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HomeHealth & FitnessWhy Gen Z Is Bringing Back Traditional Matchmaking

Why Gen Z Is Bringing Back Traditional Matchmaking

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On her first date with her now-fiancé, Lawren Saunders did something a little different. Following the advice of her matchmaker, the then-25-year-old ditched the six-inch heels, false lashes, and wig she usually wore on first dates, opting instead for comfortable sandals and a jean jacket she wore regularly.

Earlier that year, Saunders had reached out to Alexis Germany Fox, a matchmaker and dating expert, after hearing her friend rave about her relationship savvy. Like many other Gen Z singles, Saunders felt burned out by years of being on the dating apps, and was looking for what she described as a more “authentic” way of meeting people.

“I was swiping and revamping my profile, not knowing what to say on my prompts and matching with weird people,” says Saunders, now 27. “On a dating app, it’s difficult to figure out how you want to present yourself or how to read other people. It seems very superficial since you’re going off someone’s best photo or best one-liner.”

Saunders isn’t the only Gen Zer turning to matchmaking for more intentional connections. Germany Fox says she saw a 35 percent increase in Gen Z clients post-2021 compared to pre-2021, pointing to the pandemic as a turning point. Another matchmaking company, Three Day Rule, says it’s had nearly 50 clients who are 27 or younger in the past year — around five times its usual annual roster of fewer than 10 clients of the same demographic.

Everybody wants to write off Gen Z as being so unserious about everything, but there are a lot of them who are seeking these real, more old-fashioned types of relationships.

“My Gen Z clients say they come to me because dating apps are dead, that the waters are polluted and they’re getting ghosted or catfished,” Germany Fox says, describing how her clients have struggled to find people who can communicate effectively and build a foundation for a healthy relationship. “Everybody wants to write off Gen Z as being so unserious about everything, but there are a lot of them who are seeking these real, more old-fashioned types of relationships,” Germany Fox adds. As a matchmaker, she invests time in getting to know each of her clients through questionnaires and one-to-one conversations.

Saunders followed Germany Fox’s “Rule of Three” principle to narrow down the top three traits she sought in a partner: loyalty, an adventurous streak, and spirituality and faith. These traits should be value-based rather than physical or material ones like looks or finances, according to Germany Fox. Germany Fox then uses her understanding of her client and their desired qualities to match them with other clients or, failing that, people she meets at events or on social media.

Saunders went on about seven first dates through Germany Fox before she met her now-fiancé — dates she describes as much more meaningful than the ones she’d gone on through dating apps. “Working with a matchmaker, it was a different dating pool,” Saunders says. “If I’m meeting someone through [Germany Fox], I know they’ve already gone through the process of talking with her and figuring out what they’re looking for in a relationship.”

Modern-day matchmaking has also expanded to novel formats like live dating shows, offering a fresh experience for singles craving in-person connection. When colleges reopened their campuses in the fall of 2020, Jackson Beer was buzzed by the idea of meeting people outside the confines of a digital world. He’d been on the apps but found text messages a limiting format to express himself fully.

“As someone who is struggling with ideas of gender and sexuality, meeting people in person makes me feel more permission to pursue those identities,” says Beer, who identifies as pansexual and uses the pronouns he/she/they.

But social distancing rules on campus and an unsavory encounter with bigotry while out at a club only reopened old wounds of uncertainty and rejection, leading Beer to consider other ways of finding matches. This year in March, they went on Tinder Disrupt, a live dating show in Brooklyn, where friends pitch contestants on stage and answer hard-hitting questions like, “Would you rather hook up with Dave Chappelle or J.K. Rowling?” and “What do you miss the most about your ex?”

“It felt more real. It put more of the onus on people to be honest and up front,” Beer, now 23, says. “It was kind of like an in-between of dating apps and meeting someone organically.”

Tinder Disrupt originally began as a satire of tech culture in San Francisco, but has since evolved into a much more earnest dating show, according to Rose Oser, the event’s creator and host. Part of the reason for this shift is that people, especially younger singles, are burned out from dating apps and digital communication more broadly, she adds. Another is the idea of endorsement — something you would get from a trusted third-party, like a friend or matchmaker. “It’s one thing to vet people, and another to find people who are endorsed,” Oser says.

While Beer unfortunately didn’t hit it off with anybody at Tinder Disrupt, they say they’re open to attending more matchmaking events. “I crave the idea of a matchmaker as being an intermediary who also has a kind of credibility to be like, ‘Hey, I want you to meet this person, because I know these things about you and I know these things about them, and I think you guys would mingle,'” they say. “It takes that initial awkwardness out to give myself permission to feel a bit more comfortable with somebody.”

Matchmaking can have its limitations, given it traditionally favors the majority, whether that’s someone who’s heterosexual or non-disabled, online dating researcher Aditi Paul, PhD, points out. But Gen Z’s renewed interest in meeting people offline opens up the possibility for more diverse matchmaking. Tinder Disrupt frequently showcases contestants with underrepresented identities (Oser is also starting a polyamory dating show in May), and Germany Fox says her clients come from diverse backgrounds.

The return of matchmaking and other in-person forms of dating doesn’t necessarily spell doom for dating apps. Instead, experts predict a shift toward hybridized approaches like app-facilitated in-person events and matchmaking via friends — something major apps like Hinge and Tinder are already experimenting with.

“Sometimes, we are more ourselves online,” Dr. Paul says, pointing to the existence of finstas and the memes friends send to one another with exclamations of self-identification (“so me!”). By baking these sorts of organic online behaviors into the dating space, Gen Zers can find a natural way to express themselves most authentically, according to Dr. Paul.

As for Saunders, who got engaged to the man Germany Fox set her up with in March, she envisions a dating landscape that’s still online, but with more guidance throughout the process. “No one tells us how to date. No one gives a rulebook,” she says. “So it’s important to talk to somebody who can give you that guidance. It’s the best thing that I did.”

Yoonji Han is a New York-based writer and journalist. She primarily writes about culture, human interest issues, and communities both nationally and internationally, and was most recently an award-winning reporter covering race and identity at Business Insider.

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