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“If it weren’t for Tinder and the like, the Swiss would die out”

Kathrin Grüneis matches singles in Zurich – since the end of the lockdown, she has had more starts than ever before

Colette* lies awake that night at the beginning of the year. The 54-year-old is thinking about love: she is divorced and looking for a partner via an online dating site. But the dates are sobering. She wonders how it used to work – with love and getting to know people. Through a dating agency? Colette googles and finds Kathrin Grüneis.
Grüneis is a matchmaker in Zurich. She has been matching singles for nine years. She has 700 to 800 people on file, each of whom she knows personally. Most of them are between 35 and 65 years old, educated and looking for a serious relationship. According to the Federal Statistical Office, 24 percent of Swiss people are single. In the city of Zurich, the proportion is said to be even higher, but exact figures are not available. The only thing that is clear is that 45 percent of Zurich residents live alone.

“Photos are often unfair”

Grüneis grew up in Bavaria. At the age of 29, she moved to Switzerland for love, to a village in the canton of Obwalden. She went to a bar in the village to meet people. A man asked her whether she worked in care or service – like the other Germans in Obwalden. She said no and the man turned away. The conversation was over. It was a key moment for Grüneis. At home, she said to her partner: “You Swiss don’t talk to each other. You need help.” 15 years later, she opened her dating agency.
On Friday, March 13, Grüneis welcomes Colette to her office not far from the main train station. The matchmaker asks questions and takes notes. What does Colette like? What does Colette do? What should your partner be like? Three days later, the Federal Council will announce the lockdown and present both women with challenges. During the lockdown, customers stayed away from the dating agency. But many people called and told me about their loneliness. Grüneis has two cell phones: one for personal use and one for business, which she turns off when she gets off work. “Otherwise customers call at half past two in the morning and complain about heartache,” she says. Shortly after the first conversation, Grüneis finds a man who could be a good match for Colette. She calls her, tells her about the man’s hobbies and ideals and tells her his first name – nothing more. No photo. Not a family name. Colette should neither see nor google the man before the first meeting. “Photos are often unfair and say little about character,” says the matchmaker. Colette is an attractive woman. Nevertheless, she appreciates the fact that men don’t see a picture of her before the first date. On the online dating site, she found that the focus was too much on outward appearances.
The man chosen by Grüneis for Colette cancels the date at short notice – because of another woman who is still on his mind. Colette is disappointed, Grüneis is annoyed. The man had concealed from her that he was still attached to a woman. She says: “If I realize that someone is not yet free for love, then I reject them as a client.” She has therefore christened her agency “free hearts”.
A few weeks later, Grüneis proposes another man to her client. Colette and her date go for a walk, have a beer at the station, the restaurants are closed due to the lockdown. Colette senses that it doesn’t fit. The matchmaker has to keep looking.

“I can’t do witchcraft”

Grüneis requests a report from customers after each date. “Nobody can fool me like that.” She rejects people who she has the feeling from the outset will be difficult to communicate with – such as people with an assistant or obvious problems. “I can’t do witchcraft,” she says. Since the end of the lockdown, she has had more inquiries than ever before. “I was overrun. Many singles are probably afraid of a second lockdown. They don’t want to spend it alone again.” Meeting someone out is not an option for many at the moment. They look for a partner via dating apps or register with dating agencies.
Matchmaking through Grüneis costs significantly more than a subscription to an online dating site like Parship, and more than the free Tinder app anyway. The price-performance ratio is right for Colette. She is glad that the matchmaker is doing the work for her, “sifting it out”, as she says. The 54-year-old has no desire to click through countless profiles. Grüneis tells the NZZ how much customers pay for “screening”, but she does not want the figure to appear in this text. It used to display the price on its homepage, but customers asked it to remove the information. “They are embarrassed when others know how much they are paying.” Many people are ashamed to go to a matchmaker, says Grüneis. She has therefore set up her office in an inconspicuous commercial building, between job placement offices and a pension fund. She says: “There are even couples for whom I was at the wedding, but nobody was allowed to know that they met through me.”
Grüneis doesn’t understand this; she herself met her daughter’s father through a dating agency many years ago. It’s an experience she wouldn’t want to miss, even though she now lives separately from the man. Colette also says she is not ashamed: she still does not want to appear in the text with her real name. She fears it might be unpleasant for the men she has met.
Customers reach Grüneis via advertisements and recommendations. “Women come by themselves, men are usually sent – by the children, by friends, sometimes even by the ex-wife.” The matchmaker also approaches potential customers directly. This is how she met her current husband, SRF weather expert Thomas Bucheli. An acquaintance told Grüneis at a party that Bucheli was newly divorced or separated. She couldn’t win him as a customer, but she could win him for herself.

“Mr. Perfect does not exist”

Grüneis’ office is simply furnished: two armchairs, a desk, a palm tree. Only details indicate that everything here revolves around love. Next to a heart-shaped bowl is a picture of Brigitte Bardot and Gunther Sachs. They were the glamorous couple of the sixties: in 1966, Gunter Sachs rained 1000 roses from a helicopter on Bardot’s villa. The two married in Las Vegas and divorced three years later. “The dream couple par excellence”, says Grüneis, even though their relationship broke down. She doesn’t believe in one great love, but in life partners. “Mr. Perfect doesn’t exist, but Mr. Right does.” She also tries to convey this to her customers.
About every four to six weeks, a couple who have met through Grüneis fall in love. More since the outbreak of the coronavirus. Sometimes former customers send wedding announcements or baby photos. And sometimes they call because they’re single again. Grüneis has now found a third potential partner for Colette. On their first date, Colette visited a museum with the man. She likes him.

freieherzen.ch in der NZZ vom September 2020