SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy and girl live happily ever after.
But what the fairy tales never seem to say is: How does boy even meet girl?
Now that we’re marrying older, working harder and socializing less, sometimes we need a little extra help from a modern-day matchmaker.
Most couples today still meet through traditional channels, according to a 2006 report on online dating by the Pew Internet & American Life Project: 38 percent of those surveyed met at work or school, 34 percent met through family or friends, and 13 percent met at a nightclub, bar or other social gathering.
But people continue to discover new ways to catch Cupid’s arrow, with 3 percent meeting through the Internet and 1 percent being set up on a blind date or through a dating service.
Modern matchmakers range from the professionals — such as a new Roseville, Calif., company that sends singles on dates — to friends who just seem to understand the ingredients for love.
“Seventy-five percent of single people believe finding love is more of an art than a science,” says Trish McDermott, chief matchmaker at Engage.com and former dating expert at Match.com, as well as a former professional matchmaker.
“You certainly don’t need a degree to be a good matchmaker, but certain people are better at it — these rare people have good strong instinctual feelings and communicate well.”
Make me a match
The numbers say we’re getting married later and not staying married as long as we used to. Since 1960, the proportion of currently married Americans, ages 15 and older, has declined by 13 percent, according to a 2007 report on marriage by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University.
But that doesn’t mean we’re not interested in wedding bells. About 85 percent of Americans are expected to visit the altar at some time in their lives; it’s 70 percent in some European nations, the report found.
“Love has persevered because it feels good,” says McDermott, who noted a departure from that original purpose of coupledom — reproduction and protection. “We want to reach out and make connections, and most if not all of us feel an emptiness if we don’t.”
Yet with 92 million unmarried Americans — 42 percent of U.S. adults in 2006, according to the Census Bureau — there is obviously some bewilderment over how to discover that perfect mate.
“In the past, people used to stay in the same community all their lives. They would meet their sweetheart in high school, or it was someone they went to church with,” says Julie Paiva, founder of Table for Six Total Adventures, a matchmaking company in San Francisco and Sacramento. “Now, we’re constantly moving and really gypsy-like. . . . There are no common touchstones.”
Find me a find
Professional matchmaking has grown into a $236 million industry with at least 1,300 matchmakers, says Lisa Clampitt, co-founder of the Matchmaking Institute, a training and certification organization based in New York. The dating industry as a whole, including online dating, rakes in $1 billion each year, she says.
Paiva of Table for Six, which charges clients $1,995 for a two-year membership, advises her clients to look beyond initial attraction.
“A lot of people think it’s just chemistry, but when they start a life with them, they’re disappointed when they can’t fulfill many of their needs, whether it’s communication or intimacy,” Paiva says. “People really need to look at a person and think, ‘Would he be a good husband? Would this be a good father?’ ”
Paiva says she believes, like the Jewish yenta and the nayan in India, that values-based matches might be the key to lasting happiness.
“It’s not a bad idea to look at it from that angle, of will these lives mesh together easily,” Paiva says. “Physical characteristics are important — I’m not suggesting someone go completely against chemistry — but I think they would be a lot happier if they were looking below the surface and getting to know that authentic person.”
Catch me a catch
While it may take a village to raise a child, that village may also be necessary to trigger that thing called love.
“It’s hard to meet people,” says Kevin Wehr, assistant professor of sociology at California State University, Sacramento.
Perhaps you’ve met everyone in your softball league and at the dog park. You’ve dated everyone available at work and your yoga studio, too. But you have yet to be bitten by the love bug.
“We’re more and more busy today, and we’re working harder than we’ve ever worked,” Wehr says. “Those things tend to isolate us more in terms of our social lives.”
Plus, Americans are getting their careers on track first and marrying later — the median age of women walking down the aisle is 26, up from 20 in 1960; and men are getting hitched at 27 instead of 23, according to the National Marriage project report.
By the time someone decides wedding bells are in order, it might feel a bit urgent, Wehr says.
Online dating has expanded from what Engage.com’s McDermott calls a “warehouse” model, with millions of people waiting for someone to sift through profile after profile and then offer a wink or a message, into a social community that happens to be on the World Wide Web.
Engage.com was launched in 2005 and allows singles to post the usual profile. Then it allows their single and nonsingle friends to authenticate what they say and look like, and set them up with other users, all for free. The goal is to move away from exaggeration over one’s rock-solid body or high-paying job.
“If you ask what people in their lives make the best matchmakers, it’s their friends,” McDermott says. “Sites like Engage provide opportunities for people to use technology to fall in love the good-old- fashioned way, with a little help from our friends.”
And make me a perfect match
Friends may know us best. But that doesn’t mean every friend is a qualified matchmaker. Experts agree that some people simply have the right intuition.
Trudy Somers, 47, a high school English teacher, has set up at least 20 couples, mostly during her 20s and 30s, with at least half of the relationships ending in marriage.
“I don’t know what it was with me. I was always on the lookout for good matches,” Somers says. “I like to see people happy together, and it seems like when they were alone, they were miserable.”
And even if fireworks didn’t explode at first, some of Somers’ matches found love in different packages than they were looking for — bringing meaning to the stories of frogs turning into princes.
“You have to have an open heart. Sometimes what you think you want is not the best fit,” Somers says. “I have friends who I would never set up because they’re so narrow and closed off, and they only want a certain type of person….
“But sometimes I can see that two people will mesh well together because their goals are the same, they want the same things and they’re both sincere about what they want — I think that’s the key.”
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