My estate is worth millions of dollars. How do I stop my daughters’ husbands from getting their hands on it?

My wife and I live in California, as do three of our four grown daughters. We are revisiting our family trust for the first time in many years, as we’re getting older and have gradually built an estate worth a couple of million dollars. We want to make sure that, in case our daughters get divorced, our hard-earned savings go to them and not their ex-husbands. 

We consulted with two estate attorneys and got different answers. The first said there’s nothing we can do to legally enforce that the inheritance stays separate; the most we could do is put in some wording along the lines of “It is our wish that the money stays separate.” The second attorney said that we can make our children sign a prenup as a condition of their inheritance. 

Furthermore, we have one daughter who has already been married for five years and has three children; another daughter who just got engaged; and two other children, who are single. Our married daughter does not have a prenuptial agreement. How do we protect our gift to her? A retroactive prenup? How should we proceed?

Father of Four Girls

Related: They’re threatening to go to a lawyer’: My in-laws gave us $300,000 and are on the deed to our home. Now they insist we give our niece $125,000.

“Don’t allow this money to become a cudgel with which to control your daughters’ lives.”


MarketWatch illustration

Dear Father,

Money should bring freedom and opportunity, not control and coercion. 

Your intentions tread a fine line between expectations and legality. There is only so much you can do to prevent your daughters from sharing their inheritance with their spouses, assuming they all marry and some of those marriages end in divorce. It is a credit to you that you have amassed a couple of million dollars, but don’t allow this money to become a cudgel with which to pull the purse strings in your daughters’ lives. 

One solution to your problem: You could set up a bloodline trust, a revocable trust that sets out how you should leave your assets to your direct beneficiaries — in this case, your daughters — and which becomes irrevocable upon your death. It can only be used for your daughters and their children, and because it becomes irrevocable upon your death, it cannot be accessed by creditors, should you have any. There are downsides. For example, such a trust could, unless otherwise specified, exclude stepchildren and adopted children.

First, the good news: Inheritance in California is considered separate property. Whether you leave your children real estate or brokerage or savings accounts, that money will remain nonmarital property unless your daughters use it to upgrade their family home or in some other way commingle those assets with their community property. So that pre-empts the need for your married daughter to ask her spouse to sign a postnuptial agreement.

On that subject, however, it’s not wise to use this inheritance to tell your daughters what they should do within their marriages. There should be a clear boundary between your relationship with your adult children and their relationships with their respective partners and spouses. It’s not a good idea to interfere in the latter. Doing so may cause discord in their relationships and also cause unnecessary hurt and tension in your own relationships with your daughters.

“California is one of a few states that strictly adheres to community-property laws, which declare that assets acquired during a marriage [are] community, also known as marital, property,” according to Myers Family Law in Roseville, Calif. “However, even California draws a line when it comes to personal inheritances, including inheritances that were received while married. Inheritances are treated as separate property, belonging to the individual who received the inheritance.”

Legal gymnastics

Requesting in your last will and testament that your daughters receive their share of your estate on the condition that they don’t share any of it with their husbands presents a lot of impractical and legal gymnastics. What they do with their inheritance is their business, unless you put those assets in a trust with strict instructions on how those assets should be used — for your grandchildren’s education, for example — or use the trust to provide an annual income.

There are so many variables beyond your control. What if you die before your wife, and she has different ideas about how your joint estate should be settled? What if your daughter’s husband is asked to sign a prenup, and replies, “No way — who does your father think he is?” The best course of action is to make your daughters aware of how to manage separate assets that are inherited, and how they could be accidentally commingled.

Think about the quality time you have left with your family. You don’t want Thanksgiving dinners to turn into a battle royale or, worse, a situation where your daughters and their partners gradually pull away and reevaluate their relationships with you. You have worked hard for your money, and you are attempting to protect your family fortune. But there are times in life when you can do too much, and hold your family too tight, even if that is not your intention. 

Ask yourself some soul-searching questions before you proceed. Do you really want to force your children to sign a prenup in order to receive their inheritance? Prenups can be challenged and changed at a later date. What is more important: the couple of million dollars you will leave behind, or the relationships you have with your daughters while you are still here? Don’t put a price on your daughters’ love for you — or on their love for their spouses.

