“Oh, we’re shameless,” Goldstein said. “We’ll go up to anybody, do whatever it takes.” Nobody has ever reacted negatively to TDR’s offers to matchmake them, she said. After all, it’s always nice to be noticed, and people don’t seem to notice each other much anymore—everyone’s too busy looking down at their phones.
That’s why half of the matchmaker’s job involves coaching clients on how to date well. Julie Ferman, a matchmaker in Los Angeles and Santa Fe, N.M., has worked in the dating industry since 1990. She says she used to be able to count on men to call women to plan a date, but now she has to arrange the first date for her clients, from coordinating schedules to making reservations.
She also has to untangle the many knots from long-term online dating: Many clients come to her jaded and bitter from bad dating experiences, and “that’s not sexy at all,” Ferman tells them. She encourages clients to be open-minded and teachable and realistic, because how they’ve dated hasn’t worked so far. One 74-year-old male client, for example, refused to date women older than their 50s. When Ferman matched him up with a 64-year-old woman, he met and liked her, then balked when he found out her age—and so did that woman. Another female client requested a 6-foot-2-inch man, yet she’s only 5-foot-4. Ferman constantly has to remind her clients, “The best catch in the room is not the best-looking woman or the wealthiest man.”
MATCHMAKERS ALSO TELL ME tell me one of the challenges of modern dating is changing gender dynamics. More women are earning university degrees than men, and while women’s wages are increasing relative to men’s wages, many male-dominated jobs are disappearing. Yet most women want a man who’s better-educated and better-paid than they are. Those men are getting harder to find, and the ones who fit their criteria are also incredibly picky in other ways.
That means matchmakers often have to persuade clients to consider changing their criteria. When Kelleher first hired TDR, she thought she was going to be an easy client. She told her matchmaker that she didn’t care if the guy was bald, chubby, or wrinkled. She wanted her match to be Jewish like her, someone who wants to be a husband and a father, someone who’s close to his family, someone who drinks socially but doesn’t do drugs.
Then she received her match, “and I didn’t know what to do with him.” She liked everything about David’s profile, but he was blond and blue-eyed, and she had never in her life dated someone so blond and fair. So she told her matchmaker no. Her matchmaker pushed back: “This guy is everything you’re looking for. He may not be your type, but your type hasn’t worked for you so far.” Kelleher agreed to meet him for a drink but says she had already decided they wouldn’t have chemistry.
People seem so distracted swiping for the next taller, wealthier guy, the next hotter, sweeter girl, that they don’t view a potential date as an individual but as another profile.
They met at a bar. Kelleher ran fashionably late as usual, and when she arrived, she saw David waiting for her outside. He was wearing jeans that fit him well and a button-down shirt with the sleeves slightly rolled up, revealing strong, muscular forearms. When Kelleher approached him, he looked up from his phone and smiled—and that was when Kelleher tossed aside any reservations she once had: “Second I saw him, I was like, ‘Dang, he is hot!’”
Kelleher’s date with David lasted five hours, with conversations flowing naturally into topics such as politics, religion, and family. Later, as they weaved through a thick crowd in the restaurant, David turned around and grabbed her hand to help her through—“and I melted,” Kelleher recalled: “It showed he was assertive, but it was also a very thoughtful, gentlemanly gesture, and I felt like that was kind of hard to find these days.”
After 11 months, David proposed on a gondola in Venice, Italy, and Kelleher said yes. They married in November 2015, and today Kelleher, now 37, has a 15-month-old blond-haired son who’s the spitting image of David. Had it not been for her matchmaker, Kelleher said, “David could be standing right in front of me and I wouldn’t have given him the time of the day.”
Not everyone has a good experience with matchmaking, however. My Le, a 34-year-old elementary school teacher in Los Angeles, had also “done it all.” Le, like many young Christian women, prayed hard about her future life partner. She believed God would open the door “if it’s meant to be,” but that she had to put in the work of putting herself out there, too.
At the time, Le attended a small church in Orange County, and most people her age there were already dating each other. She tried eHarmony, Match, and speed-dating, but most of the guys she found online weren’t committed Christians, and their cheesy, sometimes creepy pickup lines turned her off. Also, talking to multiple guys at the same time confused her, and Le had to be very careful not to mix them up.
So when a friend told her about a local Christian matchmaking company (that’s now defunct), she perked up. Maybe that’s how God would open the door for her, Le thought. She found comfort in the idea that the matchmaker professed to pray over every match, and she agreed to pay $4,000 for her matchmaking services.
But Le got only a total of two dates from that service. The first match showed up 20 minutes late to Starbucks, and then fumbled to pay for their drinks with three different gift cards. Le never saw him again. The second match took place at a nice Italian restaurant, but Le felt she and the guy had nothing in common. Her matchmaking service offered coaching, but she only got to talk to the dating coach once on the phone and didn’t feel their talk was helpful. “I feel like I was swindled,” Le told me.
Le returned to online dating. She tried an app called Coffee Meets Bagel, which limits the number of profiles a user can view each day. “By that point, I was going to give up on the dating stuff,” Le recalled. “I was at the end of my ropes.” Then a friend pinged her the profile of a guy named Kevin. After 11 days of texting and phoning, Le and Kevin met at a poke restaurant.
After dinner they continued their conversation at an Asian bakery next door. Le thought he looked cute in his black wool peacoat, and she thought he was even cuter when, before they said goodbye, he loaned her DVDs of the movies she had mentioned she hadn’t seen. “Does this mean we’re going to see each other again?” she asked playfully. He grinned back: “Yeah!” Within seven months, they were talking seriously about marriage. They married in October 2016.
As the booming market for matchmaking services shows, dating is not easy. Modern daters blame the maze of online dating, the increasingly self-focused culture, and shifting gender roles—but was there ever a time when relationships were easy? When two individuals open their hearts to one another, they risk heartbreak, rejection, and disappointment. That’s a risk even a matchmaker can’t prevent.