A decked-out and eye-catching
49-year-old, Janis is, by her estimation anyway, the reigning
queen of the matchmaking world. She says that she has been
responsible for 715 marriages in the past 10 years and a
thousand long-term relationships that haven't quite made
it to the altar. (Confidentiality, she says, makes it impossible
to verify these numbers.) Janis comes across as a comically
exaggerated version of a Jewish mother: exuberant, zany,
voluble, enthusiastic, affectionate, unstoppable. She makes
no bones about the fact that you (whoever you are) have waited
far too long to marry (or remarry). And since you have already
failed at finding your mate, she's taking over, and she's
going to get you married right now. Although she's motherly,
she's not your mother, so her bullying feels caring rather
Gorgeous (the description proved accurate) is lounging
in one of the cafe's deep velvet armchairs when we arrive.
Janis has a collector's eye for a certain kind of man,
but as he stands, I see this one didn't require perspicacity.
As he and Janis talk, I idly study him under the lamplight,
contemplating whether his looks are fully leading-man material
or more suitable for TV. He insists on getting our drinks,
with the debonair air of someone who has an easy time pleasing
Gorgeous was intrigued when Janis strode over to him a
few days earlier at the same cafe and boldly introduced
herself as a matchmaker. He was impressed when she backed
up her introduction by pointing toward the goods -- a bevy
of beautiful women in the corner she had just finished
interviewing to see if any were suitable for matching with
her clients. Although Janis originally represented both
sexes, now she has only male clients. Virtually all are
wealthy and successful, of course, but occasionally she
gets the kind that makes her lick her chops: wealthy, successful
and handsome -- the kind she can marry off, as she puts
it, ''in a New York minute.''
Gorgeous gets down to business: What are her fees?
Janis is a persuasive sort. She has the glitzy confidence
-- and look -- of someone who moves a lot of oversize jewels
on QVC. Although she likes to put off the monetary specifics
until after more chitchat, she doesn't blanch. Janis Spindel
Serious Matchmaking Incorporated's fees begin -- begin!
-- at $20,000 for an initiation fee, plus $1,000 for a
one-year membership that includes 12 dates. That also includes
a background check and a home visit, during which Janis
spends time with the client, to get a sense of him and
verify that he is who he says he is (i.e., rich or very
rich). Her image consultant also comes to inspect his wardrobe
and, if necessary, make plans to revamp his look. Janis
has many clients outside the New York area (in Tampa, Miami,
Los Angeles, Toronto, Las Vegas). An out-of-town client
must fly Janis and an assistant first class and put them
up in a hotel for the home visit. Additionally, a marriage
bonus is expected -- sometimes it's a car or extravagant
jewelry; other times it's cash. She has received gifts
in the $75,000-to-$250,000 range.
Gorgeous tries to negotiate the price, but Janis flatly
refuses. Then he says he's uncomfortable with the general
idea of paying for dates and wonders what kind of women
would date a man who needs to pay to find her. He doesn't
want to be set up with ''shrews'' or women who are interested
in him because he owns a successful business.
This strikes me as an extremely realistic concern. How
else to describe the women who, Janis says, pay $750 for
a 30-minute meeting to audition for her databank of women
(6,800 of them, Janis claims) who want to marry a man rich
enough to pay for her services? (Janis will waive the fee
if an attractive woman organizes a group of six to eight
friends, because she says that attractive women have attractive
friends -- and, conversely, homely types often stick together.
Attractive friends of homely women, however, are out of
luck.) When Janis's database proves inadequate for a specific
client's needs, she holds ''casting'' parties, for which
she advertises in publications like New York magazine,
at which hundreds of women show up to fill out her questionnaire
and hand in their snapshots, which she and her staff will
vet for the anonymous Prince.
''No, no, no, no,'' Janis now tells Gorgeous in her rapid-fire
style, in which she doesn't so much address concerns as
try to blow them away. ''I have quality women, professional
Ivy League women. I'm not setting you up with shrews and
Gorgeous asks if he'll be able to see photographs, and
Janis again says no. Like other matchmakers, she does not
allow clients to pick or be picky about their dates: that's
her job. She promises to set him up with any kind of woman
he wants, but he has to trust her to screen and select.
After he leaves, I ask Janis what kind of women she would
set Gorgeous up with -- and if one of the ones I met earlier
that day was suitable. In particular, I wondered about
a petite, young Jewish woman in a dark pantsuit -- a sorority
sister who had recently graduated from a state school in
upstate New York and now worked in product development.
When Janis asked how tall she was, she swore she always
wore heels, sticking out her little pointy shoe as evidence.
Janis dismisses my suggestion quickly: ''It's not happening
for her,'' Janis says. And I see what Janis is getting
at. Short is pretty, but she's not glamorous or memorable.
Although Janis keeps a small pool of short women for short
men, for which she might consider Short, she wasn't going
to give her to Gorgeous. Although Gorgeous hadn't said
much about what he was looking for (just the usual ''fun,''
''nice,'' ''smart''), I instantly realize Janis is right:
he wants someone happening.
