Everything I Learned About Love From A Matchmaker
Once upon a time, long ago in April, during the midst of quarantine, I decided to interview a matchmaker. Here is that interview...
An Interview With Amy Van Doran
The Matchmaker Behind NYC's Modern Love Club
They are still writing about her after all these years. They will always mention how perfect her fluorescent orange, Mod-inspired bob is, how Amy Van Doran is a pocket-sized self-expressionist leading a team of handpicked singles into finding love within a Rolodex of New York’s finest bachelors and bachelorettes. And every time you read about her, whether it be in the pages of Vogue or an editorial from Vice, you cannot help but get caught up in the magic that seems to fill the world around her. You may think that someone who spends her day constantly talking to people would grow weary of giving interviews, but Amy herself is an open book––an endless array of intriguing stories that will always draw you in and make you want to hear more. She will sit there with you, give you a quick smile or laugh, and teach you lessons she has gathered over the years on exactly what it means to fall in love or find the perfect match in a society that is ostensibly always swiping left on the one that was perhaps made for them. And as she finishes, you would probably wish to make her your best friend, or better yet, continue to ask her a million more questions about your own love life and see what the matchmaker herself can do for you.
I would be lying if I didn’t say the same thing about myself. Amy Van Doran is an enticing phenomenon––perhaps even more so, a cultural icon. She is unlike anyone who I have ever had the utmost pleasure in meeting. She is utterly and uncannily herself; I wouldn’t say “misfit” as others have described her as, but rather a lost artistic muse of some Sixties filmmaker, or even better yet, a true-to-life Pre-Raphaelite painting that stepped out into the world. But even in her most peculiarly ordinary days, there is a humbleness and gratitude that seems to be present within her––though I must admit, I was beyond scared to interview her due to the fame and perfectness that seems to surround her (at least in my eyes).
With that said, there is a reason why the singles of New York City trust Amy Van Doran with potentially setting them up with the next love of their lives; Amy understands them. She knows what it will take in order for them to make a connection with another. She knows from her own experiences just what it takes to come out of your own shell and fall in love with yourself before you can fall in love with someone else. Can’t you tell––she is simply just happy to help.
I was sitting on the old ornate, tan suede chair that had once belonged to my grandmother, clenching onto a glass of water trying to calm my nerves. It was 1:15 pm, fifteen minutes until I would interview the infamous Amy Van Doran, and I could feel my heart racing with anticipation. I have heard of her for a few years now, listened to her interviews for Jezebel and even Glamour magazine, being utterly amazed, inspired even, by every word that flowed from her mouth; she was perfectly genuine, perfectly herself. She will laugh at her own jokes, perhaps not because they are funny, but because even she sometimes gets caught up in her own insecurities, only to embrace them within seconds later. She has said it herself, time and time again:
"I have always tried to own my weirdness - so like, if I was ever going to be a little bit weird as a kid, I’d better be all the way weird. Growing up, I thought I was going to have to rebel and like, learn how to be normal. If someone was making fun of me, I would just pretend to slip on a banana peel.” – StyleLikeU, February 11, 2014
It wasn’t until thirty-minutes after the interview was actually supposed to start did I finally meet Amy. I will admit - I completely thought she had stood me up, my nerves exceeding levels like they never had, but there she was, not on our designated Zoom meeting, but rather in an email. She explained she changed time-zones, getting her calendar confused, but was able to troubleshoot the issue. I took a deep breath, doing what I could to control my anxiety, and dialed her right away, setting up another Zoom meeting with her.
It's around 2:15 PM when we get the interview started. Amy Van Doran is now situated in an old western town in Arizona, far from the comforts of her business, Modern Love Club, based in the East Village of New York City, where she famously houses her matchmaking skills. She appears on the screen, perhaps slightly disheveled or a little worried about how I feel, and says,
I just think it is a weird day for technology and computers. There are all these crazy chemicals floating around [where she is staying] and the internet kind of … well, it’s funny because I thought I would come here and work remotely but the internet has just like, not been––it’s just not been good.
But she is there: with her iconic bob tied back in a headscarf, wearing a slightly wrinkled golden orange, peasant top with a neck-tie delicately placed on her chest. And despite her not quite looking as effortlessly put together as in past interviews, the look serves to humanize her even more. These faults, even if you can call them faults, aren’t to show that Amy doesn’t care, but more so a representation of another side of her––an adventurous spirit that is determined to make the best of the moment.
She jumped into the story of how she find herself so far away from New York City:
A month and a half ago, my one friend was like, ‘Hey! Do you want to leave New York right now?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I will get in the car.’ So then we went to North Carolina, and then we got tired of North Carolina––because well, well––it may have not been our people, but my friend has this like, artist residency here so we came out here to do that!
What I noticed from Amy right away is how she has a tendency to open-up about all sorts of different things that happened in her life, weaving together a narrative that doesn’t necessarily answer your questions right away, but rather invites you into her personal world that you start to yearn to be a part of to get a full overview of the wondrous person that she is. She will tell you about how she does believe in soulmates, but not the way most people would view the matter. She will tell you stories about when she was a little girl, how she used to polish rocks with cigarette butts to keep herself occupied, or how she had an active imagination, and wanted to bring to life her own fantasy world to her home that was both magical and bizarre. She will tell you she was quieter than most kids her age, and how she went on only to talk later than the norm, as if to show the incredible power she has in intentional listening and fully understanding the minds and needs of everyone around her.
