Waiting by the phone for a boy to call is familiar terrain. Waiting by the phone for a robot butler to call is a new one.
Tawkify.com is an online dating site with an oddly traditional twist – living, breathing, human matchmakers.
In a market saturated by dating sites such as eHarmony and OKCupid that use computer algorithms to match up potential romantic partners, Tawkify – which officially launched in the United States in April and is expanding into Canada – offers a uniquely personal touch.
The website is the brainchild of sexagenarian Elle Magazine advice columnist E. Jean Carroll and tech wunderkind Kenneth Shaw (co-creator of The Purity Test, a popular Facebook app). Tawkify's intergenerational co-founders are a perfect metaphor for the site's mash-up of old and new, retrofitting tried-and-true matchmaking for the digital dating age.
"As long as people have brains, hearts and uteruses, old-school matchmaking will never go out of style," Carroll said in an e-mail.
Relationship seekers who sign up are prompted to answer fewer than 10 questions for assessment by Tawkify's team of five human matchmakers. Some are standard passport questions like gender, age and city of residence, and a few involve longer written answers to help the matchmakers get a feel for who you are, and what you're looking for in a partner.
When a match is found, Mr. Brooks – an automated robot butler with a propensity for quoting Stevie Wonder lyrics – e-mails with instructions on how to proceed.
It costs $19 per match, $49 for three matches and a variety of higher-end packages are available, ranging from $99 to $999 for unlimited matches. The service has recently become available to those living in Ontario, although the pool remains small, with only about 30 Canadian registrants among its 8,000 members (The New York Times reported that eHarmony had acquired 33 million users by 2010). Tawkify has plans to expand to the rest of Canada this fall.
Despite the shallow Canadian dating pool, I decide to dive in.
In my online questionnaire, I state that I'm looking for a kind and funny man and mention my fondness for food trucks, as well as TV shows devoted to food trucks.
Tawkify, Tawkify, make me a match.
I receive a flurry of adorable e-mails from my personal matchmaker, Jenny Studenroth, assuring me that she'll find me an appropriate match – and soon. It's almost like I'm being set up by a family member (though the Tawkify team were aware that this was a media request).
Instead of spending hours swimming through murky waters in search of a fish yourself, a Tawkify matchmaker essentially spears one and presents it to you.
People want "someone to help them navigate the social inefficiencies [of online dating]," explains Mr. Shaw, who himself found online dating useless because he didn't have the time to browse through hundreds of online profiles.
Their involvement goes beyond the initial matchmaking. Other intricacies of dating – including asking someone out or deciding how much time should elapse between phone calls – are all mandated by the Tawkify system. They act as the go-betweens, scheduling calls and planning dates like personal assistants, or 1950s chaperones.
It also includes an option to be paired up according to your Klout Score – a contentious method of measuring "influence" in social media – and practically stands alone in the online-dating market in the fact that no one but your matchmaker sees your photograph.
"We want people to meet by personality first," says Shaw.
First contact with a match can be a 10-minute telephone conversation ("Tawkify"), a romantic promenade about town ("Walkify") or a secret, pre-planned activity conceived by your matchmaker ("Mystery Date").
A few days after I sign up, Mr. Brooks informs me I've been paired with a gentleman named James (his name has been changed) – a man who shares my passion for current events. Our 10-minute Tawkify is scheduled for 11:30 a.m on a Saturday morning.
I'm kind of nervous. Tawkify's tagline is "Love at First Call," but phone calls aren't exactly the go-to communication method for twenty- and thirtysomethings, who prefer texting, tweeting and e-mail. Awkwardness is minimal. Pauses are deliberate.
At 11:30 a.m., my phone does not ring.
By 11:34, my palms are sweating.
At 11:38, I email matchmaker Jenny to see what's up.
At 12:30 p.m., Mr. Brooks finally connects me to James. It appears that robot butlers are not infallible.
"It's a little awkward," James says of the phone-dates. The grizzled veteran has done this exactly once before.
Five minutes later, we run out of things to say.
James cracks a joke that I don't get. My own attempts at humour are met with bloated radio silence.
The call ends and I am relieved. Love may be blind, but I somehow doubt that it's full of awkward silences.
No match made here. While it doesn't seem likely for a matchmaker to create a successful pairing without meeting their clients in person, it also doesn't seem likely that a computer spewing zeroes and ones could work any real romantic magic – but I've attended enough weddings lately to know otherwise. With Tawkify, at least there's a flesh-and-blood Yenta behind the magic curtain – complete with robot sidekick.
Tawkify's key questions to matchmaking:
1. What is your gender?
2. What gender are you attracted to?
3. What type of relationship are you looking for?
4. Where do you live?
5. How old are you?
6. What are your interests?
7. What is your occupation?
8. Describe your ideal partner.
These questions have been condensed and edited.
Special to The Globe and Mail