I assume that this meeting will be the last Janis will
hear of Gorgeous anyway. Why would a dreamy 36-year-old
shell out the price of a compact car for a handful of dates
whose pictures he can't even see, when thousands of women
would be available to him through friends and acquaintances
and on the Internet?
But this was not the last Janis heard from Gorgeous. A
few days later, he called. He was interested. He was very
''It would take me meeting 100 girls to find the one who
clicks,'' Gorgeous later explains to me. ''I think Janis
has already met those 100, and I'm paying her to save me
the effort of sorting out who is and who is not right for
me. Janis is a screener.'' Moreover, he says, ''I'm scared
of the Internet. The women could be crazy.''
How did he come to have more faith in Janis's ability
to filter than in his own?
''It's harder to see yourself as you truly are,'' he says.
''Janis was absolutely relentless in the way she pursued
me, so I know she'll be absolutely relentless in finding
the right girl.''
Souring on the Internet
Until recently, dating services were thought to be for -- as another
professional matchmaker, Samantha Daniels, puts it -- ''desperadoes.''
But the rise of Internet dating made the dating business sexy, respectable
and ubiquitous. For those who don't find computers romantic, however,
or are too concerned about their privacy to advertise their singleness,
or are overwhelmed by the prospect of sorting through Match.com's 15
million members, personal services are increasingly attractive. High-end
matchers have seen a rise in their business in the last few years.
''After 9/11, people didn't want to be alone,'' Janis says, explaining
why she thinks her business has been booming. Expensive matchmakers,
she says, have recently opened shop in San Francisco, Los Angeles,
Miami, Houston, Washington, Chicago and Minneapolis.
For many of the matchmakers' clients with whom I spoke,
Internet dating had curdled. (Last year, the online dating
business grew at a much slower rate than it had in the
previous two years.) The bitterest complaints were that
prospects misrepresented themselves, and that, although
the deception was often immediately apparent, the clients
would still have to sit through -- and even pay for --
a drink or dinner they felt tricked into.
But there are also deeper, more psychological reasons
that draw people to a matchmaker. After years of dating,
still-singles may begin to wonder if they are really their
own best advocates in the search for a partner. Some may
not find the lovers they want, or, more troublingly, the
lovers they choose may be repeatedly, chronically wrong.
They begin to distrust their own judgment. They are weary
of being alone with their confusion. They need an intercession.
They need a Cupid to point her arrow.
No one points more clearly than Janis. Although Janis offers her clients
a dozen dates, more than 90 percent of her clients, she claims, settle
on one of the first three matches. If they don't, they owe her a good
''I listen to what men say they want, and then I give
them exactly that,'' she says. She describes her reserve
of beautiful women as either ''street smart'' or ''book
smart'' (since no one says he's looking for a dummy). Some
are musical or are runners or golfers or are endowed with
specific matchable hobbies.
Janis's women fill out a brief questionnaire in which
they answer basic personal questions (religious beliefs,
number of children they want, what they like to do on the
weekends) and then characterize themselves: Party Girl,
Sophisticate, Intellectual or Domestic. They also have
to check off the kind of man they like: Bad Boy, Life of
the Party, Jet-Setter, All-American, Brainiac, Guys Guy,
Family Man or Other. Then -- if they make the grade --
the women go into her databank.
''If you give the client beauty -- and brains and athletic
abilities, if he wants those -- it's pretty much a done
deal,'' Janis tells me definitively.
A done deal? Aren't those categories awfully broad? What
about character, temperament and sensibility -- the ineffable
qualities that capture a lover's imagination?
She looks at me curiously, as if I hail from a different
planet, where people search for temperament and sensibility
-- but since no one is sure what those are, everyone stays
single forever. (Welcome to my borough!)
After the first date, Janis will elicit feedback from
her client, and if the woman doesn't please, she'll refine
the search and try again. For example, if her client says
that the woman was too talkative, she'll send someone quieter.
If the woman was too shy, she'll send someone livelier.
If the client doesn't know what the problem was -- he just
wasn't excited -- she'll offer a second or third match.
After a third woman, however, if the client doesn't have
a specific complaint, ''if they say, 'Oh, I don't know
Janis, I just can't put my finger on it,''' she tells me,
sounding like a scolding mother disappointed in her beloved
son, ''I'll say: 'Exactly what finger can't you put on
it? Are you like a little boy in a candy store who can't
decide? Because I'm not here to provide candy. Do you want
to get married or not?'''
Clients usually shape right up, she says, and focus on
their (her) goal. If a client starts dating a woman, however,
but doesn't become engaged or seriously involved in three
months, Janis will call him up and tell him to stop dillydallying.
Interiors vs. Exteriors
Matchmaking requires a peculiar, innate talent, as rare a gift as being
able to shoot a basketball through a hoop again and again. No one does
it flawlessly, but some people are much better than others.
Obviously, part of the secret of a matchmaker's success
is that by the time clients write those fat checks, they
are highly motivated to settle in order to settle down.
But, of course, most of them have been highly motivated
for a long time and have failed to find a helpmeet through
other dating methods.
I love to matchmake. (I have had a hand in four marriages
-- as well as many failed setups.) But when I match, I
match from the inside out. I think about the inner landscape
of my friends. I contemplate questions of intimacy: boundaries,
neediness, expressiveness, self-awareness, sexuality, the
effect of their childhoods on their romantic relationships.