Sorry for being preachy, but even Shakespeare wrote a play about estate planning. It was called “King Lear.”

The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

Previous columns by Quentin Fottrell:

‘I grew up pretty poor’: I got an annual bonus. After I pay off my credit cards, I’ll have $10,000. What should I do with it?

‘I received an insurance-claim check for $22,000’: Why on earth does it take five days for my check to clear?

‘I want to protect my family’: My wealthy father, 49, is marrying his third wife. How do I broach the subject of my inheritance?

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Couples leverage ‘something borrowed’ to cut wedding costs

After facing the reality of how expensive fresh flowers could be when planning her own wedding, Della Larca founded Florèal Blooms, her luxury silk flower rental business, three and half years ago from her basement in Butler, New Jersey.

Larca’s business swelled last year, and she recently moved to a larger workspace to accommodate to the growing demand for her product brought by inflation and a backlog of events rippled by the pandemic.

The price of nuptials has continued to grow, with the cost of the average wedding reaching $30,000 last year thanks to steep inflation, according to an annual study by The Knot, a wedding website.

More from Life Changes:

Here’s a look at other stories offering a financial angle on important lifetime milestones.

Sixty-one percent of couples set to marry this year said the economy has already impacted their wedding plans, and the soon-to-be-wed have become savvier as they confront higher costs. Some, for example, are leaning into the wedding proverb of “something borrowed,” and seriously considering renting over buying —especially when it comes to flowers, fine jewelry and even their bridal dresses.

To make sure they’re really snagging a deal, however, couples must take into consideration the quality of the product they’re renting and whether rental requires added labor costs.

“It’s about making sure whatever you’re renting, think about the execution, think about who’s going to have to bring it out, set it up … is that cost worth it to you?” said Jason Rhee, director of celebrations and owner of Rheefined Company, a wedding and special events planner in Los Angeles.

Couples are renting flowers, jewelry and more

Courtesy of Something Borrowed Blooms

Laken Swan and Lauren Bercier founded Something Borrowed Blooms in 2015 after dealing with high costs for their own weddings. Bercier, in particular, suffered buyer’s remorse on her wedding day — after putting down the full deposit for fresh flowers, the blooms that arrived on her wedding day weren’t exactly what she’d had in mind, said Swan.

Unfortunately, the disappointment Bercier felt isn’t uncommon. The fresh flower industry can experience supply and demand issues, Swan said, and prices often reflect the fluctuation of what’s in stock and an event’s proximity to holidays like Valentine’s Day.

Prices for artificial flowers, on the other hand, are not as volatile — and brides are starting to notice.

Florèal Blooms saw an increase in demand in January 2021, when Larca was scheduling 20 to 30 consultations a week. For 2023, the company is fully booked until the end of the year. For its part, Something Borrowed Blooms is currently shipping out enough silk flowers each month for around 1,200 weddings, pacing up to 2,000 weddings per month this fall.

It makes economic sense: While the average cost of fresh flowers can come to at least $2,500 per event, you can save as much as 70% by renting silk flowers for a fraction of the price, Swan said.

How brides can dress best for less

Fine jewels are also within the average bride’s reach more than ever before. Brides who lack the disposable income to purchase fine jewelry but would value the experience of wearing one-of-a-kind pieces on their special day may want to consider renting expensive jewelry.

Rental prices for fine diamond jewelry at New York-based jeweler Verstolo range from $275 to $695, for example, and the cost includes insurance.

The same goes for wedding dresses.

While the average price for a typical bridal gown is $1,900 before alterations — an additional but often necessary service that could cost $500 to $700 extra — brides to be could rent a designer dress for the starting price of $2,000, with tailoring costs included, said Miriam Williams, co-founder of Atlanta bridal rental company Laine London.

“This next generation of brides is thinking about experiences over possessions,” said Williams. “It’s only natural that they’re rethinking what their wedding day might look like.”

While these may sound like great deals up front, couples should be sure to vet vendors’ quality controls — how they keep the repeatedly used items in top condition — and ask whether their services require additional labor costs. Otherwise, they could end up spending far more than anticipated.

What to consider before renting

Make sure you think about the execution of whatever it is you are renting, said Rhee at Rheefined Company.

