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New ways to look for love

New ways to look for love

Blindfolded speed dating, weight loss clinics for larger lovers and bonding over toothpaste brands are among new techniques dating agencies could use to help the lonely find love.

Dr Marco van Gelderen says life is loveless for an increasing number of unattached people, and dating agencies need to find new ways to bring romance, intimacy and friendship to those who seek it.

A senior lecturer in the Department of Management and International Business at Albany, Dr van Gelderen says the dating service industry has grown in recent years as a result of greater demand and rapidly evolving technology including the internet. But too many potential clients remain stuck in "singledom" because of a lack of industry awareness of their needs as well as ambivalence about using dating services.

“The dating industry has a number of special problems in being successful in connecting people,” says Dr van Gelderen. “First, people don’t like to admit that they are lonely. Loneliness is something that happens to other people.

“There is a social stigma to loneliness and even to being alone. There is also the perception that dating services are for losers.”

Nicknamed "Dr Love" by one dating agency owner, Dr van Gelderen interviewed dating service owners from Australia and New Zealand to discuss recent findings on the singles market and to brainstorm ideas for playing Cupid to loveless strangers.

The participants, from a range of online and off-line dating services, were presented with information on what causes attraction and bonding, such as proximity, appearance, similarity and cooperation, then asked to consider this knowledge whilst dreaming up new ways to enhance their services.

Dr van Gelderen’s study is one of three in which he has applied business techniques to generate ideas for entrepreneurial opportunities relating to the fundamental themes of existence – loneliness, death and meaninglessness. Along with exploring the entrepreneurial potential for the dating service industry, he has looked at the undertaking business, and providers of New Age courses in the Netherlands.
The idea of blind speed dating was suggested as a way of circumventing stereotyping that often forges initial attraction but can be based on false assumptions and can result in disappointment or heartbreak.

“Although beauty attracts, people tend to choose partners as pretty as themselves, or a little bit prettier. People even choose partners with the same relative weight.”

Combining a dating agency with a weight loss clinic was seen as a way of helping bigger people to bond. “Daters will do their best to look more attractive,” says Dr van Gelderen.

And overcoming the awkwardness of a first date by encouraging potential partners to share preferred toothpaste brands, sandwich spreads or sunglasses – as one web-based dating service has – was applauded as a positive way of breaking the ice rather than discussing loaded topics such as past relationships or the number of wished-for children.

Dr van Gelderen says the rise of dating agencies is a result of major lifestyle changes in Western cultures. These include the increase in the number of singles as younger people switch relationships a number of times before they cohabit or marry, and people marrying later, if at all.

The increase in the number of divorces and separations among middle-aged people and an increase in the average life span –increasing in the number of widows and widowers – also meant there are more unattached people

The newness of these demographic trends means that people have few role models to learn from, he says. “For example, someone who divorces at the age of 48 and who is looking for a new partner has to learn appropriate courtship behaviour for a person of 48. But what is appropriate?"

Growing individualism and increasingly high expectations for romantic relationships, as well as the anonymity of urbanised living and increased mobility of workers make it harder to form and sustain relationships, he says.
“With so many people seeking friends or a partner, the problem seems to be one of coordination than scarcity.”

He says his latest research on dating services is far from frivolous, as some critics have suggested, because dating services are addressing a fundamental human need for love and belonging.

“Western societies place a high value on friendship and romantic love. To be successful in both is part of cultural norms. Without friends or an intimate partner, people can easily experience a sense of failure.”


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