How Matchmakers Work

Fiddler on the Roof
The popular musical "Fiddler on the Roof" helped usher Jewish matchmakers into pop culture. GAB Archive/Getty Images

In Orthodox Jewish communities, matchmakers have paired up couples for centuries, but their niche profession entered into the American pop culture lexicon in 1964. That year, the musical "Fiddler on the Roof" debuted on Broadway, scoring nine Tony Awards and being adapted into a 1971 Academy Award-winning film [source: Berkvist]. Among the popular show tunes included in the production, the wistful "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" features a girl named Tzeitel pining for a handsome, romantic suitor, rather than a dispassionate arrangement. Cultural tradition would have dictated that a local matchmaker named Yenta find a prospective husband for Tzeitel, rather than allowing fate -- and sexual chemistry -- to take its course.

Set in the early 1900s, "Fiddler on the Roof" takes place during a time when marrying for love was still a relatively new phenomenon even outside of cloistered religious communities. Until the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution in the West, marriage was widely perceived as an economic tool rather than an amorous union [source: DePaul]. From nobility on down to the lower classes, parents strategically fixed up their children in order to secure or expand property, reap wealth from bridal fees called dowries, continue blue bloodlines and, in families rich in daughters and short on cash, to alleviate the financial burden of having to feed and clothe women whom at the time couldn't strike it out on their own. Historically, marriage in which two people meet serendipitously and get hitched is very much the exception to the rule. Although Yenta the matchmaker in "Fiddler on the Roof" is portrayed as the enemy of Tzeitel's girlish longing, her role of scheduling nuptial destiny is far more common than an audience might think.


Around the world, roughly 60 percent of marriages are arranged, often mediated by families as the result of cultural or religious custom [source: Toledo]. In laxer American society, setups are still routine. Just under 30 percent of heterosexual couples were first introduced by mutual friends playing Cupid [source: Rosenfeld]. An increasing number of people also have turned to the Internet to seek out long-term relationships, and as of 2009, online dating sites that serve as virtual matchmakers were the second-most common way for couples to meet; 61 percent of same-sex couples, in fact, found each other online [source: Rosenfeld].

But when all else fails -- or if there simply aren't enough hours in the day to hunt for a soul mate -- people can still call up their nearest Yenta and get a professional matchmaker on the case.


Modern Matchmaking and the Business of Love

Unlucky in love? It might be time to call in an expert.
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By 2015, online dating had ballooned into a $2 billion global industry with millions of Americans crafting clever profiles, filling out surveys and scrolling through pages of singles in hopes of stumbling on a special somebody [source: Strauss]. Dating sites have become a routine facet of modern love, no longer the stigmatized virtual outlet for only the most desperate or undesirable. Real-world matchmakers attribute much of their face-to-face businesses' success with the popularity and attendant drawbacks of online dating [source: Hicken]. Many anecdotes from men and women who have turned to professional matchmakers include online dating horror stories that compelled them to hand over their love lives into more responsible hands than the Internet.

The Matchmaking Institute, possibly the only place in the U.S. which trains people in the fine art of fixing up, estimates that there are 3,000 such professionals in the United States as of 2014, and that number has likely risen since then [source: Lucadamo]. The industry is dominated by women who may have been formally trained through the Matchmaking Institute, parlayed expansive social networks into a profitable service, or inherited the itch to teach adults how to date from a familial interest in matchmaking.


One of the most famous matchmakers in the United States and star of the hit reality television series "Millionaire Matchmaker," Patti Stanger began getting couples together in the seventh grade [source: Garone]. Her early start isn't terribly surprising, either, considering both her Jewish mother and grandmother established themselves as local matchmakers in her New Jersey hometown. Meanwhile, Janis Spindel, founder of Manhattan-based Serious Matchmaking, Inc., ditched a career in the fashion industry after reportedly pairing up 14 serious couples in a single year [source: Rowland]. Both claim impressive results: Stanger reports a 99 percent success rate, and Spindel says she has sealed the deal on more than 900 couples since 1993 [sources: Garone, Rowland].

Name-brand professional matchmakers like Stanger and Spindel also do well for themselves financially. Unlike online dating sites that are free to join or charge nominal fees, professional matchmakers don't cater to a frugal crowd. Stanger's Millionaire's Club, for instance, costs $45,000 for a yearlong membership, but clients can fork over more than $100,000 for the "platinum package," which features more personalized services and individualized attention. For a more representative price point, matchmaker clients typically spend about $5,000 per year on these dating services [source: Coffey].


