MATCHMAKER, MATCHMAKER: CAN A DATING SPECIALIST HELP ME?
MATCHMAKER, MATCHMAKER: CAN A DATING SPECIALIST HELP ME?
TIME OUT NEW YORK
FEBRUARY 5-11, 2009
BY JULIA ALLISON
My dating life was stale, and I knew it. I had just broken up with a guy I really liked, and my disappointment over our ignoble end colluded with a worrisome lack of, uhhh … “backup plans,” leaving me dangerously close to a debilitating dating depression.
I had man-ertia, and I needed professional help.
Manertia, noun. When one’s dating life is no longer new, interesting or exciting, and continues in its existing state of extreme banality in a straight line, unless that state is changed by an external force.
In my case, that external force had a name – or three of them, actually: Amy, Lisa and Janis, Professional Matchmakers.
Four men, six dates, and approximately 57 text messages later, my conclusion is unambiguous: they’re the best thing to happen to my dating life since I got boobs.
In fact, I now firmly believe that upon moving to Manhattan, every single adult should receive a Metro card, a box of Trojans, the unlisted phone number to Milk & Honey and a year long subscription to a bona fide New York matchmaker.
Matchmakers should be given as gifts for birthdays, graduations, and especially – especially – upon breakups. They should replace shrinks (and mothers) as the first person you call after you get dumped, when you end your engagement or when your three week fling admits he “forgot” to mention he has a wife. Craigslist, eHarmony, the $2 beer special at Black Bear – when it comes to your dating life, none of them are a match (har) for a real, professional matchmaker.
FORCE #1: AMY
I meet Amy Laurent at Olives, the W Union Square’s dusky lobby bar on a sleeting December evening. Only 31, she’s undeniably adorable: a tiny brunette with a cute little nose, a huge smile and a girl’s girl friendliness. Plus, she smells good. I like her immediately.
We’re not two minutes into conversation when she exclaims excitedly, “I know exactly who I’m going to set you up with! You’re going to love him!!!” I have to restrain myself from clapping like a two-year-old presented with new colored blocks. Yay!!! “He’s 34, Ben Affleck lookalike, Ivy league educated,” I’m swooning. All of my dating problems are solved!! This is a miracle!! “… and a banker!”
“I’ve never really dated bankers,” I explain politely, by which I mean, “I have stereotyped bankers as boring fucks with whom I have nothing in common except for a shared love of towncars and pasta involving truffles. Please don’t force me to actually spend time with one of them.”
“You’d better get used to it,” she chirps, undaunted. Hmm. My mind wanders back through three years of exes. Like I’ve had so much success with non-finance guys? Yikes. And right there I learn the first rule of matchmaking: shut up and let the professional do her job.
“I’m very intuitive,” and indeed she is. Although she has a long form which I promise to fill out – but don’t – she names two men right there at the table, both of whom I’m still talking with two months later.
“You may say on paper what you want,” Amy explains, “but my job is to ascertain what you really want.” She ascertains correctly, in my case. I go for highly educated, intelligent, driven, fun, irreverent risk-takers, and that’s exactly what she gives me. First, there’s Cameron (the aforementioned banker, who, true to Amy’s word, could easily double as Mr. Jennifer Garner), then Kirby, a charming 41-year-old Upper West side doctor turned hedge-funder turned philanthropist. Both ask me on second dates midway through the first, and third dates midway through the second. They are gentlemen, scholars and “relationship-minded” (been there, played that, ready for the next phase). I’m thrilled.
She even tries to set me up with a third fellow, who (due to my travel schedule) makes a date with me two weeks in advance, but texts me the day before: “Julia, hey, this is [redacted]. I hope you had a good trip to Vegas! I’m sorry to get back to you on such short notice, but I am not going to be able to meet tomorrow. Basically I went out on a date with someone late last week, and saw her again this week. We kinda hit it off, so I think I am going to focus on this. I hope you understand. I hope it’s okay that I texted rather than called. Hope all is well.” I’m impressed. I’ve had actual boyfriends who haven’t been that conscientious – or honest.
