With television shows like “Million Dollar Matchmaker” and “Indian Matchmaking,” and a pandemic that has made it harder for singles to meet organically, matchmaking is hot again. “There used to be this stigma around it,” said Eddie Hernandez, an online dating consultant in San Francisco. “Now a lot more people are asking me about it.”
And it’s not just the demand for matchmaking services that has gone up; there are also more companies on offer. “I would say there are double the number in the Bay Area alone from five years ago,” he added. “I get pitches from new ones all the time, and they are getting very specific. They say, ‘I am a Jewish matchmaker, I am an Indian matchmaker.’”
Some matchmakers charge a hefty sum — some require $100,000, or even $250,000 — but the industry, as a whole, lacks transparency. Many matchmakers either don’t have or won’t share statistics on their success rates. It’s common not to provide references, citing a need to protect privacy. The companies generally aren’t listed on review sites like Yelp. “When there are reviews, it’s hard to tell what is honest and what is not,” said Mr. Hernandez. “A lot of the authors are people a matchmaker asked to be in their database for free, rather than being a paying client, and that is a very different experience.”
We interviewed a few singles across North America who have used matchmakers. We asked them what they paid, what they got for their money, and how the service worked. Could they negotiate their fees? Did they get the type of matches they were asking for? Would they recommend the service to a friend? Here are edited versions of five conversations, including some comments and responses from the matchmakers.
Alana Ketchel, 39, is a health care consultant in Denver.
Matchmaker: The Social: Modern Matchmaking.
Fee: $2,500 for six months. There is no guaranteed number of dates. (“My pricing is pretty flexible depending on what a client is looking for, how many dates they want to go on and how much coaching they need,” said Abby Rosenblum, the founder of the company.)
Time Period: August through the present.
Why a matchmaker? I had been doing a lot of online dating that hadn’t resulted in anything. My hope was that a matchmaker could find me a different crowd, and because of the financial investment required, the men would be committed to finding a partner.
How did you find your matchmaker? I went to a meet-up online about how to improve your online dating profile, and the woman presenting was a matchmaker. We had an initial conversation, and she seemed to be open and accepting; we had a good rapport. I asked to speak to a past client who didn’t find her match; I needed to know that, if it didn’t work out, the money would still be worth it. She connected me with one.
How does the dating part work? She sends a text to both of us saying meet at this location at this time. We don’t get pictures before the date. I find it helpful not to have any preconceived notions.
How have they been? I’ve been on six dates. None of them have felt like a waste of time; they are all people who want to find a partner. On one date I was a little confused because he was outside of the age range I gave. When we talked about it later my matchmaker convinced me to be open-minded about age. I am in the process of setting up a second date with one match.
Is it worth the money? I’m benefiting from some of her other offerings. For example, she set me up with a wingman, basically a fake date who gave me feedback. He pointed out that I had my arms crossed, and I wasn’t necessarily expressing some of the sensual energy a male would want to receive. That perspective is worth the money. My expectation is that this is more about personal growth than finding a match.
Mehdi Drissi, 23, is a software engineer in Norman, Okla.
Matchmaker: Ambiance Matchmaking.
Fee: $15,000 for 12 matches in one year. (Taylor Wade, a founder and the creative director of the company, said: “That was 2020 pricing. We have different customized programs as clients’ needs vary.” The 2021 prices vary from $25,000 to $100,000 based on how many matches requested and the locations you choose to date.)
Time Period: September 2020 through the present.
Why a matchmaker? I am getting fewer online matches during the pandemic. Someone on Reddit mentioned this matchmaking service, so I decided to look into it.
Did you do research before signing? I looked at other services, and I saw that the prices were in the same ballpark. The price range I saw was $500 to $1,500 per match, and typically it would be one match a month. So I decided to go with the one that I had a recommendation for. They also had reviews on Yelp that seemed pretty positive.
What were your first impressions? I applied, and their first response was they weren’t sure they could find matches for my age in my area. They said if I was willing to look for matches in the Bay Area, they could find more people. I said OK. My location is more flexible now that remote forever is becoming a thing.
I did successfully negotiate though. I told them I would pay for three matches upfront, and then the other nine after that if I was happy. (Ms. Wade said negotiation is not typical. “We customized this program for this client as he had very unique specifications that were above and beyond normal matchmaking requirements.”)
