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Midday Match

By Traci Vogel

OVER THE past decade, matchmaking has gone high-tech. And with the tech has come high pressure. Dating websites run ads for people—think about it, ads for people—that attempt to distill a potential mate's appeal into a few pithy sound bites. Sound bites used to be for politicians. Now, alas, they are for love. A quick perusal of Match.com, for example, yields hundreds of profiles of men between 25 and 45 who go by monikers like "Coors345" (does that mean 344 Coors came before him?), "Fyrbreather" and "Loiteringwintent" (er, lil' creepy, there). The selection stuns—it's like dating via Costco. Should you go with the guy who describes himself as "cuddly as a fleece slipper" or the one who "loves big trucks, big music and big-hearted women"?

When Andrea McGinty found herself single in Chicago, she decided that the ideal first date was going for lunch. Lunch was low-pressure, had a defined time frame and wasn't overly expensive. You could get a sense of whether "Fyrbreather" referred to a circus interest or to halitosis, and head back to work for a little distraction should it prove the latter.

McGinty's idea proved popular, so she started a matchmaking business called It's Just Lunch. Now, It's Just Lunch has landed in Silicon Valley. Franchise manager Mimi Finkel, a Bay Area native, says friends have long dubbed her a natural matchmaker—"You know," Finkel says with a laugh, "the person who has the parties." Finkel was single herself for 10 years, and what with her instinct for fun and her network of friends, It's Just Lunch seemed a natural, er, match for her. "It's Just Lunch is just a fun, low-key scene," Finkel says. She doesn't want to badmouth Internet dating, but says the only computers used at It's Just Lunch are the ones that keep track of when people have their dates. All the matching is done by hand. Every morning from 9 to 10:30am, the directors meet and pair people up based on in-depth interviews and feedback from previous dates.

And Finkel has something else the computers don't: gut instinct. "Some of the best matches we do are based on gut instinct," she says. "People might say they want something like this, but a lot of time we see what they really mean is that."

One thing the Internet has done is to make dating services such as It's Just Lunch far more socially acceptable than they used to be. According to one survey the company conducted, a decade ago only 8 percent of people admitted to using a dating service; today, the number has jumped to 49 percent.

"We have people every day who 'put their memberships on hold,' which means that they want to date exclusively," says Finkel.

And she gives the satisfied laugh of a natural matchmaker.

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From the January 12-18, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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