Photograph of Ettin by C. King Photography
That dreamboat you matched with on Bumble whose profile says all the right things and you just know is your One True Love? Sure, you might have found your soulmate. Or you might have run into a client of Erika Ettin, the DC-based relationship guru who charges $125 an hour to finely hone digital profiles for maximum dating efficacy.
A former Fannie Mae financial economist, Ettin quit that job in 2011 to start her dating-coach business, A Little Nudge. Since then, she has been helping daters refine their online profiles and avoid blunders. Group photos are a no-no, for example, because potential dates will often—sorry—find one of your friends more attractive than you.
Like so many other aspects of our daily lives, dating has been rocked by Covid—as has Ettin’s business, which previously relied on clients undertaking a heavy volume of in-person encounters with strangers. During the first few weeks of the pandemic, every one of her customers stopped using her services. “I sort of accepted it was a weird time,” says Ettin, who lives in NoMa.
But not even a pandemic can thwart that near-universal human hunger for awkward conversation and the possibility of an actual spark. So Ettin’s clients—who range from bartenders to attorneys to political figures—have slowly returned, moving their wooings to Zoom. “Now I’m giving advice on how to make the perfect Zoom date,” she says. “Before, I would tell people not to talk about politics. Now I tell them not to start a conversation with ‘How’s quarantine treating you?’ ” Ettin says her client roster has been at pre-pandemic strength since June.
Included in that group are her “high-level” customers, who pay A Little Nudge to run their entire online-dating lives. (Prices start at $3,900 for three months.) Ettin does all the matching and chatting and, if she ends up arranging a date, sends her client a transcript of the conversations she had while posing as them. That’s right: The next time you have a nice discussion with a prospective mate on a dating app, you might unknowingly be talking to Ettin.
Does that mean she’s some kind of highly paid catfish? “I know what I do is weird,” Ettin says, but she claims she doesn’t feel like she’s duping anybody. “I try to keep it as close to the [personality of the] client as possible. The best compliment I can get if I write someone’s profile is if they say, ‘That sounds just like me.’ ”
When relationships do blossom, not all clients fess up about this subterfuge. But the ones who do, Ettin says, often find that their partners are fine with it. She once met the girlfriend of a man whose accounts she had maintained. “She gave me a big hug,” Ettin recalls, “and said, ‘I liked your messages!’ ”