dating

Fed up with Tinder? Philly’s professional matchmakers help singles find love, for a price

Steve Ward is constantly swiping right on Tinder. And his fiance is well aware of it.

That’s because the dating and hook-up app is where Ward and his fellow professional matchmakers often search to recruit potential new clients, as well as eligible bachelors and bachelorettes to be matched with the people who are paying them to help find love.

“There’s something to be said as far as what the state of dating and mating is like in the world today,” Ward, a Philly native and now-CEO of nationwide Master Matchmakers, said. “And I think a lot of people, especially millennials who are kind of in this hook-up culture as it’s been described, I think this is just a byproduct of a rapid introduction of technology into our personal lives.”

In-person matchmakers believe the dating game in Philly and beyond has fundamentally — a rapidly — changed. Technology has a lot to do with it. You have Vanity Fair running with headlines that predict “Tinder and the dawn of the ‘dating apocalypse.” And it’s no secret some people use Tinder, OK Cupid and other dating sites and apps to be more creepy than romantic, like this guy from Philly, who told me I’m just like his little toe, “because I’m going to bang you on every piece of furniture in my home.”

But in addition to the tech boom that’s changed how people communicate and meet each other, there’s also a surge of single, educated, eligible women in many large cities, meaning there are more of them than there are men to go around. Ward calls the phenomenon an “unintended consequence of feminism” as more women are educated and working than really ever before. Here in Philly, there are some 70,000 more single women than men, which correlates to a ratio of 1,074 single women to every 1,000 single men.

Even as technology takes over, people are struggling more than ever to connect in person — and in-person matchmakers who often charge thousands of dollars a year for their services to set people up with their forever match say business is booming as thirtysomethings come in, frustrated with how online dating didn’t work for them.

Philly’s own millionaire matchmaker Christine Nightingale runs Premier Match, an upscale matchmaking service that has several locations, including one here in Philly that’s been around since the early 90’s. Nightingale’s customers are on the wealthier side and are in many times high-profile Philadelphians who can’t be seen searching for dates on Tinder or Match.com. So they come to Premier.

After forking over consultation fees (yearly fees can run up to tens of thousands of dollars), Nightingale said she meets with clients and comes up with a search plan that can be facilitated for about a year-long term. There’s no minimum or maximum number of matches a person can receive in that time or dates he or she can go on — it really all depends on the person.

So after a consultation, Nightingale says she reaches into her database and network of thousands of eligible Philadelphians, some of whom are other paying customers, and others are bachelors and bachelorettes who have been identified as potential good matches for her clientele.

And sure, it costs more than just hopping on Tinder. But Nightingale says it’s worth every penny for people serious about finding love.

“I remember what it was like before the insurgence of online services and such, and people were still going to mixers and putting ads in the back of Philadelphia Magazine in the classified section, but that now seems like a century ago,” she said. “Many people who have gone the online route tend to become disenchanted with what they’re encountering. It is such a time-consuming matter to do it right. It’s like a second job.”

Nightingale said that any one time, she is serving between 300 and 400 clients in the Philadelphia region. Of those, she said, about 80 percent end up in a serious relationship at some point during their one-year term.

For Ward and his family-owned business Master Matchmakers (which you may remember from VH1’s Tough Love) that now has several locations across the U.S., their largest footprint is still in the Philadelphia area where they serve about 3,000 singles. And their services which see a success rate of about 87 percent, are a bit less expensive than at Premier, but still vary from person-to-person. A “typical client,” he said, would pay about $2,500 a year.

And though Ward said technology has changed dating for consumers, it’s also changed it for matchmakers who now have information technology at their fingertips that they never would have had before, like facial recognition software (to make sure people look like what they say they do), criminal background checks and age identity checks. They also have a robust database of people and an algorithm that helps them determine who good matches for clients may be.

His process is similar to Nightingale’s, and Ward added that he’s also taking time to teach female clients techniques so they can venture out into that world with less single, educated men available and stand out.

“We haven’t quite evolved to the point where women feel comfortable dating men who make less money than they do, so if you don’t hire a pro, how are you going to stand out among the competition?” he said. “It’s like Darwinism. It’s like natural selection…and that’s what I spend a lot of time doing, is giving women a paradigm shift. These are the economics. There’s no sense in crying about it. You just need to adapt.”

So what’s one of the 70,000-some extra single women in Philly to do? These matchmakers tout their processes as some of the best ways to find love. For now, you can at least be thankful. From Ward’s perspective, Philly’s dating scene is thriving.

“I would argue Philadelphia is probably a much better city for dating than most because there’s so much to do in Philadelphia, and you’re not usually handicapped by the seasons,” he said. “So by having the ability of seasons in their entirety, having four sports teams, being close to New York and D.C., there’s so much to do as a couple or just as someone single and dating.”

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