Adventures in Online Dating: Project Fixup

(There are two referral links in this post. If you sign up for Project Fixup, you and I both get a free date. Project Fixup has no clue that I’m writing this post, so all opinions are my own, blah blah blah.)


About two and a half years ago, I got wind of a new Chicago-based startup: Project Fixup, a company that promises to help you “meet people, not profiles.” Unsure about but intrigued by the idea of online dating, this seemed like a fairly safe place to start.

Thus began my love affair with, in my opinion, the best way to get dates in the city of Chicago.

Project Fixup

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The Premise: Scrolling (or swiping, these days) through endless profiles into which people have put varying degrees of effort is exhausting at best and useless at worst. Project Fixup eliminates that step of online dating entirely. You create a profile that only the staff at Project Fixup can see. Then, after indicating your availability and joining either on-going or monthly “themes” (or both), Project Fixup will comb its database to find someone they believe will be a good match for you. After finding said match, Project Fixup arranges a time, date, and location for the two of you to meet, along with a special phone number through which your actual phone number is routed that will allow you to text or call your date before meeting without giving out your real phone number. This special Project Fixup phone number expires after your date, so if you ever want to see your date again, you must exchange actual phone numbers during your date. Otherwise, you will have no way to contact them.

I started using Project Fixup in October of 2012, and, like any startup, it has gone through several different models and operating methods since then. The current system is a nice combination of previous models and had yielded the most success for me up to this point, at least in terms of getting dates.

When you register for Project Fixup, your first step is to fill out a questionnaire that gives the staff of Project Fixup the opportunity to get to know a bit about you and what you’re looking for. They ask for basic information about you–birthday, ethnicity, religion, height, education–and also give you the chance to say what you’re looking for in all of those categories and how much you care about each category by indicating whether you are “picky” or “not picky.” You can also list specific qualities that you are looking for or things that qualify as dealbreakers. These last two options are open-ended, allowing you to say whatever you want.

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After making it through the basic information, you move on to on-going themes. Here, you can select which kind of “themed” date you’d like to go on. Current options for Chicago include craft beer, coffee, whiskey, tacos, mystery (a catch-all theme that includes places like Headquarters), desserts, craft cocktails, dive bars, and wine. You can indicate your interest in as many themes as you’d like, and also indicate if you’re only interested in one-on-one dates or if you’d be interested in group dates as well (I’ve never received a group fixup).

Next, Project Fixup gives you space to tell them a bit about your interests and personality by selecting qualities you feel apply to yourself from a long list of options.

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(That’s not even half of it.)

After that, you add photos. In general, only the Project Fixup staff will see your photos. They use this to help set you up with a person who would likely find you attractive, and vice versa. For example, if you indicated that one of your dealbreakers was a juiced up macho man, Project Fixup could use their database of photos to not set you up with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Conversely, if you indicated that you wanted a juiced up macho man, Project Fixup could use that information to find you your very own Arnold.

The last bit of information you hand over to Project Fixup relates to personal details: your actual full name (which they will never give to your date), your phone number (which they also will not give out), your occupation, and where you’re located in the area (which they keep secret but use to help find a date venue convenient to your location).

And then you’re free to go! Project Fixup allows you to indicate your availability based on their pre-selected times, and once you’ve done that, you sit back and wait for your inbox to ding.

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Each fixup comes with basic information: which theme this date falls under, where your date will take place, the day and time of the date, the name of the person you will meet, and two sentences that basically amount to an elevator pitch on your prospective date — without photos. These dates, under the current model, are 100% blind.

When you receive your fixup, you have three options: confirm, pass, or reschedule. If your potential date sounds interesting, you confirm and wait/hope for them to do the same. If your schedule has changed, you can reschedule the date, proposing a new time that works with your prospective date’s indicated schedule. If you chose this option, Project Fixup requires you to explain why you’re rescheduling, and this explanation is emailed to your date. If, for whatever reason, you would prefer to not go out with the person Project Fixup has found for you, you’re allowed to pass (though Project Fixup will give you much grief for doing so. “Are you sure you want to mess with fate?” and all that.).