“These guys are incredibly eligible bachelors unlikely to be candidates using dating services,” she adds. I know what she means – they’re not desperate, old bald dudes who can’t get dates – but it makes me sad that not relying on chance or happenstance to find a great person to date is still considered gauche. What she says next resonates with me far more. “My clients have time to date, but they don’t have time to date the wrong people.” Exactly!! Me too! I’m far, far too busy facebook stalking my exes to go on dates with new losers!
She compares herself to a “personal headhunter,” (Position needed: Girlfriend!). “Singles with busy lifestyles and demanding careers hire personal assistants, drivers, nannies, people to help run their households – I am simply their right hand woman,” charged with locating, screening and arranging introductions they would never have either the time or the access to find. “At any time these guys could meet girls or just get sex, but there’s no way they can network and screen the way I can – it’s more than a full time job.” Makes sense to me!
In addition to New York, Amy offers her services in LA, Miami and London, averaging 60 male clients per city, and a database of several thousand women nationwide and the UK. Men pay 10-20k for unlimited dating throughout the year. At the end of my dates, I ask her for feedback – is there anything I could do better? “There was an impression you did not have time for dating,” she explains via email. “Make sure you appear to be available even more than your schedule may allow. They weren’t certain you really had the time to devote to serious dating.”
Innnnteresting. I would have guessed my insane schedule would make them want me MORE! I thank her for saving the relationships before they died a “How about never? Does never work for you?” frenetic Manhattan death.
FORCE #2: JANIS
Janis Spindel is the undisputed grande dame yenta of New York matchmaking, with the subtlety of Rosie O’Donnell and the tact and modesty of Donald Trump. Blustery, loud, pushy, unnervingly confident, she claims an astronomical, fairly unbelievable number of marriages (in the range of 800), although – as she repeats ad nausea – “because of the stigma I have NEVER been invited to a wedding!!!”
Ah, yes, the “stigma.” So why do men hire her? I ask. “Because I do the EDITING for my guys and I NEVER try and fit a square peg into a round hole,” she responds in an email, “they are VERY busy and they want it all. The 4 “B”s BEAUTY.BRAINS BODY BALANCE and where r they going to find HER?? I deliver exactly what they r asking for THEN I just leave the rest up to ‘chemistry’ and the ‘universe.’”
Apparently Janis – or the universe – wasn’t super clear on what I was asking for, because when my date rolled up (in a towncar he had hired for the occasion), out stepped a fellow at least – at least – twenty years my senior, with what might charitably be described “not quite a full head of hair.” After presenting me two CDs (Kings of Leon! And some other group!) still in their Virgin Megastore bag, he announced that we’d be going to Bagatelle. Bagatelle?? On a first date?!? On ANY date?! It’s basically a bumping discotec, with all the charm of Marquee. Why not just go to Cipriani’s for models and bottles?
Fleeing to the ladies’ room, I hysterically twittered “Oh myGOD I’M TRAPPED IN THE BATHROOM AT BAGETELLE SAVE ME FROM THIS DATE!!!!!!!!”
When I emerged, my date stood there smiling with two glasses of red and an admission that Bagetelle was indeed an awful choice, so would I mind if we moved to Aquagrill? I didn’t mind at all – Aquagrill (210 Spring, 212.274.0505) is arguably one of the best restaurants in the city for first dates. The atmosphere and meal were pitch-perfect, and he turned out to be energetic, funny, intelligent and interesting – and one of the least skeezy men I’ve met in New York. I had
judged him on his age and his appearance, and I was ashamed of myself.
It wasn’t a romantic love-match, but we had a solid basis for a friendship. I could get used to this matchmaker thing: even “bad dates” were pleasant experiences.
FORCE #3: LISA
I meet Lisa at a crowded diner on 52nd & 8th, near my apartment. Clad fashionably in all-black, trim from her beloved spin classes with her dark brown mane perfectly blown out and her makeup perfect, her appearance belies her true age – she’s [48?] but looks a solid decade younger. Meanwhile, I’m wearing a velour tracksuit, hair in a ponytail, no makeup, and frankly, look like shit. She hugs me and puts me at ease immediately. “I’m a romance junkie, a girly girl, and I love working with women,” she tells me, and I can see it’s true. “What IS that on your hand?!” she gestures towards the sparkly band I wear on my right index finger, a gift from my best friends Mary & Meghan. “No, no, no, no! Men will think you’re married!! You need to wear that around your neck,” she whispers urgently. “But it’s not on the left …” I try to protest. “You cannot take that chance!!” The woman is thorough.
