Last summer, I experienced the worst Internet Date of All Time. According to this man's profile, he was a 6 foot 2 communications specialist with a master's degree. In real life, he had completed one month of university, worked at a call centre and was 6-foot-8 (I'm five feet tall, so imagine my surprise). He was jaw-droppingly rude to the waitress, made fun of my dress and had few teeth (beware of profiles with no smiling photos, my friends).
I lasted half a beer, and excused myself. On my walk home, I resolved that the Internet, a perfect place to find quick answers to most of life's conundrums, was no place to find a great relationship. I had spent too many evenings doing my hair and getting butterflies, only to quickly discover I'd rather be on the couch, dog in lap, dill pickles in hand, watching Game of Thrones.
But like any good tumultuous relationship, a year later, I was thinking about giving online dating another go. I was just dipping my toes in again on eHarmony in July, when I was approached by A Million Matches, a Toronto-based company that promises to take the work out of online dating. Hundreds of clients across the continent pay the hefty sum: Premium packages that guarantee two dates a month cost $549 with a $200 start-up fee, plus the cost of dating services themselves. As a kind of digital personal assistant, their team of writers would craft my profile and select photos for multiple dating sites, communicate initially on my behalf to worthy suitors and e-mail me a summary with two or three recommended people they want me to hone in on.
Maybe it wasn't the Internet's fault that I had failed – but my own. They had it "down to a science" and promise a 90-per-cent relationship success rate for their clients. Challenge accepted.
After the first step, a profile consultation with Amelia Phillips, the company's founder, I was feeling good. She asked what I was looking for (a man who can throw a baseball and reads the newspaper), who I am (a 30-year-old strong, opinionated girl who cherishes engaging conversation and witty banter) and my future plans (I want a relationship that is so spectacular it eventually leads to marriage – but I'm in no hurry to walk down the aisle). She set me up with Match.com and took control of my eHarmony account – and after a few disagreements on my heading (theirs: 'It's important to be loving & supportive to those who love & support me'; mine: 'Life moves pretty fast'), it began.
I shook my laptop every time I logged in: Generic messages were sent to people I would never approach. "Hi there, I saw you in my daily matches," I had apparently written to dozens of men. "I like that you enjoy witty banter and seem fun. Why did you join Match?" Maybe it's the writer in me, or the control freak, but the idea that a supposedly funny guy was getting such a Luddite message made me lose it. Show, don't tell has always been my style.
Still, I went ahead with the recommended matches, and proceeded to line up dates. One terrific benefit is that since they set up so many online dates and receive feedback from clients, A Million Matches is able to give stealth information on someone you might be considering. They provide a recommendation or a cautionary warning, based on what they know about their past dates with clients.
The dates – four in total – were either one for the horrible date history books (do not tell me you "make so much money" before I've even sat down) or merely a platonic lunch that felt like a job interview with no physical chemistry.
Lucky for me, one recommended match in the daily report was one I had already connected with before the experts stepped in – he would be saved the dreaded robot message.
We've been on one date and have lined up another. But the experience, for what it was, renewed hope. It was everything a great date should be: One drink turned into three, which turned into ordering food, and I laughed for a solid five hours. Dapper, witty, charming – I couldn't believe the guy was on an Internet dating site.
Make no mistake – I remain a skeptic. The golden age of Internet dating has passed, now that the taboo is gone: The pool has been polluted with too many people, if you ask me.
Still, this connection, for whatever it's worth, was a product of my own hard labour. It takes hours of sifting through grammatically criminal profiles, scrolling through photos you can't unsee (shirtless selfies in a bathroom mirror is universally a poor choice, sirs) and crafting the perfect, witty, personal message.
Offering a service for busy singles with lots of money and little time is a great business idea – the supply and demand for love, or sex, are there from the first wink or smile or wave or "hey shawty." But for me, just like most things in my life, if I want it done right, I have to do it myself. And if it's worth it, it rarely comes easy.