Cashing out at Walgreens, I looked up and realized the woman behind me looked really familiar. Then it hit me.
"I recognize you from the bathroom walls!"
Donna Shugrue smiled. "Yes, that's me."
Shugrue is the owner of Perfectly Matched, a dating service that's been running in Colorado Springs for 23 years. Despite the rise of matchmaking websites, Shugrue continues to use local advertising — much of which, yes, is plastered on bathroom walls — and word of mouth to answer Valentine's Day-style prayers all year round.
From eHarmony or OkCupid to the more specialized Christian Mingle, JDate or even Farmers Only, there's seemingly a dating service for everyone. And apparently, the online thing is working: USA Today reported last year that in a survey of 19,000 people who had gotten hitched between 2005 and 2012, a third of those marriages resulted from online matches.
For her part, Shugrue claims to have helped set up more than 700 marriages in her career. She says online dating put a dent in her business for a while, but now, "the Internet sends me more business than it takes away."
Online matchmaking, she says, has become polluted. Clients complain that it's time-consuming and that people aren't honest: Men, for instance, overestimate their height, and women underestimate their weight. With a digital screen, the lies are hidden for a while at least. And thanks to the photos on all of these sites, much of the emphasis is on looks.
"Other than the fact that it's the most important thing," Shugrue says of physical attraction, "it's the least important thing."
Unlike dating sites that run some algorithms, Shugrue is armed with a pen-and-paper compatibility test to determine temperament, sociability and conformity, as well as attitudes on affection, religion and finance. Though she does not know the source of the test, she believes in the results. And from those results, Shugrue starts considering matches.
She does take photos of her clients, but doesn't show them right away. "I start with the things that matter, and then add mutual physical attraction."
If that sounds old-school, well, some of her advice does, too: No sex for three months; no thinking about what role that person will play in your future for at least six months; no moving in, getting engaged or getting married for at least a year.
In the 67-year-old's downtown office, you won't see a computer. Instead, containers hold index cards documenting clients' test results, and other information she learns through interviews. People buy packages based on the number of matches she will provide.
When a match doesn't work, she interviews the failed couple (separately) to help gain a deeper understanding of what she's working with. Shugrue says she's able to soften the blow for her clients, but that she's also honest with them — willing, for instance, to tell someone that he may want to whiten his teeth.
Shugrue started her business as she was getting a divorce. She can recall each of her relationships since, including the two years, two months, two weeks and two days she spent dating a younger man. She says she never spent much time being single from the age of 19. But in 2012, the year her father died, she spent a year unattached. "I got to see what it's like to be my clients."
That changed in August. Three years earlier, a man had come into her office and asked her out, but at the time she was dating someone. When he came back to use her services, she thought to herself, "What about me?"
Of course, that was followed by: "Hold on, let me see if our scores are compatible." They were.
Shugrue offers no guarantees of finding you a soul mate. But she'll keep at it as long as you want her to — one client has used her services since 2004. The gentleman has been in two long-term relationships, but keeps coming back. Shugrue says she's matched him 33 times.
"He's the exception," she says, "not the rule."
And as for those bathroom ads? Shugrue laughs, but says they're second only to personal referrals in bringing business to her door. In a world where distraction is often just a click away, she's able to say, "I have a captive audience."