Matchmakers are betting their business that breaking up really is hard to do.
Facebook's (FB) recently-announced entry into the crowded online dating market — a free service that will be operational in the "next few months" — is putting pressure on premium, offline services that attempt to match the perfect couple - at a price.
Such luxury matchmaking services will "have to retool and think about new creative ways to keep their customers," said Deborah Carr, professor of sociology at Boston University.
Matchmakers are optimistic that Facebook, even with its vast base of more than two billion users, won't be able to replace their key advantage: face-to-face meetings.
"There really is a magic meeting face to face and that's why businesses like mine have survived even with the growth of the Internet," said Michael Karlan, president of Professionals in the City LLC., which has organized speed dating events every week for over 20 years in six cities including Washington D.C., New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore.
A congested market of online-dating services will "positively" impact upscale matchmaking businesses because people will "want personal service even if it costs more," argued Michelle Jacoby, a matchmaker in the Washington D.C. area.
"So many people are incredibly frustrated with online dating. They're having a terrible experience," Jacoby said in an interview. "Oftentimes that's the point at which they call me."
Jacoby has run her own company, DC Matchmaking LLC, for nine years. She usually takes 20 clients at a time, and matches clients to 6,000-7,000 Washingtonian singles who joined her database for free.
Demographic features in Washington D.C. make her business more distinguishable from online-dating services, according to Jacoby. Some people who work in the capital's plethora of government jobs come to her because they don't feel comfortable putting pictures online for dating, said Jacoby. "We do have a very, very busy workforce here and people prioritize work as part of the reason why we have so many singles," she added.
According to the 2012-2016 American Community Survey's five-year estimates, 56 percent of adults in the nation's capital are singles. That's the highest percentage among all states, followed by New York with 38.2 percent.
Big metropolitan areas are "transient" places where people enter the area to pursue a career but don't have time to build family, said April Davis, president of Luma Luxury Matchmaking LLC, a St. Louis Park, Minn., -based matchmaking company with seven employees. They help people find partners around the world.
"They're married to their career and it's really hard to have a relationship when you don't have a lot of time to dedicate to that relationship," said Davis.
Carr, the professor, said people with high levels of education and wealth tend to date more exclusively and seek premier dating services.
But as a whole, dating services will "inevitably" be affected when "a huge competitor like Facebook" enter to the market, she said. "Even if the high-end services don't directly compete with Facebook," Carr explained, "they need to think about what they're bringing to their customers, because their customers now have another option."
Hours after Facebook announced May 1 that it would launch the new dating-related features, the stock price of Match Group Inc. (MTCH) -the parent company of Tinder, OkCupid and Match.com, three leading online dating apps-plummeted 22 percent.
Match Group's stock shares dropped another nine percent on Wednesday when its Chief Executive Officer Mandy Ginsberg tried to convince investors on a quarterly earnings call why Facebook is not a threat to its business model, citing previous user experience tests.
"Within two months of offering Tinder users an alternative to sign-up with Facebook, new users went from 100% Facebook sign up down to only 25% Facebook sign-up. Even though a Facebook sign-up was the first option on the screen and the most frictionless," Ginsberg said.
At Facebook's annual F8 Conference for developers, the company's Chief Product Officer Chris Cox said that Facebook users will be able to create a new "dating profile" that is "only visible" to people using the dating service.
Dating users can also "unlock" the event so that they can share day profile with other users who are going to the event and have also unlocked it, said Cox.
This article was written by Xinyi (Ethel) Jiang, a reporter at Medill News Service in Washington D.C. She reports on technology and international trade. The Medill News Service is part of Northwestern University.