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Fifteen years ago, it didn’t cost anything to hire Yasmeena Menon as a personal matchmaker. It was a hobby – until it turned into a behemoth.

By 2016, the Milton, Ont., matchmaker had a business called Muslim Matrimonial and she was starting to get calls from Muslims elsewhere in the GTA, and then different parts of Canada and eventually the United States. Menon charges US$114.99, a low fee compared with other matchmaking services, which can range from $90 to $9,000 – and sometimes even higher.

She says it’s common for people who don’t know of the price to approach her with a few thousand dollars, begging her to find what many spend their whole lives seeking: their perfect match.

“People come and tell us, ‘this is as good as doing it free,’ ” she said. “People are very happy with this service – and so we are very happy.”

While matchmakers have been playing cupid since ancient times, online dating eventually eclipsed them, and especially so during the pandemic. In 2020, Match Group, which owns dating apps Tinder, Hinge and OkCupid, reported an increase in users who turned to online dating, with a 15-per-cent increase in new subscribers in their second quarter. But those numbers ceased to keep climbing, with the company delivering lower-than-expected revenue in their first quarter in 2023.

Additionally, the bossy, meddling matchmaker stereotype once portrayed on the big screen was shattered with a slew of matchmaking shows. Reality TV shows such as Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking, which premiered in 2020, convinced viewers that the practice might be the way to find love today, even when online dating apps offer the promise of love at their fingertips. Now, others such as Jewish Matchmaking and Match Me Abroad are following suit.

Matchmakers, like Menon or Indian Matchmaking’s Sima Taparia, offer what online dating doesn’t: advice from someone who gets to know you personally. It’s the difference between a tired algorithm and the guidance of a real person – a coach, an expert, a personal cheerleader. While some sink or swim alone in the online dating experience, a matchmaker is behind you in your darkest moments.

All of this could signal that something more traditional could be the antidote to online dating burnout, with matchmakers reporting explosive growth in client numbers and even some online apps recognizing the trend. For example, in October, Tinder introduced Tinder Matchmaker, which will let friends suggest matches for users. There are also services continuing to pop up that focus on certain niches – from matchmakers that cater to high-net-worth clients to those that zero in on hyper-local communities

Like Menon’s Muslim Matrimonial, services that focus on specific religions or backgrounds are also still out there. Single to Shaadi, which serves South Asians, is based in the U.S., but founder Radha Patel’s clientele data show that the number of Canadians who’ve joined Single to Shaadi since 2019 has more than doubled – even tripled, in some years.

Patel always knew she loved two things: her culture and people. Those aspects of her personality shaped what she now does: match people based on their shared backgrounds and personalities.

Pat Wright, a matchmaker in Calgary, also points to personality. “I know all of my clients extremely well. We know them well, because we talk to them all the time,” said Wright, who is adamant on having clients call her back, not e-mail or text, after a first date so they can explore how it went in a more insightful way.

For more than 40 years, Wright has tried to master the technique of finding perfect matches. The pandemic caused her to pause her service, Personal Touch Matchmaking, for some months. But business started booming at the start of 2023 – to almost double the clientele.

“They’ve just decided they’re not going to hold their life back any more,” she said.

Some matchmakers expected the rise to be temporary. For Emily Lyons, founder of Lyons Elite, that suspicion was extinguished when she realized the steady growth her business had seen over the past four years. Since 2019, she has seen a 600-per-cent increase in clientele.

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Emily Lyons, founder of Lyons Elite.Handout

People are “sick of dating apps,” according to Lyons. And as with many undertakings, they want to outsource to the masters.

But even as matchmaking enjoys a resurgence, online dating isn’t going away, and some matchmakers are marrying the traditional with the modern. Rebecca Cooper Traynor of Match Me Canada said her business transitioned from old-school matchmaking into helping clients find matches online right before the pandemic began.

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Rebecca Cooper Traynor of Match Me Canada.Photographer Eve Harvey/Handout

“I know that a lot of people don’t have good things to say about online dating, so I was curious about that too,” she said. “Because I was thinking, ‘How can this not work for people? It makes so much sense.’ ”

Traynor, who’s been a matchmaker since 2009, said it comes back to that idea of personal advice.

“In my experience, a lot of people don’t know what a good photo looks like,” she said. “I would make subtle edits, and then I’d help the client with searching and messaging online.”

Perhaps Lyons sums up the appeal for matchmaking, whether traditional or melded with online dating, best: “We’re basically a head-hunter for the heart,” she said. “We not only take the work out of it, but if you work with a good matchmaker you get coaching too.”

Three individuals share why they chose a matchmaking service – and how it went

Ro Hou

Service: Shanny in the City

Fee: $1,700

I was watching Indian Matchmaking with a friend and she said, “You should totally do this. Worst case scenario, look at all of these very funny stories you can tell later.”

I think the first date felt very awkward, both of us were very nervous. In our case, we had a bit of miscommunication. I actually told him, “I don’t think we’re compatible, but I really like you and I think we should stay friends.” And he responded with, “We can be friends, but would you be open to going on a second date and talking it through?” And I said yes. And ever since, it was a very interesting turn around. All of my friends who have heard about our story are very willing to go through it too.

Hélène Clarke

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Hélène Clarke has been married for just over six years.Handout

Service: Camelot Introductions

Fee: Just less than $1,000

I met my husband through Camelot Introductions in 2016. On our third date is when we decided we wanted to be together for the rest of our lives. Now I’ve been married for just over six years and it’s wonderful. I feel very grateful every day – it’s like having a second chance at love.

I didn’t want to do the online dating, it was really scary for me. It made me feel as if I was shopping in a supermarket. So I had read in the Winnipeg Free Press an article about Camelot Introductions and it was just something that stuck in my head. They have a personal touch, so I knew that they would do interviews, and they do criminal-records checks – that was something that was important.

One of the things Camelot actually does is they coach you along. That’s something that you don’t get on internet dating.

Allan McMordie

Service: Matchmaker for Hire

Fee: $2,000

I became a widower when my wife died of cancer almost 10 years ago. When I decided to start getting out there again, I thought that online was the way to go. I retreated from that very quickly, it was a lot of work. A lot of people don’t read the profiles, they fabricate who they are. I just said no – I’m going to get someone who knows how to do this involved, and help me out.

It’s just the confidence of knowing who I was meeting with was actually who it was. I can go and sit down with a person I’m being introduced to knowing that we had something in common. And I already know something about her, because you get a properly written profile so you know that everything is true.

I think a lot of people just get so fed up and they stop dating – whereas going through a matchmaker, you get a whole lot of positive experiences and you think, “I can do this and there are nice people out there,” because you get matched with people who match you. You’ve got somebody on your side trying to find somebody. You don’t get so jaded.

These interviews have been edited and condensed.

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