In recent years a new phenomenon has emerged in the shidduch world to prey on singles. Many self-proclaimed matchmakers (as they all are) have begun to charge a “registration fee” simply to speak with them.
What exactly is this registration fee, anyway? This has never been explained, and I might be the first member of the Orthodox world to publicly raise the question.
In general, fees are charged for one of three reasons.
1) Goods delivered or services rendered. This is the only legitimate reason for a fee.
2) An excuse for a person or entity to increase its profit. Banks, credit card companies, cell phone companies, airlines, and government agencies all create fees and give them names simply to squeeze more money out of people. Inventing legitimate-sounding reasons to charge people extra money for trivial things that have little to no actual value is a key part of their business model. This is why these fees are so often buried in fine print and referred to as “hidden fees”. The less we think about them, the more they can get away with charging money for essentially nothing.
3) Fees also serve a symbolic purpose. It is a way for one party to show superiority to another. Corrupt government officials in third world countries and mobsters are some of those who create fees in part for this purpose.
Paying a fee to someone demonstrates one of the following: you owe them for something, you need them for something, or you are afraid of them.
With this in mind, let's consider the registration fee charged by many matchmakers. This fee does not come in exchange for any good or service. Merely meeting with a matchmaker does not improve your life in any tangible way. It may offer a sense of hope that this person will later improve your life in a tangible way, but that's all it is: hope. If the matchmaker fails to deliver – if the matchmaker in fact never calls you after this initial meeting – the fee is non-refundable.
Being that the registration fee comes with nothing of actual value, no assurances, and no money-back guarantee, it is a scam.
Matchmakers will protest that the registration fee is necessary to ensure that the singles they meet are “serious”. This is a weak excuse; the single should be no less entitled to a hard guarantee that the matchmaker is serious about working on their behalf until the job is completed. If the single must take it on trust that the matchmaker is competent and devoted to their cause, the matchmaker should trust that singles who approach them are not doing it just for fun. It isn't fun.
Matchmakers will further protest that they are busy and should be compensated for their time. This is also no justification for a registration fee. The matchmaker is not getting paid for their
time; their time is of no value to the single. The matchmaker gets paid for making a successful match, nothing more and nothing less. Whether this takes the matchmaker a single phone call or months of frustrating efforts is really irrelevant to the value of the service being performed. A matchmaker who spends ten minutes and gets the job done deserves payment; one who spends years with nothing to show for it does not.
To put it another way, people should only be paid for their time when the time itself is the commodity. For example, a babysitter, a security guard, or a store clerk should be paid by the hour, because they are literally selling their time; they are covering a situation so you are free to spend that same time elsewhere.
A matchmaker, on the other hand, is being hired specifically to perform a certain job, irrespective of how long it takes. It is little different from hiring a mechanic to fix your car or a painter to paint your home; the charge should be for the job, not the time. If their time is so valuable, let them work faster and finish the job sooner. Matchmakers therefore have no excuse to charge for their time, which has no value to anyone but themselves, and registration fees remain a scam.
Matchmakers have been able to get away with fees for services not rendered because the Orthodox world has wrongly accepted the notion that matchmakers are providing a valuable service simply for existing. Further, matchmakers are providing a valuable service for speaking with a single, entering them into a database, “thinking” of them, and even making an occasional suggestion. In reality, none of these are services, nor do they merit compensation. None of these improve the lives of singles in any way. At best, they provide a sense of hope, which will likely lead to disillusionment down the road.
A real estate agent does not get paid for showing homes to potential clients; they get paid only for sealing the deal. Similarly, a matchmaker used to be paid strictly for making a successful match. This only changed in recent times because matchmakers have become woefully inept at making successful matches, rendering the fee for a job well done too far out of reach for them to stay in the game.
Instead of examining why matchmakers are so inept, demanding improvements, and making critical changes to the overall system, the Orthodox world doubled down on its dependence on matchmakers and lowered the bar for financial compensation. Now matchmakers can demand a hefty registration fee for providing no service whatsoever, and singles feel compelled to pay it.
The registration fee is not only a way to keep inept matchmakers “motivated”; it is also a show of power. Like the corrupt government official or mobster who demands a fee in part for symbolic purposes, the matchmaker demonstrates superiority by having the chutzpah to charge a fee simply for speaking to her. She is not meeting you as an equal. She does not see you as a potential client looking to hire someone to perform a job. She sees you as something far less, and herself as something far more, and charging a registration fee makes this clear from the outset.
You are not worth her attention unless you pay for it. You are not even worth hiring her for a job unless you pay her to consider taking it.
In light of this, the registration fee is not just a scam. It is emblematic of so much that is wrong with the shidduch world, so much that is wrong in the relationships between singles, matchmakers, and the overall community.
A single who pays a registration fee is a sucker.
A matchmaker who charges one is preying on the hopes and fears of singles.
A community that enables such a dynamic to become normalized needs to take a hard look in the mirror.
From now on, as it always was, a matchmaker should only be paid a finder's fee. No find, no fee.