Finding the one:

  • Lanie Delphin, owner of Mass Match, with her husband, Bud Delphin, at their home in Sunderland. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Mark and Maggie Newey of Florence met through Mass Match in 2012 and were married in 2016. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Monday, March 01, 2021

SUNDERLAND — Lanie Delphin understands what it’s like to seek out a dating service — in her early 50s, she met her husband, Bud, through one of these services — and what it means to use such a resource successfully.

She and Bud have been together for about 20 years — and for nearly as long, Lanie has been helping others find success with her own dating service, Mass Match.

When the Sunderland couple launched the service in 2002, the founding principles were simple.

“We believe that it’s very difficult in this day and age to meet people,” Lanie said, “and we wanted to provide a service, some affordable way that people who are local could meet.”

Lanie and Bud met through a Lenox-based service then known as Socially Concerned Singles, which has since been renamed Concerned Singles, that matched people from around the country. While Socially Concerned Singles was “a forerunner” in the matchmaking landscape, Lanie said, she noted a lack of local, affordably priced dating services in Massachusetts. In response, Mass Match serves residents of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York, and has plans starting at $215 — while similar services can charge thousands of dollars, Lanie noted.

Lanie, who personally makes each match while providing advice for successful dating, said that she has now served thousands of clients across the six states. Clients range from people in their 20s through their 80s, she said, with most people in the 30s through 70s range.

Two people to find success through Mass Match were Florence residents Maggie and Mark Newey, who met through the dating service in 2012.

At the time, the two were using other popular dating sites, such as Match.com and eHarmony. But they felt like they were wading through thousands of people on those sites, and meeting up with matches sometimes felt like an intentionally complicated process, Mark said.

  Mass Match was different. Lanie advised the potential couple to keep their email interactions brief and focused on setting up an in-person meeting, they recalled. She also told them that if someone reached out and wanted to meet, they should at least give the person a chance.

“It becomes real-world right away,” Maggie said. “She told you not to think of it as a date — it’s just a chance to meet.”

Lanie also suggested a casual meetup — grabbing coffee, for instance, rather than dinner — before deciding on something more involved.

“It was very different than a lot of dating websites, where you’re almost expected to know that it’s right before you go on the first date,” Mark said. “Which is almost impossible.”

“You almost build up expectations that aren’t realistic,” Maggie added.

Following Lanie’s advice, the two met for tea at The Roost in Northampton and had immediate chemistry on their first date, they recalled.

“There wasn’t a lot of silence, even though we’re not really talkative people normally,” Mark said. While Mark left many of his previous first dates immediately knowing they wouldn’t work out, he recalled that with Maggie, “I think we made plans before we left the date for the next time to be together.”

The couple went to the Three County Fair in Northampton for their second date, and from then on, it was almost seamless — they took a break for a few months at one point in 2013, which Mark attributes to “a history of kind of dallying.” But they got back together later that year, and have been married since 2016.

Making the connection

When members sign up for Mass Match, they fill out a form that should take no more than 10 minutes, according to Lanie. With most plans, Lanie meets with the client — over the phone during the pandemic, but otherwise in person — to go over their preferences in greater detail.

Clients discuss a number of parameters, including age range, political beliefs, education, personal interests, religion, and if they have or want children. Based on these preferences, Lanie sends potential matches to the client. She also goes over dating advice with her clients, highlighting what she calls the “four Cs” of a healthy relationship: chemistry, communication, character and compatibility. But above all, she emphasizes kindness.

Once people do meet in person, Lanie also advises that matches take time to get to know each other.

“Slow down, and also give people a chance,” she said. Lanie finds that in “the best relationships, the chemistry grows over time.”

She also goes over some common mistakes people can make on dates, such as dwelling on details of past relationships or asking questions that could be seen as invasive.

Instead, Lanie said, matches should focus on the present and stay positive while remembering “you don’t have to tell your life story on the first meeting.”

The pandemic has also required Lanie to give advice on a new topic: dating during the era of social distancing. Everyone has different levels of risk or anxiety concerning COVID-19, she noted, and above all, users must respect what makes their match comfortable. 

Despite the complications of dating during a pandemic, Mass Match has seen an increase in membership, Lanie said.

Amid the enforced isolation of the pandemic, people are “tired of being alone and going through this alone,” she said, speculating on this boost in usership. “If someone wants a relationship, I think the pandemic has spurred on the energy to do something about this.”

Lanie isn’t sure where her propensity for matchmaking came from — she previously worked in libraries, as a personnel counselor and for AmeriCorps. But the role “just seemed like it fit,” she said.

Bud, who helped Lanie launch the business before she took it on as her own project, credits his wife’s compassionate nature.

“What helps Lanie to do this so well is that she’s probably one of the most compassionate and empathetic people folks can talk with,” Bud said. “People relate to her and trust her.”

Dynamic dating landscape

Since launching Mass Match in 2002, Lanie has seen online dating skyrocket in popularity, and a service people once viewed as somewhat stigmatized has become the norm.

“When I first got started, practically every person involved said, ‘I can’t believe I’m resorting to this,’” Lanie said. “But right after I started, I think internet dating took off. Then the environment changed, and no one said that anymore.”

The difference? “Now, it’s like they’re so excited to be doing it,” she said.

In the past, dating sites like Match and eHarmony dominated the scene. Since then, countless dating apps have changed the market — and how people date — with apps such as Tinder, Bumble, OkCupid and Hinge attracting many as free, low-stress options that often turn into paid premium plans. Users join looking for anything ranging from casual hookups to long-term relationships — with some of these apps geared more toward one end of the spectrum than others — and create profiles that may emphasize their appearance or personality.

Mass Match has carried on strongly through the surge in online dating options, Lanie said, noting that some people like to use these apps alongside Mass Match. But for many of her clients, the difference between apps and a dating service is clear.

“A lot of people have said internet dating is like looking for a needle in a haystack, and they want a personal service,” Lanie said. “That keeps me going, because I’m a personal service.”

Clients also tend to enjoy working directly with one individual, Lanie said.

“It’s just me,” she noted. “I’m not a cast of people who come and go, as they have in some of those big outfits.”

Advice from users

Maggie and Mark Newey echoed many of Lanie’s observations.

Mark was using three or four other dating sites when he joined Mass Match, he said, “yet I went on more dates through Mass Match than I did through the others combined.”

Maggie’s experience with other dating websites was also that “there are just so many people” on those platforms who “often, will just get lost,” she said.

Maggie advocated for those who may be hesitant to give Mass Match a try, and made a point to highlight the service for younger people. Maggie was 31 when she and Mark met, while Mark was 36, and she feels that people in their 30s or younger may think that the service isn’t for them.

Looking at today’s dating landscape in particular, Maggie feels that she and Mark were fortunate to beat the rush of dating apps.

“You have so many different ways you can put yourself out there,” she said, “and it just feels like they’re getting less and less authentic in terms of a real way of getting to know people … I’m glad I’m not having to deal with that at this point.”

While Mass Match offers a lower cost than many other dating services, Mark said that some people may be hesitant to spend the money, or view Mass Match as a backup option if other online dating options don’t work out.

“I think that’s wrong,” Mark said. “Really, people should try Mass Match from the beginning.”

He added, “You think the money is such a big deal. It’s not.”