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Matchmakers, Matchmakers, Making a Mint

The population of U.S. singles 15 and older (the Census Bureau's age cutoff) grew to 119.9 million in 2007 from 100.9 million in 2000 and 86.8 million in 1990, according to census data. The U.S. online dating market totaled $649 million in revenue in 2006, according to Jupiter Research, and is expected to reach $932 million by 2011.

Economists say it's not that people are spending more on dating, they're just willing to spend it differently. "Before they were spending money in bars or time at some boring community events," says Emir Kamenica of the University of Chicago. Now, he says, at least some of that money goes to dating services.

Take Nathan Ainspan, an industrial psychologist who sought the services of Bethesda dating coach Amy Schoen four years ago. His stats at the time: professional, established, outgoing, ready to settle down and pushing 40. And he did e verything-- the singles events, the social groups, Jewish networks, online dating sites.

"Frustration," he says, motivated him to hire the dating coach. "I was doing all the right things . . . under my logic, I should have met somebody."

He worked with Schoen on and off for two years and, in the end, she helped convince him that the woman of his dreams was one he was already dating. Was she right?

Ainspan displays the wedding ring on his left hand as evidence.

Sam, an Arlington County resident who asked that his last name not be used, isn't looking to get married right away. But he sauntered through Tysons Corner Center with his dating coach on a recent Sunday, just to get some practice talking to women. The 33-year-old accessibility consultant is new to the area and not all that happy with his dating life.

So, for $4,000, he'll spend three months under the tutelage of several AskRomeo coaches, who, through consultations and what they call "fieldwork," will attempt to increase Sam's ability to attract women. The dating school covers the practical -- teaching older clients how to send text messages, and why that's a skill that matters in contemporary relationships -- and the very personal -- grooming, hygiene and that all-important sense of self-worth.

So, over the course of three hours at the mall, Sam and coach Matt Garcell struck up conversations with about 20 women. Sam's line: "I'm wondering if you have any great suggestions" for a gift for Mom. If Sam can approach women here, in a setting where they're not used to being approached, Garcell says, he'll have an easier time at bars, parties and other social settings.

Sam's haul for the day: six e-mail addresses and a phone number.

Vienna-based True Life Partners, meanwhile, offers a more full-service approach.

The company introduces high-paying customers only to candidates who've been "pre-qualified for a relationship." Read: a person who has undergone a credit check, background screening, personal interview, in-house photo shoot, and height and weight verification, and completed a 388-question survey on everything from exercise habits to culinary preferences to other, uh, appetites.

"I'm not a therapist. I'm not a psychologist. I'm not a fairy godmother. I am, very simply, a personal recruitment coach," says Stephanie Rockey, a public relations and marketing executive who founded the company last year. And the price tag at her firm? Men pay $12,000 to $14,000, but ladies can date free.

Not everyone can afford the thousands of dollars most matchmakers charge, but bargain hunters might consider enlisting the services of Nancianne Sterling, an Arlingtonian who will polish your online dating profile for $59 or put together a new one for $150.

In no time, she changed "Looking4Smart1," a "a nice guy who works hard," to "IrishGent007," an intellectual explorer -- "Think Indiana Jones, but without the fighting!"

So far, at least, it's not possible to pay a hired gun to go on first dates for you. But the area is full of firms that will help you get ready. Take it from Steve Zaloga, who founded one such company.

"My hypothesis is that there are many great men and women in the D.C. area who can't market themselves," Zaloga says. "You have about seven seconds to make a good impression, then you're done."

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