But professional matchmakers match exteriors. They have
a finely honed ability to instantly classify people anthropologically,
according to socioeconomic type, and pair them off accordingly.
Behind this kind of matchmaking lies a deep distrust of
romance, as we usually imagine the word. Matchmakers believe
that people should stop their agonized search for soul
mates. After all, a soul mate can be glimpsed in many inappropriate
objects: the soul may be located in someone who is too
young or too old or too poor or the wrong religion or a
convicted felon who is married to your sister. Half of
literature concerns the perils of falling for a soul mate:
the Victorian heroine runs off with the gardener; Romeo
decides he can't live without the daughter of a family
with whom his is feuding. And these tales always end badly,
with disgrace and death, so that the normal order of society
can be soberly restored.
The new matchmakers take a traditional approach. They
believe that people do and should marry within their tribes.
The count's daughter is not going to be happy as a gardener's
wife, no matter how mad she was for him at first, whereas
a person from affluent Millburn, N.J., will find comfort
in a spouse who grew up in nearby Short Hills and went
to the same tennis camp. They will speak the same dialect.
They will move back to New Jersey and send their kids to
that tennis camp. The matchmakers themselves need not necessarily
speak their -- or any of their clients' -- languages. Rather,
matchmakers are like linguists who recognize the sounds
and structure of many languages and then get the natives
together. And if the clients protest that their hearts
aren't beating fast enough (Short Hills? Near my parents?),
the matchmakers will insist that the pairing is right.
Once they commit and start building that long-delayed life,
they'll be happy -- or happier, at least, than when they
Of course, you wonder if these kinds of matches actually
last, or whether a few months or years after that hefty
wedding bonus has been paid, one of them starts saying:
Do we really communicate? Sometimes I wonder if you really
understand me. Does the man think, What about all that
money I paid for you? Does the woman wonder, Should I have
a profitable divorce and marry for love the next time?
None of the professional matchmakers keep track of their
divorce rates (or would admit it if they do). But since
half of Americans who find their own turtledoves let them
go, there is no reason to think that match-made marriages
don't do as well -- or better.
Janis's initial consultation often takes place over lunch or dinner.
The potential client picks a restaurant and wines and dines Janis,
showing her how he behaves on a date. She also screens for pliability.
On a recent afternoon, she was having lunch with a 47-year-old
man from Westchester who desperately wants to have a family.
He's a fine-looking fellow with a good job -- an executive
at a large company, where he has worked for two decades.
He doesn't understand why women on the Internet keep blowing
''I see the same women on the site, year after year, getting
older, no longer listing their goals as having a family,
he tells Janis. ''It's sad. Yet they wouldn't meet me for
a cup of coffee.''
Westchester makes a lot of jokes, which do not seem to
amuse Janis. When the bill comes, he signs the check and
shows it to her, saying facetiously, ''Good enough tip?''
-- which Janis finds déclassé. If he becomes
a client, she tells me later, she will definitely discuss
that with him.
Janis asks a few questions about what he wants (''nice,''
''down to earth,'' ''regular,'' ''Jewish''). ''Street smart
or book smart?'' Janis asks, nodding when he settles on
street smart. Janis tells him that she pays a home visit
to new clients, and he protests that his studio isn't fixed
up for visitors. He says he hasn't had a girlfriend in
a while, and if Janis finds him one, he'll decorate.
No, Janis tells him, if he hires her, he has to get his
place ready for her immediately. Then she begins to quiz
him about why he is living in a studio in Westchester anyway.
He likes Westchester, he explains; it's quiet and pretty.
He has lived there a long time.
Is he ''where he wants to be'' with his job, Janis queries
(i.e., can he afford the city?).
''I think so,'' he says.
''No Manhattan woman is going to date someone in Westchester,''
Janis says. ''In a studio.'' Cowed, he agrees to consider
When Janis tells him the price of her services, his face
falls. Is there any guarantee? Could he pay part upfront
and see what she does for him? What if he doesn't end up
with so much as a kiss?
Janis dismisses the idea with a wave of her hand. ''Look,''
she says, ''it's not working for you. Do you want to continue
on, or do you want to make a change? It's that simple.''
I see from his pained expression that Janis has struck
a nerve. The force of her presence is so great that suddenly
we are in Janis's world, and there is only one way out
of his loneliness. He must come up with the money or resign
himself to his solitary, studio fate.
Although Janis's clients are all male, her new book, ''Get Serious About
Getting Married: 365 Proven Ways to Find Love in Less Than a Year,''
is directed toward single women: the kind you often find gathered in
her living room auditioning for dates.
This afternoon they are sitting primly, their legs crossed,
in outfits as careful as their smiles. There are two average-looking
New York professionals -- a blond real-estate agent and
Short, the woman Janis rejected for Gorgeous. And then
there is an anomaly. The anomaly sports a platinum blond
wig, a florid face and a tight white sweater with a white
fur-lined hood. As she leans forward, her breasts graze
her thighs. Her breasts are so large, they look like pets.
For a moment, I think I have never seen breasts like those,
and then I realize I have: in pornography.