“I think it’s amazing that there [are] opportunities for you to be able to rent things that you may not necessarily be able to afford, but then that’s where you just have to think about doing a little investigation,” he said. “Think about it if there is a person attached to that, or is there a service attached to what you need.”

For instance, Florèal Blooms provides a full team that delivers, sets up and packs up the flowers on the wedding day for a flat rate that’s included in the total cost.

“Quality would be the primary risk,” said Swan at Something Borrowed Blooms. Since you are renting something that has been used before, research past customer testimonies and try to work with companies that seem to pride themselves in quality control, added Swan.

If renting out artificial flowers, consider asking the rental company about quality control practices and whether their total costs include insurance for “wear and tear.”

“If there’s maybe a [flower] that was stained [by] red wine or something else, that particular floral is removed from the arrangement and we add a new floral in its place; sometimes, we’re just freshening up greenery,” Swan noted.

The same goes for bridal gowns and maintenance. Laine London expects “normal wear and tear,” and makes sure to hand-wash and drip-dry each gown after it is returned, as well as to refrain from using harsh chemicals, in order to maintain fabric integrity.

“We’re able to really bring the dress back to perfect condition after every use,” said Williams.

Something borrowed, something … bought?

On the other hand, in some cases it may make better sense to buy rather than borrow.

“You want to buy something that you’re going to wear, and that’s not going to sit in your safe and you’ll pull it out one or two times a year,” said Lauren Grunstein, vice president of sales, public relations and marketing for Verstolo.

Deciding whether to buy or rent is a very personal decision, added Williams at Laine London. She noted that her clients have other reasons for renting, not solely for budget reasons. “They don’t want to deal with it hanging in their closet,” she said, referring to wedding gowns.

However, if you plan to get multiple uses out of a bridal item in the future and you have a budget that supports it, it makes sense to go ahead and invest in that purchase, said Swan.

“But if you’re looking at items that are quickly used or disposed of, or don’t have additional uses in the future, that’s definitely an area that you want to consider renting.”

Correction: Florèal Blooms saw an increase in demand in January 2021. An earlier version misstated the year. Rental prices for fine diamond jewelry at Verstolo range from $275 to $695, for example and the cost includes insurance. An earlier version misstated the range.

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Fintan O’Toole on his bestselling book and the transformation of Ireland

It’s possible over the course of just one lifetime to see the world you’ve grown up in and all of its certainties stood on their head. That happened to the generation that grew up in the 1960s in Ireland in a social climate that’s now as lost as Atlantis. 

In “We Don’t Know Ourselves, A Personal History Of Modern Ireland,” journalist Fintan O’Toole has taken a flinty-eyed and often funny look at the transformation of our nation from one time conservative theocracy to its first in the world vote for equal marriage.

Last week, he spoke to journalists in New York City about its unexpected bestseller success in America and the lessons it carries.

“We Don’t Know Ourselves” by Fintan O’Toole. (Liveright Publishers)

In his look at the changes that have marked our transformation from paranoid post-colonial theocracy to progressive European trailblazer, O’Toole has lived the changes he writes about.

Beginning his talk to a gathering of invited New York Irish journalists on April 24, O’Toole spoke the two words that haunted his childhood and the childhoods of many around him: Letterfrack and Daingean.

These were the names of the two most feared Industrial Schools in Ireland, the ones that “bad boys” were sent to for terrible crimes like stealing a loaf of bread.

Between the years 1940 to 1970, 147 children reportedly died in Letterfrack in Connemara while in the “care” of the Christian Brothers. There was evidence of acute physical and sexual abuse there going back to the 1930s. 

In Daingean, a similar reign of terror prevailed, with flogging and other physical abuse creating an atmosphere of horror that has haunted many who passed through it for life. 

“I wondered how did I know those two words?” he told the journalists. “I don’t remember anyone saying Letterfrack or Daingean to me very often but they were everywhere – and yet nowhere.

“When Mary Raftery – who is probably the greatest journalist of our times – did three documentary films about the industrial schools in 1999 called ‘States Of Fear,’ I remember everyone was shocked and appalled. Yet everyone knew.”

