Matchmaker, Matchmaker : It's a Tricky Calling, but These Self-Appointed Merger Experts Are More in Demand Than Ever

Mention, just in passing, that it's been a while since you've had a date, and their eyes light up. They know someone who's just perfect . Someone who will treat you better than those bums (or prima donnas) you used to see. Someone who will understand your slobbery Great Dane, need to work late occasionally, child with dirt-caked fingernails, (fill in the blank).

They arrange a meeting, suggest an exchange of telephone numbers or invite you both over for a simple, absolutely no-pressure dinner. Just in case.

Almost every one who's single seems to know at least one of these self-appointed matchmakers, zealous fixer-uppers who aren't in it for the money but for the sheer joy of proving Noah had a point about pairs. And, of course, for the chance to show that they're good enough at matchmaking to make a date work at least through dessert.

Some 'Don't Find Each Other'

It's a matter, some say, of demand not locating supply. "There are a lot of wonderful people in the world who just don't find each other," says Judie Framan, a Sierra Madre public relations consultant and self-described matchmaking maven. "And it's a yenta's job to help."

While there's no research-based profile of these self-appointed merger experts, psychologists say helpful, nurturing personalities lean toward the practice. "Being able to help is important to their self-image," says Gary Emery, a Los Angeles psychologist. For matchmakers, "there's great satisfaction in connecting people," adds Irene Goldenberg, a UCLA family psychologist.

Women are more likely than men to practice matchmaking without a license, a random search for such people suggests. And at least one Jewish woman, public relations consultant Renee Miller, believes it's an ethnically ingrained practice, one she learned at her parents' knees. Whatever the habit's origin, most matchmakers stay with it. Framan, for instance, began fixing people up about 25 years ago, soon after her father took her to see "Fiddler on the Roof." Shari Able, a West Los Angeles psychologist-writer, arranged dates for five friends for her high school senior prom and hasn't stopped matchmaking since. Barbara McFadden, an Oakland matchmaking maven, laughs that "matchmaking is a disease."

As that comment suggests, the life of a self-appointed matrimonial agent is not easy. It's not all wine, roses and blissful strolls through Bullock's china department.

Part of the job, matchmakers will tell you, is to cajole the less-than-willing, hold the hands of the mortally wounded ("I don't want to get hurt again") and calm the commitment-phobics ("It's just dinner, not a proposal"). Matchmakers learn quickly to focus on strong points. ("No, he's not 6 feet tall, but he's a gourmet cook and treats his mother like a queen.")

In Los Angeles, matchmakers say they notice an increased willingness on the part of single friends to accept blind dates, perhaps because long working hours, long commutes and sprawling geography hinder the hunt for dates. And the risk of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases may have persuaded many singles of the desirability of a predate personal reference.

Doing the Footwork

Matchmakers definitely make the job easier, especially for those who feel they don't make a good first impression and balk at asking for a phone number, notes Marc Schoen, a Woodland Hills psychologist. "If that first meeting is arranged by the matchmaker," he says, "some of that difficult footwork is already done."

There are a million ways to ease people together, matchmakers will tell you.

Framan prefers to host a dinner party of several people, mixing the seeking singles in with couples and others. That's more gracious and less awkward than simply throwing two people together, she believes. And it's less disconcerting for her husband, Elliot, who finds her matchmaking efforts embarrassing.

McFadden, on the other hand, regularly discusses her hobby with her husband, Chuck, whom she accuses of being a closet matchmaker.

Another marriage broker who recently printed a four-page flyer to accompany her birthday party invitation, describing guests by occupation and avocation but not by name, gently forcing people to mingle and--who knows?--find someone interesting.

Pointed Out New Car

Some matchmakers are even sneakier. Consider the Los Angeles hairdresser who scheduled a haircut for a single father's son right before a single mother's appointment. She made sure everyone was introduced and instigated some small talk--"Oh, my. Your sons are the same age." Next, she discreetly pointed out the father's shiny new Jaguar parked outside the salon.

