As long as people have entered into relationships, people have been matchmaking—you may even have had a go yourself! From arranged marriages to online dating, here’s the history of matchmaking.
Britain's early tribal groups arranged marriages as a strategic tool to ensure their inheritance of, and continued dominance over, land, wealth and status. Parents sought to match their offspring with partners at least as wealthy as themselves but often strived to make a profit.
The consent of the future bride and groom was of little to no importance to these matchmakers, and all of the arrangements were simply made on their behalf.
A page from Decretum Gratiani. Image via World Digital Library
In 1140 however, the Benedictine monk Gratian brought the concept of consent into formalised marriages through his law book, Decretum Gratiani. This work would go on to inform the church's stance on marriage throughout the 12th century.
From here on, there would be more to marriage and matchmaking than just land and property. Matchmakers now needed a keen eye for a couple who could live together harmoniously and enjoy each other's company—as well as each other's inheritance.
The first matchmaking agencies in Britain appeared in the 1600s when parish vicars played a crucial role in matching their parishioners with a spouse from the same social class.
Matchmaking didn't relinquish its ties to religion until 1825, when the first non-religious dating agency opened its doors in London though the focus was still on matching clients within their own class.
The Matchmaker by Gerard van Honthorst, 1625. Via Centraal Museum in Utrecht
British literature of the time tells us a lot about public attitudes to matchmaking. Writers such as Jane Austen offered a biting, and often hilarious, social satire to send up the process in their novels.
Austen was modernist in her belief that one should marry for love, and clearly shows her contempt for matchmaking in Pride and Prejudice, where Elizabeth talks about her mother, Mrs Bennet, who only has eyes for money (and the odd handsome soldier).
Matchmaking became a pastime for women who were already married, and often their sole occupation. Mrs Bennet enjoyed a little meddling here, sending her eldest daughter out to her suitor's home on horseback, "because it seems likely to rain; and then you must stay all night".
This act prompts Mr Bennet to snip "your skills in the art of matchmaking are positively occult."
A dance from Pride and Prejudice. Regency dances offered many a matchmaking opportunity. Image via BBC
The last Irish matchmaker
Ireland is renowned for its matchmaking traditions. A festival specifically held for the purpose has been run in the Spa Town of Lisdoonvarna for over 150 years.
Tourists first descended on the small town to drink and bathe in the spa waters. The opening of the West Clare Railway in 1887 saw that number boom. With the harvest safely in, September became the peak season for eligible bachelors to flock to Lisdoonvarna in search of a wife.
Traditional working class Irish men were the matchmakers of choice, they had insider knowledge of the farmers and an idea of whose sons and daughters were eligible to be wed. When a match was successful, they earned part of the dowry.
There is only one official matchmaker left in the town today. Willie Daly is third generation matchmaker, during the festival, Daly can be spotted clutching his 150-year-old notebook full of love-seeking profiles and successful matches (he’s now responsible for over 3000 marriages!)
Today 40,000 people flock to the festival each year. Meanwhile, the LGBT Outing Festival, founded in 2013, now also runs as a twin event.
Willie Daly holding his book of matches via Clare People
In the 1980s matchmaking became a source of popular entertainment, as families across Britain sat down every Saturday night for a dose of Blind Date.
Hosted by the legendary Cilla Black, three singles were introduced to the audience but concealed from their potential match, who then had to judge them on their personalities alone before picking his date.
The format was a winner. Today viewers tune into a variety of dating shows from Take Me Out to Come Date With Me, to First Dates and The Undateables. It seems we still can't resist the urge to play matchmaker, even if it's from our sofa!
Falling out of fashion?
Image via Regency History
As British society has modernised, matchmaking has come to be seen as old-fashioned. The philosophy of romanticism and love pairings took flight in the 19th Century, which led to a new era of love focused Western matchmaking.
In the Regency era, couples began eloping to the Scottish village of Gretna Green, to avoid English marriage laws. The pursuit of romantic love over arranged marriage only increased in popularity and has now come to be seen as a human right.
Today matchmaking has a mixed reputation. While some formal religious matchmaking, such as the mass wedding ceremonies carried out by the worldwide Unification Church, have taken on a cult status, other, more choice-orientated methods are thriving.
60% of the world’s marriages are still arranged, showing that despite changing trends, there’s still a place for traditional matchmakers.
Modern day matchmaking is big business and increasingly, it’s happening online.
A study by dating site eHarmony in 2014 predicted that by 2031, half of all married couples would have met each other online. By 2040, this number is set to rise to 7 in 10 couples.
“Twenty years from now, the idea that someone looking for love won’t look for it online will be silly, akin to skipping the card catalogue to instead wander the stacks because the right books are found only by accident.”
– Wired Magazine 2002
– Wired Magazine 2002
91 million people now use mobile apps in order to meet partners. In the UK, 1 in 5 relationships now start via dating sites or apps and an incredible 80% of gay men are meeting their partners online.
Singles today look for happiness online, scrolling through potential partners—who can be accepted or dismissed with a simple swipe—and even running our own social media 'background checks'. In the dawn of the digital age, have we all become our own matchmakers?
Have we got you in the mood for love? Try a spot of self-matchmaking with Reader’s Digest Dating; the safe and secure way to meet a like minded companion. Simply set up your profile, browse other singles and start chatting.
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