There’s the fleet of online options: Match, OKCupid, eHarmony, Plenty of Fish, How About We. If sharing a religion is a priority, there’s JDate or Christian Mingle. If you’re too busy to date but not too busy to get busy, there’s Grindr and Tinder. Or maybe you want to date, but you don’t want to have to deal with, like, dating. And sure you want to meet new people, but you don’t want them to be strangers, so you’ve got your friend-of-friend apps: Coffee Meets Bagel, Hinge, Grouper.
This is all well and good for that 20-something crowd. But what if you’re not that millennial at the center of all the hip trend stories? So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe you ain’t that yooouuuung anymore? (Say you remember when that song was new.) Say you’re part of the biggest, yet least-discussed, burgeoning singles scene in town: the over-40, possibly never-married but, statistically speaking, probably divorced contingent, looking for a relationship. You work like crazy and you don’t have time to manage five online profiles and attend happy hours that go nowhere. Or you’re retired and the kids are out of the house but you’re not meeting anybody new. The last time you asked somebody on a date, you dialed them up on a rotary phone.
What’s a hopeless — but still hopeful — romantic to do? Call a matchmaker.
That’s what Sue, a six-years-divorced, 59-year-old retired physician living in Northern Virginia, decided to do. “I hadn’t dated since I got married, in 1986,” she said. “I needed to sort of venture out into the dating world, and online just seemed . . .” Her voice trailed off, as if to say, “You know what I mean.”
“Basically, to me, I could weed through the 30 million e-mails I got, or I could hire someone to do it,” she said. “And I looked at it as hiring an assistant to narrow down the pool, no different than if you were hiring someone for an office. And to present the people who would be appropriate.”
Sue hired Michelle Jacoby, the owner of DC Matchmaking and Consulting.
Jacoby got into the business in 2008, when she was divorced and “dating actively.” Jacoby’s parents suggested she consider hiring a matchmaker, but after doing extensive research in the D.C. area, Jacoby came up wanting. Itching for a career change and sensing an opening in the market, Jacoby pounced. She started her business in early 2009. Jacoby lives in Maryland and has been in the D.C. area for 48 years; Teresa Foss, who works with Jacoby full time, is Virginia-based and has been here for 16 years.
DC Matchmaking and Coaching takes on a small number of clients, “and we can match them to whoever we want to,” Jacoby explained, whether that’s one of the thousands of singles who join DC Matchmaking’s free database, another client or a good-looking stranger Jacoby spots at a bar while out to dinner with her husband.
The typical client is “highly successful, really, really busy, can easily get dates on his own if he wants to put time and energy into doing that, but the best answer as to why he’s using us is because he can,” Jacoby said. “He really wants someone to vet his dates, so when he goes it’s more likely to be a success.”
Clients range in age from early 30s to mid-60s, “probably because people in their 20s can’t afford it,” Jacoby said, although there are plenty of other explanations for why younger daters don’t hire matchmakers: They’re less likely to be in the marriage market, they were born fluent in Internet, and they tend to move around a lot, so meeting new people is almost an occupational hazard.
Jacoby’s fee varies, but “it’s thousands of dollars, not hundreds of dollars,” she said, and the rate depends on “the amount of work we’ll have to do to meet our client’s expectations.” If you’re a guy in his 40s looking to date a woman in her 30s, no problem. A man in his 60s who still wants kids? Better be prepared to bust open the piggy bank.
There are 24 clients on Jacoby’s roster, half of whom are “on hold,” which means they’re taking a break (they could be dating someone, traveling or just need a breather). “When I wake up in the morning, we’re responsible for 12 people. It’s just a very high level of service,” Jacoby said.
By design, 75 percent of DC Matchmaking’s clients are men. “It takes a lot more time and effort to resource quality men,” Jacoby said, whereas “women are more proactive. . . . Maybe 95 percent of the people in our database are women.” Most of her clients “either run their own companies or have high-level professional jobs. Most of our younger clients have never been married. Our over-40 clients are typically divorced.”
Jacoby co-founded a nonprofit organization, Matchmakers Alliance, which includes about 60 matchmakers around the world, primarily in the United States. “Matchmaking is very much a growing industry,” she said, in large part because of what she calls “online dating ADD. . . . There are hundreds of online dating choices. I think people just want to return to something personal.”
Matchmaking, Sue said, is appealing in large part because it’s a more “dignified” and “personal” alternative to online dating. “It’s sophisticated, efficient, effective. It’s private. You basically deal with [Jacoby]. It’s not like your profile is out there for everyone to see and people say, ‘Oh, I saw you on Match!’ Which is important. . . . I value my privacy.”
Sue cited the ever-growing acceptance of coaching culture, the idea that people will hire a consultant for just about anything: a nutritionist, a life coach, a personal trainer. Why not hire someone to help you manage your romantic life, too?
That’s how one middle-aged male real estate executive explained his choice to hire Jacoby. (Despite insisting that “I don’t think there’s a stigma associated with hiring a matchmaker,” he declined to use his name. “Any dating should have a certain discretion associated with it.”)
“You can hire a consultant for everything,” he said. And matchmaking “is 100 percent better than the relative randomness of online dating . . . [where] what you see is not necessarily what you get.” Jacoby’s fee, which he put at “anywhere between $10,000 and $20,000,” “sort of sorts out the squeamish.” He’s lived in the District for 15 years and hired Jacoby six months ago.
But is there something, well, unromantic about this whole thing? Outsourcing the dirty work of dating to someone else?
Our anonymous male matchmakee says, maybe, but who cares? “You watch a romantic comedy or some kind of romantic movie, and you see it all unfold in this gloriously spontaneous way. And it could happen like that, or it could happen like this. What’s the difference, if you’re going to meet someone to spend the rest of your life with?”