Looking Off-line For Love
As surfing for love loses its luster, more singles
search out traditional matchmaking services to
meet their dream mates
By Nancy Claus Giles
Nine years ago, long before the Internet made its first match, the former Gail Behrendt of Stamford, CT, diligently worked all the angles available at the time to meet a man she could “click with.” She answered the personal ads in the newspapers, had friends fix her up, went to singles dances, joined a health club. But nothing worked. So she turned to The Singles Network, a matchmaking service with offices in Connecticut and New York.
“The owner, Dail Metzger, has this knack for matching people up,” says the now 50-ish vivacious blonde. “She is just like an old-fashioned matchmaker—very tuned into people. Every match she made for me was exciting, like this could be â€˜The One.’ Some men I only went out with once, some I dated for a few months, but it was always fun, always an adventure.”
After 18 months she met Roy Goldberg. “We found we had a lot in common, laughed a lot, and really clicked.” This past March they celebrated their eighth anniversary. “I’m extremely happy,” she says. “He’s my best friend. If it wasn’t for Dail, I don’t know what I’d do.” For Roy, co-owner of New Rochelle Physical Therapy, Gail was his first match. “I knew after about four dates that we were a good match.”
She’s not the only one to find love off-line. More recently, a 31-year-old elementary school teacher, Jen (she prefers not to use her last name so her students don’t tease her), met her “soul mate” on just her third date with The Singles Network. “Joe is exactly what I was looking for—he has the same values and morals as I do,” Jen says. “We’ve only been dating for three months, but it feels like we’ve been together for 10 years.”
In another case, Andrew (who prefers not to use his last name so his colleagues don’t tease him), a 47-year-old economist, rejoined the service in 2004. “It enables me to get into a different fishbowl, meet people I wouldn’t normally meet,” he says. “And when you pay a fee, there’s a certain level of commitment, so people in the network tend to be fairly serious about meeting a partner.” He did last September, meeting his match. “I immediately noticed that she radiated joy, was just a cheerful and happy person,” he says. “Her demeanor is contagious.” As of press time, they are still dating.
Meet Dail Metzger, chief Cupid at The Singles Network, the region’s oldest matchmaking service (it was founded in 1983; the previous owner met her match and moved out of the region with her new husband). Far from losing clients to the Internet, her business has quadrupled since then, from 250 to 1,000 clients at a time. She claims to have been responsible for hundreds of marriages, although that is difficult to verify, as happy clients drop out of the service after they’ve met their heart’s desire. “I’ve even been able to recycle some of my clients, introducing them to second spouses after first marriages end in divorce or death,” she says. “My clients are busy people with busy lives. They don’t have much time, but they want a relationship. Hiring me is like hiring a trainer in the gym—I’m your cheerleader, helping you find love.”
It’s an apt analogy. “I have a broker handle my finances; why not a matchmaker to help with my personal life?” reasons Debra deKoff, a 40-something management consultant and former senior executive on Wall Street who recently joined rival Great Date Now, an 18-month-old Westchester-based service with an office in Darien, CT. “I feel like I’ve hired a top pro to manage a large part of my life that I couldn’t do on my own. I’ve had five or six introductions so far and they have been quality, quality people,” she enthuses.
Great Date Now is owned by Gary Ferone and his wife Lisa, Match.com graduates who felt, despite their success in meeting online and marrying, that there had to be a better way for Westchester singles to connect. “The flaw in Internet dating is that you have to weed through a lot of people,” Gary Ferone says. “Nearly 80 percent of our clients, who range from neurosurgeons to schoolteachers, have tried Internet dating.”
So the two, he a former headhunter, she a real estate pro, decided to start their own dating service to take the work—and the danger—out of dating. Each client undergoes a background check to weed out felons, deadbeats, or cheating spouses. And they profess to be pretty picky. “We’re not here to fill up your social calendar but to find appropriate matches,” Ferone says. They turn away about a third of their prospects and usually won’t take clients if they still have hangups about their exes.
Sometimes they hit the nail on the head the first try. “I had a woman client, 55, recently divorced, who was looking for someone very specific,” Ferone recalls. “I sifted through about 60 candidates, but none of them struck me as a perfect match. Then a new male client came in that I thought would work. We called each of them on a Thursday; they were both available to meet the next day, so we made reservations for them at LaScala in Greenwich. We called each of them Monday morning to see how it went.” Very well, it seemed. The Friday night date carried over into Sunday and the couple is still together nine months later.
But typically it takes a while to refine the search. Michael Quest, 38, an insurance professional from White Plains, joined Great Date Now last October. “I had coffee with Gary,” he recalls, “and he spent a lot of time talking to me to find out exactly what I was looking for. I told him I wanted someone romantic and laid back and he introduced me to someone exactly like that. But she was too laid back.
“So I told Gary I wanted someone with more energy, who could share more of my interests,” Quest continues. “My second date was energetic—but too much so. So Gary and I talked again and he introduced me to Sandra—and she was just right.”
Three months later, Quest and Sandra had their names removed from the Great Date Now database. No one, Ferone says, has yet gone past the 10th introduction to find a satisfactory match.
