As singles across the globe find their own mates in record numbers, Westerners are looking for love using methods that -- surprise! -- mirror the arranged-marriage philosophy.
So, you think arranged marriage is wrong or at least weird. You'd never trust anyone else to make a decision as monumental as who you spend your life with.
Um, can you say eHarmony? JDate? Speed dating?
There's a funny thing going on in the world of love. Two vastly different paths to marriage are making wide U-turns. Young people in India, Africa and Asia are bucking the arranged marriage tradition and in large measure are finding their own mates.
Meanwhile, Western singles, insanely busy, burned out on their own attempts and not getting any younger, are devouring matching methods that look an awful lot like high-tech versions of an age-old formula.
"Don't we 'arrange' marriages, in the sense that we rely on friends, co-workers, even the Internet, to screen for us?" asks Amit Batabyal, a professor of economics at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York and author of a recent book on the subject.
"What is eHarmony?" he continues. "It is nothing but an agency that does arranging! Fill out information about your interests and compatibilities." He's perplexed that such sites don't use the word "arrange."
"They say, 'We bring people together.' It's odd."
Gail Laguna agrees. Laguna is a spokeswoman for Beverly Hills-based Spark Networks, which launched JDate for Jewish singles in 1997 and now boasts 30 online communities targeted toward religious, ethnic or special-interest groups. People on her sites aren't looking for dates. They're looking for life-mates.
"Eighty-six percent want to marry," she said. Or their families want them to marry. When asked, "Did your friends or family ever encourage you to join JDate?" for example, 63 percent said yes. And 34 percent answered yes when asked if friends and relatives helped with their online profile. "Traditionally, especially in Jewish culture," Laguna said, "families are very close. Knowing that your mom is accepting of a partner is pretty important."
Make me a match!
No need to rent "Fiddler on the Roof" to channel your inner yenta.
Another sign that what is old is new again is an increase in the number of matchmakers -- yes, matchmakers -- even if they don't call themselves that.
"Matchmakers of yesteryear are being replaced by 'love coaches' and 'love hunters,' operating with the same precision as executive headhunters," said Ann Mack, a trend-spotter with advertising agency JWT.
Not everyone is hiding from their roots. Lisa Clampitt is co-founder of the New York-based Matchmaking Institute (match makinginstitute.com), which trains and certifies matchmakers who must follow a strict code of ethics. From a dozen members a few years ago, she's now trained more than 200 matchmaking professionals, many of whom are listed on the MMLS -- Matchmakers Listing Service. Matchmaking, she said, is now a $250 million industry.
"Back in the old days," Clampitt said, "we belonged to a church or synagogue. We had a more cohesive family and religious background. Now there's less of a community sense."
Services like hers, she said, are bringing back "a manageable community. Whether it's JDate or arranged marriages, you're focusing in on the community again. It narrows it down. Our biggest downfall is too many options."
Gail Rosenblum • 612-673-7350