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Mismatched

Dos and don'ts of using matchmaking services.

Q: Romance Pros says it’ll find you “the best relationship you’ve ever had.” But after I paid a $2,495 initiation fee, the only match I got was with a man who doesn’t have my level of education or my big-city upbringing. Can you get my money back?— Alice Ageloff, Tucson, Arizona

Q: The one date I had through Romance Pros said he wasn’t happy with the service, either. After I complained, I was offered only half my money back. I’m so angry I started a MySpace page to blast this company. What else do you think I should do?— Cindi Conners, Tucson, Arizona

A: Alice, yes, we can help. Cindi, the Web page is not a solution.

Researching this column, I felt more like a relationship counselor than a mediator. “They promised dates.” “We promised a match.” “My date was a dud.” “She needs to be patient.”

Neither the Romance Pros ads nor the contracts mention a specific number or schedule of dates. Romance Pros’ chief operating officer, Bill Paye, said the Tucson franchise had been reluctant to provide refunds because Alice and Cindi didn’t give the service a chance to work—it can take many dates to find a good match. I countered that, just like a diet promoter, his company has a responsibility to make sure the customers understand the service. Could it be that Romance Pros failed to manage these clients’ expectations?

Paye saw my point and persuaded Tucson to refund Alice’s money in full. But Cindi was another story. The local office claimed her public criticism had already cost it mightily, a reaction that confirms a basic rule every Squeaky Wheel should know: you have leverage only before you go public. Once you inflict damage, a company no longer has any incentive to work with you.

Fortunately, Cindi had already taken down the Web page at my urging. Trying to make the best of a bad situation, I suggested to Paye that a little corporate generosity might do wonders to repair the tattered image of Romance Pros. A day later he let me know that Tucson was onboard and that a full refund for Cindi would be forthcoming. That Romance Pros proved willing to overlook a public flogging is impressive for a small company.

Recovered by On Your Side: $3,995

To Get Your Money's Worth From Matchmakers

1. Ask for references. And check them. Get in touch with at least three couples a matchmaker has brought together.

2. Be a considerate client. If you’re easy to work with, the matchmaker will introduce you to the best prospects.

3. Look your best. Like it or not, finding a partner is partly a sales job. Get a haircut, update your wardrobe, and smile.

4. Take your time. Don’t be too quick to judge your date. People often find partners they could never have imagined.

Ron Burley is the author of Unscrewed: The Consumer’s Guide to Getting What You Paid For (Ten Speed Press, 2006). You can read his journal on AARP.org, where there's also a new On Your Side column every two weeks.

Hope for You...Cheaper Dates

Online listings let everyone shop for love

Matchmaking services take the place of your aunt Mabel. You go see someone who, for a fee that usually runs thousands of dollars, may do everything from winnowing the field to making the dinner reservation to coaching you on how to make a good impression.

Yet high fees don’t guarantee happiness, and there is an inexpensive alternative. Online dating services are the technological equivalent of hanging out at a bar. Daters post descriptions and then cruise for like-minded prospects. Most services charge a moderate monthly fee, then you do most of the work. Some popular dating services:

Match.com
$17 to $35 a month

eHarmony
$21 to $60 a month

Submit your own question for consideration in a future On Your Side column.

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