The Professional Matchmaking Process

Professional matchmakers used to cater exclusively to wealthy men.
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Professional matchmaking used to be a service used almost exclusively by wealthy men with the disposable income to have someone else sort through the choppy waters of the dating pool on their behalf. Many matchmakers, including New York's Janis Spindel, work exclusively with male clients, and the standard business model was largely built on the premise of bringing potential brides to rich, single men. But that guy-seeking-girl tide has turned, and just as many -- if not more -- gainfully employed women have begun turning to matchmakers to make their romantic dreams come true [source: Froelich]. Industry statistics report women typically comprise 60 percent of matchmaker customers, in fact [source: The Matchmaking Institute].

Matchmakers attract clients in one of two ways. People will either seek them out through advertisements, online searches or word of mouth, or matchmakers will proactively recruit wedding-band-free singles at parties, high-end restaurants, airports and other places where affluent adults congregate [source: Spindel and Raymond]. Before potential clients purchase an official membership, matchmakers will often conduct an initial consultation, sometimes for a nonrefundable fee, to find out what type of relationship they're interested in and with what type of person. From there, the official process will begin, and membership dues will be paid; or a matchmaker may refer the person to another service better tailored to his or her interests. Fetching men and women on the other side of the set-up equation who wish to be included in a matchmaker's bank of potential date picks for clients may come directly from the professional's social network, or they may attend formal recruiting sessions or auditions [source: Thernstrom]. Those ladies- and gentlemen-in-waiting may also fork over a fee to get a spot on one of those matchmaker lists.


To determine the best possible coupling, a matchmaker will first dive into a client's romantic psyche by finding out information, including:

  • Family background
  • Educational background
  • Hobbies and interests
  • Religious background and observances
  • Personal values and morals
  • Whether and how many children he or she wants
  • Previous relationships and relationship deal-breakers

As matchmakers scroll through their phone contacts to find ideal suitors, clients may undergo more prep work to prepare them for the dating process. Particularly with higher-end services, matchmakers will double as dating coaches, teaching clients how to spark conversation, avoid dicey topics and wean them away from negative interpersonal habits, such as excessively talking about themselves rather than focusing on the other person. Makeovers may also be in order, and image consultants may assist clients with sprucing up their wardrobes, addressing unflattering hairstyles and sculpting their bodies.

Getting clients into the dating mix will vary, depending on the matchmaker. Some serve as escorts to parties and introduce them around to appropriate singles; others may arrange events specifically for clients to meet a number of men or women on their dating rosters. Or, if a matchmaker has somebody in mind who seems like a good fit for the man or woman in question, a one-on-one date may be arranged. After a first date, the matchmaker will check in with each party to find out how things went from both perspectives, which allows the matchmaker to gauge whether a client needs more date coaching or if the match can move forward. The best-case scenario is for an arranged couple to hit things off and eventually head down the aisle, but those looking for love shouldn't expect things to happen overnight. Generally, these pricey interventions last for at least a year, which is far longer than matchmakers in other cultures expect couples to get to know each other before making a lifelong commitment.


Religious and Cultural Matchmaking

Arranged marriage remains common in India and other Southeast Asian countries.
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Religious faith has long held a strong link to matchmaking and arranged marriage. In Jewish tradition, God was the original matchmaker, creating Eve out of Adam's rib so that the two could share company and procreate [source: Kadden and Kadden]. Therefore, matchmakers held a prominent position in Jewish history. Fathers customarily bore the responsibility of selecting adequate grooms for their daughters and might request assistance from a local matchmaker, or shadchan, to seek out an eligible bachelor. Matchmakers may then team up with rabbis to pair young men and women in the community, something that still takes place in orthodox communities.

The Torah dictates payment to a shadchan, but that doesn't always happen; some Jewish matchmakers will refuse to accept any remuneration, considering it their divine calling they pursue as a form of charity [source: Sherwood]. Similar to secular professional matchmakers, Jewish shadchans might inquire around to find out about a young man's character, personality, religious observance, family and professional prospects before proceeding with the fix-up. Jewish matchmaking focuses more on shared family background and kindred morals than romantic attraction, and, likewise, the relationship-building is reserved for the post-nuptial years. For that reason, once the preordained couple meets, they aren't expected to carry out an extended courtship, and the young man may pop the question after only a couple months, if not sooner.


