Each September, the tiny village of Lisdoonvarna, Ireland, swells with the influx of thousands of merrymakers for the month-long, world famous Matchmaking Festival. People come from all over Europe as well as other continents to enjoy the daily festivities of music, dancing, drinking and romancing. The most famous local celebrity is a fourth-generation matchmaker, Willy Daly, whose book, The Last Matchmaker, tells the story of his family’s tradition of finding partners for rural farmers who came into the village after harvest season in search of a bride.
I visited Lisdoonvarna with my friend Stormy in late August, 2010, when the local bars and hotels were gearing up for the onslaught of visitors, and the official Matchmaker pub was closed for preparation. You could feel the anticipation in the air and we got caught up in the excitement, although we couldn’t stay for the festival. That visit sparked my interest in the once widespread custom of matchmaking.
In many traditional cultures, finding a suitable marriage partner often involved the assistance of a matchmaker. This could be someone who operates very informally and usually without pay, or it could be a professional matchmaker with a fee tailored to the social standing of the clients. In America today, we tend to associate matchmaking with arranged marriages still common in some ethnic groups.
Now, a modernized version of the professional matchmaker has burst upon the scene. This is the Certified Matchmaker (CMM), a graduate of a professional matchmaker training program. One of the fastest-growing specialties for life coaches and other advisors, professional matchmaking offers individualized services for a range of fees. I first heard about certified matchmakers when I attended the inaugural meeting of a new Meetup group in Tampa, Florida called the “Marriage-Minded Middle Aged+ Singles Meetup.” At the meeting Tampa’s first certified matchmaker made a presentation which sounded a lot like a sales pitch to those of us tired and wary of online dating. The matchmaker had a background in psychology and offered a variety of services that cost anywhere from “free” to $10,000.
Again this got me wondering about matchmaking as a way to meet romantic partners. Given the high demand for this kind of service, as reflected in the proliferation of internet dating sites, and now professional matchmakers, couldn’t some of this pairing take place within informal social networks? Why couldn’t all of us get into fixing up our friends and relatives instead of having to use a commercial service? People who already know us well have a good idea of the kind of person we might like. Skip the tiresome questionnaires and interviews. Save money. Do a good deed. And your friends are unlikely to set you up with a jerk or a psychopath, or so one would hope.
But getting our friends and family to embrace matchmaking might be a challenge. During an appearance on the Today Show in 2013 to promote her Match.com dating event, Martha Stewart lamented the lack of help from friends in fixing her up. They made “hardly an effort” she said, “I’m really disappointed in all of them.” Personally I never had much luck with my own friends either.
Then there is advice columnist Tom Blake’s admonition that same year to older women that they “should tell all of their friends, family members, co-workers, you name it, that if they know of a man in his 60s who is single and would be a nice partner, you’d like to be introduced.” But “don’t overwork this aspect,” he cautions, or “you cross over the line of seeking a nice companion to appearing desperate for any companion.” So the terrain seems to be nuanced and sometimes complex to navigate. Moreover, Blake’s advice puts the onus of seeking introductions on single women themselves.
We need to revive traditional matchmaking in a new form.
In the new system, anyone can play cupid! No special training needed. Only good intentions required. Some individuals might be better positioned than others, similar to the idea of a “natural helper.” Outstanding programs for youth and adults have been built around this notion. Natural helpers are embedded in rich social networks and have respect and trust. Matchmakers could play a comparable role in helping single friends find compatible partners.
In addition, the practice of making introductions could easily become a regular part of everyday life, where people are sympathetically attuned to the single folks in their spheres and occasionally do a good matchmaking deed. It shouldn’t have to be any more extraordinary than offering to help someone with their car or house. It needn’t elicit nervous laughter and self-consciousness. It won’t be for everyone, but if a critical mass of people did it routinely, informal matchmaking could become as natural as lending a helping hand with anything.
To promote the new matchmaking, I propose we designate one day a year as Matchmaking Day. Why not make it February 1, two weeks before Valentine’s Day. On Matchmaking Day, everyone would be encouraged to try and arrange for two of their single friends to meet. It needn’t be anything more elaborate than sharing contact information, or perhaps a low-key gathering with a few people, or even a more formal “date,” whatever feels right. Single people themselves could get in on the act and host Matchmaking Day parties.
And why stop with one day a year? There’s no reason why people couldn’t organize get-togethers any time. Keep the group small to promote intimate conversation instead of the usual cocktail party ambience so prevalent at singles events. Once the concept of everyday matchmaking takes hold, the opportunities for creative approaches are limitless.