In dating services, as in life, no guarantees

Consuming Interests

April 17, 2007|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,Sun Columnist

Let's face it, love is an act of great faith.

To even pursue love, you must have hope that someday you will meet someone who makes you twitterpated. Then you have to hope that the interest will be reciprocated. If you're lucky, that spark will be so great that a first date will follow, perhaps a second, a third and then, maybe, serious coupledom.

But it's a gamble. There are no guarantees - regardless of whether you seek out that special someone on your own or you pay a service to make some introductions.

Such cold, hard truths provided little comfort to Todd Tadkowski, a 50-year-old retired biotechnology rep in Columbia who called to complain about his experience with It's Just Lunch (IJL) Baltimore, a dating service based in California with franchises across the country.

Back in December, Tadkowski found the company on the Internet and decided to join. For a $200 nonrefundable fee, IJL staffers interviewed Tadkowski to get his vitals and details about what he's looking for in a date. His response: a tall, slender woman in good shape and preferably a blonde or redhead.

"I've got a Ph.D., so I wanted her to have a college education, too," Tadkowski said. "I asked them if they have plenty of women in the Baltimore and Columbia area who are members. They said there were plenty."

According to the IJL Web site, "first date experts minimize stress and maximize efficiency by working with your busy schedule to coordinate lunch, brunch or drinks after work as a fun way to meet some of the incredible single professionals living in the Baltimore area."

IJL does all the work. It picks a match, coordinates schedules and books reservations, so all you have to do is show up. "With over 750,000 people in `Charm City' our area your pick of quality, single professionals is unlimited," the Web site says.

Sound good? Tadkowski thought so. He plunked $1,100 down to get set up with six dates.

The first three dates took place at Clyde's in Columbia. No. 1 was "educated and beautiful." No. 2 was "drop-dead gorgeous." No. 3 was a "beautiful person." They talked for hours and hours.

"They gave me three beautiful dates," Tadkowski said, gushing. "I didn't get a second date. I don't know why."

Then, in February, Tadkowski said he called IJL's offices and was told the franchise was under new management.

"Everything went downhill from there," Tadkowski said.

Date No. 4 took place at the Ellicott Mills Brew Pub in Ellicott City. Or it was supposed to: Tadkowski said he sat for an hour before he realized she was a no-show.

`On hold'

Date No. 5 canceled because of inclement weather and then told him the next day that she was "on hold," IJL parlance for "not available for dating now."

Date No. 6 at the Tomato Palace in Columbia was a "total mismatch. All she talked about was her dog and cat."

"I called IJL and told them I wasn't pleased with my last three dates," Tadkowski said. "They couldn't match Adam to Eve. I told them I don't think they have the clientele to fix their members up. I was extremely dissatisfied and I wanted my money back."

As a result, IJL sent Tadkowski a refund of $566, without intervention from me or anyone else.

"We did not give Todd a refund because of happiness or lack of happiness. ... We are not obligated to give anyone's money back," said Nancy Kirsch, senior vice president for the corporate IJL office. "But we felt at that point, it was best for Todd to not be a client. We didn't feel we could meet a client's expectations for what they were looking for."

Terms met

Tadkowski is glad he got part of his money back, but he wants a public IJL drubbing. Too bad I can't help him out. In this case, the company did all it was contractually obligated to do.

When it comes to enlisting the use of a dating service, it's all on you, dear consumer, to ask plenty of questions up front, read and understand the contract, and keep your expectations in check.

Because there is no specific law that regulates dating services, such businesses operate without oversight, according to Stephen D. Hannan, an administrator in the Howard County Office of Consumer Affairs.

"If you decide to use a dating service, you have to decide that you're paying money for something that you don't know what you're going to get," Hannan said. "You're taking a leap of faith that they've got a good selection of people in their inventory and that they are people you want to date. Even if the company answers all your questions, you have no idea if they're telling you the truth."

Kirsch said IJL's Baltimore office has been open since 1998 and that there are 500 IJL members in the area - not quite the Web site boast that with 750,000 people in the area "your pick of quality, single professionals is unlimited." That's misleading, to be sure.

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