The pictures, the preferences, the interminable lists of hobbies and favorite childhood memories – it’s no secret that sifting and sorting through hundreds of online dating profiles can be exhausting work.
“I’ve done it three different times and it just becomes overwhelming,” says Marilyn Heywood Paige, a 40-year-old marketing consultant from Philadelphia. “It’s like a part-time job trying to filter and write and call and meet.”
Thanks to the arrival of online “dating concierges,” though, overly tasked singles can now hand that job over to a third party, who — for a fee — will gladly do that heavy lifting.
“I was working crazy hours as a marketing executive, usually over 70 hours a week,” says Scott Valdez, 25-year-old CEO of Virtual Dating Assistants, which functions a bit like an electronic yenta.
“I was also online dating but didn’t have time for it. So I found someone on Craigslist to handle my online dating accounts and it worked out great. One day it dawned on me that there was probably a demand for this service for overworked executives who want to meet people but don’t have time.”
Valdez followed his gut and launched the “dating management agency” in June 2009. A similar business, Done For You Dating hung its shingle out right around the same time.
Both businesses provide dating consultants who pump clients for crucial information about who they are and what they’re looking for, then spend hours scouring various online dating sites on the client’s behalf.
The number of matches — and the nature of the services — depends on the fee you pay (which can range from $147 a match to $1,200 a month for the full dating monty).
Dating consultants will create your online dating profile, surf the sites for potential dates, handle all communication with people you want to pursue (e-mails are approved beforehand) and even plan the date, down to the clothes you wear and the place you go for dinner.
“They handle the logistical aspect of it so you can focus on meeting people,” says Rick, a 37-year-old marketing executive from Miami who asked that his last name not be used (he’s currently using one of these services).
“Going through different profiles and sending out e-mails is purely mechanical work. For somebody as busy as I am, sitting down and doing that is not productive.”
Outsourcing one’s love life is nothing new, of course.
Edmond Rostand wrote about courtship via a third party in his 1897 play, Cyrano de Bergerac (later made into the Steve Martin film, “Roxanne”).
The idea of hiring a virtual assistant to handle the hunt for a romantic partner was more recently floated by Tim Ferriss, author of “The Four-Hour Work Week” and New York Post writer Carrie Seim, both of whom hired virtual assistants to help track down dates.
“I gave my mom my password and had her going through profiles for me,” says Paige, the Philadelphia marketing guru.
“She was never allowed to write anyone but she sifted and sorted for me because I had so many. I would easily get 15 to 20 a day. I couldn’t keep up.”
But is turning to a third party to find a date, contact a date and even carry on a correspondence with a date somehow cheating?
“I think it’s genius,” says Brian Jones, a 40-year-old single property manager from Seattle. “You can have someone else weed through all the crap and tell you whether a person really sounds good or if they only sound good because you’re desperate.”
Others, however, are more dubious.
“I think it’s a scary trend for a lot of different reasons,” says Tiia Jones, a 41-year-old teacher from Seattle who writes a blog about online dating.
“For me, those first e-mails are absolutely critical. I don’t like (this idea) from either side. I wouldn’t like not being the one communicating and expressing my voice and my personality — but more importantly, I want the stuff coming from that person. I’d feel a sense of betrayal if I found out that someone had used a virtual dating assistant.”
Patricia Wallace, psychologist and senior director of information technology at Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth, agrees that the trust issue is a big one.
“I don’t have a problem with getting somebody to review the candidates,” says Wallace, author of “The Psychologist of the Internet.” “That’s sort of like a headhunter. But the idea of them ghostwriting your communication … that’s the piece that will start to damage trust.”
But online dating — with its mandatory profiles and back-and-forth e-mails — can sometimes be intimidating, say some singles, especially for people who aren’t particularly good with words.
“Maybe these guys are shy and need some help to get a girl to notice them,” says Marzi Alavi, a 27-year-old from Manhattan who’s in public relations. “He might be really cool but can’t write an e-mail for the life of him. They help him write the girl and then he can be funny and flirty in real life.”
What would she think if somebody hired a third party to woo her?
“That sounds like a romantic comedy,” she says. “I don’t know how I’d feel. I think half the people would be offended and the other half wouldn’t. If I was on the receiving end, I’d probably be like ‘Oh, that’s not really you. You’re not that funny or charming. You’re a dud.’ And that would suck.”
Of course, dating concierges aren’t the only sock puppets out there furthering someone’s romantic suit.
“I had a guy who had a friend writing his e-mails,” says Jones, the dating blogger who says she’s gone on nearly 300 online dates in the past nine years.
“At some point, the tone and timbre of his e-mails just changed. I asked him about it and he said, ‘I’m not a very good writer so I was having a married friend of mine write the e-mails.’ I felt that was false, like I was falling for the wrong guy.”
Too far or not far enough?
Rick, who’s used a dating concierge service for the last three months, says he doesn’t see how it’s any different from other matchmaking services or even asking a buddy to help connect with a woman while out on the town.
“It’s like if you were in a bar and had a wingman help you meet someone,” he says. “It’s like that movie ‘Hitch’ a little bit. You’re always drawing lines for what people find acceptable. Online dating didn’t used to be acceptable.”
But even Valdez, founder of VirtualDatingAssistants.com, acknowledges that some people might feel squishy about a date connecting with them through his service.
“We usually advise our clients not to disclose (that they’ve used our service),” he says. “I’ve personally tested what happens and I haven’t had great results. Some women laugh about it and think it’s funny and sneaky and it doesn’t bother them. But others will feel deceived or say things like ‘If you didn’t have time to write me the messages, how are you going to have time for the relationship?’ ”
And then there are those who wish these new dating surrogates would go one step further.
“Can they do the first kiss and see if he’s any good?” asks Paige. “Can they screen him for post-divorce bitterness? Can they go out with him on a hot day and see if he shows up in shorts with socks up to his knees?”
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