A matchmaker is a person who tries to arrange marriages, in an official or unofficial capacity. Many cultures use matchmakers as a serious means of determining appropriate marriages for members of the community. Occasionally, matchmakers have a reputation of being nosy or mercenary, but many believe they are an essential and beneficial part of a culture and help ensure the future of community, family values and traditions.
In Jewish tradition, matchmakers are occasionally called yentas, a misnomer that may come from the popular play and film, Fiddler on the Roof. In that story, the matchmaker happens to be called Yenta, which is actually a Yiddish word for “busybody.” Orthodox Jewish communities have been using matchmakers, or shadchans, for centuries, to ensure the best matches between families.
In cultures where arranged marriages are still a large part of tradition, matchmaking is a serious job. While in modern times, the two families are responsible for bringing the young couple together, an outside party can still play a large part. In some Hindu and Chinese traditions, matchmaking may be based in part on astrology and horoscope. If a bad match is indicated by the year or month when the singles were born, it is often discouraged and occasionally forbidden.
Discovering the compatibility and suitability of the two families involved is a large part of a matchmaker’s job. Typically, matchmaking takes place in cultures where the family unit is a highly valued concept, and divorce is often seriously looked down upon. The matchmaker is in charge of joining the two families on a peaceful and permanent basis, so the relationship between the two groups is sometimes even more important than the compatibility of the couple. This theory has considerable psychological evidence to support its veracity, as many experts believe that one of the best indications of how a couple will get along is how well their families like one another.
Until recently, the decisions of the matchmaker were all but inviolate, with individuals going against them at their own risk. Typically, couples who had wide variance in economic or social standing were discouraged, or even forbidden. This has lead global culture to a great many portrayals of star-crossed lovers, who marry or are together despite social pressure. Romeo and Juliet, Pyramus and Thisbe, and the two figures of the Japanese Tanabata festival are all forbidden lovers who met their doom by ignoring the advice of the matchmaking community and their families.
Understandably in cultures that favor concepts of romantic love and personal freedom, the matchmaker is often looked down upon as a symbol of repression and cynicism. In fact, they can play a vital role in the future happiness of the couple and their family. While ensuring the similar goals, concepts and plans of a potential match cannot guarantee a successful marriage, it can be a very good idea and one that the lovey-dovey couple cannot always be trusted to take care of themselves. While the role of the matchmaker has mostly changed from a decision-maker to merely a facilitator, they continue to maintain a major role in the marriage customs of many cultures. Matchmaking services have also become voluntarily sought after by busy professionals who haven't had the time to seek out a compatible partner.