Wingwomen get conversation started

TEXT OF STORY

Bob Moon: Maybe you've heard it said that someone is never more attractive to the opposite sex than when he or she is already involved in a relationship.

Their attractiveness supposedly evaporates once they're single — one recent study even turned up some scientific support for that phenomenon.

Well, now there's a dating service in Washington, D.C., that's tapping in to the general idea. As Stuart Cohen tells us, it's a matchmaking service with a new twist:


Stuart Cohen: It's Saturday night, and James Johnson is working the crowd at the Aroma Bar in Washington's Cleveland Park neighborhood.

James Johnson: Were you jet-lagged flying over there?

Woman: No.

Johnson: You weren't?

Woman: No.

Johnson: That's a long flight, right?

But Johnson isn't alone in his search for love. He's got a secret weapon: his wingwoman, Tiffany.

[Sound of wingwoman working the room]

Unlike the typical wingman — an outgoing male companion who's mission is to go in and break the ice for a more timid friend — Tiffany is no old college buddy or coworker. She's a professional, paid upwards of $50 an hour to help Johnson negotiate one of the most perplexing endeavors known to man: meeting members of the opposite sex.

Tiffany:The one girl that we were talking to, the tall girl? Yes. She was nice, but she's with that guy who's sitting down. OK. I don't know how they're together, but they are together. Well, exactly, yeah, I mean. Do you like this Asian girl coming up? Because I know her. Look to your left.

Tiffany is one of four wingwomen who work for the dating service Venus Allure. Her job is to approach women in social situations, strike up a conversation in that sisterhood sort of way — you know, a little chit-chat about shoes or purses — and then introduce the client all without letting on it's a carefully orchestrated set-up. Similar services have popped up in New York, Toronto and even as far away as London.

Steve Zaloga started his business a few months ago after a successful experience with a wingwoman of his own. He says meeting a potential mate is too important to be left to amateurs.

Steve Zaloga:Her objective is to help you and give you feedback and introduce you to women. Your friends, that may or may not be their objective, even if they're . . . even if they start out that way, they may get confused — they may want to talk to girls themselves. But she's dedicated to your success and she's focused on it.

One of Tiffany's colleagues at Venus Allure is Jessica Lee. She says from a woman's perspective, it all makes perfect sense.

Jessica Lee: When I'm out and about and I see maybe three guys together, I know that they're out there trying to meet ladies. And it's kind of off-putting to see these three guys who are out there looking at the situation from like a meat market perspective. But if there's a girl in the mix, you know, in my head I'm thinking, "Well, there obviously must be something to these guys if that girl's going to be hanging out with them."

Company owner Steve Zaloga says it's all about gaining an extra advantage in the cutthroat world of dating, where one wrong step could be the difference between miss right and missed opportunity.

Steve Zaloga: This isn't just all about opening a door for a client, it's also about giving them some tools and some strategies and some techniques to be successful on their own. So we provide, you know, real time feedback and coaching and some success strategies for people while they're on the date.

All that talk about feedback and strategies makes dating sound more like science than romance.

A recent study at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland proves it is science.

Dr. Ben Jones: There's a phenomenon that's very well-established in the animal literature that's called "mate choice copying."

Lead researcher Dr. Ben jones says just like birds and fish, women are using cues from other women to make quick decisions about who they find attractive. In other words, they're just doing it like they do on the Discovery Channel.

Jones: This is information that is quite difficult to tell on sort of first impressions, so using information from other women might help you to sort of fill in the gaps in what you do and don't know about the guy.

Back at the Aroma Bar, Tiffany has had a couple hours to put her skills to work for James Johnson and it's time to wrap up the evening. But things have worked so well, she doesn't want to interrupt Johnson and his new acquaintance to say good-bye. So she very quietly heads for the door.

Tiffany:James had actually picked her out from the beginning, but there were different barriers stopping us from speaking to her. We were able to get to her eventually, and how we walked out and we saw them talking and having their cell phones out, I'm pretty confident that they are exchanging phone numbers.

As for James Johnson's thoughts on the evening? Well, he was a bit too busy to bother with silly questions.

In Washington, I'm Stuart Cohen for Marketplace.

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