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A dating agency, also known as a marriage bureau, marriage agency, matrimonial bureau or matrimonial agency, is a business which provides matchmaking services to potential couples, with a view toward romance and/or marriage between them.
- Face-to-face: Men and women come in person and ask a matchmaker to help them find a potential partner.
- Internet dating agency: A website where people register, post their profiles and contact other members who have signed up with the agency.
- Speed dating: A group of people rotate partners and describe their personality and desires within a set time limit.
- Compensation-based international marriage agency: An agency that introduces men from developed countries to a potential mail-order bride, but the majority of the women are actually paid to be on the site and paid to interact with men.
- Non-incentivized international marriage agency: An agency that introduces men from developed countries to a potential mail-order bride, where the women are not paid to be on the site and paid to interact with men.
The internet and speed dating agencies are the biggest of the group.
There is a rise of businesses who teach men how they can meet women themselves without the use of a dating agency, some of which use the label pickup artist.
History and trends
18th and 19th century marriage agencies
Marriage agencies run by clergymen were introduced to England and Wales in the late 18th century, prompting considerable amusement from the social commentators of the day. In 1799 a "provincial publication says that a MATRIMONIAL PLAN is proposed to be established throughout every county, city, or town, in England or Wales. (...) The system of this curious, and it should seem actually serious, plan — as far as we can learn — is as follows: — Every person, of either sex, who desires to enter into a treaty of marriage, is first to subscribe a certain sum. All ladies and gentlemen to describe themselves, by real or fictitious names, as they may choose".
Men and women would classify themselves into three classes, and would generally state how much money they earned, or would be given as a dowry. A typical entry would read:
Second Class, No.2. — A gentleman, 40 years of age, a little corpulent, rather of a dark brown complexion, wears a wig, has a place in the Customs, and a small estate in Suffolk, with 750l. in the funds; reasonably well-tempered, and at times very lively; religion — of his fathers.
By 1825 an agency in Bishopsgate, London, opened three days a week for members of the public looking for a partner to describe themselves and subscribe to the appropriate list. However, by then both ladies and gentlemen had to classify themselves in 5 different classes.
Since World War II
Though most people meet their dates at social organizations, in their daily life and work, or are introduced through friends or relatives, commercial dating agencies emerged strongly, but discreetly, in the Western world after World War II, mostly catering for the 25–44 age group. Newspaper and magazine personal ads also became common.
Since the emergence of the Internet, mate-finding and courtship have seen changes due to online dating services and mobile dating services. Telecommunications and computer technologies have developed rapidly since around 1995, allowing daters the use of home telephones with answering machines – mobile phones – and web-based systems to find prospective partners. "Pre-dates" can take place by telephone or online via instant messaging, e-mail, or even video communication.
Many singles look for love on the Web, and research in the United Kingdom suggests that as of 2004 there were around 150 agencies in that country, where the market was apparently growing at around 20 percent a year. Academic researchers find it impossible to find precise figures about crucial statistics, such as the ratio of active daters to the large number of inactive members (whom an agency will often wrongly claim as potential partners, leaving them 'on the books' long after they have left) and the overall ratio of men to women in an agency's membership. Academic research on traditional pre-Internet agencies suggests that most such agencies had far more men than women in their membership. Due to the ratio of available single women being biased against men in the Western world, many dating and marriage agencies began to offer services over-seas. Traditionally, in many societies (including Western societies), men were expected to fill the role of the pursuer. However, the anonymity of the Internet (as well as other factors) has allowed women to take on that role online.
The trend of singles making a Web connection continues to increase, as the percentage of North American singles who have tried Internet dating has grown from two percent in 1999 to over ten percent today (from Canadian Business, February 2002). More than half of online consumers (53%) know someone who has started a friendship or relationship online, and three-quarters of 18-to-24-year-old online consumers (74%) say they do. There is also some academic evidence that the 18–25 age group has significantly taken up online dating.
- Heather Lyon established "The Marriage Bureau" in Bond Street, Mayfair, London, in 1939.
- Joan Ball started the Eros Friendship Bureau Ltd in 1962, renaming it the St. James Computer Dating Service in 1964.
- Love Is a Ball (1963). Charles Boyer plays the head of a matrimonial bureau that finds rich, unsuspecting American women for impoverished European aristocrats.
- "New Matrimonial Plan", The Spirit of the Public Journals for 1799: Being an Impartial Selection of the Most Exquisite Essays and Jeux d'Esprits, Particularly Prose, That Appear in the Newspapers and Other Publications, ed. Stephen Jones, (London: 1805) pp 329-31. Retrieved on 2008-06-05
- "A New Matrimonial Plan", The Every-day Book and Table Book; or, Everlasting Calendar of Popular Amusements, Sports, Pastimes, Ceremonies, Manners, Customs, and Events, Each of the Three Hundred and Sixty-Five Days, in Past and Present Times; Forming a Complete History of the Year, Months, and Seasons, and a Perpetual Key to the Almanac, Including Accounts of the Weather, Rules for Health and Conduct, Remarkable and Important Anecdotes, Facts, and Notices, in Chronology, Antiquities, Topography, Biography, Natural History, Art, Science, and General Literature; Derived from the Most Authentic Sources, and Valuable Original Communication, with Poetical Elucidations, for Daily Use and Diversion. Vol III., ed. William Hone, (London: 1838) pp 22-23. Retrieved on 2008-06-05
- "FBI Cautions Public to be Wary of Online Romance Scams". FBI. Retrieved 9 May 2018.