Veruca Salt: I wanted to be the first to find a Golden Ticket, Daddy!
Mr. Salt: I know, angel. We’re doing the best we can. I’ve got every girl in the place to start hunting for you.
Veruca Salt: All right, where is it? Why haven’t they found it?
Mr. Salt: Veruca, sweetheart, I’m not a magician! Give me time!
Veruca Salt: I want it now! What’s the matter with those twerps down there?
— from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory
When I accepted the job at the dating service, I thought it was going to be personally rewarding and fun, just like the job I’d had a decade earlier as the romance specialist for a weekly newspaper. My duties at the newspaper had included helping people write their personal ads and giving advice on dating etiquette. I found that most people had at least a bit of patience with the process because, honestly, what were the other options? Going to singles’ bars? Or, perhaps, making a humiliating video at Great Expectations, only to meet a 40-year-old guy who still lived with his parents.
I was devastated when my boss told me that the personals were being phased out of the paper. Online dating and the emergence of new matchmaking services had made our ads obsolete. The world of dating was getting faster and more efficient. Never would I have imagined I’d be flipping through the paper on a Thursday morning and not see a gem like: JUMBO SHRIMP: Human Oxymoron. Male, 5'6". Small Stature, Huge Heart.
As it turned out, my time at the dating service would be anything but rewarding and fun. One evening, I called my sister crying; I’d seriously had to fight back tears twice that day. One guy had called me a dumb fuck and then hung up on me. Another guy had tried to get me fired. My sister couldn’t believe it. “My God, what happened? What did you do to him?”
The client had informed me he’d gone out to a few clubs in the Gaslamp over the weekend. He’d seen tons of girls that were really hot. Almost every one of them was someone he would date. “Everywhere I looked there was a hot girl — why can’t you match me with one of them?”
I reminded him that we weren’t head hunters. I couldn’t go downtown and recruit people to date him. We could only match people based on the clients we had in our database. I also reminded him that our service should be only one avenue to explore. I asked how many of the women he’d seen he’d talked to or asked out. His response was “NONE, that’s YOUR job! Don’t call me back until you find someone gorgeous. Not just gorgeous, out-of-my-league hot!” Click.
That week, I’d called to tell him about a possible match. A young girl had signed up who was so beautiful, I was shocked she wasn’t a model. She was so stunning, I told him, I was amazed she was single. When the client got off the phone, he called my boss and suggested she fire me. He said I’d proved his point about the service because I’d apparently been dumbfounded that a pretty girl had joined.
He decided to put his membership on hold and would look into suing to get his money back. I guess it was just as well. When I told the young girl about him, she turned down the date because he was short and bald.
∗ ∗ ∗
The premise of the dating service was simple enough. Busy professionals met with a director to discuss what they were looking for in a relationship. This included their likes, dislikes, and physical ideals. If the director felt she had a sufficient number of matches, the client paid a one-time fee of $1300 for the year and in return received a promised minimum of 12 dates. Based on the availability of appropriate matches, and the willingness to be open on all parameters, the actual number of dates could be much more.
As the coordinator, my job was doing what I loved to do best — being on the phones, telling people about their upcoming dates and arranging a time and place for them to meet. I was also the one who listened to feedback about the matches and then relayed it to the directors. If the clients had a great date, we knew we were on the right track. If it was not a great date, we could narrow the search so that next time, hopefully, we would get a closer match.
The upside for those wanting to join the service was that it was next to impossible to be turned down. Unfortunately, for those being matched, this was also the downside. Some people came with quite a bit of baggage. However, the franchise owner would chastise the directors if they tried to pass on someone because the client appeared to be too vulnerable or depressed. It didn’t matter if they spent the entire interview in tears. If they had the money and wanted to join, they could. We understood the owner’s position. How would we determine if these people were ready or not? We weren’t psychotherapists.
The directors weren’t allowed to pass on clients who had unrealistic expectations, either. One woman joined who was only 4'11" and a little heavy. She was successful and pretty, and we could have had a ton of dates for her. But she insisted that her matches be between 5'11" and 6'4". She said that large men made her feel “dainty.” The owner insisted we take her, even though she wouldn’t budge on the height issue. She reminded us that “You may have someone tall walk in this afternoon, dying to date someone short and round.”
The owner often said, “Who are we to judge?”
One client loved to hike, bike, swim, and play volleyball — but he preferred to engage in those activities at a nudist resort. Since our directors had no way of knowing how many people in the database would enjoy the same thing, it was not their place to pass judgment, or to determine if this man would find a match using our service.