A Cyrano de Bergerac for the 21st Century

I’m surprised it took so long to happen. But as the Washington Post reports, there are now businesses specializing in composing e-mails for men who use online dating websites:

Max Hartshorn has pretty much mastered online dating.

It took awhile, but the 24-year-old now knows exactly what kind of message to send to pique a woman’s interest. The Montreal research assistant will come home from work, sit down with his laptop and bang out dozens of e-mails to attractive, eligible women….

Hartshorn is a hired gun, ghostwriting correspondence on behalf of single men unwilling, too busy or too inept to do it themselves. His online dating is done on commission for Virtual Dating Assistants, one of the first full-scale Internet-dating outsourcing companies. For $600, Virtual Dating Assistants guarantees clients two dates a month; the “executive service” package promises five dates a month for $1,200.

“I get paid for each woman who writes back positively,” explains the modern-day Cyrano de Bergerac. “It’s very analogous to sales . . . like a cold-caller or a telemarketer.”

One potential longterm problem with the Cyrano strategy is that its effectiveness will decline if too many people start using it. If a high percentage of men outsource their e-mail writing to expert ghostwriters, women will start to discount the messages they get, assuming that they aren’t really the work of the sender. Roxane probably wouldn’t have fallen for Christian if she had known that Cyrano was the real author of the love letters that won her over.

For a more scientific approach to online dating success, check out this economic study of the determinants of responses to e-mails sent out on online dating websites.