It looks like a scene from the Real Housewives of Sydney: two well-dressed women sit on a cream-coloured couch in a plush apartment in the city’s east. Their names are Holly and Anna and they’re discussing Anna’s latest date, which went pretty well. He was on time (she wasn’t), he ordered pasta, deep-fried olives, and the date ended with a walk on the beach and ice cream (and kissing).
But Holly and Anna aren’t friends. Instead, Anna is paying Holly $1,500 a month to manage her Tinder account. And that’s because Holly Bartter is a professional swiper who runs a company called Matchsmith. For a fee, Holly will clean up any account profile, and then sift through all the shirtless photos to find someone worth dating, then do all the small talk on a client’s behalf. Finally, when there’s a date set up, Holly will coach her clients on how to carry the relationship forward.
“There are pick-up artists out there, but this is more of a bespoke experience,” Holly says, adding: “you get to know the clients well.”
Of course, knowing her clients well is vital to being able to mimic them online. Over a month, Holly meets with them several times to discover who they’re attracted to and learn their go-to lines, all as part of the process to become their online aliases. Then every day she spends at least an hour, logging in and out of different profiles across several devices “trying to be a clone of them.”
At the moment Holly has seven clients, each on different tiers of membership. Level one costs $79 and gets you a simple polish of your profile, on whatever dating app you’re using. Level two costs $190 but gets you a profile polish, as well as review on your approach and some coaching on up to five matches. The highest level costs $1,500 per month, and includes all the benefits afforded to Anna, including a helping hand behind the screen and coaching before and after dates.
Holly explains the business simply grew out of her friends asking her for dating advice. Then she says she was eventually asked to take over a friend’s account, which turned into several friends and then friends of friends, before she turned it into a business about two years ago.
“I enjoy matching people,” says Holly. “You get to tap into people you normally wouldn’t meet. A lot of people get ‘app fatigue’ but I didn’t find it fatiguing at all.”
Holly says she doesn’t have a go-to line for conversation starters, but instead she picks out a detail in someone’s profile or bio and asks about it. She also believes three is the magic number for profile photos (two headshots and one full body) and deal breakers include empty bios, shirtless pictures, photoshopped anything, or blurry photos.
On the question of how many times Holly swipes “nope” everyday she shrugs and says it’s a lot. “Yeah, just a lot.”
While you're here, watch this VICE documentary about a very difference search for love:
Now, some might perceive Holly’s business model to be a glorified form of catfishing, or just the definition of catfishing, but Holly quickly disagrees. “The photos always reflect the clients and if there’s a really specific question the match asks, I’ll always contact client,” she retorts, almost like she’s reading from a script.
“Most people don’t sound like their online personality in person anyway… And other people have friends message for them so it’s not that much of a concern.”
Holly also points out that she gives each match a one-week expiry period, so if someone in particular is showing interest (and promise) the client takes over. “The aim is to move off the apps [and go on a date] by then, but I always get approval from clients before asking or giving out a number.”
Back in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, 43-year-old Anna is a single mother who’s been using Matchsmith for around three months. And after several successful dates, she’s decided that hiring a professional Tinder coach hasn’t been a moral concern for her either.
“I don’t think I would reveal [to a date] immediately,” Anna says of Holly’s services. “But I would if it gets serious, but then I see Holly as just a dating coach.”
After her 17-year marriage fell apart, Anna describes her pre-Matchsmith dating life as a “disaster.” She was on a few apps for about a year and a half before she turned to Holly and she’s never looked back.
“I was tired of not meeting the right guy, I started losing my self esteem and it just got very overwhelming. I forget which guy was which—was this the guy from Bondi or Paddington?”
So Anna, who works as a mindset coach while finishing her masters, contacted Holly, and now the two of them speaks at least once a week, whether over the phone or in person.
As the two of them sit on the couch, Holly seems a calming role in Anna’s life. They read through Holly’s latest conversations with matches, and Anna nods and frequently asks questions. Holly tells Anna it’s simply a numbers game, “you just have to be out there,” and Anna nods again.
But this latest date, with the Italian guy at the Italian restaurant, seems to have gone well. Anna is excited about a potential fourth date, but listens as Holly councils her “not to put all [her] eggs in one basket.”
Anna clearly still wants companionship and romance, but says she struggles with a modern dating world that’s increasingly online. And that’s where Holly fits in, even if at the end of the day her overarching dating advice is compellingly analogue.
“Just get out the door,” she says.
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This article originally appeared on VICE AU.