How is it going? The quality of the matches has been notably better than matches from Tinder. I went on three dates with my first match after deciding we didn’t have enough mutual interests to continue the relationship.
The only requirement I gave my matchmaker (aside from the standard red flags) is that the woman should have an interest in video games and Animae. The first match had weak interest; the second, none at all. My matchmaker asked me if there were niche communities out there where she could find people. I was fine with that, because I know this world better. Messaging strangers in a subreddit is not something I want to do, but I am fine with her doing it.
Any worries? My contract says I am supposed to go on one date per month, but I went on one in September, one in November, and none since. They give me updates that they are searching for people. I think after three or four months if there was not much explanation to why I have no dates, that would start being unreasonable.
Is the money worth it? The real question is how much time I would spend without using this service looking for a date. I estimate that to be 50 hours, so I am willing to spend a thousand dollars per date to not have to do that work.
(Because of various circumstances, including pandemic-related issues and Mr. Drissi’s expected move to San Francisco, candidates for a third date are now being screened, “now that we know where he will be based,” Ms. Wade said. “If a match isn’t made, for whatever reason, we always make it up to the client. His contract states that his agreement may extend beyond three months at no additional cost if his three matches have not been completed.”)
Brian Alkerton, 35, is a tech retiree in Toronto
Matchmaker: Friend of a Friend Matchmaking.
Fee: $250 (Canadian dollars) for three dates over a year.
Time Period: 2017-2018.
How did you decide on your matchmaker? I looked into high-end matchmaking services, but they seemed wildly expensive. My concern would be that the women who sign up for a service like that would be used to a crazy, lavish lifestyle, and that’s probably not someone I am compatible with.
Friend of a Friend was owned by someone I tangentially knew through social media, and I knew people who had found matches through it. I also liked that she was someone local with local connections who was just trying to be a yenta.
How did the company get to know you? There was an intake form, and then I met one of her staff at a local coffee shop. We talked for hours.
Did you find somebody? The introductions were better than the average Tinder match. One girl I went on a date or two. Another I went on five or six dates. But they all fizzled out.
Would you use a matchmaker again? I don’t have the confidence that a second try would result in a better outcome. I might get three more above average prospects, but I am not looking for that. I am looking for “the one.” I’m convinced a matchmaker has the same chance of finding me that person as a mutual friend who also knows people I don’t know.
Were you disappointed in the outcome? I didn’t have the highest expectations, and for the amount of money I paid, I felt like it was very low stakes. I think if I was spending a lot more money I would feel differently.
Maggie is a 35-year-old former wardrobe stylist in New York.
Matchmaker: It’s Just Lunch
Fee: $1,000. The service said the time period can vary from 3 to 12 months.
Time Period: January through the present.
How did you find this matchmaker? My brother signed me up as a gift. He first signed me up for a Jewish dating service.I heard it was for religious Jews, but they promised they could find me someone less observant. When all the matches were kosher and super, super conservative I freaked out and got my brother a refund. It’s Just Lunch is my second attempt with matchmaking. (Note: Maggie did not give her last name because her work with the matchmaker is ongoing.)
I told a representative from the service my dating history and what I was looking for. Then they assigned me to a matchmaker. Usually you get three dates in person, but because of Covid, they are also offering unlimited Zoom dates.
How was your first Zoom date? I stressed to them that I needed someone outgoing, but my first date was someone who was shy, which was the exact opposite. I wish they would give us an icebreaker, maybe 10 questions to ask each other.
I also told my matchmaker I wanted a guy who likes to ski or snowboard. But when she set me up on this date, and I asked if he skis, she said, “I don’t know. I didn’t ask him.”
What happened after the date? When the date was over they ask you to send in a form about how things went. Initially they told me they would pass along the feedback he had for me, but when I asked for it, my matchmaker said it was confidential.
I really want the feedback, because I don’t normally get second dates when I go out with people. I feel like there is some sort of vibe I am putting out there, and I would very much like to nip that in the bud.
It took them a few weeks to schedule the second date. It feels like they set me up with this shy guy because they don’t have that many other options.
(Jeaneen Bengtson, a spokeswoman for the service said: “We do request feedback from our clients after every date. We do not share date feedback with the match. We use the feedback to refine the matching process and provide dating coaching to our clients.”)
What would success look like? If I end up seeing someone out of this. It’s tough right now because I am not really seeing people, and every time I go on Bumble I get discouraged. So this feels like my last-ditch effort. I am trying to stay positive, but I am also not really getting my hopes up from what I’ve seen so far.
