Brittney Kaye Smiejek has been on more than 1,000 first dates over the past two years.
For most, this would be hell. For her, it’s a livelihood. Brittney is a matchmaker with Three Day Rule, a premium matchmaking service with about 50 employees and offices in nine major cities in America — New York, Chicago, LA, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and San Francisco are among them. These are the cities where money is abundant, but time is not. Brittney operates in the Chicago market.
Three Day Rule, founded in 2013 in Los Angeles by entrepreneurs Talia Goldstein and Val Brennan, has a straightforward premise: Tell us what you are seeking, and we’ll make the connection. This is where Brittney’s onslaught of first dates enters the equation. Each person who creates a profile first gets an appointment with one of the service’s matchmakers. They meet in person and spend an hour together going over every conceivable aspect of their lives and all the factors that may impact a relationship — physical preferences, relationship histories, career aspirations, personality traits — before Three Day Rule will start actively including them in matchmaking. Anyone can join their database of matches for free (there are more than 100,000 members in it currently), allowing Three Day Rule to build up the potential pool of people with whom their clients can be connected. But the first date is also an opportunity to see if premium matchmaker services are a fit for the person being interviewed.
Brittney’s job on the first “date” is to assess an applicant’s fit for their premium services. Does this person have the right mindset for an active matchmaking partnership and, more importantly, the means to pay for it?
Her expertise isn’t cheap. Regular packages start at $5,000 for three months or $8,000 for six months. VIP packages start at $15,000 for six months and $25,000 for the year.
“I’ve sold two of the VIP packages in the last month,” Brittney said. “That’s rare, though. Those don’t normally go as often as our regular packages.”
The difference is in volume, primarily. Regular packages will get you one match at a time — with the caveat that your match has to agree ahead of time that they also would like to meet with you. VIPs are presented with more options: 10 unvetted matches are sent to them ahead of time, and they get to choose which, if any, they’d like to arrange a date with. From there, dates are set, and clients check in with their matchmaker after to discuss whether they want to continue with their match or send them back to fish for more options.
She’s spent hours with clients, going over their likes and dislikes, and helping them to assess why a first encounter with one of their matches may not have been the ideal they were seeking. “My background was in social work,” she said, referring to why the job has been a natural fit for her.
“We basically get to act as a therapist for our clients. People who are very stuck in their ways and they’ll go on the first date and if there’s not that spark, they don’t want to continue. We try to coach them out of that,” Brittney said. Patience is preached. Love takes time, and an initial one-hour meeting isn’t an adequate replacement for the thrill of getting to know someone — their quirks, their insecurities, their sense of humor.
“People think that when you meet your soulmate, fireworks are going to explode in the air,” she says. “That’s just complete bullshit. Doesn’t happen.”
Roughly 70 percent of people ages 20 to 34 are single, according to Census data. This is a research definition wherein “single” just means “never married.” A good percentage of those people are in relationships with other people. And some of them are probably good, even.
This research definition also fails to capture the difference between being alone and being lonely, though the two are closely related. Nearly 60 percent of single people in the U.S. say that they feel lonely sometimes, nearly twice the rate of married people (34 percent). While it would be easy to attribute this specifically to their relationship status, the problem is almost certainly exacerbated by the nightmarish reality of searching for a partner in the 21st century.
One in four single people under the age of 35 use dating apps, with the most popular being Tinder by a considerable margin. Eighty-seven percent of those users say they feel lonely, nearly twice the rate of single people who aren’t using dating apps. Besides the self-fulfilling aspect (if you are lonelier, you are likely more actively seeking partnership via app), it’s easy to see how the feedback loops Tinder and Bumble create help fuel that feeling. You’re reminded of failures in real time, presented with matches, unmatches, opportunities that fail, dates that seem great but result in no second meeting, etc. Each failure is immediate and inspires angst — these apps are designed like games, and one that a lot of people aren’t winning — furthering a sense of loneliness and dread.
In the same way that it is expensive to be poor, it is expensive to be lonely and trying to date.
