolved into mobile algorithm-based matching. Debutante days are behind us, and Tinderella has taken the spotlight.
What isn’t represented in these figures are the drawbacks and outdated approaches many of the biggest and most popular services still cling to. Classic matchmaking services encourage you to put your trust in them to find the right matches for you, their use of blind matchmaking benefits them over you. They are selecting potential matches from narrow, outdated pools of clients in and charging you exorbitant non-refundable fees which are locked into long-term contracts. Once you are locked into this contract, you have no choice but to go out with the people they set you up with regardless of compatibility. There is even evidence to suggest that the personality logarithms relied on by these agencies result in no better odds for a perfect match than pure random selection — that perfect compatibility is no guarantee for a happily ever after.
It’s hard to find someone nowadays without some kind of online presence. Job-seekers are often told not just to clean up their “virtual image” by removing compromising pictures, but to have one in the first place. When a quick Google search of your name turns up nothing, assumptions can be made about how much is this applicant truly modern and connected to the march of progress. Instead of turning to nosy friends and family members, one-quarter to one-third of North American singles have turned to creating an online presence for dating, and non-dating websites are even taking notice. Facebook, Spotify, and even Craigslist are actively facilitating easier ways for their current users to connect to compatible matches in their area. People are linking together their Facebook pages over drinks at parties — after all, you can learn more about a person from what they post than from the digits of their phone number.
But many matchmaking agencies still rely on their client’s trust in them to make the matches for them without their clients’ oversight or approval. When the client doesn’t have direct access to the full pool of matches, it makes it easier for these agencies to hide the discrepancies in their methods. They often simply rely on complex computer algorithms to match exactly the litany of factors the client wants to the available matches in their database, boasting of their abilities to predict compatibility. When, in fact, there is very little scientific evidence that the similarity of individuals is correlated with long-term romantic compatibility, according to psychologists Eli Finkel and Susan Sprecher in Scientific American. In short, the work that these agencies take off the hands of their clients, and punch into a computer, results in matches that are “negligibly better than matching people at random.” When the client’s own judgement is taken out of the process and computers allowed to blindly match them, the human element is lost, leading to less than desirable dates, shorter and more courtships, and ultimately low customer satisfaction. Many people searching on their own are beginning to evaluate “online compatibility” — that the people we present ourselves to be online should be just as compatible as we are offline — and who would have better insight on that than the client themselves?
The other problem with classic models of matchmaking are the available pools of potential matches. Agencies often assure that their screening and evaluation process is dependable and secure, a sure-fire way to filter out the charlatans and deviants. Seen from the subject’s side, the process can feel like a deposition to discover the “true you”, an onerous and high-pressure inquisition which usually concludes with a full background check. These disincentives paired with the elimination of potentially desirable matches leads to a limited pool, often hidden from sight. Sometimes CitName dating agencies aren’t even fully aware of how many available matches are in their database; follow-up calls to ensure their local singles are indeed still in and single are few and far between, so inactive members are still counted as active potential partners. Research on matchmaking agencies have also found that, traditionally, the ratio of available single women are biased against men — there are far more men than women signing up for memberships. Online dating, however, has tipped the scales: the anonymity of the internet, the ease of deleting and recreating profiles, and security features like blocking have allowed women to take on the role of the pursuer as much as men. It also doesn’t take an economics degree to see that a bigger market — social media and online dating sites — is more efficient than a limited, controlled one, so a bigger dating pool yields better quality matches.
Finally, these agencies try to assure you that their high prices and opaque contracts are their way of saying that they are trustworthy and guarantee satisfaction. But even a cursory search into the “satisfaction” of previous clients is enough to get a full picture of what you’re buying into. dating agencies such as It’s Just Lunch and eLove believe that they can rely on their splashy image on- and offline to convince clients of satisfactory results. But reviews describe in detail intense sales meetings, feigned interest, hidden no-refund conditions, and pressure into long-term time commitments, where the ultimate goal is the cut of a heavy cheque. The fees often have no bearing on the quality or quantity of matches, so “fixed” rates are often augmented to easily persuade financially-strapped clients to open their wallet, or financially secure clients to open them wider. Why should such a cynical system be able to take advantage of those on the search for love, convincing them that matchmaking is nothing more than a game of hide-and-seek in a world of hyper-exposure?
Often when people are tired of the self-guided online world of dating, especially when they feel they don’t quite live up to expectations of others they meet, they turn to professional help, those able to dig deeper to find that special someone who perhaps shares their same insecurities. But, unfortunately, these vulnerable people are easily taken advantage of, and matters of the heart are computer-tested behind a veil against non-existent matches. The hide-and-go-seek game becomes a one-man-show with no one to seek. It’s not that single people are incapable of finding their own right match – it seems to be working for the 20% of couples whose relationships began online – it’s that these classic approaches no longer suit the needs for a modern relationship. With the nearly unlimited resources and connections available through the internet, most of it for free, why shouldn’t an equal and fair collaboration between seekers and matchmakers result in the best results? After all, all things being equal, isn’t the simplest answer the best one?