Susan, 76, is retired financial executive in North Carolina.
Matchmaker: Selective Search
Fee: $25,000 for a year. She gets four in-person dates. (Barbie Adler, the founder of the company, said memberships begin at $25,000, but vary based on the specific needs of each client and the complexity of the search.)
Timing: January 2018 to May 2020. She paid for two years.
Why did you turn to a matchmaker? I felt I needed a quality person to share my life with, and I felt like I needed to engage a professional to help me accomplish that. I didn’t want to leave it to chance, and I recognize men in my age bracket tend to go for much younger women. I told myself it may or may not work, but I owe myself to at least try. (Note: Susan did not give her last name because of privacy concerns.)
Why this one? I signed up with another matchmaking company earlier, but I thought it was a bit of a scam because they took my money, made all kinds of promises, but never delivered. They presented the names of gentlemen, but none were even close to the type of person I was looking for. After that I knew I needed to up my game.
Selective Search costs way more than the other company, but there is a saying, you get what you pay for. I liked that the founder used to be an executive recruiter. I figured she knew how to find people.
What were the first steps? The company’s vice president of client relations flew to my city to have lunch with me, and we spoke for four hours. They told me up front it would be two to three months before I had my first date. They had to do due diligence and do the research. I also had to get a professional headshot, and we even went over outfit options.
How were the quality of the dates? Over two years I received 21 profiles of gentlemen, and I met eight in person. Everyone was educated, professional, the right age group. It was the personal connection you cannot vouch for. I flew to Houston to meet one man. He had impeccable credentials; he went to Harvard and MIT and was a successful businessman, but he had an ego taller than the Empire State Building. I went to Washington D.C., to meet another, but he didn’t know what he wanted.
My matchmaker was very methodical, and she had a pipeline. When I met someone, and it fell through, it didn’t take her very long to get to the next one.
Date 8, who I started talking to in June 2020, I knew was going to work right away. He lives about three miles from my house, but we never would have met. Our social circles were completely separate. Now we are on the path to marriage.
Suzanne Feinstone, 53, recently sold her family’s brewery in Memphis and Barry Cohen, 66, who is the president of a software company. They live in Memphis.
Matchmaker: Matchmaking by Leslie
Fee: She paid $450 to get six dates within a year. He did not pay. (The service now charges $600 for six dates plus a $50 consultation fee for the first meeting.)
Time Period: July 2013
How did you find your matchmaker? I had been divorced about a year earlier, and I was ready to start dating. Leslie Cohen Fargotstein, the matchmaker, is a friend of mine and she was over at my house, telling me about her business plan and all the ideas she had. I said, “Sign me up, I’ll be your first client.” She had no track record, but she was always talking about love and how she wanted to bring it to people.
Note: Ms. Feinstone and Mr. Cohen met in August 2013 and married in November 2017. Mr. Cohen already knew of the matchmaker, who is not related to him, because her husband had been the coach of his son’s youth baseball team.
How does the dating part work? She told me that she knew the perfect guy for me, but he had only been divorced a few months and was not ready to date. She thought he was perfect for me though, so she arranged a scenario where we could meet. She invited both of us, along with another couple, to a performance at B.B. King’s on Beale Street. We hit it off enough to go to dinner the next week. He was my first match, and I didn’t go on another date after that.
“She really worked every angle,” said Mr. Cohen of their matchmaker. “She arranged a way where I would feel safe to meet someone new. She read the situation right and made it happen.”
Was it love at first sight? I told Leslie at the beginning that if I am going to do this, I am going to be open and listen to what you say. I think if I would have just gone on one date with Barry, we wouldn’t have gotten married. We were both so nervous. She said I have to go on at least three, maybe four dates to really get to know him, and it was around date four that we really got comfortable with each other and had a real conversation.
“It took us a while to get real with each other,” said Mr. Cohen.
Would you recommend it to others? I gave my friend a matchmaking session for her birthday.
Mr. Cohen said open-mindedness is key. “You can’t say I want someone this height or with this hair, because your search will be too narrow. You also have to trust your matchmaker,” he said. “I think if it’s a dating service that just makes matches from an algorithm, it wouldn’t have worked.”
Would you have met otherwise? Our paths would have never crossed. Barry’s company is in Boston and he travels a lot.