Sex + Dating

Does Philly Really Need Matchmakers?

TDR matchmaking
Erika Kaplan of TDR | Annie Shak
Erika Kaplan of TDR | Annie Shak

Three Day Rule, a tech-enabled white-glove matchmaking service, makes pairing compatible singles sound as easy as ordering a caramelized honey latte through a Starbucks app.

Boasting partnerships with all the major online dating behemoths -- Match.com, OkCupid, JDate, and Christian Mingle, to name a few -- TDR promises to weed out any duds on your behalf to pair you with high-quality matches. After taking a three-minute quiz, they set you up you with one of their matchmakers, all gorgeous women with impeccable hair. With outposts scattered across the country, they have recently launched in Philly. 

The deal with TDR is it’s free to be included in the pool of potential daters. But if you want to be in the driver’s seat, and have them help you find the peanut butter to your jelly? Well, the price tag to be a premium member is a little steeper.

$4,500 will get you three months of service; $6,000 buys you six months.

"Everyone thinks they know everyone in Philly and it's not true."

Who would pay that kind of money to meet someone in this town? Overworked Rittenhouse lawyers? Main Line divorcees? Horny Penn students maxing out their student loans?

Sure, there’s an argument for employing a pricey matchmaking service like this if you live in Manhattan or Los Angeles, where there’s a bigger need to cut through the noise and clutter of a chaotic dating scene.

But here in Philly? The same place that birthed the Swiss Cheese Pervert? It seems an outrageous price point. What makes TDR think they’ll find eligible singles to pony up a few thousand bucks to (maybe?) meet a potential partner? What exactly are you getting for your money? If it’s not Abraham Lincoln in Ryan Gosling’s body, I’d be disappointed.

Looking at a study from the Pew Research Center, Philly's median household income is about $34,000, and 51% of the city makes less than $35,000 annually. On those terms: "Six grand is definitely a big chunk!" says Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals, a sociologist and author studying sex and society. "But it also shows that 12% of the 1.56 million population makes $100,000 or more. Yes, that’s a big income disparity, but in terms of having apparent funding for such a service, the clients are there."

So, whatever. Let’s shelve the price for a moment. How effective is matchmaking anyway? Is it truly the best way to find love in Philly, especially when our smart, web-savvy singles have so many other low-pressure ways to meet people?

Erika Kaplan thinks so. She’s a senior matchmaker at Three Day Rule, and she’s convinced matchmaking absolutely makes sense for our city’s busy professionals: "My job is to introduce my clients to someone they might've swiped past on an app."

While Philly doesn’t have the same sensory overload challenges as LA or New York, it has its own dating quirks.

She’s quick to point out that she’s not just selling access to a pool of singles; she’s offering a personalized, curated experience for accomplished, worldly singles. Most of her clients are in their 30s and 40s, although she’s worked with people as young as 25 and as old as 62.  

While Philly doesn’t have the same sensory overload challenges as LA or New York, our city has its own unique dating roadblocks and quirks. For instance, people tend to not leave their neighborhood. Kaplan credits this reluctance to wade out of one’s social circle as the biggest obstacle to finding someone.

"There are lots of great singles in Fairmount, but you're not going to find them when you're in South Philly. Even people who live in Rittenhouse, they don't mingle with the professionals who live in Society Hill. Philly is neighborhood-y and fragmented; that's the struggle for singles. That's the gap we're trying to bridge."

For anyone who’s ever whimpered about how there’s no one left to meet in the city, Erika feels your pain, but is quick to dispel the myth. "Everyone thinks they know everyone in Philly and it's not true," she says, laughing. "I mean, it's the fifth-largest city in the United States."

Kaplan’s also aware that while online dating has lost most of its stigma in society, matchmaking is still a very taboo concept. "People are almost embarrassed to admit they are working with a matchmaker, or have used a matchmaker, or have met someone through a matchmaker. But really it’s a necessary service," she said.

"Philly is neighborhood-y and fragmented."

