"L.A. is an intoxicating, romantic, fabulous city, but the whole goal of matchmaking and the whole goal of what we do is to really connect people in a genuine and authentic way," Conti said.
Conti said the company has seen more engagements than ever before, and even the couples who haven't made it that far are doing better than in past years. The company usually tries to cap membership at about 100 people, and generally sees about 10 to 15 members on "success protocol" — meaning their accounts have been paused as they explore a specific relationship. That's increased to about 25 members, she said.
Dating experts say their new customers are 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 up and down the 405 or across town, are having more luck convincing people to think outside of their city — or at least to look beyond Los Angeles County.
For years Julie Ferman, a longtime matchmaker based in Los Angeles, tried to set up a woman in La Jolla with a man in Pasadena who refused to date anyone "south of the South Bay." That changed last spring, when the two met up for a socially distanced backyard date at a relative's house. "The reason I was able to make the date happen is because so many people were not on the 405 freeway that he was willing to drive down to Orange County to meet her and she was willing to drive up north to meet him," Ferman said. The couple is "madly in love" now, she said.
Tammy Shaklee, who runs H4M Matchmaking, an Austin, 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. If a client has family members in Chicago, maybe they can squeeze in a date when they're able to visit again. Tech professionals, who in some cases have been given the green light to work remotely indefinitely, also are more open to long-distance (for now) 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? Do both parties work from home? Does either one live with elderly parents or immunocompromised individuals? Those questions can be difficult to broach early on 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 located in Chicago. The company, founded in Los Angeles, and its matchmakers work with people in cities across the country.
Many experts have had to revamp their approach to adapt to the new, more socially distanced dating landscape and its dependence on dating apps. Prior to the pandemic Boston-based dating and confidence coach Nick Notas encouraged his predominantly male client base to focus on meeting women in person. During the pandemic however, he said his clients feel pressured to master app dating. He's been offering tips on how to have engaging conversations over text and how to set up a profile that's appealing.
"I believe everyone can learn all this stuff on their own," Notas said. "But why you come to a coach is really for that tailored work, the perspective, the feedback and the accountability."
Matchmakers, like their clients, have had to learn to master virtual dating.
Ferman, the Los Angeles-based matchmaker, has a more traditional 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, of H4M Matchmaking, 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 or family member.
Laricks, who works with Three Day Rule's LGBTQ clients, said she's seen that virtual dates need to have a hard stop time in advance. Invite someone to a 45-minute happy hour Zoom, for example. Some people will be mentally drained after two hours of an amazing postwork Zoom date, while others crave the interaction and could keep talking for hours.
"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 going into dating right now without trying to predict the outcome or making assumptions.
"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, is to really let go of expectations, meet people where they are and then just enjoy taking things from there."©2021 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.