FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) — Love is in the air this week, but it could come at a steep price.
A local widow said she paid nearly $6,000 to a dating service, only to end up alone.
Marilyn Kelley was looking for love in a world constantly swiping right.
“I’m not looking to get re-married,” Kelley said. “But you really do get very lonely when you get to be this age.”
A year after her husband’s death, Kelley had barely re-entered the dating scene when she got a call from the Fort Worth Dating Company.
“They’re telling you, ‘Oh, you’re perfect, you’re just the kind of person we need,’” Kelley recalled.
The company bills itself as a safe haven for local singles. The business states it runs background checks, interviews applicants, offers counseling, and plans events where local singles can socialize.
Members can also peruse a private website of potential suitors featuring recent pictures of real, vetted people.
Kelley went in for an in-person interview and stayed for the sales pitch.
“She is talking so fast, and giving you so much information,” said Kelley, referring to the salesperson. “And you are feeling so overwhelmed, but you’re also feeling like, if I don’t do this, I’m going to be the dumbest person in the world,”
Kelley paid $5,995 dollars to become a member. That was just the start. The contract states that most of the fee is earned by the end of the initial interview.
That means Kelley also paid for her own headshot, on top of a monthly fee of $19.95 to access the private website.
Since April, Kelley has spoken to five men on the phone but not a single conversation has led to a date.
“I just feel like I have just thrown away all this money,” Kelley said. “It’s just totally bam, bam, bam, everything is happening so fast.”
Sarah Riordan, the regional director of the Fort Worth Dating Company, sat down to explain how the business works.
She said members can trust they will not be catfished because every individual has been personally vetted by the company.
“If you don’t want to be single, you need to put yourself in a situation to meet other like-minded singles,” Riordan said.
CBS 11 reporter Alanna Autler then asked, “How would you respond to complaints you use high-pressure sales tactics?”
“If someone feels pressured, it’s probably just the pressure from within because they really want to make a change in their life,” Riordan said.
“For a lot of people, $6,000 may seem like a lot of money. How do you as a company justify charging something like that?” Autler asked.
“Well, because the program Marilyn selected is a three-year program with unlimited pause time, so technically, she’s going to get a lot more than three years out of that membership, along with we’re screening every single person she’s going to meet through the program, we’re doing unlimited matchmaking for her, and give her a beneficial avenue to meet people in a safe environment and make some friends as well,” Riordan said. “So really, being single is an investment.”
Riordan claimed unlike some other dating sites that use an algorithm, the company “handpicks” matches based on compatibility. However, Kelley showed CBS 11 how to generate matches for herself simply by entering preferences on the website app.
“We do a lot as far as the matchmaking goes, but there’s no computer-generated matching or anything,” Riordan said. “It’s very hands on and very personalized. We do have a much higher success rate than any other avenues out there just because the level of sincerity is going to be so much greater.”
Autler asked, “In terms of success rate, do you have a quantifiable number you’re able to share?”
“No because everyone’s level of success is defined differently,” Riordan said.
The company uses the word, ‘”matchmaking” in its marketing. But the member contract explicitly states that Fort Worth Dating Company does not matchmake.
“So it’s matchmaking, but not matchmaking?” Autler asked.
“Matchmaking as in personal searching, suggesting people that we feel would be a match for you,” Riordan replied, explaining the staff uses interview techniques and love languages to assess compatibility. “But ultimately, it’s going to be your decision whether that’s a match.”
Despite the company’s emphasis on finding local singles, customers could also be matched with members of the affiliated, Dallas Dating Company.
One of Kelley’s matches lives in Pottsboro, a tiny town near the Oklahoma border, more than 100 miles away from her home in Burleson.
Riordan said the company discloses the possibility members could match with singles from either chapter in its initial paperwork, but they will honor a member’s request to focus on a specific area.
“If Marilyn doesn’t want to meet someone in north Dallas, she has every right to say, ‘No, thanks,’” Riordan said.
“What do you say to members who say they paid a lot of money and then had nothing to show for it?” Autler asked.
“All they have to do is reach out to us,” Riordan said. “We’re open Monday through Saturday, and we would absolutely want to help anyone who’s unhappy with the services.”
Ten months later, Kelley is still single. But she’s not asking for a refund. She said all she wants is a partner.
“You just feel really stupid and kind of used,” Kelley said.
Riordan said most contracts last for approximately three years, and the company does not issue refunds.
Fort Worth Dating Company has been in business since 2001. The Better Business Bureau gives it an A+ rating.
Riordan said the company does not “cold call” customers. She said they only call people who “opt-in” to be contacted.