Is it right for you? Matchmakers have been working their magic since the beginning of time, (and your mom and aunt of course are always around to put in their two cents worth), and there is clearly something to be gained with having a more or less objective person in your corner. If you think the fees are steep, think again. In Manhattan, the fees charged by Janis Spindel Serious Matchmaking begin at $20,000, according to a recent article in The New York Times Magazine; in addition, an extravagant marriage bonus is expected, should you hit gold. By comparison, $850 sounds like pocket change.
At minimum, these services offer exposure to people you wouldn’t otherwise meet. At best, you could find the love of your life. Not a bad deal.
Meeting My Match
So which form of dating is more successful: the Internet route or matchmaking services? The only way to find out was to try them both. As the only romantically unencumbered single on the editorial staff, I was elected to post a profile on the Internet, visit matchmaking services, check out their wares, so to speak, and then compare and contrast my experiences.
Match.com is the granddaddy of all online match services, so I checked it out first. The profiles can be personalized to an absurd level: you can specify a match between 3’1” and 8’11” tall as well as indicate certain turn-ons including tattoos, body piercings, and brandings (no, no! and don’t-even-think-it!). I filled out the profile, hit enter, and waited. And waited. Sorry, the screen informed me: we have no current matches. Really? The company claims to have eight million members, so either I filled the profile out incorrectly (a distinct possibility) or my search for a guy without tattoos, piercings, brandings, and the like from this database was futile.
The next site I browsed, eHarmony.com, doesn’t ask for physical preferences, but purports to use a more meaningful system it promises will match you up with your soul mate. Indeed, you need to spend about an hour filling out the incredibly detailed questionnaire asking about character traits, family background and values, and emotional temperament. Once you receive notice of a match, the system offers a high degree of anonymity, guiding potential matchees through a series of increasingly personal levels of communication until both parties decide to share phone numbers or actually meet face to face. You can choose at which level you want to reveal your photograph, if ever, and mismatches are easily deleted and most important, prevented from ever contacting you again. After only a month of using the service, I’ve met three appropriate matches and 30 inappropriate ones (most were geographically undesirable, some a tad too pushy, some just not for me, like the guy who was passionate about quantum physics; what is quantum physics?).
The matchmaking services promise to eliminate all that bothersome deleting of inappropriate matches. Both The Singles Network and Great Date Now say they focus on core values and personal goals rather than the physical (they won’t even offer a sneak peek of Mr. or Ms. Potentially Wonderful before your first date). The conventional wisdom is that people who pay out a sizable chunk of change for a dating service (about $1,200 a year upfront, versus about $50 a month for computer-based services) are going to be more likely to be looking for a serious relationship, rather than simply trolling for arm-candy dates.
The process for both firms starts with an extensive personal interview, which is a bit disconcerting for someone like me, used to asking all the questions. And the questions are disarmingly direct, covering taboo topics like age, income, religion, political views, physical likes and dislikes, height, and even weight (ouch!). They are curious about past relationships: What went right? What went wrong? It’s like a first date with Woodward and Bernstein.
Neither organization makes the matches by computer, but rely on gut instinct instead. They both ask for feedback after each date so they can further refine their search. It is extremely rare for a perfect match to occur the first time out. Be aware though, once you’ve met someone you like, you’re on your own. As Dail Metzger of The Singles Network put it: “I’m responsible for the first two minutes of your date. The rest is up to you.”
My experience? I was introduced to three eligible guys through the services and all were charming, successful gentlemen whose company I enjoyed; one even qualified as a great date. And I am anticipating an even better second date. That is all I’m going to say.
Bottom Line: Internet dating is worth a try; it is inexpensive, fun, and good practice for those long out of the dating game. And like the lotto: you never know when you’ll hit the jackpot. But for those interested in a serious relationship, money spent on an old-fashioned matchmaker may well be money well spent.
What To Expect From Each Service
The Singles Network
The Cost: $850 for six months; $1,300 for a year
The Promise: One to three dates per month
The Inventory: About 1,000 men and women, from mid 20s to mid 70s.
Added Service: Individual dating counseling and coaching for online dating via subsidiary company wehelpyoudate.com; $100 to $120 an hour.
111 Prospect St.
70 North St.
Great Date Now
The Cost: $1,195, no time limit
The Promise: Ten introductions over an unlimited period of time. Members can go on hiatus at any time to exclusively date a match.
The Inventory: About 400 men and women from age 27 to 84, 45 to 50 percent have been married before.
Added Service: Great Date Now conducts a thorough background check of clientele; handles all details of the first date including suggesting meeting places and making reservations.
1600 Harrison Ave.
The Cost: $2,500 for three months, $5,000 for six months
The Promise: Benjamin, a licensed master social worker, will work with you to find the most compatible matches.
The Inventory: Benjamin personally searches through the MatchmakingInstitute.com database along with her own private lists of people mostly between 25 and 50-something in Westchester and surrounding region.
Added Service: Dating and relationship coaching and online profile revision at $100 per hour.