If you confirm and your date confirms, Project Fixup will charge you $20. This $20 does not cover the cost of any date-related expenses – it’s how Project Fixup stays in business, as they have no advertising. In the grand scheme of things, $20 is not all that much money — I mean, you can barely find a studio fitness class for that price in Chicago, as you may recall. I also think having this fee helps weed out a lot of riff-raff if you’re looking for something more serious than a hookup. Who’s going to go through all that work and pay $20 to find someone to bang when you can do the same thing on Tinder for free? I’ve yet to be stood up on any date, period, but I also think someone who already put down $20 to go on a date would be less likely to bail entirely. If your date ends up being THE WORST EXPERIENCE OF YOUR LIFE, you can also ask Project Fixup for a refund. I’ve gone a couple dates via Project Fixup that have definitely worked hard to take the title of The Worst Experience of My Life, but given my affinity for Project Fixup, I’ve yet to actually ask them for a refund.

After your date, Project Fixup requests that you review your date, asking you about the fixup process, how you felt about the venue, how you felt about your date, your interest in seeing your date again, your interest of going on more fixups with different people, how likely you are to recommend Project Fixup to someone, and if you have any additional comments for them.

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Project Fixup is FAR AND AWAY the best way to get actual dates from what I’ve found. Since joining in 2012, I’ve gone on dates with 11 different guys courtesy of Project Fixup (one in 2012, eight in 2014, and two this year). In my experience, Project Fixup works in fits: I’ll go weeks with nothing from them and then usually get two dates scheduled within the same week (once I went on two dates in the space of three days, in fact). I don’t know why this is, though there are plenty of possible reasons: my schedule, the schedule of guys who Project Fixup thinks I’d like, the growing pains of being a startup, etc.

I’ve gone on some really, really great dates through Project Fixup and some really, really terrible dates through Project Fixup. The thing with Project Fixup is that even though they can see your profile, it’s not as if they actually know you (though given how verbose I tend to be in my reviews, it’s probably safe to say that Project Fixup and I are more or less on BFF levels at this point 😉 ), nor do they actually know the person they’re setting you up with, so it can be a crap shoot. As I’ve learned the hard way several times, just because someone sounds great on paper does not mean they will be great in reality. Sometimes, though, people sound great on paper and then do turn out to be great in reality, so you never know.

I’ve been wildly unsuccessful in getting second dates out of Project Fixup. The very first guy I went out with because of Project Fixup asked me out to lunch about a week after our first date, then invited me to run Jingle Bell with him (the “fake date” I mentioned yesterday, and also the reason I discovered Jingle Bell and my subsequent age group domination. Or, you know, age group placement 😛 ), then wished me a “belated Merry Christmas” the day after Christmas in 2012, then never spoke to me again. (Though he did train for the Chicago Marathon with CARA in 2013, so guess who I got to see bright and early every. stupid. Saturday. for 18 weeks that year?? Pro tip: if you are a runner in Chicago, do not date other runners, unless you are okay with seeing them around. I know it seems like a big community, but it. is. not. If you’re actively involved in this world locally, you will run into that person at some point again, and it will be exceedingly awkward.) After that, I had several dates where I exchanged numbers with my date, and neither one of us ever called or texted the other person, even if the date went quite well. To be honest, I’ve only once left a Project Fixup date thinking, “I really, really hope this guy follows up,” and that guy did follow up, so I think in all of these other cases, it mostly comes down to a lack of an “x factor,” if you will. That kind of stuff doesn’t show up on paper, so I hold nothing against Project Fixup.

The guy who did follow up, for what it’s worth, more or less asked me out on a second date, but the timing was terrible. We met the weekend before Thanksgiving, and then he was out of town the whole of Thanksgiving, and despite the fact that we texted a lot throughout that whole week, when we both came back to the city after Thanksgiving, I didn’t hear from him at all. I reached out to him the Friday after Thanksgiving and he never responded. (Then 48 hours later I found the guy who turned into my now-ex-boyfriend, so I guess overall that worked out just fine. Well, aside from the whole now-ex thing, but whatever. At least I had boyfriend.)

Last August, I went out with a guy who had moved back to the Chicago area from New York, where he lived after graduating from an Ivy League school (*swoon*). While we were talking, he told me about this startup he had worked for in New York – this company that granted you access to fitness studios around NYC if you paid said company a flat rate. YEP: he was one of the first people to work for ClassPass (though at the time it was called Classtivity). I went out with him literally seven days before ClassPass announced their launch in Chicago. So that was kind of cool…even though I never saw him again.

