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Some Koreans feel cheated by pricey matchmakers

One of Korea’s top matchmaking companies Gayeon. (Photo by Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)

Publication Date : 10-10-2012


Age: 35. Gender: male. Occupation: working for a sales department at a pharmaceutical firm. Goal: to get married. Soon.

Kim Dae-jin (alias) thought he was all set to tie the knot when he gave out his personal information to sign up at Gayeon, one of the better-known matchmaking companies in Korea, next to Duo.

He had been skeptical going into the deal, but his matching manager in charge of his blind dates persuaded him otherwise.

Kim certainly thought he had paid enough — 1.7 million won (US$1,500) to be introduced to five women. His manager informed him that the time was unlimited, promising him more dates even after his membership expired.

But a year passed, and he’s still single. One change is that he’s seething.

Kim’s main complaint was that he was not given photographs of the women he was to be introduced to, and that none of the women he met were people he wanted to ask out on a second date.

He questioned why, for example, he was set up to meet a woman five years his junior who had no intention of getting married for at least the next two years.

He also said Gayeon provided a single profile at a time, meaning that he felt he had no choice but to meet the woman in question.

“I really had no alternative because every time I was given just one profile, so whether I liked it or not, I was compelled to meet her,” the former Gayeon member said.

He admitted that he may have been at fault for not meeting with any of the women on a long-term basis, but he stressed that they had nothing in common, and that each match itself was ill-made.

Kim was also peeved over the fact that his matching manager went on maternity leave, and another manager — a “couple manager” who is usually in charge of orientation for new members and not the actual matchmaking process — took over.

In other cases, members said they found out that their dates had a boyfriend or girlfriend. The managers, however, dodged responsibility, saying they could not have known such things.

“If they tell us they are single, we have to trust them,” said one former manager at a matchmaking company.

Gayeon declined to talk about the complaints, saying a few disgruntled members were papering the Internet with their stories. The company’s spokeswoman requested The Korea Herald to “not write the article”.

Kim’s story is more than common among South Korea' single population, which has been rapidly growing as of late.

As of this year, the number of one-person households reached 4 million. The marriage age is also higher, with women getting married at an average 29.1 years old, while the age for men is 31.9, according to Statistics Korea in a survey this year.

Compared to 20 years ago, the age at which people got married rose by six years for men and five years for women, the figures showed.

The meaning of such a phenomenon is multifold, but one is that it’s getting harder to tie the knot, which is why people like Kim turn to matchmaking companies, hoping to save time by leaving things to the professionals.

“I thought I could focus on other things,” he said.

Intentionally ill-made matches

Duo, considered the nation’s top matchmaking company, was not without complaints.

Choi Soo-hyun (alias), a 32-year-old female, still fumes when she thinks about the “human bomb” she met on a blind date set up by her couple manager.

In Korea, people jokingly refer to unattractive blind dates as “bombs”.

Choi, who was registered with Duo, said her manager literally begged her to meet a young man she thought would be a good match for her.

The date, however, went very, very badly. He was rude and full of inappropriate sexual pick-up lines, she said.

“It was for this I paid over 2 million won. It was ridiculous. I sent her an email asking how in the world she thought this guy who is so openly and obviously obnoxious would be a good match for me,” she said.

Many who have signed up at these matchmaking firms complain that they were persuaded — or at least asked persistently — to meet with someone not to their liking.

In some cases, the manager would come right out and ask her client to do her a favour by meeting a complete “zero”, promising compensation. This was so that the client would be set up on dates and not demand their money back.

For some of the wealthier men with sought-after jobs, going out on dates was like a side job.

Depending on their social and financial status, men of higher rank would be asked to join almost for free to meet women at whim; the women, however, would not know and would use up her “meeting chances” to meet guys who had no intention of settling down, at least not with them.

“It’s hard for us, too,” said a spokesman for Duo. “This is a business dealing with people, and the most accurate and objective data is not going to rule out exceptional cases and people.”

These complaints show that although the matchmaking companies claim they have all the important information, and that it’s all certified, some clients may be deficient in some way, if not on the exterior.

In the end, the matchmakers make decisions based purely on figures, and not on the people.

Glaring lack of professionalism

There are up to 2,500 matchmaking companies in the country. Out of them, only about 100 are big enough to operate websites. It’s that easy to set up a matchmaking company, and the CEOs of these firms rarely have any related credentials.

The standing adviser of Gayeon, for example, was a former student activist who went through a long list of unrelated jobs including lawmaker and head of KORAIL, the state-owned railroad company, before taking this job.

The situation was pretty much the same for the so-called couple or matching managers employed by the matchmaking firms. One called Sunwoo had a CEO who was a certified marriage consultant, authored books on matchmaking and had majored in a related subject in college.

Duo claimed that its managers were trained and stayed on the job for at least four years, but the firm declined to tell The Korea Herald of their specific credentials.

Gayeon had pictures and contact information for its managers on its website, but no other credentials were available, and the public relations office refused to disclose information regarding employees.

Some of the former members of some of these firms said they found themselves in shouting matches with the managers at times, and that only the customers who stood up for themselves to complain ever got attention and proper reimbursement.

Duo, Gayeon, Sunwoo, Noblesse Soohyun — whatever their name — are all in the business of connecting people, and for hopefully a lifetime. Regardless of what they may claim about the difficulties of their business, their responsibility is great.

Duo last year had sales of 29.2 billion won, while Gayeon had 10 billion won. As they say, the people business pays the most, it seems.


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