Indeed, it emerges that the woman works as a model for
Penthouse and Hustler and other porn magazines.
Janis wastes no time. ''Are those real?''
''Well, I had large breasts,'' Buxom says plaintively,
as if to say that her identity is not completely fraudulent.
''But I had them enhanced for modeling.''
Janis asks about her hair, and she admits that she is
wearing a wig ''because it is cold out.''
''What color is your hair normally?''
''I can do any color,'' she says timidly.
Janis snorts. ''Normally. What are you normally when you
''Blond, I guess,'' she says uncertainly. She plays with
her white hood, pulling it up over her head.
Buxom's goals are the same as those of the other women:
she wants a nice, rich, handsome husband, and her job isn't
the right place to find him.
After she leaves, Janis calls a client. Although she doesn't
usually send pictures, when Buxom's (brunette) picture
came in a few days before, it was so steamy, Janis impulsively
told her assistant to send it to a client she knew would
Now she's on the phone with the man. ''Forget it,'' Janis
barks. ''I met her, and she's a porn star.''
They argue for a few minutes and then Janis hangs up.
''He wants to meet her.''
A Matchmaker's Intuition
While Janis is proud of her work, to her dismay, her clients are not.
They pay their bonuses quietly -- and no one (no one!) has ever invited
her to his wedding. She returns to this disappointment often: how she
is cheated again and again of the realization of the fruit of her work,
on which everyone else feasts on the wedding day. Yet she does often
foresee that day. How does she pluck the future bride from her databank?
''I'm clairvoyant,'' Janis says. ''I remember once I was
sitting on an airplane, and I said to my friend, 'I've
got it -- I know who Andy is going to marry.' And I was
right. I introduced him to her, and they got married. It
used to spook me, but it's happened so often now.''
As with many of her male clients, Janis found Bookish
on her own, through the extensive grapevine that feeds
her information on affluent, eligible single men. One day,
Bookish says, she called him at his law office. She refused
to say who she was or what she wanted -- she just kept
repeating that he should have lunch with her and find out.
Recently divorced, he assumed that it was an anonymous
setup. At the appointed time, he went to an intimate French
restaurant in SoHo and uncharacteristically ordered himself
a glass of white wine.
''Then Janis walked in, in all her splendor,'' he recalls.
Bookish has an understated, well, bookish look; he sat,
staring at Janis, confused. He was even more confused when
he saw her wedding ring. When she explained that she was
a matchmaker, he was amused. Although he told her he wasn't
interested, they had fun at the lunch, and he had ''a sense
she was a good person -- she has a warm heart.''
A long, romantically bleak year later -- having attended
a ''hideous'' singles event, after which he cried out of
alienation and despair -- he called her. Most of his dates
had been setups by friends who ''had their own agendas
or didn't get mine.'' He didn't like the Internet, and
as a partner at a large firm, he didn't have time to go
to lots of social events searching for women.
''I trust Janis,'' he says, and ''I like her,'' and he
says he believes that she genuinely cares about him. It
took her a while to understand him, he says, but her setups
are ''getting warmer.''
He also got to know her husband, a personal trainer who
sometimes works with Janis's clients, whom he thought was
''a great guy.'' Janis's great guy -- a handsome man I
had seen in her house, playing with their 5-year-old daughter
while Janis worked -- did not appear to be the typical
Alpha-male executive that Janis represents.
''Perhaps she married for love,'' Bookish says with a
''Matchmaking is the world's second-oldest profession,'' Janis likes
to say. And, of course, she's right: after God matched Adam and Eve,
with a common rib, parents, relatives or a designated member of the
community took on the sacred task of arranging for a young person to
create a new household, thus ensuring the continuity and stability
of society. Although in much of the world that tradition continues,
in our mainstream culture of individual choice and romantic self-determination,
finding your own mate is a rite of passage, an exercise in autogenesis.
Among certain immigrant groups in this country, like those
from Southeast Asia and Africa, ancient traditions of arranging
marriages continue. In the Jewish tradition, arranging
three marriages secures you a place in heaven. Ultra-Orthodox
marriages are routinely arranged, and conservative communities
often have informal matchmakers.
Or sometimes a town is just lucky and someone has a calling.
Florence Berger is the kind of old-fashioned matchmaker
who used to exist all over but is now regarded as a kind
of archaic angel. Florence -- a recently retired professor
at Cornell's School of Hotel Administration -- is famous
among the Cornell population of Ithaca, N.Y. She married
the daughter of Cornell's former president Frank Rhodes
to her former graduate assistant. She married the son of
friends to her husband Toby's cousin's husband's brother's
daughter, and they are now expecting their third child.
She even matched her gay secretary (although they eventually
''One might ask if there is a matchmaker gene, because
her matches seem so intuitive,'' comments a woman whose
husband Florence found 25 years ago.
