Hiring a dating expert has long been an option for singles in need of a little (or a lot) of extra help finding someone suitable for a long-term relationship. But in a world where bars have limited capacity and bumping into a stranger is an anxiety-inducing event, even more singles have been willing to pay anywhere from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars for a coach, dating course or matchmaker.
Alexis Germany, a Las Vegas-based dating coach who shares advice on her popular TikTok, said her business has tripled. She's also noticed an influx of straight male clients.
"Women that have come to me typically are already knowing 'I want a relationship,' " Germany said. By contrast, in the past, her male clients had just one goal: "How do I get women?"
That tone has shifted, she said. Male clients are now asking, "I've met this woman, and I don't want to mess it up. What can I do to really cross that threshold and make it into something serious?' "
Many of the people hiring help were too occupied by work and travel to focus on dating before the pandemic, said Alessandra Conti, co-founder of Matchmakers in the City, a Los Angeles-based firm. They're also more dedicated to finding a committed relationship and, in some cases, more open-minded when it comes to where a match is located.
Social distancing has forced people to live more of their lives online, where potential matches are just a video chat away. Matchmakers, accustomed to hearing people complain about arduous treks across town, are having more luck convincing people to think outside of their city.
Tammy Shaklee, who runs H4M Matchmaking, a Texas-based firm that works with singles in the LGBTQ community across the country, has started matching couples based on their ties to certain areas. Clients who have family members in another city or can work remotely indefinitely are more open to long-distance romances, she said.
In other cases, the pandemic has become an immediate indicator of compatibility. Potential matches — or their matchmakers — have to discuss how they've approached social distancing and their views on the pandemic. Is one person only willing to meet virtually? Can a socially distanced date end with a hug? Does either one live with elderly parents or immunocompromised individuals? Those questions can be difficult to broach, but can lead to other thoughtful discussions.
"The beauty of it has been making more meaningful, deeper connections earlier on, because we're all experiencing this global pandemic together," said Kara Laricks, a matchmaker with Three Day Rule in Chicago.
Many experts have had to revamp their approach to adapt to the new, more socially distanced dating landscape and its dependence on dating apps. Matchmakers, like their clients, have had to learn to master virtual dating.
Julie Ferman, a longtime matchmaker based in Los Angeles, has a set of rules for both parties in the video dates she organizes. Women should get dressed up just as they would for an in-person date. Men need to be sitting at their desk or chair, not wandering around or distracted. "I groom them into how to have a really good Zoom date," she said.
Shaklee recommends setting up the video date device in the living room (an in-person date wouldn't take place at a computer desk, after all) and doing a practice session with a friend.
Laricks said virtual dates need to have a hard stop time in advance. Invite someone to a 45-minute happy hour Zoom, for example.
"If you don't set those boundaries and parameters ahead of the date, it's really hard for the person who's into it and exhausted to get off in a nice way without thinking the other person is going to think they're not interested," Laricks said.
In that same vein, she suggests having a little empathy.
"People have been all over the map in terms of emotion. People have gone through depression, people have had more work than they can handle, they've had less work than they wish. There have just been a lot of factors that have been at play in this past year," Laricks said. "I think that's been something that I certainly learned during this time: to really let go of expectations, meet people where they are and then just enjoy taking things from there."