How to Date Like a Matchmaker
Dating apps have unequivocally transformed how most people approach romance and relationships. To some degree, the change is good: Finding companionship can be as straightforward as swiping right. However, despite more convenience and more choices, apps haven't necessarily made it easier to find love.
"Dating apps have made people way more available," said Lemarc Thomas, matchmaker and CEO of the Matchmaking Agency in Stockholm. "We have access to volume. In some ways, this is great, but in other ways, it can make it more difficult to settle down with one person. The paradox of choice. The more faces you swipe through, the less likely you are to choose any of them. The challenge with online dating is that we are not using these tools in the most 'human' way, yet we are hoping to find the most human thing: love. We need to slow it down. It's not a numbers game; it's about connection. We need to see these profiles as people and act in the way we would act with people around us, with our values at heart."
During the COVID-19 lockdown, when many singles felt particularly lonely, the popularity of dating apps soared. But more surprisingly, so did traditional matchmaking.
Though matchmakers have been around for centuries, TV shows such as the popular "Millionaire Matchmaker" and "Indian Matchmaking" have brought the profession back into the limelight. In April 2020, as Europe shuttered, Thomas said his agency's inquiries more than doubled compared with the previous year's period. This demand shows no signs of waning, he noted, and many of his peers report similar increases.
"We also experienced growth in the matchmaking industry during the financial crisis," he added. "I think that when we go through difficult times, we reflect on what is most important in life and relationships come out on top. During the pandemic, people had more time to invest in personal development. In addition, being so isolated made people's motivation to have a partner go up, but the opportunity to meet someone went down."
Susan Trombetti, matchmaker and CEO of Exclusive Matchmaking in Annapolis, Maryland, agreed, saying clients had expressed to her that the pandemic had prompted them to adjust their priorities. In addition to placing greater value on relationships, many rethought the "must-have" qualities of their perfect match.
"Singles suddenly realized what was important to them in a partner prior to the pandemic was no longer the same thing during and after lockdown," she said. "Lockdowns gave people time to think. They were lonely, and it became clear who they wanted with them on a deserted island. Suddenly, it was no longer about how tall someone was or where they went to school, but it was who was going to have your back in life, stick by your side, love you and make you feel safe."
Matchmaking can be exclusionary, with agencies charging between a few hundred dollars and $250,000 for an annual membership. However, you don't have to hire a professional to improve your prospects.
What are matchmakers looking for?
Though agencies differ in processes, most matchmakers first meet with their clients to get to know them and understand what they want from a relationship. Then they search for potential matches within a select pool.
Thomas explained that this process goes beyond finding two people with lots in common, which can make choosing a first date easier but isn't necessary for compatibility. In fact, he said, "complementary polarity can enhance attraction and passion." While it is important to share common interests, it's far more crucial that a couple share core values and worldviews.
Thomas outlined one key advantage of matchmaking over DIY dating. When two people meet, the initial spark typically entices one or both to lean in and learn more. While they'll likely learn about their date's hobbies and interests, they may not realize how or if they can meet the other's needs until months later, he said.
"The problem is that by then, you have already invested a lot of time and energy into the relationship and could end up spending 20 years struggling to meet each other's basic needs: 'I wish he could just say thank you more,' 'I just wish we could be closer and more intimate with each other,' and so on," he explained.
Matchmaking "turns the process upside down" by prioritizing the essentials rather than allowing chemistry to take the reins, Thomas said.
"Instead of chemistry leading us in the wrong direction, one can consciously select partners who can meet them on a deeper level," he continued. "This ensures that they have…the foundation of a stable relationship, and the chemistry and passion will fuel their relationship over time."
Research indicates that desire—including sexual desire—is vital to a happy partnership, and couples' intimacy often directly corresponds to relationship satisfaction. But the flood of feel-good hormones and sexual hunger that arise during the "honeymoon phase" naturally dissipates with time.
This is particularly true of long-term, committed relationships, where individuals' physical appearance, abilities and inclinations may change drastically. It's no coincidence a lack of sex and intimacy, and communication issues are among the top reasons couples cite for separation. Having a stable foundation and the ability to communicate evolving desires and needs is essential to maintain your spark.
Many matchmakers also coach clients to help them understand what they need to do to achieve their version of success and hold them accountable for taking that action.
"We are relationship experts who are conscious in our approach to great relationships," Thomas said. "We can hold a safe space for all the ups and downs, share laughter and joy, tears and frustrations. We gather feedback and make people aware of their blind spots. We are both cheerleaders and agony aunts, and sometimes we are there to give you a kick in the right direction."
Expert tips for better dating
Here are four matchmaking tips to help you find the perfect partner:
Stop boxing yourself in
Multiple experts, including Amber Lee, matchmaker and CEO of Select Date Society in Richmond, Virginia, said one of the most common mistakes singles make is going for the same "type" without giving others a chance.
"Our brains tend to gravitate toward what is familiar, which means you will be drawn to the same type of person over and over, even if that type is not good for you," Lee explained. "Matchmakers often help people get out of their own way by pushing them outside of their comfort zone and introducing them to someone they would have never picked on their own. Some of my favorite success stories are from clients who have thanked me for pushing them to meet someone that they originally said they weren't interested in."
Look beyond the photo
"When you're on dating apps, how often do you make snap judgments based on a photo?" Lee said. "We often make up entire scenarios just by looking at someone's photo. Real relationships happen when you get to know someone, and you can't do that by simply swiping through photos. Stop prejudging people and meet in real life to see if there is a connection before dismissing someone who could end up being 'the one.'"
Lee added that many singles overemphasize qualities such as weight, hair color and height, and while physical attraction is important, limiting yourself to one physical type could have you missing out.
Catfishing is not OK. And even if you aren't fully stealing another person's identity, failing to be your authentic self in hopes of reeling in a match could set you up for heartache.
"It's human nature to adapt to fit in," Thomas said. "This is one of the biggest mistakes people make when dating: adapting in order to be liked. The best strategy to meet a long-term partner is to be more you. It might mean fewer connections, but when you find one that really feels good, you'll know it's because you're being accepted for who you are."
"Narrow down your list of must-haves," Lee said. "You will never meet someone who fits 100 percent of the criteria you think you need in a partner. Throw out the list of 100 qualities you are looking for. Instead, make a list of three to five qualities that are your top priorities and focus on that."
She said other essential qualities include the ability to laugh together and a shared sense of purpose, whether that's building a family together, supporting each other's career goals or initiating philanthropic efforts.
"Take stock in what matters," Lee explained. "Do you want a dependable husband who is a great father? Does the fact that he's 5-feet-9 or 6-feet-2 really impact that? At the end of the day, finding the right partner has much more to do with values and lifestyle than it does with height or weight. Make sure you approach dating with a focus on what's truly important."