Unlike the high-powered businesswomen of the matchmaking
world, Florence does not accept payment for matchmaking,
although couples may give her a gift, like sending her
to a spa, when they marry. While her own two children married
young, depriving her of the opportunity to pick her son-
and daughter-in-law, she knows that plenty of other deserving
mothers have not been as fortunate. Such women often call
Florence and beg to be on her ''list.'' But Florence has
to feel inspired, and she doesn't choose a new person to
match very often -- once a year or so. Although she will
match non-Jews, she doesn't usually match anyone under
30, because she says they will not be sufficiently ''marriage
minded.'' What is most unusual about the 25 couples Florence
has united over the past 25 years is that none of them,
as far as she knows, have divorced. And she's still in
touch with many of them. (She even matched a few couples
outside the United States when she was on leave in Japan
and France.) Unlike Janis, whose clients keep her role
in their lives secret, Florence is the guest of honor at
every wedding, and she is thanked all over again each time
a baby is born.
Florence is a short, cozy, dark-haired 60-year-old whom
people describe as ''an iron fist in a velvet glove.''
She made her first successful match shortly after she married
her husband, Toby. Her husband's brother was a brilliant
mathematician. Florence wanted to secure the right sister-in-law,
but brilliant mathematicians are quirky and can't be matched
with just anybody. She found him a fellow brilliant, she
says, and now they have brilliant children.
She had invented a rule for the setup: the couple had
to promise to go out twice, regardless of how they felt
on the first date. Florence's two-date rule proved ingenious:
first dates depend on people who are skilled at self-presentation
-- and even those may feel apprehensive knowing, as the
professional matchmaker Samantha Daniels puts it, that
''you only have one chance to be positive and interesting
and fabulous.'' On the other hand, knowing that even if
you fail, you'll still have dinner next week makes everyone
On first dates, people are heavily influenced by perceptions
of appearance, Florence says. Yet everyone has had the
experience of finding their dates' appearances metamorphosizing
during the course of an evening: their faces rearranging
themselves like a Picasso painting into something compelling
or ugly. On the second date, Florence says, people start
to see the way they are really going to see each other.
And Florence's theory has been confirmed: many of her couples
told her they would not have gone out a second time if
that hadn't been the bargain.
Twenty-five years ago, Florence chose a new colleague
at the hotel school to match. She was 32 and single. Although
Florence and Chosen barely knew each other, and Chosen
did not ask Florence for help, Florence took her situation
to heart. Chosen was tall and did not want to have children.
''All summer, I walked around the Cornell campus, looking
for a tall man who didn't want to have children,'' Florence
recalls. Everywhere she went, she thought, Could that be
Chosen's husband? Then one day, she was walking past the
school of management and saw one of the deans in his office
window. She had recently been to a dinner with some friends
that he was at and remembered that he was tall.
''I am fearless when it comes to matching,'' she says
in a way that leaves no room for disbelief. She called
the friends from dinner and suggested that Dean be set
up with Chosen. The friend was hesitant -- she did not
want to be held responsible for a bad date -- but Florence
was insistent, and the friend agreed to give Dean Chosen's
phone number. He called the next day. When Dean and Chosen
got together, they discovered overlapping biographical
details that Florence hadn't been aware of: they both grew
up in the Midwest, less than 30 miles apart, rooting for
the same basketball team -- the kind of serendipity that
confirms the matchmaker's philosophy that like marries
Once Florence inscribes someone in her head, she doesn't
cross him or her off until he is wed. A divorced corporate
lawyer in Princeton recalls how, six years ago, Florence
approached him at a wedding. She took him aside during
dinner and told him she would like to find him a wife.
''I was incredibly touched, flattered and surprised,''
he recalls. He didn't meet many single people in Princeton,
and he worked all the time. ''I'm happy with my life,''
he says. ''If someone comes along, great, but I'm not unhappy.''
The idea of searching for dates on the Internet makes him
feel as if he is needy or lonely and does not fit his idea
of the fortuitous way romance should occur.
Florence's interest, on the other hand, made him feel
nurtured. He wasn't randomly searching for a needle in
a haystack; he was accepting a gift.
Although Florence doesn't know many women in his area,
once a year or so she sends him a new woman and -- although
he wasn't interested in any of them -- he is always pleased
to realize she hasn't forgotten about him.
Florence matches the same way that the high-end matchmakers do, with
the goal of creating stable families by finding partners with similar
values and backgrounds. She shares the same essentially conservative
philosophy: get married.
At times it strikes me that she talks about marrying as
if it were shopping for a dress. Everyone knows that when
you go out looking for the perfect dress, you can't find
it. You drag your friends to store after store. The event
grows closer; you're still shopping. How about this one,
your friends ask, or this? Any of these would look lovely.
The event has started; you're still in the store. Better
to buy an imperfect dress than to miss the party entirely,
your friends counsel. You cave. Then you go to the party
and have a great time and get compliments, and you can't
remember why you agonized so long.
I first heard of Florence through her son, Larry, who
is a friend of mine. When I initially e-mailed her, telling
her I wanted to write about matchmakers, she did not seem
interested. Instead, she wrote back: ''Larry tells me you
are not interested in being matched. I told Larry, Don't
be so sure about that!''
In the following months, I was unable to shift Florence's
attention to the article I was writing. If the journalist
is single, she must be matched. What kind of single person
refuses? Then she thought of Princeton. Why couldn't I
date Princeton? she wanted to know. After all, we live
near each other.
