Matchmaking is any expert-run process of introducing people for the purposes of dating and mating, usually in the context of marriage.
Much modern matchmaking tends to substitute information technology or game-like rules for the expert's finesse - thus they are discussed separately under dating system. This article will focus on the role of human matchmakers.
In some cultures, the role of the matchmaker was and is quite professionalized. The Ashkenazi Jewish shadchan, or the Hindu astrologer, were often thought to be essential advisors. In cultures where arranged marriages were the rule, the astrologer often claimed that the stars sanctified matches that both parents approved of, making it quite difficult for the possibly-hesitant children to easily object - and also making it easy for the astrologer to collect his fee. The tarot has also been employed by some matchmakers.
Social dance, especially in frontier North America the line dance and square dance, has also been employed in matchmaking, usually informally. However, when farming families were widely separated and kept all children on the farm working, marriage-age children could often only meet in church or in such mandated social events. Matchmakers, acting as formal chaperones or as self-employed 'busybodies' serving less clear social purposes, would attend such events and advise families of any burgeoning romances before they went too far.
The influence of such people in a culture that did not arrange marriages, and in which economic relationships (e.g. "being able to support a family", "good prospects") played a larger role in determining if a (male) suitor was acceptable, is difficult to determine. It may be fair to say only that they were able to speed up, or slow down, relationships that were already forming. In this sense they were probably not distinguishable from relatives, rivals, or others with an interest. Clergy probably played a key role in most Western cultures, as they continue to do in modern ones, especially where they are the most trusted mediators in the society. Matchmaking was certainly one of the peripheral functions of the village priest in Medieval Catholic society, As well as a Talmudic duty of rabbis in traditional Jewish communities.
Richer families having been in most cultures inclined to arrange marriages for advantage, and poorer ones having been in most cultures unable to afford help, the use of professional matchmakers who claim to be working for the couple's mutual happiness has historically been one of the markers of the middle class.
Since the emergence of the mythology of romantic love in the Christian world in medieval times, the pursuit of happiness via such romantic love has often been viewed as something akin to a human right. Matchmakers trade on this belief, and the modern net dating service is just one of many examples of a dating system where technology is invoked as a magic charm with the capacity to bring happiness.
The acceptance of dating systems, however, has created something of a resurgence in the role of the traditional professional matchmaker. Those who find dating systems or services useful but prefer human intelligence and personal touches can choose from a wide range of such services now available.
In Singapore, the Singapore Social Development Unit (SDU), run by the city-state's government, offers a combination of professional counsel and dating system technology, like many commercial dating services. Thus the role of the matchmaker has become institutionalized, as a bureaucrat, and every citizen in Singapore has access to some subset of the matchmaking services that were once reserved for royalty or upper classes.
For anyone who's interested I have a matchmaking portal: Miss Right http://kevsterooni.tripod.com