MUNICH - Wearing a bright checked shirt, the man is strikingly tall, fit, with very short brown hair and brown eyes. He smiles a lot. Right now he’s looking for a suitable female partner – not in cafés or bars as such a search might have been conducted just a few short years ago, but in the virtual world.
In his profile it says that Freddie (not his real name)doesn’t smoke and eats a lot of fast food. But he also likes healthy fare – particularly Italian, French, Asian cuisines. Like lots of other guys, he’s into movies, travel, playing sports, listening to music, and going out.
One thing stands out about him, however: Freddie can cook. At least so it says in his profile. "It’s true," he confirms. His profile picture, where he’s shown in a suit, makes him look cool – cooler than he does in real life, at least this evening. The photograph is geared to make him appeal to as any women as possible.
A 40-year-old doctor from Munich, Freddie has had it with being single. And Andreas Laufer is helping him change the situation. Laufer wrote Freddie’s online profile, and is actively looking for a suitable woman for him on the net. This isn’t a friendly thing – it’s a professional service. Laufer earns good money doing this for men like Freddie.
Meeting women? For a windsurfing pro like Andy Laufer – this is no problem. Dubbed the "German sailing legend" by the international press, the 43-year-old Laufer recently announced his windsurfing comeback. But after he officially quit his sporting career in 2005, he launched another: first in finance, which he came to realize was not for him, and then – always having been one for unusual ideas – in Sept. 2012 an "online ghostwriting agency."
He started Suredate with 47-year-old business partner Ingo Möbius, to help people like Freddie.
His job is to get dates for lonely hearts – finding a partner on the Internet is hard work and requires a great deal of time, which is something that workaholics like Freddie don’t have a lot of. The doctor is presently one of four clients the agency is focusing on. Laufer and Möbius have so far had 20 male clients.
Freddie corresponds exactly to Laufer’s ideal client profile: well-paid job, very busy, middle-aged – and looking for someone. "I don’t have the time or the inclination to do a lot of writing and checking out profiles," Freddie says. Laufer and Möbius, who have known each other on the windsurfing scene for over 25 years, are familiar with this attitude from their friends. It gave them the idea for their agency. They tried their business concept out on a friend who was desperately seeking a partner but held a low opinion of online dating. The test run was a success.
In Germany – where a study by online dating site Partnersuche.de revealed that eight million people use online singles sites – the concept filled a gap in the market although it’s nothing new in the United States where "virtual dating assistant" services have been up and running for three years.
Munich couples therapist Andrea Bräu says she knows why so many people are looking for partners on the Internet: "The Internet is ever more a fixture in our lives. I can get anything I want on the Internet, so why not a partner?"
But Laufer’s ghostwriting agency goes a bit further than online dating sites, according to Bräu. She may find it "decadent," but she’s also convinced that relationships that originate online can last: "Ten years ago meeting people through the Internet was kept very hush-hush. That’s totally changed now."
A tradition from the Middle Ages
While Laufer can do a lot, he can’t do miracles: "The client has to be realistic," he says. If he hasn’t organized a minimum number of dates within a month, the client gets his money back. All-around service costs 699 euros a month. "That’s cheaper than in the U.S.," Laufer says.
As soon as a date is lined up, the client gets a memo listing a place and time and enough information about the woman so he can take up where the dating assistant left off.
According to the two business partners, they’ve had a high success rate – even when the dates have been in other cities. "I’ve had three dates, one of them in Berlin," says Munich-based Freddie, adding that his Berlin date is coming to Munich to visit for a couple of days. He says he’s thoroughly satisfied with Laufer and Möbius’s selection so far, and that the agency has been thoroughly professional.
Any moral scruples about any of this? Freddie hesitates, looking for the appropriate way of putting it. "It’s a little stupid, but it’s so convenient. And what you write isn’t so important. Eighty to 90% is your picture and the impression on the first meeting." Couples therapist Bräu sees it differently: “When you chat with somebody you can read a lot between the lines and learn quite a bit about a person. Even just how quickly somebody answers and the things they bring up say a lot," she says.
But Laufer and Möbius disagree: "Politicians have assistants who write their speeches. We’re picking up on a very old tradition. In the Middle Ages you had members of the elite using scribes to write their love letters."
So far they have one love story to their credit, but "the big goal is to be the ones behind a wedding," says Laufer.
Maybe that person will be Freddie, because at the moment things are looking up what with the visit from his date in Berlin. He has already told her, he says, that he was not the one who contacted her and flirted with her on the Internet. Her reaction? A short moment of silence. Then laughter. She thought it was funny, says Freddie, adding: "But I only told her after it was clear we were really getting along."