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

June 20, 1989|KATHLEEN DOHENY

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.

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