I demurred. Nothing against Princeton, I explained, but
an absence of a sense of potential for deep connection.
Did I imagine that he wasn't literary enough? Florence
wondered. ''He is a good catch,'' she wrote. ''He is very
smart. You could marry him and have a friend who has more
When successive e-mail messages over the course of the
year revisited the subject of Princeton, I tried to be
clearer. I am not interested. No interest. Not. And neither
But interest for a driven matchmaker is neither here nor
there. ''Please just consider some bourgeois perturbations
to what you've been thinking,'' Florence wrote. ''I know
this will make you angry, but . . . I've made some people
angry on the way to making them happy.''
Although I had denied it, Florence was convinced that
I was not drawn to Princeton because he was a corporate
lawyer. She knew that I had once been engaged to an artist
and liked poetry. So she decided that I imagined I could
be captivated only by a poetic type. But ''tortured poeticness
may ultimately be a shallow contributor to love,'' she
wrote. Then, with a neat rhetorical trick, she declared:
''This is not to say that there aren't tortured poems that
are worthy of love. It is to say that those poems can be
part of your marriage by owning the book and taking it
off the shelf when the children are sleeping. . . .
''I am wondering,'' she concluded, ''if you should consider
changing your model. . . . ''
Although Samantha Daniels comes out of the same Jewish matchmaking milieu
as Janis and Florence, you won't hear it from her. ''I hate the word
'yenta,''' Samantha says. ''I am the opposite of how people picture
a traditional matchmaker.'' Samantha is a spin machine. She styles
herself the cool matchmaker: a sexy Upper East Sider who says she is
35. She touts a large social network of people like her, who might
-- for a price -- count you in.
Samantha was once in Janis's databank. (Janis says she
believed Samantha was interested in being set up, but now
speculates that Samantha may have been researching the
business.) Samantha charges a minimum of $10,000 to set
clients up on 12 dates with people she has handpicked from
her pool of thousands of eligible acquaintances, she says.
It's as if the client is an outsider she is befriending
and bringing into her glamorous world. She takes clients
to parties and benefits, chatting up single women for her
male clients and vice versa. (Fees for these extra services
are negotiable.) She arranges for extensive makeovers,
including recommendations for haircuts, teeth-bleaching,
contact lenses, Botox and nutrition counseling.
Upstairs at Barneys one wintry afternoon, Samantha was
doing a shopping makeover with a woman, for which she would
charge $350. ''I won't accept her as a client until she
dresses more suitably,'' Samantha tells me. ''She looks
Downtown is examining a skimpy miniskirt when we arrive,
though nothing in the store is as short as what she is
wearing. A cashmere sweater with a black-and-white image
of a nun knit into the chest is stretched across her breasts,
so that the nun appears to be dissolving in her voluptuousness.
Downtown says she likes to dress like ''a rock chick, like
Pamela Anderson.'' Each rack is a struggle. Downtown pulls
out a short powder-pink-rabbit-fur jacket, and Samantha
holds up a white wool pantsuit, which Downtown observes
looks like something from a ''Virginia Slims ad.''
''You're still going to look sexy,'' Samantha assures
her. ''But guys don't like it when you can see it all upfront.''
''I get a lot of compliments -- I can't walk by a doorman
without being whistled at,'' Downtown says defensively.
Samantha gives her a you're-not-going-to-be-dating-doormen
Samantha describes Downtown as ''a bit of a lost soul.''
She worked in the music industry in Los Angeles for many
years but recently moved back to an Upper East Side apartment,
where she is trying to write a screenplay and buying vintage
clothing and jewelry to resell on eBay. In her mid-30's,
she is still dating the kind of men she gravitated toward
a decade ago -- aspiring actors, artists, writers, hipsters,
guys who like to live on the edge. Internet dating was
''worse than her worst nightmare'' -- encouraging her tendency
toward disastrous affairs.
She thinks now of the boys she knew at her prep school
-- nice, bright, hard-working ''vanilla boys'' whom her
parents would approve of, and she therefore disdained.
''Even a year ago,'' she would have rejected them, she
says, but she regrets that attitude now. For the first
time, she has a sense of needing intervention. She needs
someone to take her under her wing and bring her into a
social circle she has never considered desirable -- introduce
her to the vanilla boys who have grown into marriageable
lawyers and doctors and financiers, with whom she could
have the life she was brought up for. She needs someone
to circumvent her own desires and help her make better
choices. Downtown's mother suggested Samantha, with whom
she had a social connection. Downtown was resistant but
agreed to a makeover so she would at least have clothes
to wear to cocktail parties with her parents.
Samantha says she became a matchmaker because she wanted to be in ''a
happy field.'' After graduating from Temple University Law School,
she worked in Philadelphia as a divorce lawyer for her father, but
she didn't like dealing with the stressed clients, who were always
''at their worst.'' Then she moved to New York and continued to work
as a lawyer and increasingly turned her attention to what she liked
to do best: giving parties. She would persuade a bar to lend her space
early in the evening in return for a cut of the door, and she would
have someone stand at the door to collect $20 and business cards. At
her parties, she would have a sense of potential couples and make introductions.
