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Old Match, New Flame: Dating Sites Embrace an Ancient Mating Custom 

Wednesday, Mar 12 2014
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When 24-year-old dating site founder Lauren Kay first proposed that single women be imported from New York to San Francisco to solve gender imbalances in both cities, she never expected to be a target for blogosphere derision.

"What's really interesting is all the blatant sexism: People equate a woman on vacation, dating, with prostitution," Kay says, referring to critics who've likened her idea to a mail-order bride service, or a bordello that trades in cross-continental flights.

And yet, a lot of East Coast bachelorettes seemed interested: A day after launching a crowdsourced campaign to set her plan in motion, Kay amassed more than $2,000 from women who'd gladly fly 3,000 miles to be paired with a Silicon Valley tech bro. Men in San Francisco donated a more modest $750 for the chance to be shipped back east.

Kay spun the aptly named "Cross-Country Love" campaign from her online romance service, the Dating Ring, which uses matchmakers to engineer group-dates of half a dozen people. The conceit is to bring luxurious personal service into an interaction that's facilitated by social media — an "Uber" for the romance industry, as Kay put it — that combines something very new with something very old.

"I've done a whole lot of online dating," Kay says, recalling the two grueling years of field research she conducted while running a babysitting agency in Brooklyn, where she lives. "Overall I found it took too much time." She says her clients' desire to leave fate in the hands of a matchmaker could be a reaction to the overabundance of choice that online dating begat.

"It's an understandable backlash," she says. "After scrolling through thousands of profiles, it's easier to just go to an expert and say, 'I want to enjoy life, I want to spend time meeting people.'"

Other romance-market entrepreneurs have, in fact, arrived at the same conclusion. It turns out that matchmaking has enjoyed a surprising Renaissance in the high-tech economy. A 2012 survey by the market research firm Marketdata Enterprises found 1,800 independent relationship brokers operating in the U.S., along with 250 brick-and-mortar offices run by "off-line" dating companies. Many of them charge $10,000 up front to cherry-pick a soul mate — roughly 400 times Kay's matchmaker booking fee.

"It's the new trend in apps," New York-based matchmaker Lisa Clampitt says, adding that most online dating services cut corners to make the service affordable. Namely, they deputize someone in-house — a tech employee, rather than a seasoned Yente — to give the personality quizzes and read the tea leaves.

That's fine if your purported goal is to set up a group-date configuration that works, or connect two dots between New York and San Francisco. But, Clampitt assures, a real matchmaker's burden is to coach, and coddle, and fix dysfunctional relationship patterns.

Granted, that might not matter to a footloose ingénue who just wants to find a new flame.

About The Author

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan

Bio:
Rachel Swan has been a staff writer at SF Weekly since 2013. In previous lives she was a music editor, IP hack, and tutor of Cal athletes.

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  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

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    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
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    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

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