Online dating sites like Match.com and eHarmony promise you the chance to meet your soul mate, but entering the virtual world can be risky, with online scammers waiting to prey on those looking for love.
Diane Mowbray, owner of Candlelight International Matchmakers, has heard tales of people who are financially and emotionally abused after trying online dating services. "There are some real scams out there," she said. "It leaves things open to people not being honest."
Since 1996, Mowbray has run her business from her home near Roland, and her approach to finding love is definitely a more traditional one than anything available on your computer. Her clients range in age from under 20 to over 80 years and live throughout Manitoba, with a few in northwestern Ontario and Saskatchewan. She calculates that she has helped spark 175 romances, with just over half of those progressing to marriages.
First of all, she prefers that a potential client contact her by phone. In this way, she is usually able to verify whether the caller is male or female – a problem common to online sites – and to start collecting some information about them.
"The majority of people who call are serious about meeting someone," she said.
Her new clients often hear about Candlelight Matchmakers through word-of-mouth. She said one concerned father contacted her about his daughter as he wanted her to meet Mr. Right.
If the caller decides to sign up for a one-year membership with Mowbray, she then sets up an in-person meeting, often at her home or a Winnipeg restaurant. She goes through an interview process that can take up to two hours. At this point, she will take a few photos of the client to be used as part of their profile.
"Everyone has their own specifics on what they’re looking for," she said.
Once a client’s profile is completed, she will compare it to the others she has on file. "Nobody gets to come here and leaf through catalogues," she said, adding that the profiles are kept confidential, another way in which her services differ from online dating sites.
When she finds what she considers to be a prospective match, she mails the profiles to the two people so they can see a photo of and read about the other person.
Asked why she doesn’t use email to quickly send out the profiles, she said Canada Post provides a level of security. "People seem to appreciate that."
"If both people say they are interested, then I connect them by phone," she said. Following their initial conversation, Mowbray checks back with each person to see how they feel about taking it to the next level and planning a face-to-face meeting.
She provides guidelines to follow for the first meeting and makes sure it happens at a public place for safety. And this is where the magic can start for some lucky couples.
She recalls a match that really was love at first sight. "The first time they met, they knew it was a go, and now they’re married."
She and her husband have attended some former clients’ weddings. "The best part of my job is knowing people who have found someone."
If one or both of the clients tell Mowbray that they don’t think they’re a match, then she continues her search. She said she has even contacted former clients who are still single because she thinks that person might be the best prospect for one of her current clients.
But there are no guarantees that any of Mowbray’s clients will find their true love, and she makes this clear before they sign up for her services. She advises them to try to keep a positive attitude and not to give up looking.
"You always have to be open to meeting new people."