A nine year matchmaking veteran, Lisa’s matchmaking services don’t stop at the whole “here’s your date, kthxbye.” She’s not just your pimp: she’s your coach, too. And let’s just be honest here: who among us doesn’t need a little dating tough love? “Feedback is key,” she explains. “I have coached and married off so many people,” says Lisa, and I believe her. “Not only do people choose the wrong partners, they constantly shoot themselves in the foot. I give very honest feedback to my clients and it is so important to have that constructive criticism. I am like their dating coach, best friend, big sister and concierge!”
Unlike many matchmakers, Lisa’s paying clients are both men and women, as opposed to men paying the fees and women serving as the “inventory” (Inventory in Matchmaker Speak is more or less: “if you’re lucky and happen to be his type, you might get a date with one of our clients.”) She, like the other two, emphasizes the confidentiality of her clients, her intense selection process (“I am really picky as to whom I take on as a client.”), involving detailed questionnaires, hour long in-person interviews, even home visits. Let’s put it this way: no more “Surprise! I have a wife! And two kids!” I’d pay good money for that.
“My clients are high end, smart and successful individuals who are too busy to focus on their love lives,” she explains, as she asks me about my dating proclivities and takes notes in her – yes, really – little black book. An hour later, she stood up to go and announced, “I’m on a mission to marry you off!” I don’t think she’s joking in the least.
Within 48 hours, she emailed me the following list (*all names have been changed*):
1- Matt, travel guy who lives on Charles Street, smart, edgy, successful.
2- James, 42 is an adorable doctor, smart and quite the catch!
3- Dan is sooooooo cute, 34, tall, handsome. You can look him up
on Facebook. [I do. And he is.] He will be back on Monday and will call you.
4- Steve is tall, dark and handsome, 40, in banking. He is away as well until Monday, but he is dying to meet you. I picked him up in a restaurant last year and my clients like him!
5- My publishing client will call you soon … he’s 40, tall, dark and handsome.
6- I am trying to meet LA boy, but that will probably happen after next week.
I am PSYCHED. Six new boys in one email? Over the next few days, as they each call (CALL! Not even text!) one by one, and I schedule a date with Dr. James, who has one of the most fantastic attitudes of any guy I’ve met in New York. “I’m from the midwest,” he tells me. Ah-ha. That makes more sense. He uses Lisa because – as she explains – “blind dates can be awful, and he knows that I know his taste. He’s not into wasting his time; he’s serious about finding his life partner vs just hanging out with some random woman.”
Dr. James suggests a live piano concert on Saturday night at La Poisson Rouge in the Village, then an Italian salmon and pasta dinner at Bar Pitti on 6th & Bleeker (268 Sixth, 212.982.3300) - followed by salsa dancing at Gonzalez & Gonzalez (625 Broadway, 212.473.8787), near NYU. High marks for his first date itinerary! The evening turns into a grinfest, as we highfive and fistbump and I attempt (badly) to salsa. I don’t really have to ask Lisa what he thought, because he’s already asked me out again – twice – but I’m curious. “He said the one word to describe it is ‘CLICK,’ she types to me via email. “He thought that you two had the exact same energy.” (I’m nodding), “he thought that you two had such good chemistry … he could really hang out with you!”
I could really hang out with him, too. “But!” Lisa adds, “I think his one concern might be your attention level on your love life right now. You’re super busy! You need to make love a priority and make sure the guy knows that you are serious about finding love.”
Oh no! I’ve heard this before. I immediately text him and reassure him that after I’m back from Vegas, DC, Munich & Davos, I’d love to see him again. He texts back, “I wanna go salsa dancing in puerto rico with you! xo and am sending you a smile. Safe trip and text me when u land!”
Okay, so he didn’t read my “BAD TEXTIQUETTE” column the other week. But my manertia? Officially GONE.