Business & Tech

The Fine Print | Sean P. Murphy

For $1,000, Boston dating service disappoints a client

Tom Bluthardt says he’s done with Boston Matchmakers.
Jonathan Wiggs\Globe Staff
Tom Bluthardt says he’s done with Boston Matchmakers.

Recently divorced and lonely, Tom Bluthardt turned to the Internet to find true love or at least some reasonably compatible women to date.

It was not cheap. Bluthardt paid $1,000 to get listed for one year with Boston Matchmakers, one of an expanding number of businesses that promise help to the lovelorn. That was in February. He imagined he would get a couple of dates a month. But since then, he’s been out only once, with a woman he described as very nice, but not for him.

Seven months have passed without so much as a just-checking-in e-mail from Boston Matchmakers. He says he wasted his money, though he readily admits not reading the contract (with its “no guarantees” disclaimer) carefully enough.

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“Are they trying hard enough?” he wondered.

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Bluthardt recalls a lot of fast-talking from Boston Matchmakers. What bothers me is that I got a lot of fast-talking, too. A company representative insisted to me that she had been in touch with Bluthardt as recently as two months ago. Turns out it was almost seven months. The matchmaker may have confused Bluthardt with someone else or was trying to bluff me. Neither is a good thing.

I got to know Bluthardt over coffee at Caffe Nero in South Boston, where he lives. He’s tall and thin with shoulder-length brown hair and blue eyes. We’ve talked on the phone many times over the past two weeks as I’ve peppered him with questions about the world of dating services.

Bluthardt struck me as a really nice guy, though a bit naive and diffident. Of his current status, he said with a smile, “Nice guys finish last.” But the factual things he told me checked out, as far as I could determine. So I felt he was on the level.

I didn’t get the same feeling when I dropped in on Boston Matchmakers. I made it perfectly clear who I was, following up on a complaint from someone who felt ripped off by them.

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As I described Bluthardt without mentioning his name, Brenan McGarrigle, one of the matchmakers, cut me off: “He’s not for everyone. He knows that.”

“You know who I’m talking about?” I asked

“Yes, he’s a really nice guy,” she said. “Really sweet.”

“Tom Bluthardt?”

“Yes,” she replied. “He’s got to be realistic. It’s quality, not quantity, that counts. We don’t want to overwhelm him. We don’t want to set him up for failure.”

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It amazed me that McGarrigle almost instantly knew whom I was talking about. I imagined Boston Matchmakers had far too many clients for McGarrigle to recognize someone only by description. (She later told me Boston Matchmakers has hundreds of clients.)

“When was the last time you spoke with Tom?” I asked.

“Two months ago,” she said.

But Bluthardt had repeatedly told me it was May, almost seven months ago.

McGarrigle went on to say that one huge obstacle to finding dates for Bluthardt was that he is a smoker.

“That makes it very difficult,” she said.

I never asked Bluthardt if he smoked. He certainly didn’t smell of cigarettes when I sat next to him for coffee.

I asked McGarrigle to double-check her files. She returned to say the last contact with Bluthardt was in May, not two months ago, and that he was a nonsmoker.

McGarrigle insisted that Boston Matchmakers is committed to Bluthardt and would even extend his membership for free.

“I’m not done working with him,” she told me. “He’s going to be lovable to someone. Tell him it just doesn’t happen quickly.”

I think of Bluthardt as easy prey and Boston Matchmakers as taking full advantage.

Bluthardt grew up in Dorchester in the 1970s and worked for decades as a machinist before retiring. He got married in 1993 to a woman he met in a Cambridge bar. The marriage broke up and they divorced 18 months ago, he said. There were no children.

At age 57, Bluthardt considered whether he would be alone for the rest of his life. He’s a homeowner with decent finances. For fun, he likes to sample craft beers at the several bars he frequents on West Broadway in South Boston. He also keeps up with the major league sports teams in Boston. And he reads the Globe pretty thoroughly.

Bluthardt said he knows his long hair can be a turnoff to some women. Still, he was offended when someone from Boston Matchmakers asked him to consider cutting it. It’s part of his identity, he said.

Bluthardt has visited numerous dating websites. On well-known sites such as eHarmony or Match.com, users pay a fee to have their photos and profile posted. Prices vary from as low as $15 a month for basic service to $60 for premium service, with discounts for longer memberships, according to 10BestOnline.com, which reviews online services.

Most Web-based dating services offer various search mechanisms to allow members to narrow the field by age, interests, and other categories, and provide a range of options for communicating with potential matches, depending on the package purchased.

Some sites, such as Tinder, Bumble, and Grindr, are free. They make money through ads posted on their sites. After your profile is posted, others on the site swipe through the listings. You’re on your own to connect with someone. There’s no go-between, no matchmaker.

As Bluthardt recalls, he was on a dating site when his phone rang. It was Boston Matchmakers. Would he like to come to their office for a real matchmaker service? Apparently, Boston Matchmakers calls people who have listed their phone numbers on dating sites.

Boston Matchmakers lavished attention on Bluthardt when he showed up the next day. He told me an attractive younger woman asked him a ton of questions about his background, his likes and dislikes, and his ideal date scenario. Eventually, Bluthardt paid $1,000 to be a passive member, meaning he would get a date only when the matchmakers working on behalf of an active member came across his profile and considered him a match.

To be an active member would have cost thousands more and entitled him to have McGarrigle and other matchmakers actively search their files for someone right for him.

Bluthardt said he’s not interested in accepting Boston Matchmakers’ offer to extend his membership.

“I’ve washed my hands of it,” he said. “Honestly, the way I feel, even if they offered me a free lifetime membership, I wouldn’t be interested.”

Sean P. Murphy can be reached at smurphy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.