Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match
Feb. 8, 2010
Longing to find a connection this Valentine's Day? Learn what method could work best for you
By Katelyn Gendron
Reminder Assistant Editor
There are 107 million single adults living in the United States today and many of them have bought into the multi-billion-dollar matchmaking industry. Has the digital age really forced people to shop for their life partner online or through a local matchmaking firm, as opposed to relying on a serendipitous union?
I decided, with Valentine's Day fast approaching, to find out what a single gal has to do to find love these days; and if, in fact, dating Web sites and matchmaking companies are the most advantageous routes.
Are the myths surrounding online dating really true? Do only desperate people sign up? And should singles worry that a copycat Craigslist Killer is ogling their dating profiles plotting to kill them?
Online myth busters
According to Sam Yagan, co-founder and CEO of okcupid.com, the urban legends about online predators stealing peoples' kidneys to sell on the black market probably aren't true and neither are the myths that only desperate, lonely people use the Internet to date.
"I'm always so confused why online dating has such a stigma [attached to it]," Yagan said during an interview with Reminder Publications. "Back when online dating first started happening in 1995, the only people who were on there were nerds like me. The cool kids weren't even on computers [yet] ... People today will have had online profiles for ages.
"There's this whole dichotomy of online [dating] versus not dating online," he continued. "I use Amazon.com [for purchases] when that makes sense or go to a Macy's store when that makes sense."
Yagan encouraged people to date online and in real life, noting that neither is foolproof.
"It's not as if the bar does a background check. It's not like people lie online and not in real life," he said.
Yagan noted his site, like others such as www.eHarmony.com and www.plentyoffish.com, doesn't conduct criminal background checks; they depend on their clients to report bogus profiles. All three sites tell clients to use common sense when meeting someone from the site in real time.
"eHarmony's efforts are focused on empowering people to use good judgment and be responsible for their safety on eHarmony, as they would anywhere else," according to information released to Reminder Publications by eHarmony. "We use a two-pronged approach to identify people who misrepresent themselves or intend to harm others on our site. We have industry-leading technology and full-time staff dedicated to monitoring the quality and integrity of the user base. We also rely on our members to report suspicious or harmful behavior."
Kate Bilenki, director of love at plentyoffish.com, noted her site requires users to be "community-driven" and encourages them to protect one another by "reporting members they deem dangerous." She added the staff diligently reviews each complaint.
Benefits of local matchmakers
Lanie Delphin, owner of Mass Match Western Mass., has been helping singles find committed relationships for the past eight years.
She founded her firm after experiencing the benefits of dating services firsthand about 10 years ago. Delphin was in her 50s and divorced after 30 years of marriage, with few places to meet eligible bachelors, and decided to give a matchmaking firm a shot.
Dephin describes her business as intimate and detail-oriented, adding she doesn't care for dating Web sites.
"We're not on the Internet, so there's a big difference," she said. "A lot of people don't want their personal information on the Internet [and other] people are actually at home, married.
"When people join a local dating service, they're on the same page," Delphin continued. "The benefit [of local matchmakers] is that it is private and they have someone to talk to and coach them."
Delphin explained she asks clients to quickly fill out her questionnaire online, www.massmatch.com, and then she goes over each answer in detail with clients.
"I've been told that Internet dating can be like finding a needle in a haystack and a lot of work," she said. "People seem to love the personal approach."
There are 20 million users on www.Match.com, the highest rated online dating site, according to www.consumer-rankings.com -- talk about trying to find a needle in a haystack! The top five most popular sites among consumers include www.chemistry.com, with 14 million people, then www.perfectmatch.com with 11 million singles, followed by www.YahooPersonals.com, with 10.5 million users, and finally eHarmony with nine million people.
Smaller, free online dating sites such as www.okcupid.com and plentyoffish.com have one million and eight million active users in the United States, respectively.
Each site has its own matching algorithm based on a person's profile information, which helps to weed out incompatible users.
eHarmony uses their own matching system to pair singles based on 29 dimensions of compatibility such as social style, cognitive mode, relationship skills, physicality and more. The dimensions are based on compatibility research among married couples.
Yagan explained the matching algorithm on okcupid.com uses more than 640 million data points to search for matches.
"We have the best matching algorithm on the market," he said, adding that the more data points clients provide about themselves and their potential partner, the greater the chance for an appropriate match.
Yagan explained his site's approach to collecting such information has never been to use a lengthy, dull questionnaire.
"We make dating fun," he said. "Dating in the real world is a very social experience."
Yagan noted users can take personality tests or play icebreaker games to establish communication with others.
When asked how singles are paired on plentyoffish.com, Bilenki declined to comment, adding that it's a "trade secret."
Delphin explained she matches her clients based on commonalities such as life goals, education, religious beliefs and political values.
"Matching is all about compatibility," she said. "The more you have in common with someone, the easier it's going to be."
Delphin noted she also bases her pairings on each client's given parameters. She cautioned against setting parameters such as an age cap, adding, "Age has been shown to have no bearing on the success of a relationship."
"It's not about how tall they are or about how much they weigh," Delphin said. "I try to encourage people to go for the person who's going to be there for them."
Price of success
Dating Web sites and local matchmaking firms can cost absolutely nothing or more than $50 per month.
Choosing one site or firm over another is all about personal preference and circumstances such as discretionary income and the kind of relationship you're looking for -- a one-night stand, friendship or a life partner.
Dating sites such as okcupid.com and plentyoffish.com are based on a free business model with profits stemming from advertisers. Paid dating sites such as match.com, eHarmony.com and chemistry.com cost between $35 and $60 per month, without money-back guarantees.
Determining the success of each site or firm is subjective, depending on your definition of success.
Delphin, Yagan and Bilenki agreed that a successful match does not constitute marriage.
"Couples do not need to be married to be considered a success story," according to information released to Reminder Publications from eHarmony.com. "We hear from happy couples every day who are in every relationship stage -- from newly dating to married."
Yagan noted some clients use his site to locate travel companions or even roommates but the predominant use is to find a long-term relationship.
Bilenki noted that 800,000 relationships have been generated by plentyoffish.com but it is unknown how many of them graduate to marriage.
eHarmony boasts that 236 people marry each day as a result of their site, totaling two percent of new marriages in the United States.
Delphin explained her definition of success is if a couple can sustain the magic and chemistry between them.
She advised that new matches take their time getting to know one another and avoid the common pitfalls of dating.
"There are three ways people go wrong: sharing too much personal information too fast; sounding negative, bitter, angry or sad; and sounding too busy to date," Delphin explained.
"Putting yourself out there is brave," she continued. "I encourage [people] to stick their necks out ... to meet for coffee to see if they want to go out on a date."
Delphin suggests that when looking for a life partner you should ask yourself one thing: "Who's going to be there [for you] holding your purse or wallet?"
Personnel from international dating Web sites and those from local matchmaking firms agree that the common denominator for those seeking their services is a client's lack of time to date.
So what have I learned after weeks of speaking with local singles and personnel from numerous matchmaking companies around the country?
Hire a personal assistant because even though you think you don't have time to date, you'll be utterly consumed without him or her to keep up with all the e-mails, winks, pokes, instant messages, threads and video chats accompanied with your online profiles!
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