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Date: 2007-01-08

Forget the treacly TV testimonials and all the hype about online dating sites. No refined search engine or Dr. Phil endorsement can guarantee that a mug of Mr. or Ms. Right is waiting on the next Web page.

Singles on the lookout for a partner are setting aside Internet searches and returning to perhaps the oldest coupling conduit known to humans: the matchmaker.

Unlike the gossipy Yenta of ``Fiddler on the Roof,'' today's matchmakers are often tech-savvy amateur cupids who run through a range of social circles. Homemaker Beth Wolff of Los Gatos keeps a list of eligible singles in her handheld device. Cathy Mikami, a recruiter for a Sunnyvale software company, takes mental notes of single friends and contacts who seem ripe for a relationship.

What they have is something that can't be bought or achieved through technology: a personal connection to the single guy and gal.

Relationship expert Jeff Cohen, the author of ``Dating Inc.'' ($14.95, Adams Media, out this month), says that the diminished novelty of online dating, along with the perception that not everyone is completely honest in their profiles, has prompted more people to put their faith in a matchmaker and try blind dating.

``In the last five or so years, online dating was huge, but now you're starting to see a shift back to this way of meeting people,'' says Cohen, who went on 77 blind dates before meeting wife Carol Cohen, a.k.a. blind date No. 78. ``I see matchmaking as a more traditional way of meeting people. By using a matchmaker or a cupid, there is the sense that you might be getting a more reasonable match.''

Amateur matchmaking is rooted in tradition and predates human civilization, but it's becoming an increasingly viable way to meet the unattached in a 21st century society where many people don't know the names of their own neighbors, says Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University who specializes in the evolution and future of sex, love and marriage. The author of ``Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love'' ($15, Henry Holt, 2004) says that matchmaking never really died out.

With people living longer and marrying later, husbands and wives suddenly finding themselves single after a midlife divorce and relationships taking a back seat to careers, the amateur matchmaker can play a critical role in the romance sweepstakes. Online services continue to attract plenty of new customers, but the more old-fashioned method is preferable to even some residents of tech-loopy Silicon Valley.

Wolff, a fortysomething stay-at-home mother, says she plays matchmaker for friends ``because it is so hard to meet people these days with everyone sitting in front of computers and TVs. In the old days, we'd have community dances. In my day, we'd get together and play music. It's really hard to meet people outside of the workplace or after college.''

Wolff has set up more than 40 dates, including at least one couple that got married.

Mikami and Wolff don't simply pair two single people based on availability. They set up men and women according to shared interests and core values. Wolff cautions against relying too much on what she calls ``the list,'' the measuring stick that has more to do with income and education than with the individuals' philosophy on work, play, integrity, family and respect for the world around them.

Mike Romani, vice president of a semiconductor equipment manufacturer in Fremont, learned firsthand about the benefits and pitfalls of the fix-up.

In 2001, two years after a divorce, he had his first blind date, arranged by Mikami. She set him up with her friend Ellen Lipuma. Like Romani, Lipuma was an easygoing wine enthusiast. They decided to meet for drinks at the Wine Cellar Restaurant in Los Gatos.

``I trusted Cathy because I knew her from work,'' Romani says. ``I thought that if I'm going to go on a blind date, it's great to go through someone you mutually know.''

That same week, Romani had another blind date, courtesy of his brother's sister-in-law. The meeting was with a nose-ring enthusiast who Romani says was almost young enough to be his daughter: ``That didn't go too well.''

Romani wanted to see more of Lipuma, who works in the human resources department of a software company in San Jose.

Mikami had obviously done well because the pair agreed to meet a second time. And a third. On Aug. 13, 2004, they became the fourth Mikami-matched couple to marry.

``Cathy had known me since the '80s,'' says Lipuma, now Ellen Romani. ``She knows my likes and dislikes, who I've dated before and when it was successful. And she has a knack for finding someone for people she knows.''

Though he had never been on a blind date until that week in 2002, Romani agreed to go on Mikami's arranged meeting because he knew his friend wouldn't steer him wrong, he says.

``It's probably a better way to meet someone than by going to a dating Web site where there are people you don't even know,'' Romani says. ``It's kind of like having your own personal coach who pre-screens the person before you go out.''

Mikami's ability to informally set up friends mirrors what she does for a living as a recruiter.

She mentally files requests from friends, careful not to simply match two people together because ``this is a nice person and that is a nice person,'' Mikami says. ``I try to find out what their interests are, if they are into sports or into watching sports. My rule is that I have to meet the person and make sure there would be some mutual interest.''

In spite of the ongoing hype and general acceptance of online dating, more people still claim the experience of either fixing up friends or going on blind dates than meeting someone through an dating site, says Fisher, the author/anthropologist.

Matchmakers say that those getting fixed up should see it as a compliment, that someone thinks so highly of you, they're willing to pair you with someone they admire. Consider it the dating equivalent of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

However one looks at matchmaking, Cohen, the man who had 77 blind dates before meeting the One, suggests that those searching for a partner give it a chance.

``It's just another vehicle for finding that special someone,'' he says. ``Speaking as someone who had 77 blind dates, the more first dates you go on, the better chance you have of one turning into a second date. Or something more.''

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