Later, she would hear that the couples were dating, or had even become
engaged. Before long, she says, she had thousands of names in her little
black book and decided to make a living out of her favorite hobby --
In 1999, she set up shop, Samantha's Table, an Upper East
Side matchmaking business. A year and a half ago, with
business growing, she expanded to Los Angeles and now claims
48 marriages (though, like Janis, she won't produce anything
to back up those numbers). Her funny, mean roman à clef,
''Matchbook: The Diary of a Modern-Day Matchmaker'' --
which Samantha claims to have written herself -- was recently
published, and she was the inspiration for the main character
in ''Miss Match,'' an NBC television series that ran in
Most of Samantha's clients are in her peer group -- age
27 to 50. ''Almost all of my male clients make over half
a million dollars a year,'' she says, ''and many make over
a million.'' She says that she represents 50 to 75 clients
at a time (at $10,000 a pop, that puts her in the same
financial category as her clients), whom she meets at her
office: an appointed table at Manhattan hotels, usually
the Regency, where the waiters know her favorite drinks
(cranberry juice without ice, hot chocolate). During an
initial $400 consultation, she tells potential clients
that she will think about whether she can match them. (She
keeps the fee whether or not she accepts them.)
''I don't work with people who aren't popular and interesting,''
she says. ''I work with people who are social. My clients
are overachievers who have a lot going on, who travel,
attend charity events, have interesting hobbies, run triathlons.
They are C.E.O.'s, actresses, doctors, lawyers, real-estate
developers, advertising executives, producers, directors.''
What happens -- I ask -- when a client's problem finding
love is more than a shortage of time? What about folks
who are hard to match because they are difficult, depressive,
fat or shy? Does she reject them?
''Those people don't come to me,'' Samantha asserts without
missing a beat. ''You can only work with the people who
come to you.''
Samantha's matching method, like Janis's, is frighteningly
simple. After the clients sign, she has them fill out a
one-page questionnaire and asks them basic biographical
questions about their background, family and interests,
as well as their income level. (The lowest category is
$50,000 to $75,000.) She finds out what schools they went
to and what summer camp. She tells them to bring pictures
of their exes and asks them to list the qualities they
want in an ideal mate.
However, she tells me tartly, ''they can't put 20 things
on their list.'' When clients say, ''I must have this,
I must have this,'' she asks whether all those things are
critical. ''Maybe you can't have those things,'' she tells
them. ''Which can you survive without? What if she doesn't
play golf but would go with you to a golf resort? What
if she's not Jewish but would convert and raise kids? Is
Judaism really important to you personally or just to your
Clients generally, and particularly female clients, cannot
afford to be picky. ''If she says, 'I want a man 5-foot-10
and up,' I say, 'What happens if he's 5-foot-8?' I make
them be realistic. I don't have a button on my computer
where I can manufacture men. I need to be able to make
a match happen.'' If the client ''whines she wants all
of them,'' Samantha points out that she's not getting any
younger and if she keeps waiting around for everything
in one person, she might just die alone.
''Clients have to commit to listening to what I say,''
Samantha says. ''I run a tight ship.''
Samantha's clients, like the clients of other matchmakers,
like having their romantic lives managed -- feeling someone
is captaining their boat and steering them into port. Interestingly,
unlike Janis's, Samantha's success is not a product of
her personal warmth or expansive enthusiasm. She can have
a peevish, critical air and seems easily annoyed. But rather
than detracting from her appeal, snobbishness seems essential
to it. She's like the ringleader of the popular group in
school, who tells initiates she could bring them into her
circle -- if they do what she says.
After a consultation with a client, Samantha goes home
and starts looking at her lists: Museum Type, Sexy, Natural
Looking, Easy Going, Petite, etc.
How she picks the most likely prospect for the first date
is hard for her to describe. ''The way I really match is
on a vibe. If you don't laugh at the same things and find
the same things annoying, it's problematical.''
Samantha not only picks the dates; she also sets the time
and place of the meeting (which is always for drinks, for
which the man pays). She does not allow clients to speak
or see pictures of each other before meeting, because when
she did problems arose. Sometimes the man wouldn't get
around to calling the woman for weeks, by which point the
woman would already feel rejected and hostile, or they
might have a bad phone conversation or not like the sound
of each other's voices and call Samantha and complain that
they didn't want to proceed with the date.
After the date, Samantha calls both parties and gets feedback.
Often she can't fall asleep, she says, until she gets the
postdate calls. Then she passes the feedback to her clients.
For example, she says, if the man found her client insufficiently
sparkly, ''I will call her and tell her that in the future
if you can't be positive and smiley, because you've had
a bad day at work or whatever, then you should cancel,
because you only have one chance.''
Simply having a matchmaker, she says, can help clients.
With female clients, she says, ''often their whole disposition
has changed because they've assigned me their social life.
They don't come across as intense or anxious or goal-oriented''
to marry (although, in fact, they are more so).
Her dating advice has been finely honed in the last six
years. ''I know what men like and don't like,'' she says.
If the client is thought to be quiet or dull, she instructs
him to have a reserve of appropriately vapid date conversation:
about ''a fun play in the city, a new restaurant, a funny''
-- not poignant -- ''childhood anecdote, a great vacation.''
