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From arranged to assisted relationships: How modern matchmakers can help you find love 

By BEA TRINIDAD, The Philippine STAR Published Aug 13, 2023 5:00 am

On a recent long-haul flight from London to Manila, I found my guilty pleasure in sappy movies. There’s something oddly liberating about shedding a self-inflicted tear or two with a total stranger beside you. 

One film that recently caught my attention was What’s Love Got to Do With It?, a romantic comedy written and co-produced by Jemima Khan, delving into Pakistani culture with the backdrop of London.

Picture this: An unlucky-in-love Londoner slash documentary filmmaker, Zoe (played by Lily James), stumbles upon the matchmaking tradition. Her childhood friend, Kazim (played by Shazad Latif), dives headfirst into an arranged marriage with the help of a professional matchmaker. In the hopes of becoming a good son, Kazim insists that his choice is an “assisted” marriage rather than an arranged one. Curious about her friend’s choice, she convinces Kazim to be the center of her next documentary. 

It’s a common misconception that matchmaking can be outdated, traditional, or forced by older generations. Besides its existence in Pakistani culture, the tradition lives within Indian, Japanese, and Chinese cultures, too. But matchmaking is evolving, and we have more modern matchmakers today. 

Blame dating fatigue or people too busy to pay attention to their romantic lives. But a lot more people are open to it. One Dating Services Report (eServices Report - Dating Services Statistic 2023) states that 130.8 million people will book matchmaking services by 2027. 

I recently spoke to three professional matchmakers to understand how this practice has evolved: Vanessa Antonio, Rachel Russo, and May Bugenhagen. How can modern matchmakers help singles find love?

A modern matchmaker can help you become matchable

Vanessa Antonio, a certified matchmaker and founder of Singles Events Manila, isn’t just in the business of finding matches; she’s making singles matchable. 

Vanessa Antonio is a US-certified matchmaker, host, speaker, and trainer. She focuses on guiding foreigners on the dating culture in the Philippines.

She has an unconventional way of working with clients, where she starts with a SWOT analysis, which is usually used in business to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. After this, she works with the client on a dating strategy to improve their chances of finding a good match. 

Like every matchmaker, Vanessa has her niche. You’ll see this trend in the recent Netflix shows Indian Matchmaking and Jewish Matchmaking. Vanessa’s niche is the group of A.F.A.M.s (foreigners assigned to Manila). She says, “We have such a unique dating culture. Courtship plays a big role. You must court the woman, the family, and friends. That’s what I teach A.F.A.M’s.”

Her number one dating tip is being prepared. She said, “It’s easy to impress a date. But don’t expect it to come naturally. When dating, don’t just prepare the day before your date. Prepare months ahead.” As a matchmaker, she added, “It’s my job to transfer the dating knowledge to my clients. I’ve spent thousands of hours reading about dating and relationships.” 

So, what makes someone matchable? She shared, “It’s about handling your finances and caring for your body and health. These qualities are signs of self-respect. It’s the traits behind the results.” 

We have such a unique dating culture. Courtship plays a big role. You must court the woman, the family, and friends.

Forget timelines. Think of your core values instead

Unlike traditional arranged marriages, modern matchmakers urge singles to let go of their timelines and be open to possibilities. Rachel Russo, a US-based matchmaker, insists there are no rules on how it should go nowadays. She said, “It’s important not to compare to other people’s relationships and throw out the idea that there’s a timeline or being too obsessed with a checklist.” 

Rachel Russo has focused her career on relationships for the last 17 years. She has a master’s degree in Marriage & Family Therapy from Iona College and a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Rutgers University.

Some women feel the pressure to get a certain kind of engagement ring. I’ve heard people say, “Minimum two carats.” Rachel replied, “You never know. You could be going out with someone amazing, who cannot afford to buy you that two-carat ring, but he’s saving up for it.” 

She said, “For me, I decided to have a baby on my own. And so I used a donor. Then, I’m hoping to find someone later and create this modern family.” 

Rachel once went on 92 dates in one year and blogged about it. She brings her observations into coaching singles now. She said, “The most important thing would be matching values from health, wellness, lifestyle, home, stability, and family.” As a matchmaker, she said, “I do the background checks and intensive interview processes. Sometimes I even talk to their family, friends and exes.” She adds, “It’s all about saving you time and emotional energy.” 

Don’t be a lazy dater

May Bugenhagen is a professional matchmaker and Dating and relationship coach. She founded Two Asian Matchmakers, a boutique matchmaking company. 

She became a matchmaker because of a pain point, “When I turned 30, I thought I was a good catch. I had a great job. I’m cute. I had lots of friends. I have a good family.” So, she joined a dating service, paid $3,500 at that time, and received terrible service. She said, “That’s when I thought I could do better than them.” 

May Bugenhagen founded the Asian Matchmaking Institute to mentor other Asian matchmakers to excel in the industry. She has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Los Angeles magazine, Thrillist, Huffington Post, and numerous publications.

The range of dating services varies for matchmakers, but it can go from P100,000 to P1,500,000 for a certain period. Usually, a matchmaker will work with a client for six to 12 months—some even charge based on the number of matches. 

She said, “The mistake that singles commonly make is not giving people a chance and not using the online dating platforms effectively. They’re being lazy. People are just lazy daters.” 

She added, “You must do something different from your routine to find someone now. If you go to a gym or bar on a certain day, go to a different time and place. Switch it up.” 

She also believes that you need to go back to the basics. First, “know your criteria. Have about 10. Also, let go of the height criteria. A tall man doesn’t automatically mean a good partner.” 

To succeed in dating and relationships, “it’s all about learning how to communicate, being able to voice out things that bother you and to talk about it.” She also encourages her clients to pick up the phone and respond to text messages with at least a complete sentence—no one-to-two-word answers. Matchmakers are not just about finding a match and setting up a date; they are also there to coach singles on making the most of the dating journey. 

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I once saw a headline about Muhammad Malik, a 29-year-old entrepreneur from London who set up some billboards across the city in an attempt to find a wife. His billboards displayed: “Save me from an arranged marriage.” He got more than 1,000 applicants.

Perhaps we need another billboard in good humor: “Save us from becoming lazy daters.”