With over 15 percent of U.S. adults having used dating sites or dating apps, online dating is bigger than ever. But how effective are these dating platforms — and more importantly what are they doing to us? Pew Research from 2016 says only five percent of Americans who are in a marriage or committed relationship met their significant other online. Match's 2016 Singles In America survey, the most comprehensive survey of single Americans, says that 40 percent of people have dated someone they met online, though it's unclear how long the relationship lasted. The survey also found that 15 percent of singles feel addicted to the process of looking for a date, with Millennials being the most obsessed — we're 125 percent more likely to say we feel addicted to dating versus older generations. While men are 97 percent more likely to feel addicted to dating than women, 54 percent of women feel totally burned out. And, 57 percent of Millennials, the generation most likely to date online, reported feeling lonely.
Maria Avgitidis, matchmaker and founder of Agape Match, tells Bustle that women often come to her upset, exhausted, and frustrated after using dating apps. In fact, the first week in February is an incredibly busy time for her company because it's right when people who signed up for dating apps on January 1 are completely over it.
"I don't know if dating apps create the issue or if it's just how we're socializing, but apps came out right around the same time when it became acceptable to be on your phone constantly," Maria Chronopoulou, matchmaker at Agape Match, tells Bustle. And with a dating scene that lends itself to endless options, instant gratification, ghosting, breadcrumbing, and whatever the next catchy phrase we assign to how we phase people out via text, it's not really a surprise we're singles are frustrated AF.
So that's where new dating platform Ona comes in. The app, which is now available in New York, is not another Tinder-like dating app and it doesn't connect you with singles in your area. It's meant to enhance your dating life by connecting with the best dating specialists (matchmakers, dating coaches, dating therapists, and more) to meet your dating needs, whether you can't decide what to wear on your date or you're having trouble meeting quality people in your city.
The Need For Ona
"I've been date coaching [my brother] unofficially for over 10 years and it's just one big game," Mark Zuppe, co-founder of Ona, tells Bustle. "He'd use a mix of old and new pictures on his profile, and even mention that he likes Nickleback. He's not the only case of the gamification all around dating, and the fake perceptions — you're not really meeting someone, you're meeting their salesperson. But he's a great guy and will make a great husband for somebody." So in an effort to help solve the dating issue his brother and so many other singles have, Zuppe started bouncing ideas around with his friend of 15 years, Eric Berkowitz, who's worked with matchmakers in the past.
"There's a lot of great matchmakers out of there. They push you to be honest and push you to be a human being," Berkowitz, co-founder of Ona, tells Bustle. "If you go out on a date with someone your match sets you up either, you're going to get feedback whether you like it or not — that's something you don't get with Tinder, Bumble, or Match. I thought it would be great to bridge technology with human touch, putting a buffer there."
The two spent about two years doing research and developing the right product to offer singles. "What we learned in talking to dating coaches, therapists, is that dating apps try to solve the problem," Zuppe says. "We can all say there's a problem — there's a big balloon, an apocalypse, a crisis, an epidemic — there's a superficial buffer that all the apps create. You don't really meet people, and the humanity is pulled out of it. People consider using these apps "dating", and it's a tool but it's not the actual process of dating itself."
He points out that if someone wants to be more serious about meeting someone special but isn't aware of matchmakers or dating coaches or any of the other experts out there they'll typically turn to dating apps.
Motivated singles may download multiples apps at the same time to statistically spread their chances, but that's not dating, that's gambling.
"Motivated singles may download multiples apps at the same time to statistically spread their chances, but that's not dating, that's gambling," Zuppe says. "You wouldn't do that with your college education, you wouldn't swipe your college degree, so why would you do that with someone you may potentially marry? That's a symptom of someone who has a loss of control in their own dating life."
So, they developed a platform in hopes of it becoming a trusted source for the best dating specialists to help empower singles and put them back in control of their dating lives. "Ona is a banner for all these specialists in one place," Zuppe says. "We've become an on-demand society, so the platform allows that: You can meet, talk and can pay for the services through the app — everything is done inside the app."
Who's It For?
Well, it may be free to join, but it's not for every single out there. "Most of your Bumbles and Hinges want as many free users as possible," Zuppe says. "But we understand [Ona] isn't for everyone. We only want motivated singles." He can see someone who's in their early 30s and has been focused on their career for a while but now wants to focus on meeting someone using Ona, or even someone younger who doesn't like the current dating scene.
"If you're not looking for a real relationship, Ona will excuse you for a platform," Berkowitz says.
It's also a way to keep your dating life private, as opposed to having profiles anyone can see on dating apps.
The Sign Up Process:
Using Facebook or Linkedin, you can get through the on-boarding process in about 90 seconds, says Zuppe. You'll be asked to verify yourself with a selfie and write a tagline to describe yourself but unlike the ones you'll see on dating apps, these aren't for other singles, they're for the dating specialists — so this may actually be the most honest app tagline you'll write.