If she hears a second time that the client was boring,
the client gets a talking-to. Sometimes the client breaks
down and cries -- some of her least-favorite moments as
a matchmaker. But afterward, Samantha says, they dry their
eyes and pay attention to what she says. ''I give people
good advice, and they take it.''
I recall her advice a few weeks later at the Guggenheim Museum's Young
Collectors Council Artist's Ball (code: people rich enough to be collectors
if they have any interest in contemporary art -- which none of the
people I meet do). Samantha moves around the room, dressed by Christian
Dior in a skimpy leopard-spotted top with a fur ruff, which, with her
long tousled hair, gives her the appearance of ''Gilligan's Island''
meets ''Temptation Island.''
''Hey, Sam,'' a group of guys call, and she turns and
gives them a studied smile. ''Here are some eligible bachelors
that I might set up with clients,'' she says, introducing
them. From their beautiful suits and references to corporate
jobs, I guess that they are on her high-earners list. As
Samantha drifts away, it turns out that we don't have much
to say to one another. I try politics, with even less success
than contemporary art. Then I recall Samantha's list of
approved conversational topics and test out great vacations
(which all of them take). We move on to new bars and restaurants,
and the rest of the conversation is smooth sailing.
It isn't the actual topics, I realize: no one cares what
I think about bars. But when I tried to formulate a thought
about Abstract Expressionism, my brow furrowed; when I
moved on to Iraq, it furrowed farther, and I put down my
drink. But complaining about the dearth of groovy eateries
on the Upper West Side (where I live) while extolling their
neighborhood -- the Upper East Side -- made us want to
refill our glasses.
So Samantha's advice had been right -- for her market.
Behind all of Samantha's counsel is a simple message: if you want to
marry, don't blow it. Play ball, don't rock the boat, avoid controversy,
get along, don't drag her or him into heavy conversations. Go out,
have sex, take trips. Eventually, you'll become comfortable, and attachment
will grow, and pretty soon you'll be cruising on a lane toward that
tollbooth, and it's harder to get off than to go forward. It's not
just that you should delay turning on that bright light of serious
scrutiny (Is this really the right relationship for me?), which inevitably
produces ambivalence; you should leave it off forever.
Samantha likes to micromanage her clients' relationships.
She strategizes. She'll tell a female client to play a
little harder to get while telling her boyfriend he needs
to show more devotion. She smoothes over misunderstandings.
For example, she tells me, suppose a female client is hurt
because the man didn't include her in a family gathering.
Samantha calls the man and tells him that it is important
to women to be included in family events to make them feel
like girlfriends and give them hope that one day they might
be a member of that family. And (she says) clients listen.
''A lot of times without me, couples would just break up.''
One morning at the Regency, Samantha and I role-play a consultation.
After scolding me for being late, she examines my clothing -- a cashmere
sweater set that was a gift from my mother -- and it thankfully passes.
I would have thought there was nothing anyone could tell me about my
romantic life that I -- and a dozen of my closest friends -- didn't
already know. But it is a startling experience to be forced to summarize
your romantic history to a chilly stranger: not the inner story, in
which it is so easy to become entangled, but the facts. Samantha is
impatient with details; she only wants to know whom did you date, how
old was he, how old were you and why did it go so long if you weren't
going to wed? If you don't have a solid answer for your last seven
serious relationships, she pounces.
In my mind, (almost) all my relationships have been dear.
It's not simply that you discover new things about yourself
in different relationships, but you become a new self in
each relationship, and that self is not lost when the relationship
is. Relationships have an innate logic: they blossom and
flower in their own time, whether it's a year or three
or a lifetime. You don't want to snip them in the bud just
because you know they might not last forever; you want
to treasure the blossoming.
I believed that I would spend my life with my ex-fiancé.
But we didn't marry, and although that is poignant and
complicated, my ex-fiancé and I still value our
engagement because it was a beautiful thing at the time,
and now we are friends.
This, at any rate, is the way I understand my life. But
this is not the way Samantha understands life, and in part,
you are hiring her for her understanding -- for suspending
your own worldview and adopting hers. And in her view,
a broken engagement is like skidding off the road when
you were en route to the only place that matters: marriage.
I can see from her face (and the horror with which she
asks, How close was it to the wedding?) that for her the
idea of valuing a trip that ended before the altar is as
bizarre as sentimentalizing a bloody car wreck.
Yet she is single herself, I point out: surely she doesn't
see her own relationships -- each with its world of private
particular meaning -- as simply a series of failures to
But apparently she does. A look I have never seen before
-- dreamy and wistful -- softens her features as she says,
''Just because I'm a matchmaker doesn't mean I have an
express lane to the promised land of marriage.''
Although everything about modern culture has shown that
vows do not guarantee happiness, stability or even a future,
for all her savvy posturing, Samantha is a deep believer.
Every day she strives to bring her clients to the threshold
she hopes to one day cross herself. For a matchmaker, that's
where romance begins.
Photos: Janis Spindel at home with a few of the potential
female matches in her databank.; Samantha Daniels, left,
at Saks, making a client date-presentable. (Photographs
by Chris Buck for The New York Times)