Other matchmakers are more straightforward, simply asking for permission to give out names and phone numbers.

And some matchmakers are successful because they practice reverse psychology, however unwittingly.

Some years ago, Bobbie Minami, a Torrance social worker, talked about a wonderful woman friend to another friend, Rholan Wong, a Pasadena public relations executive. His interest sparked, Wong asked for the woman's number. Minami refused, explaining: "I don't think you're suitable for each other."

It was the kind of challenge Wong couldn't resist. "I kept after her and finally got her friend's number," he recalled recently. He asked out the mutual friend, Debbie Yim, for dinner. Several months later, over dinner at Casa Lopez in Gardena, Yim accepted Wong's marriage proposal. Married three years, they're the parents of 2-year-old Derek. And Wong's happiness is music to any matchmaker's ears: "I'm married to the most wonderful woman in Los Angeles," he says.

Defining Success

Most other matchmakers have similar success stories. "I have five successful matches to my credit," crows Framan, who defines success as marriage or a longterm relationship.

Some matches turn out successfully despite the fact they didn't look at all promising initially, matchmakers concur. Psychologist Able, for instance, thought long and hard before suggesting a blind date between her dentist friend and her film editor friend. She thought the dentist, accustomed to working in sterile conditions, might find the film editor too untidy for his tastes. But then she noticed the editor's immaculate cutting-room floor. Today, the couple are married with two children.

For every success story, of course, there seems to be a disaster story. Framan remembers fixing up her entomologist friend and her artist friend. A match that seemed a natural, she explains, because both loved opera. "I got great reports from both after a trip to the opera," she recalls.

The next date, they told her, was a picnic. How quaint, Framan thought. But the romance soured quicker than potato salad on a 100-degree day. "The entomologist's idea of a picnic was completely different than the artist's," she explains. "This man never went anywhere without a butterfly net. And she hated bugs. She was furious later. How could I introduce her to this barbarian?"

"Barbarian?" Framan protests, still a hint of disappointment in her voice. "He likes opera."

Quit After Three Dates

McFadden can sympathize. She and her husband, after much deliberation, introduced two mutual friends. "We were both of the opinion it would go," McFadden says. Her prediction seemed sound after Date 1, which went well. "I really thought I'd done it," McFadden says wistfully. "But three dates and he quit."

When a Los Angeles man fixed up two mutual friends, he thought they were a nice match. But he hadn't bothered to poll them about the ideal speed of courtship. "I was blamed when the man started to move too fast," says the matchmaker, who abandoned the practice immediately.

Sometimes, singles who rely on their friends as matchmakers expect too much. When it comes to post-date complaints, Able thinks she's heard them all. "He's too short, too educated, too involved with his kids, not involved enough. . . . "

"Matchmaking is risky business," acknowledges psychologist Emery. "It might not work out. Or it might work out," he quips, "and then they can really hold you accountable."

Indeed, there are downsides to the matchmaking game, especially between friends. Those who rely on matchmakers too much can become "passive daters," Schoen says, never looking around themselves for potential dates.

Living Vicariously

And matchmakers can become too invested in their work, perhaps living vicariously through their efforts, or becoming even more disappointed than the couple when a romance fails. There's the danger, too, of giving single friends the idea that you don't think of them as "whole" people simply because they're not married or in a relationship, psychologists say.

For both matchmakers and matched, a middle-ground approach seems best, experts say. For the matched, they advise: Don't rely so much on matchmakers that you stop searching for dates yourself.

Advice for the matchmakers: Be cool. "If you do fix someone up, it should be a very casual situation," UCLA's Goldenberg says. "And a date doesn't have to be dinner. It can just be coffee."

Difficult as it might be, matchmakers should stay as uninvested in a budding romance as possible, psychologists add. They should stifle the urge to ask for minute-by-minute accounting of the date, along with the urge to phone the next day "just to say hello."

Even if they have to sit on their hands a while.

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