If you’re single and don’t necessarily want to be right now, the landscape of 2020 has likely had an impact on your dating life. Almost certainly, at least, these pandemic times have shifted how you go about meeting potential partners: Maybe you typically rely on dating apps for meeting new people, but you no longer feel safe pursuing an IRL date in light of COVID-19 concerns—so, so long, Tinder. Or maybe you’re happy to use dating apps, but they’re more of a means to combat the loneliness that can come from being in isolation. Given this large-scale personal shift in dating, it stands to reason that COVID-19 surely must have changed daily operations for matchmaking businesses, as well.
Is business up or down for these pros who use their networks and reach to place love-seekers in successful partnerships? Furthermore, what do the changes in the way they do their job say about general dating habits and preference in the time of the coronavirus?
According to several matchmakers, business has remained strong after a short-lived lull at the beginning of widespread quarantine in the spring. Meaning? The pursuit of love seems to be heartwarmingly pandemic-proof. “There were a couple of weeks at the beginning [of lockdown in March] when people were understandably pausing everything, including thinking about meeting people and spending [money],” says Claire AH, a matchmaker, dating coach, and the owner of Canada-based Friend of a Friend Matchmaking. At that time, many folks were heading into full-force quarantine mode, newly worried about their work situation, employment status, and health under pandemic conditions.
During this time, turbo relationships born out of convenience were on the rise, but according to dating coach and matchmaker Anna Morgenstern, by early summer, when a number of states (including New York, where she is based) began re-opening in phases, things changed. “A ton of quarantine relationships have ended, and now people want the real thing, not a relationship based on convenience,” she says. “I had a long lag of [not getting] new clients in April and May, but I saw an uptick in June, and it has steadily grown. [Three Day Rule], the larger matchmaking company I am affiliated with, has seen numbers hit as high as February, pre-COVID, after a big of a lag in April and May as well.”
“Coaching has seen a bit of an uptick because a lot of people are having a tough time adjusting to a different way of dating. It’s scary to be used to something and to have to recalibrate.” —Claire AH, matchmaker
AH attributes the surge of interest in matchmaking services during COVID to people wanting help navigating how to meet people under these new conditions. “Coaching has seen a bit of an uptick because a lot of people are having a tough time adjusting to a different way of dating. It’s scary to be used to something and to have to recalibrate,” she says.
And, given that dating looks different in certain ways, matchmaking services have shifted accordingly. For one, matchmaking during COVID has largely gone virtual. “I have always interviewed clients virtually, but I have never had clients go on virtual dates before COVID, [which] has definitely changed the way that first dates take place,” says Amber Artis, matchmaker, founder, and CEO of Virginia-based Select Date Society. “We’re coaching our clients on how to have a great Zoom date.” Her advice? The right background—no dirty laundry or garbage—and good lighting can go a long way to make a solid first impression.
AH has also been coaching her clients on the nuances of virtual dating. “I’ve had a number of discussions with clients about how to discuss risk factors, set boundaries, and make an eventual in-person meeting fun while still maintaining social distance,” she says. She notes that she has clients who feel comfortable meeting for a socially distanced date right away, but she also has many clients who prefer to meet virtually—which actually presents an interesting benefit in the form of saving time and energy. “[Virtual first dates] enable people to take the time to get to know someone before deciding if the risk is worth the reward,” she says. “The key is accepting that video dates are ostensibly real dates for our current world and to treat them as such.”
As you would expect, virtual dating does pose certain challenges—and many singles are willing to pay for professional assistance in navigating them. AH says she’s currently doing about double the amount of coaching sessions as she was a year ago. “I’m also doing significantly more phone and video-chat meetings with existing matchmaking clients looking to talk about the new challenges they’re encountering with dating during a pandemic. There are a lot of people reaching out because they finally have time to go online, or they aren’t able to go out and meet people in bars, so they’re trying their hand on the apps.”
Given this increase in business, these matchmakers are adjusting their rates and service menus accordingly. Morgenstern has increased her package rates by $500 due to the volume of new clients. Artis’s services and rates have remained the same (starting at $10,000), but she recently added an additional matchmaker to her team to help handle the increase in clientele. On the other hand, AH has made her services more accessible to honor the financial hardships that many folks are facing during this time. All of her standard services remain the same, but she now offers sliding-scale payment structures, “pay what you can” 30-minute coaching sessions, and a $75 mini online dating support package. “Instead of capitalizing on increased need, I’d rather make sure that people are able to get the support they need without breaking the bank,” she says.
This year has also led many to reflect on what they truly want in a partnership, which Morgenstern says has given way to more serious and intentional daters. “This is the first time people aren’t busy traveling, going to the gym, going out with friends, working late at the office, or whatever excuse they had previously used as to why they weren’t ready for a relationship,” she says. “I’ve had several people call me getting out of [COVID turbo relationships], having realized the qualities they truly need in a partner.” She feels hopeful that daters are now making more genuine connections based on deeper elements than ones built on convenience.
Ultimately, there’s comfort in knowing that the struggles brought about by the pandemic haven’t changed the fact that connections and relationships are integral to our well-being. “I’ve been through a lot of political and economic cycles that have impacted businesses, but I have always maintained that matchmaking is a recession-proof business,” says Artis. “No matter what is going on in the world, people need love and human connection.”
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