It was only a matter of time before your meddlesome great aunt who wants to set you up with that nice young man from her bowls club came to the attention of social researchers. But her 15 minutes of fame under the social scientists’ microscope has come.
A recent article published in the Social Psychological and Personality Sciencejournal has found that despite Aunt Enid’s protestations that she only wants your complete happiness, she’s really looking out for Numero Uno.
And so too is the smug couple intent on rescuing you from your miserable singledom by setting you up with any unattached person in their acquaintance with a pulse.
In four separate studies – four! – to explore the psychology underlying people’s proclivity to play matchmaker, researchers Lalin Anik and Michael I. Norton found that chronic matchmaking is associated with an increased sense of wellbeing.
That’s right, matchmakers are matchmaking because it makes them happy, not you.
In one study, the researchers assigned 188 people to match individuals to each other and measured their happiness before and after the matchmaking. It turns out that matchmaking is causally related to a boost in happiness.
Not only that, matchmakers are happiest when they bring together two people who otherwise might never have met. As researchers Anik and Norton explain, “Creating bridging ties – connecting people who would not otherwise be acquainted – is more rewarding than bonding ties (people who may already be acquainted)”.
This is probably why matchmakers always want to pair you with that guy who lists his interests as ALP factional politics, American Civil War history and model trains. The more unlikely the match, the greater the happiness payoff for the matchmaker.
The researchers speculate that the boost in happiness has little to do with the match made, and a whole lot more to do with elevating the social standing of the matchmakers.
Being known as a matchmaker increases people’s sense of their social acumen and intelligence. It’s also a way to flag your status in a social network and, potentially, put the matchees in your debt.
Clearly these researchers have never been on a blind date. Of all the things you might feel after spending an evening with a guy intent on cataloguing his three divorce settlements and share portfolio, indebtedness to the matchmaker isn’t likely to be high on the list.
It’s possible that matchmakers have always known about the joys of simulating Dexter from Perfect Match. The internet is chock-full of advice about matchmaking – mostly written for the benefit of the matchmaker.
Writing on Jezebel, for example, Anna North doesn’t pretend that matchmaking is about anything other than the matchmaker’s personal satisfaction. North cautions matchmakers to manage their expectations for success so they don’t feel let down if things don’t work out for the lucky couple.
“Most dates don’t lead to relationships. And many setups won’t even lead to a date. So don’t assume that the friends you introduced are going to get married, and don’t be disappointed if they don’t,” writes North.
And historically, matchmaking was also for the matchmaker’s benefit. Matches were made between tribes and royal families for the purpose of diplomatic alliances or, among less well-connected families, people were thrust upon each other for property, business or religious reasons.
The difference now is that people are matchmaking to maximise their happiness and social esteem rather than their assets.
Now that their secret is out you might think that the matchmakers in your life will back off and find another source of happiness.
And you’d be wrong. As the researchers found, one of the appeals of matchmaking is that unlike other paths to happiness – such as exercise and religious beliefs – “matchmaking doesn’t require a great deal of time and effort”.
And therein lies the problem!
If matchmakers spent just a smidgen more time thinking about the suitability of the matches they orchestrate, rather than their own reflected glory, they might just suck a little bit less at their chosen social sport.