That weird cognitive dissonance, that ability to hold two conflicting pieces of information at once, to know and not know, was the origin of his best-selling book. And the study was not simply academic, it was part of his own family life, he says.

“My father had a broken skull and we have different stories about how he got it.

“It was only quite late on that I got the real story, which was that his stepfather had thrown him down the stairs. He was a brute and so the question was, why did his mother – my grandmother – stay with him?

“And the answer was she married him because it was the only way to keep the kids out of the industrial schools. And she knew it was worse, you know, that the worst thing was having your kids being taken into these institutions.

“That’s a very dark way of talking about this sort of doubleness, where lots of people were highly aware of the way that parts of Irish society worked. But we had this extraordinary capacity not to recognize it.”

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In the decade of his birth, the country was floundering. “There were only two countries in Europe that lost population in the 1950s,” O’Toole said. “One was East Germany and the other one was Ireland. The population was just leaving, young people were leaving in droves.

“And they were leaving to go back to the old colonial oppressor. They were choosing to live in England. All my father’s family, his siblings were in England, all my cousins were living in Birmingham and London.”

‘Island for lease, current owners leaving,’ ran a poignant cartoon that caught the eye of T.K. Whitaker, the gifted Irish economist and Secretary of the Department of Finance.

“He was in his late 30s from Rostrevor in the north,” said O’Toole. “He was an Irish speaker and devout Catholic, and he had come to live and work in the Republic because he believed in Irish nationalism, he wasn’t a rebel.

“But he realized that in order for things to stay the same, things would have to change. That really was the ironic T.K. Whitaker idea, that in order to keep Catholic nationalist Ireland, we’ve had to change how our society operated radically.” 

Ireland would have to open up to foreign capital and it would have to attract private capital, Whitaker wrote.

“I think Whitaker thought, you could do it and it wouldn’t really change Catholicism, it wouldn’t really change the structure of governing and theology the way it was.

“And in fact, Catholicism still did pretty well in terms of its control of the society, right up to the end of the 20th century.

“And then it collapses with extraordinary intensity. I’m not talking about Catholicism as a faith, I’m talking about this peculiar fusion of Catholicism and nationalism as a governing ideology. But when it went it went with astonishing rapidity.”

Albania got state television before Ireland did, O’Toole notes. “The Irish government didn’t want to do television, but they had to because more and more people would be putting up huge ariels and getting the BBC. So London finally forced them into having a TV station to stop people being influenced by BBC.

“And of course, it was opened by the Archbishop of Dublin and it was headed by [Edward Roth] an Irish American, some good Catholic boy from Boston, who was the first director of programs and all he could do was buy programs from ABC and the entire back catalog of NBC and ABC.

“So we started watching American kids college programs and this huge American cultural influence started coming in.”

The great challenge before us in 2023 is how to deal with the unexpectedly promising path ahead that nothing in our past has prepared us for.

“There is always an urge to fill it with stupid slogans or populism,” O’Toole said. “But if instead you can live with uncertainty, and you’re not susceptible to every demographic who wants to tell you they know the future, and can control the future, we will be okay.

“I think, by and large, Ireland has gotten to a point where actually there is more comfort with that uncertainty.”

O’Toole concluded: “There was a big international survey a couple of years ago that asked people would you like your country to be the way it used to be? And the two countries who said no were China and Ireland.

“We may be very sentimental but we’re not nostalgic. That will save us from the kind of populism we have seen elsewhere.”

“We Don’t Know Ourselves, A Personal History Of Modern Ireland” is published by Liveright, $32.00.



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Tindered out? How to avoid creeps, time wasters and liars this Valentine’s Day

Michelle has had her fair share of bad dates.

A divorced mother of four children, Michelle, 52, resolved to maintain her sense of humor when she returned to the dating market, and signed up for Hinge, an online dating service that includes voice memos, in addition to audio and video functions that enable two interested parties to talk to each other without sharing their phone numbers. 

Given that she had not dated since she was in her 20s, Michelle, who asked for her surname to be withheld, was thrown into the world of online dating, right swipes, ghosting, men who were actually living overseas, married men, men who lied about their age and men who posted photos that were 10 years old. She split from her husband of nearly two decades in 2014. 