"Matchmaking has been around for a million years, but the online dating market has made it necessary again because there's too many choices. People say to me, 'Everyone's online. I can do it myself.' Sure, by all means, go ahead. But do that on top of your full-time job. See how much time you have left for other things in your life. We've made it our full-time job to vet potential matches and send clients only the people that make sense."

In fact, she touts this vetting process as her strongest selling point. "People will go on a great first date, a great second date, a great third date, and it's not until the fourth date you find out this person doesn't even want children. Or this person has really different political views." Erika’s job is to make sure that disconnect doesn’t happen. Ever.

"It’s no different from a workplace using a staffing service to find the perfect person."

Dr. Tibbals doesn't think this is terribly off the mark from what people are feeling when seeking a partner. After all, dating these days can be terribly convoluted.

"The online dating world has become very challenging in many ways -- from general misrepresentation, to different goals (dating versus DTF, etc.), to the time it takes up to overlap occurring in real-life social circles," she says. "It may be that people want to regain the time and effort they would spend sifting through profiles by simply paying someone to do the vetting for them. This may sound clinical, but it’s no different from a workplace using a staffing service to find the perfect person to work in their community versus posting a help wanted ad on Craigslist."

For those who feel burnt out on the dating scene, this personal touch is a relief in a sea of vapid Tinder dates. You’re essentially paying someone to care about your dating life -- and, by extension, about you. By giving feedback after every date, Kaplan works with her clients on everything from nipping bad habits in the bud to fine-tuning the selection criteria.

"People say, 'Everyone's online. I can do it myself.' Sure, by all means, go ahead."

After being a professional matchmaker for two years, Kaplan considers herself an expert at this process. But that doesn’t mean she’ll work with just anyone. “I can only work with someone who's open to constructive feedback and is willing to trust the process. You don't go to the gym and tell your personal trainer how to train you. You don't go to the dry cleaner and tell them how to starch your shirt. People come to us to enlist an expert's help."

And that expertise is why the service commands such a substantial chunk of change. She knows the price tag is hefty. That’s by design. "It's expensive enough to make you feel like you're making an investment, which we want you to feel, because we're also making an investment in our time -- and it's an emotional investment for both of us. It's not $20,000, which some companies charge."

"This also dances a bit around the idea of what people assign worth or meaning to," says Dr. Tibbals. "For some, a brand-new car may mean nothing. But for others, a brand-new car is where they will sink all their extra money. This type of dating service can certainly have comparable variable value."

Rachel Baker, an event planner in her early 30s and Philadelphia resident, tried a matchmaking service last year (her name has been changed to protect her identity). She found the personal touch of a matchmaker comforting, something you don’t get when you log in to any old dating app. "It's much less random than online dating because it's more selective. And with a matchmaker, I was being set up by a human being. I trusted her, and that made a big difference."

You’re essentially paying someone to care about your dating life -- and, by extension, about you.

Unlike a business such as TDR, Baker’s matchmaker was affiliated with a nonprofit. A small donation to the organization was the only financial barrier, which encouraged her to try it out. Compared to her online dating efforts, she’s confident the matchmaker approach was "definitely" better. "I understood what she saw in the guys she set me up with, and it seemed obvious these dates were vetted better than online dates I go on. They were better matches than most of the online dates I choose for myself, even if they didn't turn into a relationship."

Aside from meeting nice men, Baker credits her counseling sessions with her matchmaker as being one of the most illuminating aspects. "My first meeting with her was hugely valuable. She asked such good questions and it really helped me to hone in on what I want and what I should be looking for in a partner. Now I'm in her head and notebook if she comes across someone and thinks we'd get along."

When I told her TDR’s price point, Baker was taken aback. "Whoa, that is so expensive. My initial reaction is I don't think people in Philly will go for it, but I'm interested to see. Maybe you only need a few people who'd pay that much and then they'd be great for each other."

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Anna Goldfarb is a writer in Philadelphia who learned all she knows about matchmaking from watching Patti Stanger on Millionaire Matchmaker. Follow her @AnnaGoldfarb on Twitter and Instagram.