During the thick of the pandemic, COVID-era restrictions caused apps like Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge to surge in popularity as people tried their hand at Zoom dating. But even though the dating world is now (somewhat) back to normal, many singles still feel off their game: More than 60 percent say dating is harder than before COVID-19, according to the Pew Research Center.
Enter matchmaking, a centuries-old practice that may be particularly well-suited to tackle the dating woes of today.
Popular culture gave us Yente in “Fiddler on the Roof,” and, more recently, the Netflix sensation “Indian Matchmaking.” Now, modern matchmakers are offering a low-tech option for singles who find themselves “back out there in the land of the living” now that we are post(ish)-pandemic, said Jill Vandor, a Boston-based matchmaker with the service LunchDates, which has been around for decades.
For some people looking for love, getting one-on-one attention, insights, and hand-picked matches from another human being can be more appealing than the algorithmic barrage and privacy concerns that come with dating apps — especially after virtual courtship was the only option for a stretch.
And for many Boston-area matchmaking services, business is booming.
“The matchmaking business as a whole has been on fire,” said Vandor, who said she has seen more than a 25 percent bump in business compared to pre-pandemic figures. “Especially here in Boston, people walk fast, talk fast — everything’s really fast-moving, and then COVID kind of stopped everything, and that really made people evaluate what was important to them.”
What it was that many landed on, it seems, is finding a relationship: Match’s most recent Singles in America study, released in November, found that 48 percent of singles say they are now “more eager” to find a partner. Whereas dating apps gave rise to “hookup culture,” the pandemic spurred a push toward “conscious dating,” or a motivation to build more deliberate connections, the Match survey said, as pandemic-era restrictions ruled out spontaneous, casual encounters.
And conscious dating just so happens to be matchmakers’ specialty. Matchmaking services typically interview clients — either in person or, as COVID necessitated, over Zoom — to gauge things like must-have qualities, deal breakers, political leanings, and religious affiliations before setting them up on dates.
This prescreening is designed to better the chances of a compatible match, weed out superficial daters, and give clients a manageable number of prospects — a far cry from the deluge of online dating profiles that incites “swiping fatigue” for some users. Depending on the service, some matchmakers also schedule dates for clients, give them wardrobe rentals, and photograph them for their profiles.
“Especially on dating apps, you’re kind of looking for a quick connection, and with this process, we really just slow it down,” said Nia Divris, a Boston-based matchmaker with Three Day Rule, whose company has seen a 75 percent increase in business from pre-pandemic figures.
But this slowed-down process doesn’t come cheap: Matchmaking rates vary by service, but typically cost thousands of dollars (Three Day Rule, for instance, has a floor of $5,900, while LunchDates typically starts at $3,000). To create a large pool of possible candidates, most matchmakers run databases that are free to join — though unlike signing up as a client, there is no guarantee of a match.
But what some clients are paying for is safety — a concern regarding dating apps that predated the pandemic. Tara Goodwin, who lives in Walpole and runs a PR firm, became a client of LunchDates after enduring several unsavory experiences with dating app matches. Turning to a matchmaking service, where potential suitors are vetted first, gave her peace of mind.
“They get a good sense of who they are before they even introduce you, so they’re one step ahead already,” said Goodwin, who met her partner of three years, Tony, through LunchDates in 2019, after six other introductions.
Susie MacDowell, who runs the Boston-based matchmaking service Susie Q Matchmaking, said privacy is the “number one” reason clients seek out her services. And this includes so-called digital natives; her clientele used to run in the 40- to 60-year-old crowd, but as of late, it’s been “all over the board,” including those in their mid to late 20s.
In addition to vetting and pairing off matches, many matchmakers also serve as dating coaches, discussing with clients why previous partners didn’t work out, what their ideal partnership looks like, and how to end a setup that’s not working out. For Veena, her matchmaker was “almost like a therapist,” she said, and she believes “that relationship is really what helped me find my husband.”
This one-on-one approach aligns well with a broader cultural push toward personalized services, said Kerry Cronin, a Boston College philosophy professor who made headlines years ago for giving extra credit to any student who asked someone on a date. Whereas dating apps tend to become “more noise in our lives,” Cronin said, matchmakers may be better equipped to help clients rewrite the “lost social scripts” of dating.
“[People are] willing to pay a high price for their fancy coffee, they’re willing to pay for a private trainer,” said Cronin. “It’s the rise of the individualized, curated experience.”
Now, the question is whether the allure of matchmaking will fade as singles continue to recover from the aftershocks of the pandemic. Jill Hinckley, who runs Hinckley Introductions, a matchmaking service with offices in Chestnut Hill and Portland, Maine, sees an excitement among prospective clients that she hopes will endure.
“They’ve been home. They’ve been on apps. They’ve done probably a bunch of Zoom dates, and they know now what they’re looking for. They’re really serious. I find that people, they’re not playing games. They’re very real now,” she said. “Because they’ve had all this time to think about it.”