by Anna Nash
Understanding our history is important to understanding the way we live today. As our conceptions of love and relationships have changed, so too has the role of matchmakers. As a way of rooting our matchmaking practice in the present, we think it’s important to understand how it relates to matchmakers of the past.
Historical Matchmaking Services
Although we now think of love as the key feature of marriage, the relationships initially emerged out of financial and political convenience. As such, matchmakers were extremely influential figures in their community, facilitating partnerships between families and dynasties, as well as the couple in question. Matchmakers traditionally arranged marriages by providing three services: Searching, Matching and Transaction.
Searching: Widening the pool of potential partners from the immediate social circle of the client.
Matching: Bringing together compatible partners.
Transaction: Helping to negotiate details such as the dowry, or the line of inheritance.
Modern Matchmaking Services
As our attitudes towards relationships have changed, matchmaking practice has also changed. Some key features remain the same, and some have changed dramatically.
Websites and apps have emerged as key intermediaries for many in finding romance. By presenting a seemingly inexhaustible selection of possible partners, apps like Tinder are performing the Searching function that traditional matchmakers, along with events like Bush dances, once did. While these services are extremely effective at allowing us to trawl through each and every fish in the sea, this abundance can lead to choice overload. The sheer volume of options ironically results in many feeling too overwhelmed to respond to most of their ‘matches’, and feeling less satisfied in the dates that they do go on.
As internet dating has grown, sites like JDate and Shaadi.com have differentiated themselves by demographically focussing their membership, performing a form of Preliminary Matching. While these basic forms of identification are generally accurate in non-criminal users, attempts at more sophisticated online matching almost always fail.
The ‘scientific surveys’ that sites such as eHarmony and OkCupid employ to Match users are generally ineffective at producing compatible couples, as accurate self-representation is impossible, even in the most well-intentioned of us. As anybody who has watched The Bachelor will know, almost everybody would describe themselves as kind, funny, interested in family and a good conversationalist. As anybody who lives in the real world knows, this isn’t how we would describe most people. These surveys’ reliance on self-representation makes it almost impossible to understand a potential date’s character before we meet them. Although these questionnaires may help us break the initial ice over surface level details, it is still impossible to screen partners by their personality or the values that form the backbone of emotional intimacy and compatibility.
At Dinner For Two, we perform a similar but different three functions to older matchmakers: Searching, Matching and Guidance.
Although families no longer require a third party to negotiate the terms of a dowry, matchmakers still can perform an important role in helping new couples negotiate and understand the early points in their relationship. The early date headache of picking a time and a place that works for both people is resolved, the awkwardness of giving and asking for contact details is mediated and, most importantly, there is somebody to build your confidence before your date and somebody to debrief with after it.
Having privately met all of our members, we have a good understanding of your potential date’s interests, beliefs, personality and conversation style. This helps us match partners better, and means you have someone to chat with about your date. Are they always so quiet? Are they always so sweaty? We’ll probably know the answer.
Over the next few months, we will be looking in more detail at the way different societies have viewed relationships, how matchmakers have fitted into that, how that may differ from or inform our current ideas about relationships. Let us know if there is a matchmaking practice you’d love to see covered!