In Southeast Asia, arranged marriage remains a common custom, and the family often functions as matchmaker. With marriage a cornerstone establishment of the Hindu faith, the matchmaking tradition has existed in India, for instance, since the fourth century, and even in the 21st century, about 90 percent of Indian marriages are set up [source: Toledo]. Boys' families are generally the ones that initiate a search for a bride and may also solicit a matchmaker to ensure that a girl's family line and astrological signs are compatible [source: Flanigan]. Younger, more urban generations have sought more autonomy in their romantic lives, but even in the United States, some Indian singles continue to keep the family involved in their marital decisions, allowing them to vet or even choose potential suitors [source: Jain].

Marriage can also be a group effort within Muslim communities around the world as well. Older women nicknamed "aunties" and family members may play matchmaker by identifying potential mates in their social networks [source: Abdulrahim]. Afterward, relatives arrange chaperoned meet-ups between the possible bride and groom. If it isn't a match, however, either party is permitted to give a thumbs down on the marriage-to-be, in accordance with stipulations in the Koran [source: DePaul and Williams].

Though match-made marriage might seem archaic by Western standards, statistically, they're far more successful than love-made unions. As the United States decries its abysmal divorce rate that hovers around 50 percent, a slim minority between 5 and 7 percent of arranged marriage dissolve, which could be partially attributed to cultural, religious or legal restrictions against divorce [source: Toledo]. Consequently, that stark gap has led some to wonder whether people are all that good at picking partners, or whether outside parties can better spot a long-term spouse.


The Science of Matchmaking

People might not know kind of partner they really need.
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Whether matchmakers play Cupid as a profession to make money, an adherence to religious doctrine or a following of cultural custom, they often share a common ingredient of how to spot Mr. or Ms. Right: common background. Generally, matchmakers will seek out people who come from similar socioeconomic stratums, nearby geographic locations, identical education levels and so forth. These unromantic basics are the primary determinants of whether a matchmaker foresees a fit, and for good reason. Although "opposites attract" has become a well-trod trope, and unlikely pairings seem to make for the most enchanting stories, those are the exceptions to the rules of human mating. The tried-and-true bond of long-term relationships isn't a fleeting sexual fizzle but mutual upbringings and experience, or assortative mating in academia speak [source: Toledo]. Mutual attraction and interpersonal chemistry are merely the set dressings that transform a platonic relationship into a loving one for the long haul.

The Westernized notion of marrying for love and passion might actually be an example of the blind leading the blind. Caught up in the dizzying sparkle of the moment, people might not realize that the foundational aspects of long-term relationships are missing and look before they leap over the threshold into marriage. And while the lovelorn might have an ideal list of qualities they believe add up to their perfect partner, research suggests that those must-haves might be off-base [source: Gerstel].


A study published in 2008 in the journal Evolutionary Psychology highlighted a disconnection between the types of partners participants idealized and the specific qualities they sought out [source: Dijkstra and Barelds]. Whereas men and women described their dream dates as having a similar personality, the components of what they were looking for -- conscientiousness, extroversion, stability -- were more complementary, leading the researchers to conclude that people may lack self-awareness in understanding the type of person who would best suit their needs.

On the other hand, romantics can take heart in a 2012 analysis of online matchmaking published in the journal Psychological Science. Virtual matchmakers pair up profiles on the basis of complementary personality traits and interests, but lead author and Northwestern University psychologist Eli Finkel found the algorithms lacking [source: Herbert]. While both online and real-life matchmakers can follow the rules of assortative mating, they nevertheless miss out on the spice that distinguishes friends from lovers: relationship aptitude. In short, relationship aptitude denotes the combination of life factors, personality and interests that ignites a unique chemistry and desire for intimate companionship between two people. It's the secret ingredient in the otherwise predictable recipe for compatibility.

Professional matchmakers are trained to predict whether people will discover relationship aptitude, but it can be hit or miss, of course. By helping clients, family or friends sharpen their sights toward potential partners who have those foundational assortative mating criteria, however, they can very well prod the willing toward a happily ever after.


Lots More Information

Author's Note from Cristen

I'll admit that I don't have a lot of personal faith in matchmakers. No, I've never employed the services of a professional matchmaker, but anecdotal evidence from friends attempting to play Cupid suggests that it isn't so easy to set up people successfully. Nevertheless, matchmaking is big business these days, whether it's through online dating or real-life professionals who earn their livings from steering people toward romance. An examination into the matchmaking process also reveals that it isn't so much about lining up dates but helping ensure that clients are fully prepared for the dating world, understanding how to conduct and present themselves to potential partners. After all, romance is far more complicated when people are expected to follow their hearts rather than follow the steps toward arranged marriage and nod their heads to a pre-selected partner.

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