I’ve definitely gone out with a few guys I would not have picked for myself through Project Fixup:

– They sent me on a date to a really awesome cocktail bar in Boystown (which I’d argue was weird locale for a straight couple’s first date, but whatever) with a super socially awkward fellow. I got a bit more than tipsy, since I can’t hold alcohol for the life of me, and spent most of my time flirting with the clearly gay bartender. Good work, Bethany.
– I went out with a guy earlier this year who defined “schlubby” and could not stop telling me about how he was a lawyer. Did he mention that he was a lawyer? He works in law, in case you were wondering. Courtrooms and everything. Big time. Oh, and he’s a lawyer.
– Perhaps my least favorite individual was the winner who told me how he’d like to run the Chicago Marathon for Team World Vision (which I have no use for, but this is not the venue for venting my frustrations about Team World Vision), despite the fact that he had never run more than a 5K, because “people don’t have clean water. Can you even imagine? Like, they don’t have access to WATER,” and then in the same breath proceeded to tell me that the best thing about Chicago, in his opinion, was the way it’s “cleaned up areas like Cabrini Green.” *headdesk* Right, yes, because the only black people worth caring about are the ones living in Africa. HEAVEN HELP US if we have to see, never mind deal and/or interact with, black people, systematic repression, and poverty in the city of Chicago, especially on the North Side. Gentrification for the win, amirite?! He also happened to go to a church that I have deep, deep problems with in the city (this idea of saving Africa/third world countries while egregiously ignoring any social justice issues literally right outside your church door is horribly pervasive at that church, and that is something for which I have absolutely no tolerance) AND had literally the exact same first and last names as this kid who was the bane of my existence on the newspaper in college, so needless to say, I never saw him again (even though he was a massage therapist, which probably would’ve been a useful quality in a boyfriend to me as a runner. I think I’d rather pay my fake boyfriend physical therapist to take care of me, however 😛 ). This is also why I’ve now labeled myself as “liberal” on my survey haha.

Realistically, I shouldn’t be so gung-ho about Project Fixup, given the dire lack of boyfriends I’ve acquired due to its services. I’m not on a mission to become Chicago’s best serial first dater: I’m on a mission to find a boyfriend, and clearly that has not happened at all with Project Fixup. Regardless, I think it’s a fantastic service. It is without question the best way to get a date in my experience, and dating, like anything, gets better with practice. I think because I’ve gone out on so many (omg so. many.) first dates through Project Fixup, I’ve gotten much better at dating in general. I have a better idea of what I’m looking for, I have a better idea of how to act on a first date, and I have better small talking skills, which seems silly, but is totally critical for first dates with people you’ve never before met. I’ll admit that I’m very “everything happens for a reason,” but I really think if I had gone out on my first date with my now-ex-boyfriend without having gone through all of those Project Fixup dates first, that first date with the now-ex-boyfriend would’ve never led to a second date, never mind a relationship. I knew how to handle myself and I had the confidence that I could handle myself well, and it worked. I’m a huge fan of Project Fixup and highly recommend it to anyone.

Project Fixup currently only operates in Chicago, San Francisco and Durham/Chapel Hill/Raleigh (the Triangle) in North Carolina. If you happen to be interested in checking out their services in any of those cities, you can get your first date for free here. Like I said, I think it’s fantastic, and if you want to go on dates, I’d definitely give it a shot.

3 thoughts on “Adventures in Online Dating: Project Fixup

  1. This is super interesting! I’ve done my fair share of online dating back in the day using Match, Yahoo, and e-Harmony, but never tried anything this sophisticated. I have certainly also had my fair share of disastrous dates where the guys completely misrepresented themselves, etc. I wasted a lot of time emailing/IMing/talking on the phone with guys that I met online, thinking they were amazing, only to meet them in person and find out there was ZERO chemistry. So my philosophy was always to meet in person as quickly as possible. I like how Project Fixup does that at the outset.

    I’d actually be really interested in hearing more about your frustrations with Team World Vision. Though I personally wouldn’t choose to fundraise for them, I think it’s a great cause nonetheless. Please elaborate!

    • Yeah, I definitely agree. It seems to silly to waste a bunch of time basically established a pen pal relationship with someone and then have it turn into nothing. The way I see it, the whole point of online dating is to, you know, date. Haha. So I really like that aspect of Project Fixup!

  2. Pingback: Adventures in Online Dating: Coffee Meets Bagel | accidental intentions

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