Hinge is part of Match.com’s
MTCH,
+1.22%

group of apps along with OKCupid, Tinder, Bumble, and Christian Mingle, among others. The company promotes itself as the app that is designed to be deleted by its users. It’s a bold statement in the era of online dating, when people scroll through profiles — swiping right for yes and left for no — in search of their perfect mate.

But Hinge, like many other dating apps, introduced a video function in 2020 to help push people to “meet” during the worst days of the coronavirus pandemic. Dating experts advise applying the same rules you would to a Zoom
ZM,
+3.06%

call: dress smartly, use an overhead light rather than a backlight that casts you in shadow, and don’t sit in front of yesterday’s pile of dirty laundry.

‘It’s amazing how many guys use a picture from 10 years ago. You can barely recognize them when you meet them.’


— Michelle, 52, a divorced mother of four who searched for love online

A video date will reveal a lot more than a profile picture. “It’s amazing how many guys use a picture from 10 years ago,” Michelle said. “You can barely recognize them when you meet them. I discovered that someone who is very quick to ask for your email address or your number is more likely to be a scammer. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of scamming on dating apps.”

She’s not wrong. Nearly 70,000 Americans lost $1.3 billion to romance scams through social media and dating apps last year, up from 56,000 the year before, according to the Federal Trade Commission. That’s broadly in line with the amount of money lost the previous year, but up significantly from the $730 million lost in 2020. 

Through her work as a social worker, Michelle has learned to evaluate people and look for red flags. She has used those skills when online dating. She watches out for “goofy stuff” like a man who is writing like a character from a romance novel. “The Lifetime Channel Christmas Love Story is not happening on Hinge,” she said. “Those are the things that I kind of find funny.” 

Other red flags: Someone who lies about their age, is unwilling to meet, won’t turn on the video chat function — what have they got to hide? — and a man who is cheap. “Why did I drive 45 minutes to meet you and you can’t even buy me a cup of coffee? I don’t want someone who is stingy. Either they’re really miserly, have poor judgment, or poor people skills.”

The perilous side of handheld love machines

Dating apps are the ultimate love machine, churning out potential partners every two seconds, someone who is taller, younger, hotter, richer, broader, slimmer, sexier, kookier, weirder — and the list goes on. All of life’s parade is a swipe away. Millions of people use dating apps — from Grindr for gay men to Facebook Dating for pretty much everyone.

There is a balance between keeping people swiping and helping them find love. It’s a numbers game, and can be as addictive as playing the slots. EHarmony promotes its Compatibility Score, while OKCupid asks users to answer an almost limitless number of questions in order to match with more appropriate people. But critics say it leads to the gamification of people’s love lives.

Jenny Taitz, author of “How to Be Single and Happy: Science-Based Strategies for Keeping Your Sanity While Looking for a Soul Mate,” said one of the most common complaints about dating apps is the constant game of cat and mouse. Each user is probably talking to several people at the same time, and it’s tough to get people off the apps and into the real world.

If you like someone, she says, move to a video chat to test the chemistry. “It’s time-consuming, but you need to move from a pen pal to an in-person meetup,” she said. “It could be something that you do all the time, so you really have to have limits. If you’re having four dates a week, does that mean you’re not making time for friendships where you have an investment?”

‘The same person who volunteers at a soup kitchen might easily ghost someone. There is so much detachment.’


— Jenny Taitz, author of ‘How to Be Single and Happy’

Anonymity can often lead to ghosting, when people just disappear or stop answering messages. “We need to treat people like they would treat their future child or best friend,” Taitz said. “Bad behavior is so pervasive, and people are not held accountable for their actions. The same person who volunteers at a soup kitchen might easily ghost someone. There is so much detachment.”

Some studies have linked dating apps with depression, while other studies have found that online dating has led to a string of robberies through hook-ups on Grindr, and can also make it easier for sexual predators to find victims. These problems obviously exist in the real world, but social media and dating apps can provide an easier path for bad actors. 

Julie Valentine, a researcher, sexual-assault nurse examiner, and associate dean of Brigham Young University’s College of Nursing, analyzed 1,968 “acquaintance” sexual assaults that occurred between 2017 and 2020. She and her fellow researchers concluded that 14% of these sexual assaults resulted from a dating-app’s first in-person meeting. 

