By Dan Voorhis
The Wichita Eagle.
Dating can be hard.
There are bars, churches, workplaces and other traditional places to find potential dates.
Then there are the zillions of dating services, from giants such as Match.com and eHarmony to much smaller niche players.
Online Dating Magazine estimates there are 2,500 dating sites.
All that can be frustrating for singles: searches filled with dispiriting silences and un-returned messages; laughably, or creepily, bad matches; suspicious omissions and outright lies.
That’s where Suzanna Mathews sees her opportunity.
Mathews is a dating coach and matchmaker who hopes to improve the odds for her clients.
She is part of the large and amorphous dating industry, filled with a variety of coaches, advice authors and columnists, and matchmaking sites and services.
It’s hard to know just how big it is, but one piece of it, the online dating site industry, generates about $2 billion in sales annually, according to one commonly used estimate.
Mathews calls her business the Date Maven, and it is one of a few businesses based in Wichita, Kan., that focus solely on dating.
She said she handles just four people at a time because of the hands-on nature of the business. Her typical coaching program runs six weeks.
“This isn’t the express lane at Starbucks,” she said. “People expect instant results. I don’t have a magic wand in my purse.”
She works with clients on how to have a healthy and productive approach to seeking a relationship. She starts with a diagnostic designed to reveal attitudes and behaviors about dating and relationships.
“Some will be useful,” she said, “and some are self-sabotaging. That’s where the tough love comes in. We have some Dr. Phil moments.”
She’ll help them craft better online photographs and profiles, fewer pictures of pets, fewer misspellings. She works to manage expectations to make them realistic.
Online sites can be helpful, she said, because they give people practice in talking, flirting, and screening out the wrong person. And they give them a chance to reshape their persona.
“People feel obligated to share too much information about where they’ve been right away,” she said. “Take baby steps.”
Meeting people isn’t that hard, she said, but finding a relationship that works is. It can require some real changes.
“Is this something for who you are right now?” she asks her clients. “Well, let’s work on that and make you the best person you can be.”
As hard as dating is, so is the dating services business.
While a few dating sites have done well and have a dominating presence, Online Dating Magazine estimates that the vast majority go out of business because of the high cost of building up enough users to entice others to join.
Mathews doesn’t play up the matchmaking part of her business.
David Miller, director of marketing for Kansas Singles, as well as Oklahoma Singles and other related sites, described their services as matchmaking.
It used to spend a lot of money recruiting singles through advertising, but it just wasn’t cost effective, he said. Now it relies on people finding the site at www.single-wichita.com.
“It’s old-school, offline personal matchmaking,” he said. The business is aimed more at older singles, who prefer more face-to-face contact, rather than the gamble of online dating sites, he said.
“Usually people try that first,” he said. “But there is a lot of shenanigans on those sites, a lot of cheaters and fakes.”
Mathews said she got interested in the whole topic decades ago when she did a college paper on the mating habits of insects.
“Humans are a lot more complicated, of course,” she said. “But it got me to thinking about what causes people to be attracted to one another. What makes that attraction stay or wane?”
Over the course of her career, she’s been an on-air personality for KSAS-TV and KRBB-FM radio, a voice actress, modeling and acting teacher at the Barbizon School of Modeling, Butler County Community College and elsewhere, and has co-owned a chocolate fountain business. Her website is www.thedatemaven.com.
Mathews took her formal training as a dating coach with nationally known dating coach and author Rachel Greenwald, who is based in Denver.
She said she sees two groups of people, those who are about 30 and are looking for something more serious than they’ve had so far, and those who have emerged from a long marriage, are older, and are overwhelmed by the prospect of dating again.
She tends to see slightly more women than men.
The cost depends on the needs of the client, she said, but can run from several hundred dollars to several thousand.
She remains an optimist. Despite the pitfalls of dating, she said, the opportunities are even greater.
“I’m selling hope,” she said.