If you want paid services or want to be introduced to other singles through matchmakers on the app, you need to pass a criminal background check. "We want to be a safer dating platform," Zuppe says.
The Dating Specialists
At the time of launch, Ona has about two dozen dating specialists, so you'll get suggestions based on what you're looking for when you sign in but you can browse specialists too, filtering by distance or by services offered.
Specialists have profiles as well, where you'll see reviews, specializations, and you can contact them from there. Unlike platforms like Care.com or Zocdoc, contact can go both ways, which they hope will foster more of a community feel on the platform. So if a dating specialist sees you and thinks you might be a good fit for what they have to offer, they can reach out to you, maybe give you a bit of advice, and then pitch one of their services.
Ona isn't just vetting the singles who sign up — the specialists are highly vetted. First to make sure they're offering services that fall into Ona's code of ethics (aka you won't see dating coaches telling you how to get laid) and then they'll go through assessment, which includes a psychological exam to test for empathy and emotional intelligence, as well as a more extensive criminal background check to make sure they're legit.
The Services & How To Get Them
So how much does it cost? Well, it's free to signup and start a chat with a specialist or get access to tips and advice and certain promotions, but to get services from specialists, you'll have to pay. And because different people will have different needs, there's a more personalized approach to pricing. Prices are determined after you chat with your specialist.
This makes sense, especially if you're new to using matchmakers or dating coaches, chatting with them first can give you a better idea as to whether their service makes sense for you before you purchase it. To chat, you can text, call, or even a video chat in the app. Once you decide you want a service, they can send you a business agreement that'll show up in your chat where you can pay using PayPal.
Avgitidis, whose company Agape Match, is one of the dating specialists on Ona, says she has someone on her team who is completely dedicated to the app. So, if you message them, you can expect to hear back within four hours, which is how their office works too. Avgitidis says it's typically $15,000 for six months at Agape Match, but she's offering multiple services on Ona. "We also have a lot of coaching services where prices will depend on the help you want," she says. "Then we're also offering a one-hour dating audit on Ona for $199." The audit will do a character assessment and look at your dating history to help determine what program is best for you.
"Hiring a matchmaker might not make sense for everyone after an audit," she says. "For some, it might be that they need to go out more or need new friends, and some might be better for coaching than matchmaking, like people who haven't been in a relationship in eight years or women who just got divorced or a over a bad breakup." She explains that if you have a dating pattern, it doesn't make sense for them to set you up until you're out of a cycle, which is where a date coach would come in.
"Ona's purpose is to get you meeting with a professional," Avgitidis says. "[A lot of dating sites] don't want you to be in your best relationship — they want you to be in your 80 percent relationship so you can break up 10 months from now and get back on the site. When I get a client, I think, 'I hope I never see your face again'."
How The App Wants To Break Taboos
By giving singles access to quality dating coaches, matchmakers, and dating therapists all on one platform, Ona wants to offer daters a way to improve their love lives in ways they may haven't even known existed. "Most people don't know to google matchmaking," Berkowitz says. "And if they do, they don't know how to make a decision."
"It's like going to a trainer, a doctor, or someone for advice — there's no shame in it."
Avgitidis has never had to pay for SEO for Agape, and while her company is up there in the rankings, the first few results you see when you google matchmaking are ads, and some of them have low ratings and aren't even based in her city (New York). "Ona is going to help the industry," she says. "It's going to show you who the ethical matchmakers, or dating coaches, or dating therapists are. It also provides the opportunity to level up the industry." She says it takes a second to put up a website and call yourself a matchmaker, but with Ona, she had to pass a background check and provide a business plan.
But it won't just expose who the quality specialists are — Ona also aims to educate you about how these specialists can really help you. "Awareness is number one thing Ona going to achieve for daters who feel hopeless right now," Chronopoulou says. "From the professional standpoint, I can't wait to see people be more educated about things like this."
Berkowitz says they want to help break stigmas around seeking help from professionals, like idea that matchmakers are unattainable. "We expect a lot of our users to be a lot of new market," Zuppe says. "If we do what we want to do, if you're going to be working with a specialist, it's not going to be a taboo thing.
Berkowitz echoes this. "People really want to better themselves," he says. "It's like going to a trainer, a doctor, or someone for advice — there's no shame in it. Years ago, you were embarrassed if you asked for help. It's just been how our society is, but now there's so many people to ask for help."
Through my job, I've met with dating coaches, matchmakers and dating therapists, and even through brief meetings, I've learned so many eye-opening lessons about how I'm dating, how to feel more confident in dating, and even what I'm looking for. "It's not a bad thing to reach out to a professional and talk about how you feel and seek help or ask for advice," Chronopoulou says.
And with so many singles reporting that they feel obsessed, burnt out, or lonely right now, there's probably no better time to give Ona a try.