Brittney said that users of Three Day Rule are on many different dating apps in some capacity. When new clients come to her, it’s often because they have exhausted the possibilities on dating apps or otherwise found them lacking, for the same reasons that everyone who remains on them likewise feels unfulfilled. These people just tend to have enough money for other options.
In the same way that it is expensive to be poor, it is expensive to be lonely and trying to date. Meeting people costs money: You have to go somewhere to meet them, because you are probably not inviting a stranger into your home, no matter how alluring they are. Even if you keep it modest — light on drinks, no appetizers — you’re likely looking at $30 per meeting on the low end. Go on 10 of those per month and you’ve spent $300 to have your expectations deflated. In other words, you’re already spending money on matchmaking, but you’re doing it yourself and the less successful you are at it the more money you will continue to shell out — money you are probably short on precisely because you are single.
Besides the loneliness, the other obvious downside of being single is that it means one source of income, typically during what are the lowest-earning years of a career. According to the Census, the median income for single people in the U.S. is about $36,000. Naturally, married people have it better with dual incomes: median household income from the same study is just shy of $90,000.
Lonely people are also more likely to think their personal financial situation is going to get worse (26 percent vs. 11 percent of non-lonely people). They’re more likely to be uninsured or have to pay their insurance out of pocket, meaning that their ability to even go out on a date could be taken from them with one unexpected trip to the emergency room.
In that sense, a crass approach to dating becomes seeing it as an investment. If you find your lifelong partner, you’ve doubled your income, and you’ve got to spend money to get there. Each date is a roll of the roulette wheel and you spread your chips accordingly. When one hits, you get to walk out a richer person — ideally in an emotional sense, but almost certainly in a material one.
If you have means, investing becomes much simpler. You have the capacity to spread your resources out, and disposable income to burn on professionals who can manage your portfolio on your behalf. Companies like Three Day Rule make it so this can also apply to your dating life. They will find you a potential partner, sorting out the misogynists, or the aspiring social #influencers, or the Hentai masturbators, or the Funko Pop collectors. You keep your time and sanity. They keep your money.
And if you can’t afford the upfront costs of a premium dating service? Well, perhaps we will have to start a movement to nationalize these services on behalf of the 99 percent of the lovelorn.
Three Day Rule can’t guarantee it will help anyone find love. Love is as much a full-time job as it is a cosmic force: if you are not willing to put in the hours to get to know someone, to be selfless, to find beauty in their flaws, then you will fail. People’s willingness to do those things is not the responsibility of a matchmaker.
Matchmaking services, popularized by shows like Bravo’s Millionaire Matchmaker, serve a diverse set of clients (with the commonality of having money to pay for it). Brittney says the client makeup is pretty evenly split across age and gender for matchmakers: it’s not as male-dominant as people would think, and it’s not just people in their 40s who are on their last rope. The appeal differs by gender, however. Men in the VIP packages are primarily excited that they will have 10 attractive women to choose from, while women are more excited by the fact that their matches will be pre-screened to be sure that they’re worth the time and effort.
They only guarantee that they will find someone, multiple someones, who fits certain criteria. Still, it works fairly often. Eighty percent of their clients go on second dates with their matches, and in the two years she has been doing this, Brittney has helped to facilitate one marriage and two relationships that are on the brink of engagement. They stay in touch, despite no longer being clients.
“Finding a soulmate is one of the most important things for most people, and as a result it’s one of the most rewarding opportunities to be a part of,” Brittney said. “We’re their matchmarkers and also play the role of therapist, but our clients become our friends, and there really is nothing better than helping your friends find love and happiness.”
If you can afford the service, Brittney — who is in a multiyear relationship herself, and hoping for her own engagement — will find you what you say you need, or she’ll help you understand what you really want out of a partner. And, if it doesn’t work out, she’ll find you another one. And another one. And on and on until you’ve found the person of your dreams.
For the rest of us, it’s back to work in the swipe mines, praying that the next match you get will sweep you off your feet instead of asking for pictures of them.
Casey Taylor is a writer living and working in Pittsburgh. If you’d like to praise him, yell at him, or offer him an unfathomably lucrative writing opportunity, you can follow him on Twitter.