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Dating for elites? Please

2015 September 3
by Zoe Strimpel
Want in on the elites-only League matchmaking app? Beware, you might be 100,000th on the waiting list

Want in on the elites-only League matchmaking app? Beware, you might be 100,000th on the waiting list

The League dating app is currently leading the new brace of mating services aimed at people who consider themselves elite – what might, in Britain of the past, have been proudly asserted as upper middle class (Mrs Bennett would have encouraged her daughters to join – if they’d had jobs, that is). Synced with LinkedIn, its USP is not to hide but rather to embrace the professional pedigree of members. It’s got nicer graphics than most dating-related products and thus actually seems a plausible place for the kind of people the homepage addresses thus: “you’re smart, busy & ambitious. You don’t need a dating app to get a date – you’re too popular as it is. But you should join The League”. Evidently a lot of prospective customers agree and really believe they’re “too popular” to get a date; The Guardian reported high membership, entailing a “waiting list” of 100,000 long. But one man that was told he was 11,000 elite singles away from being “drafted” found himself through within a week. Now, this should ring some alarm bells, surely. This man’s sudden acceleration through the ranks of hopefuls smacks rather of an algorithm claiming ideas above its station than a genuine triumph of romantic-professional glory; isn’t it possible that some vague scramble of numbers just spat out this man’s wait-list place, its only brief to make him feel hopeless, then special?

The League insists on an acceptance rate of 20%. But I’d like to see an article interviewing those who never made it. I think it’d be a short article since I’d be very surprised if The League was genuinely so oversubscribed that it authentically had to turn 80% of real, LinkedIn-listed single applicants (or should that be supplicants?) away.

See, matchmakers peddling exclusivity is as old as the stars – or at least the mid-1980s. Decades-old agencies like Drawing Down the Moon, Sara Eden, The County Register and more recently Berkeley International (over $5,000 to join) and Gray & Farrar (a name made-up to sound posh) have all guaranteed the right kind of people- the kind who, in Berkeley’s case, think nothing of boarding a plane for a date (the agency has international offices). Yet the reality for most agencies pre-Internet – from the Ivy Gibson Marriage Bureau to Prestige Partners to Mastermatch video dating – was usually different. In its relentless 1970s London Weekly Advertiser adverts Ivy offered special deals to women under 30 (prime marriage age), while Prestige was accused of distinctly unprestigious behaviour, pinching Dateline’s questionnaire (The Guardian, Oct 16 1983) and ultimately  going bust. Mastermatch, which also claimed to cater for the busy, the popular and the sexy, also failed (The Guardian, May 23 1982) after the founder, a failed businessman called Michael Oram, got his friends to pose as signed up singles. Drawing Down The Moon was short on “eligible” men so offered them discounts, according to its founder, Mary Balfour [private interview].

It’s easy to see how our dating industry-rookie ancestors of the 1970s, 80s and 1990s might have fallen for the promise of exclusivity. It’s less easy to believe that such people as the League seems to have queueing up, such debonaire, suave, knowing, travelled, urban people, people with such beautiful highlights, are so ready to buy it. They are people of the world. Shouldn’t they know better? Perhaps they’re just battle scarred by Tinder.

Still. There are so many opportunities for alarm bells to ring – at least for the historian of dating. In the pre-Internet period of 1970-2000, dating agencies always claimed large numbers of customers but never had to prove it. 6,000 would become 1,000 when pressed, would become zero as agency after agency folded often first abandoning debts and glossy West End offices for the matchmaker in question’s front room (such as in the case of Judy Joseph of Prestige- see Guardian, May 23 1982). Decades later, dating sites have come under fire for bogus data, inflated active member boasts and fake profiles. Yet when League hopefuls are told they’ve got 10,999 people desperate for membership in front of them under consideration, and then get in that same week, I sniff a potential rat. In the past, membership claims were hard to disprove because of anonymity concerns. Today, it’s easy to use the technology, the ubiquitous mystery algorithm, as a smokescreen.

Good luck to the League successfuls. I do hope that in all their popularity and LinkedIn glory they find time to nurture that thing called love. Or at least, the strategic partnership of two like-minded people. Of two successful and above all, guys, two popular people. And as for those with thousands in front of them, I do hope they won’t have to wait too long to get started. If the history of the dating industry has anything to teach us, the exclusive club they covet shouldn’t remain too firmly shut for long.

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