“One-third of the victims were strangled and had more injuries than other sexual-assault victims,” the study found. “Through dating apps, personas are created without being subjected to any criminal background checks or security screening. This means that potential victims have the burden of self-protection.” 

All those coffees take time and money

A spokeswoman for Match.com said it does not release data on how many people have actually used the video chat function. If people did use the function more often without sharing their phone number, it would in theory provide a layer of protection, help weed out bad actors, and help people decide whether a prospective date is compatible early in the process.

Cherlyn Chong, the Las Vegas-based founder of Get Over Him, a program to help women get over toxic relationships, does not believe the video chat function is as widely used as it should be. Chong, who describes herself as a dating coach and a trauma specialist, encourages her clients to use every method available to screen dates, in addition to meeting in a public place.

So what if a man did not want to video chat? “If they didn’t want to video, that’s fine,” Chong said. “But their reaction to the request would be a litmus test. We would know he is probably not someone to date, as he is not flexible. It’s also very telling if a woman explains that it’s a safety issue. The response of the guy in that situation would also be another litmus test.”

“Once you give someone their phone number, you don’t know what they are going to do with it,” Chong said. She said one of her clients encountered a man who shared her phone number with others, and sent it to a spam site on the internet. “You want to believe in the best of people,” she said, “but there are people who misuse your number because they can’t handle rejection.”

‘A couple of cocktails in New York City? You’re looking at $60 to $100, or a few hundred dollars for a pricier meal.’


— Connell Barrett, author of ‘Dating Sucks, But You Don’t’

Connell Barrett, author of “Dating Sucks, But You Don’t,” said video dates are a good first step. “You can see your date, and read their body language,” he said. “Because physical contact is off the table for a video date, it can free both singles to let go and not worry about the pressure about moving in for the first kiss. Good chemistry happens when there’s less pressure.”

Video dating also saves you time and money, especially if you’re the one who picks up the tab. “A couple of cocktails in New York City? You’re looking at $60 to $100, or a few hundred dollars for a pricier meal,” he said. Regular daters could end up spending up to $1,500 a month in bigger cities, if they’re dating a lot and eating out, Barrett added.

How much you spend will clearly depend on your lifestyle. Members of The League, a dating app that’s geared towards professionals, spend up to $260 a month on dates, followed by $215 a month for singletons using Christian Mingle, $198 for people signed up to Match.com, and $174 for Meta’s
META,
+3.03%

Facebook Dating subscribers, according to a recent survey. 

A video call allows people to get a sense of the person’s circumstances and personality, and can avoid wasting an hour having coffee with someone you will never see again. Be fun, be playful, don’t ask about exes or grill the other person “60 Minutes”-style, Barrett said. “A big mistake people make in dating is trying to impress the other person,” he said.

Video dating goes back to the 1970s

Jeff Ullman created the first successful video-dating service in Los Angeles in 1975 called Great Expectations. People recorded messages direct-to-camera. “We started with Betamax, moved to VHS, and upgraded to CD-ROMs,” he said. “As long as there are adults, there will be the hunt for love, and there will be the longing for ‘I’m missing someone, I’m missing something,’” he told MarketWatch.

“The best and the brightest did not go into dating services in the 1970s and 1980s,” he said. “I only went into it because I wanted to change the world. What I wanted to do was turn pity to envy. Our videos were 5 or 6 minutes long. There were no stock questions. They had to be ad-libbed. The only similar question was the last one: ‘What are the qualities that are most important in a relationship?’” 

He turned Great Expectations into a national franchise where customers paid $595 to $1,995 a year for membership ($1 in 1975 is around $5 today). “We did not hard sell you. We did a ‘heart sell.’ We had all kinds of Type As — doctors, lawyers, studio production chiefs, who all thought they were God’s gift, or God’s gift to womankind, but when they talked about their loneliness, they cried.”

People will always be searching for that perfect mate, Ullman said, whether it’s through videos, words, photos, psychological compatibility, A.I., or through arranged marriages or matchmakers. “But there is no perfect match. My wife Cindy and I are well matched. She’s not perfect. I’m not perfect. The moment either one of us begins to think we’re perfect is the moment we introduce negative forces.”

