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COMMITMENTS : For Love . . . or Money? : You can run but you can't hide. If you're single, dating services will hunt you down--even if all you want in a relationship is to be left alone.

July 17, 1995|ANDREA HEIMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If you are single, they will come.

Compatibility Unlimited. Dating Dynamics. Better Halves. Introductions by Anna. Club Elite. The British Singles & Anglophiles Club.

Rushing to fill the void in the hearts of 72 million mateless Americans, the singles industry is growing faster than O.J. Simpson's defense team. The Better Business Bureau lists 91 dating and matchmaking services registered in Southern California, and the numbers are compounding to match the burgeoning singles market.

And don't worry--if you don't find them, they will find you.

"They called me at home in the evening, trying to persuade me to join," one infuriated 36-year-old newspaper editor says of a popular dating service. "When I said I wasn't interested, they asked me if I was already involved in a relationship. I thought it was really nervy. It was none of their business. And I would never join a service like that, I think it's a big rip-off."

But many others do join, seduced by the promise of happily ever after, not to mention the countless perks along the way: extensive psychological evaluations to determine your perfect match; background checks on all potential mates; "how to" seminars; professional portraits and videos, and, finally, a date with a beautiful billionaire looking for someone exactly like you .

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday August 7, 1995 Home Edition Life & Style Part E Page 5 View Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Singles--A story in the July 17 edition of Life & Style may have given the impression that Introductions by Anna, a singles service, solicits clients by calling them at home. A representative for the service says it does not.

Unfortunately, it's not all hearts and flowers. While many agencies do good work, many others make promises they cannot humanly keep, make claims that are exaggerated (if not completely fabricated), and manipulate their clients into spending outrageous sums on memberships. Their hard-sell techniques can wear down even the sturdiest of singles.

"They try to make you feel bad that you're single, and, like, 'You've tried everything, so try this,' " says one worn-out dating service veteran, a 39-year-old saleswoman. "They're very aggressive and push for you to join right then and there. I've walked out of places because of that, but they are very convincing."

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Perhaps the most persuasive of all: matmillionaire extraordinaire Helena, who charged up to $50,000 for her services then absconded with millions, leaving behind hundreds of sad, single (and poorer) clients.

On a lesser scale, the hugely popular video dating service Great Expectations, with 51 offices across the country, was ordered by the Federal Trade Commission recently to pay consumers $200,000 to settle allegations that they overcharged some memberships.

"I'm not saying we were without fault," says founder Jeffrey Ullman. "But what we owed comes out to be pennies for every member. The cost of the investigation exceeded our wrongdoing--it's another example of government interference and overkill."

Still, when it comes to paying for love, buyer beware.

"I try to remind people that with all the warm fuzzy stuff these services try to offer, people should keep in mind that they are a business and they are doing it for the money, not as a spiritual quest," says Anita Siegman, a psychologist who practices in Brentwood and who counsels singles of all ages.

Siegman adds that there is no research proving that matching people based on interest and background is any more successful than matching people at random. (Dating services allow the customer to choose their own dates through photos, videos and bios, while matchmakers choose for you).

"If I like vanilla and you like vanilla, that doesn't necessarily make us compatible," she says.

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One 39-year-old sales executive, who requested anonymity, joined a Beverly Hills matchmaking agency that promised her the cream of the crop in men and in service. Instead, she and the friend she joined with were continually "matched" with the same men, although they had very different requests in the kind of man they were looking for. Her friend, in fact, had requested a strong Christian man--but was set up with a Jewish man.

The Los Angeles woman says she had never entertained the idea of joining such a service until they contacted her.

"They called me on Friday and Saturday night, out of the blue, saying: 'Oh, you're home, poor thing, you don't have a date--if you were dating, why aren't you out, aren't you lonely?' They were really smart, they called two or three times on a weekend.

"Finally," says the disgusted dater, "I thought, 'Maybe they're right, maybe I'll talk to them.' And they also claimed to be very exclusive, and I bought into that."

The office was homey and pleasant, she says, and the salespeople were friendly and smooth-talking. "They made me feel like, 'I can relate to you and to your situation.' They gave me examples of similar situations with happy endings."

She "bargained" them down from $5,000 to $2,500 by bringing her friend to join with her.

"I think it was a gimmick, to negotiate a deal, so you can feel like you're special," she says.

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