In 20th Century Fox's forthcoming adaptation of The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, director and star Ben Stiller, as Walter, tries to muster the courage to make a move on his coworker, Cheryl, played by Kristen Wiig. But when he tries to send a flirty virtual "Wink" to Cheryl's eHarmony profile, the site blocks him. So Walter calls the dating site's customer service line and encounters Patton Oswalt, who plays a company representative:
"Okay, I'm looking at your profile," Oswalt says, and pauses. "You've left a lot of this stuff blank."
"Well, I haven't really been anywhere noteworthy or mentionable," Walter says.
"Have you done anything noteworthy or mentionable?" And thus kicks off the story's fantastic adventure-packed plot.
When Fox called the online dating site last year about featuring its name and brand in the film, the eHarmony personal counseling service depicted between Stiller and Oswalt was nothing more than the stuff of fiction. But, for several months prior, eHarmony had actually been toying with the idea of a modern matchmaking service—the call from Fox gave them a deadline.
So eHarmony created eH+, a premium service launching today that matches interested clients with trained, one-on-one counselors who will vet potential love matches for them by scouring millions of eHarmony profiles, as well as coach them through the dating process.
"A good matchmaker can pull someone through the process of dating and help them be a better, more attractive version of themselves," says Grant Langston, eHarmony's vice president of customer experience. "But matchmakers have a very tough time keeping people in their pool. If you're paying tens of thousands of dollars to be matched with someone and you find out there are only a few choices, it's pretty unpleasant."
The pursuit of true love will cost you—$5,000 upfront for one year, to be exact. In return, eH+ promises you access to your own personal counselor. New eH+ clients will be prompted to take a relationship questionnaire and upload some photos to eHarmony, after which you'll get on the phone or Skype with a counselor for an hour. Where the questionnaire contains more generalized questions like, "Are you a high-energy person?" the counselor will glean specifics about you and your previous relationships through questions like, "Do you feel anything in your life is holding you back from meeting the person you want to meet?"
"One of the things we see all the time is people can't get out of their own way. They have preferences and life policies they cook up that really make it hard for them to find a great person," Langston says. "One of the best roles this counselor can play is to help them push aside the things that are really preventing them from finding the right person."
This means the counselor will be doling out some tough love at times—if you're insecure about the way you look, for example, don't be surprised if you hear back: "We need to address some of your packaging issues. Maybe you need a haircut." Parts of the eH+ service Langston describes are reminiscent of the 2005 film Hitch, in which Will Smith plays a professional "date doctor" who coaches unlucky-in-love men on the search for their soulmates.
For the price it's charging, eHarmony is hoping eH+ counselors will be able to do things an algorithm can't. For one, eH+ counselors will never tell clients when they've reached out to a prospective match who says they're not interested in meeting, thus softening the blow of rejection. And because the counselors spend time screening matches on the phone, you're much less likely to run into the all-too-common surprise of discovering the person you were messaging online isn't who you thought they would be in person. (A recent Pew Internet & American Life Project study of attitudes toward online dating reported 54% of daters have encountered people they felt "seriously misrepresented themselves in their profile.")
eH+ not only opens up a new revenue stream for the company, it also marks a significant shift from both the regular version of eHarmony, which costs $50 a month, and similar dating sites like Match.com, OKCupid, and Zoosk, all of which maintain their own stables of skeptics who question the validity of using an algorithm to find love.
"[Dating sites] assume that we can just plug our metadata into a computer, run it through an algorithm, scroll through a list of prospects sorted by the mathematical possibility that we'll get along, and find someone. That’s just not how human relationships work—not on the Internet and not off."
Then again, human relationships don't usually cost $5,000 a year, like eH+ does. But Langston suspects a fair number of both current and new customers will be attracted to the service.
"I think a lot of people will be relieved to not have to do so much management of their online profile. That can be a lot of work," he says. "A lot of the people that are going to want to use eH+are successful people with busy lives. They just want to meet somebody that they can fall in love with, and that's what we want to give them."