‘What I wanted to do was turn pity to envy. Our videos were 5 or 6 minutes. There were no stock questions.’


— Jeff Ullman, created Great Expectations, a video-dating service in Los Angeles in 1975

Before TikTok and Skype, people were not as comfortable in front of the camera, particularly if they had to talk about themselves. “We always hid the camera,” Ullman said. The 1970s decor of dark wood and indoor plants made that easier. “When we were finished, they’d say, ‘When are you going to start?’” But they were already on tape. They were, he said, happy with the first take 95% of the time.

Ullman required his franchisees to give members a three-day right to cancel for any reason — including “I’m not going to tell you” — if they changed their terms of service. “They just had to mail us or fax us their notice. Half of my franchisees were about to revolt.” Until, he said, they realized they could not afford to have a bad reputation in an industry where people were putting their hearts on the line.

It all started with a Sony-Matic Portable Videocorder gifted to him by his parents when he graduated from UC Berkeley in 1972. “They were very expensive, but they were portable. Whenever I went anywhere, whether it was a parade or a demonstration, which were common back then, they always let me in because they thought I was from “60 Minutes.” It gave us a sense of power.”

Fast forward to 2023: That power is in the hands of the $3 billion online dating industry and, perhaps to a lesser extent, in the hands of the singletons who are putting their own messages out into the world through words and pictures. In the 1970s, most people were still meeting in person. These days, your online competition is, well, almost every single person within a 50-mile radius.

Watching out for those ‘green flags’

Video dating has come in handy for singletons like Andrew Kneeshaw, a photographer and publican in Streete, County Westmeath, a small town in the Irish midlands. He’s currently active on three dating sites: Plenty of Fish, Bumble and Facebook Dating. In-app video calls have saved him — and his potential dates — time, gasoline and money spent on coffee and lunch. 

“Even someone local could be 15 or 20 miles away,” he said. He’s currently talking to a woman in Dublin, which is more than an hour away. “Hearing someone’s voice is one thing, but seeing that they are the genuine person they are supposed to be on the dating site definitely does help.” He could spend upwards of 20 euros ($21.45) on coffee/lunch, excluding gasoline.

He did go on a dinner date recently without having a video call, and he regretted it. “Neither of us felt there was a spark,” Kneeshaw said. So they split the check as they would likely never see each other again? “That sounds terrible, but yes,” he said. “I go on a date at best once a week. If you’re doing it a few times a week, it does add up very quickly.”

Ken Page, a Long Beach, N.Y.-based psychotherapist and host of the Deeper Dating podcast, is married with three children, and has compassion for people like Kneeshaw who live in more remote areas. In New York, he said, some people won’t travel uptown if they live downtown, and many more people won’t even cross the river to New Jersey. 

‘If it’s a video chat, you have the opportunity to get to know them more, and have that old-fashioned courtship experience.’


— Ken Page, a psychotherapist and host of the Deeper Dating podcast

He said green flags are just as important as red flags when deciding to move from a video date to an in-person date. “Is their smile warm and engaging? Are you attracted to the animation they have in their face? You just get tons more data when you see the person. You save money, and you save time before you get to the next step.”

In-person first dates can be brutal. “Your first reaction is, ‘they’re not attractive enough, I’ve got to get out of here,’” Page said. “If it’s a video chat, you have the opportunity to get to know them more, and have that old-fashioned courtship experience where attraction starts to grow. The ‘light attractions’ have more opportunity to grow without the pressure of meeting in person.”

Dating apps are a carousel of romantic dreams. The focus is on looks rather than personality or character. “There are so many people waiting online,” Page said. “That does not serve us. Unless the person really wows us, we swipe left. If you do a video chat, you will be more likely to get to know that person — instead of only getting to know the ‘9s’ and ‘10s.’”

And Michelle? The divorced Californian mother of four said she finally met a guy on Hinge last October, and they’ve been dating since then. “He’s just a fabulous guy. He actually moved slower than what I had experienced with other guys I had dated.” She kept her sense of humor and perspective, which helped. “He said, ‘You’re so funny.’ I didn’t have anything to lose.”

“It’s almost going to Zara
ITX,
+1.55%
,
” she said. “Nine times out of 10 you may not find something you like, but one time out of 10 you do.”

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