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When a friend told me she was spending $5,000 on a professional matchmaker, I gawked at her and didn’t understand. I was surprised that modern-day matchmakers exist, but was even more surprised that my friend—let’s call her Emily—would have a hard time dating.
Emily is a cute platinum blonde with large blue eyes, a perfect smile, musical talents that land her well-paid gigs, and a genuinely good heart. For the last four years, she’s been serving the homeless every Thursday night, and she gets up at 5:30 every morning to work out for an hour before dashing to work. All that shows heart, drive, and passion. So why did she need to spend $5,000 on a matchmaker? In this age when online dating tools such as Tinder and Match open up virtually limitless options, why do modern-day matchmakers still exist?
But Emily said that whatever she’s been doing so far hasn’t worked, and that she was done with dating. “I’m ready,” she declared. “I’m ready to meet my person.” She wanted to find that man who’ll wake up next to her every morning, that man who’ll kiss her good morning even with her morning breath.
In fact, at 34 years old, Emily had been ready for a while. But somehow, for whatever reason, her person hadn’t shown up. She’d been in serious relationships and gotten her heart broken twice. She’d tried meeting people in real life. She’d swiped through countless pictures on the latest dating apps. So now, she was going old school—outsourcing dating to a matchmaker who would weed through the frogs and set her up with Prince Charming.
I got curious, so I pitched a story about matchmaking to my editors. Now I’m interviewing local matchmakers in Los Angeles, interviewing former matchmaker clients who are now married with kids, and interviewing singles who are still attempting online dating with little success. For the sole purpose of research, I joined Tinder, the most popular dating app among millennials, to see what the dating market is like out there.
For a day, I swiped through hundreds of Tinder profiles of men within a 50-mile radius of me. Here’s what I concluded: Men have no idea what women want. I swiped left, or dismissed, way too many selfies of sweaty men in armpit-stained T-shirts pumping iron in gyms. Some thought it was a fine idea to post pictures of their abdominal muscles—with their faces cut off—in tighty-whitey briefs. Others arranged their facial muscles into a GQ magazine glower while flexing their rectus femoris and wearing Speedos (dude, that’s so 1960s). And it flabbergasts me how many men think it’s a turn-on for women to see their future boyfriends draping their arms around scantily clad blond women.
Looking at these men aged 20-45 trying so hard to capture a woman’s attention depressed me. The thought that some women might actually swipe right and indicate their interest in some of these profiles also depressed me. No wonder old-fashioned matchmaking services are making a comeback, even as tens of millions of users log on to Tinder each day. And as I ask around, people are telling me that many of these dating challenges boil down to one timeless question: What do women want?
A male friend asked me that same question, and I answered half-jokingly, “All we want is for you men to be able to know exactly what we’re thinking and feeling without us having to explain to you how our brains work, because most of the time we don’t even understand how they work. We want you to ask us what we want, but we also don’t want you to ask—you’re just supposed to know. Make sense?”
I meant to be facetious, but the more I thought about it, and the more I listened to my girlfriends talk about the men in their lives, I realized there’s some truth to that convoluted, nonsensical-sounding statement: We women are complex—wonderfully, maddeningly, hair-ripping-out complex. We’re so complicated, sometimes even we don’t know what we want. And matchmaking agencies know that. Which is why so many refuse to accept female clients.
One matchmaker, whose company has gone nationwide from Los Angeles to Chicago to Boston since she started it in 2010, told me men are easier clients because they typically seek just a few things: They want a woman they’re attracted to, someone warm and nurturing, and someone who’s passionate about something. “But women,” she said with a laugh, “we have this idea in our head: We want sexy, 6-foot-2 tall, perfect teeth, perfect family, six-figure income, and an Ivy League education.”
Men list maybe three main things they want in a wife that rarely change. Women demand about 75 must-have qualities in a man that constantly seem to change. Matchmakers tell me that a major part of their job involves convincing their female clients to give a guy outside of their criteria a chance. And most of the time, these women end up marrying someone they might have otherwise never even looked at sideways.
I remember my mother once telling me that when she first met my father she didn’t think he was all that hot. But his sister—my mother’s best friend and matchmaker—spoke highly of him, so my mother agreed to a date. They went out for noodles. At the restaurant, my mother watched my father slurp up a humongous bowl of anchovy-broth noodles using chopsticks—and she thought, “Wow, that’s a man.” Who knew my mother would find a man’s appetite for noodles attractive? She sure didn’t. And now they’ve been married 33 years, my father still loves his noodles, and my mother still thinks he’s the most handsome man on earth.
So what do women want? We don’t always know. We’re complex, you know. Sometimes, that drives men crazy. And sometimes, the utter simplicity of a man’s brain drives us women crazy. And admit it—that’s why we like each other.