A butler for your online love life

Finding and talking to dates on the web is work. Now you can pay someone to do it.

Photo illustration by Sarah Mackinnon

Romance wasn’t really on Yolande’s mind (she asked us not to use her last name) after her divorce in 2004. She focused instead on earning her master’s degree and establishing her career. But two years ago, the Toronto executive decided it was time. Fix-ups and the bar scene weren’t working, and she didn’t have time to screen thousands of prospects online, nor a clue about how to approach them. So she hired someone to do it for her. The company she turned to, Toronto-based A Million Matches, touts itself as Canada’s first online-dating-assistance service, specializing in “first-impression management.”

Through its premium package, Yolande joined and eHarmony. For $549 a month plus a $200 set-up fee, the company wrote her profile, selected her photos and sifted through matches, sending promising bachelors messages on her behalf. The pricey deal also guaranteed her two dates per month.

Even with an estimated 30 to 40 million North Americans participating, online dating remains a weird, wacky world for many. So web-savvy singles—used to managing a Facebook profile, Twitter feed, LinkedIn account and so on—are turning to the experts for help. According to Amelia Phillips, owner of A Million Matches, people can be clueless about presenting themselves in an attractive light online.

Common faux pas for guys include shirtless and/or bathroom selfies. For women, she says, inadvertent bragging can be a problem. “It’s good to talk about career and success and how much you’ve travelled,” says Phillips, “but if a guy thinks there’s no way he’s going to measure up, he might not message you.” Sexist? It sounds that way. When this writer tested out the service, the resulting profile featured a peppier, ditzier persona. (“Bestest TV show ever,” they wrote to describe my favourite comedy, words that would make any writer cringe.)

But Yolande was pleasantly surprised by the quality of suitors A Million Matches found for her. “I don’t know how to start the small talk,” she says. “When it came time for me to have a conversation, all the homework was done and I just had to be myself.” Soon the dates started flowing. “I couldn’t keep up, there were so many interested candidates.”

For those who don’t have hundreds of dollars to spare, there are options. Jessica Mendes, a Toronto-based ghostwriter, uses Craigslist to advertise her expertise in crafting everything from speeches to dating-site profiles. Rather than just slapping together a list of hobbies, Mendes, 50, who charges $100 to $200 a profile, enjoys “reading people,” she says. “It’s not just about introducing yourself, but about starting a conversation.”

Mike Drouillard, a Vancouver-based lawyer who launched Perfect Your Profile in November, agrees. Too many profiles he sees are vague and lazily constructed. Someone might say she’s a student, but not indicate what she’s studying. “You need to give people viewing your profile something to work with,” he says. His fiancée and business partner messaged him through the dating site Plenty of Fish after noticing they’d visited the same zoo in Hawaii. “If I hadn’t included that photo, maybe she wouldn’t have messaged me.”

But some people prefer a more classic touch. Following in her mother’s footsteps, Talia Troister has been matchmaking for three years. The 27-year-old from Thornhill, Ont., keeps a database of singles, most of whom she knows, on her laptop. If there are two she thinks might hit it off, she’ll send them each other’s photos and basic information. Two years ago, she came across a lawyer on, who seemed well-suited to her friend. “He sounded normal but his profile was a bit quirky,” she says. “I kept bugging [my friend] to join JDate to message him and she was like, ‘I don’t know, that seems crazy.’ ” In late April, the pair got married.

Both Troister and Phillips say it’s important to keep an open mind. A Million Matches casts a wide net, contacting hundreds of men its clients might not otherwise give a second glance. For the past eight months, Yolande has been in a relationship with one such man; he’s a full four inches shorter than her desired height, and they don’t even live in the same city. She couldn’t be happier.

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