Amy’s stories come pouring out because she cares deeply about the things that define her. She cares about her work, the people she comes across, and within the current state of the world, she is humbled to see that people are still reaching out to her, trying to find love during these times.
It is interesting. I thought certainly my business would dissolve - like twelve years of matchmaking and that would be it for the Modern Love Club, this is the end. However, I think because people have been sitting in their houses by themselves, they have had time to reflect on what is important [unconditional love].
She works with sixteen clients at any point in time, even during the pandemic, and spends hours with each to gain an understanding of exactly who these people are. Her clients are all versions of herself, handpicked segments that form similar values and an approach for self-growth that centers around a philosophy of loving yourself before you can love others. Her sessions have been reviewed as therapeutic, for which numerous people have thanked her for helping them fully realize the potential she sees in them. One of her clients was quoted in a review saying, “When I met Amy, I thought, ‘She really sees me, I have to try this. She might actually be able to help me find love.’ And she did, she really did.”
I feel like when you are locked up in a house by yourself [especially during the pandemic], you are just in what seems like a hall of mirrors––all of your demons and everything that you haven’t processed and everything that you repressed could be coming up. For me, at the end of the day, it is just nice that I am able to be emotionally supportive to people.
Amy’s sessions are considered similar to therapy because she herself understands that, “People are so desperately in need to talk about their stuff and connect it to someone who is actually listening.”
She understands there is a catharsis or clarity that comes from talking about where you have been when it comes to love or even your past. She is aware that everyone comes with their own set of insecurities and struggles, how hard it can be to fully accept what makes you flawed, how difficult it is to be vulnerable, allowing another human being to see your flaws and accept you for who you are. She knows that people have been hurt, and rather than try to avoid it, she is there to help you realize that all of those pieces, even those that don't seem to fit, come together to form the person you are.
If people are open to hearing things about themselves, and if I can give that information kindly––if I can give them critical feedback and give it empathetic and kind in a way where they can take it and actually change their lives, that is what is actually pretty profound.
As I said, I would be lying if I didn’t want to turn the interview into my own little therapy session with Amy. I feel lucky to say that I am in the happiest and healthiest relationship I have ever had in my life, but before that, my love life was filled with complications and, perhaps in the most cliched of ways, utter heartaches. I wanted to tell Amy about the guy who cheated on me with his ex-boyfriend, who in all actuality, was his “roommate.” I wanted to talk to her about my ex-boyfriends who, at the time, weren’t out, and had seemingly forced me to change a part of myself for them in order to fulfill the vision they had for our relationship. After all, I was more interested what she had to say; did she think people truly accept the love they think they deserve? Was there something I didn’t see in myself during that time that made me attract the people I was forming relationships with? But I couldn’t and I didn’t. I wanted to remain as professional as before, but perhaps this would be a conversation for another time.
The more I talked to Amy, the more I was captivated by everything she had to say––the more she had to share, the more lessons that seemed to pour out of her, the more she taught those who listen to her. She explains her views on soulmates. She teaches you the importance of moving away from dating apps. She will preach to you the utter criticalness of socializing and being yourself in front of her. She shares these with you because she is a living example of exactly that. It's truly a wonderful thing.
Amy grew up in Cape Canaveral, Florida, raised and adopted by her grandparents at a young age. Her grandparents were both, as she calls them,“typical bohemians,” and true-to-life mystics who lived and owned a junkyard near the Kennedy Space Center.
My grandmother ran away from the circus… so, I like to say that I kind of grew up on this space junkyard with this tightrope walker, which is kind of the fun story I suppose!
Her mother, who was deaf, had taught her American Sign Language before Amy could speak. She says her childhood, despite parts being weird or even lonely, had given her a ton to be thankful for.
She pauses for a moment, and then continues:
It [my childhood] was difficult for sure––it was a definitely impoverished, very challenging childhood, but I never really thought of it that way. I feel really empowered by it and sort of in love with sort of the weird, almost kind of magical, bizarreness of it all.
[Over the past few weeks in quarantine] I have been thinking a lot about my childhood since I have been in Arizona, mainly because I have had time to. To me, it is crazy, because I am thinking about my childhood for the first time in so long and I am thirty-four now. However, I will say that I am thankful that I have come from so little. It has allowed me to take a lot of risks within my life. There have been plenty of moments where I have thought to myself, ‘I could never be poorer than poor,’ like, if you are already the most poor person, there is nothing to lose.’ So in the end, I never really had this fear around having crazy ideas and just kind of following them.
It was with this mindset that Amy first began experimenting with matchmaking in her childhood. She recalled a time back in elementary school when she collected together her rag-tag group of friends and sent them to the mall for blind dates, though, they didn’t always go over the way she wanted them to.
Back in elementary school I was doing matchmaking services for my friends, you know. I would set them up on dates at the mall but it would always backfire because I never knew that my friends were like––well, I didn’t know they were like socially outcasts. So by the time all the boys they liked got there, they’d be like, "Wait, you are the girls?"
She didn’t realize that her and her friends were considered to be “undesirable" - but that didn’t stop her from continuing to follow her own path.
At eighteen, Amy left her Florida home and moved to New York City in an attempt to become a performance artist. Though she did not know what exactly it took to make a living, she spent her days making art and exploring her creative muses. She dabbled in hat making, sculpting, and began experimenting with the visual world around her. To make ends meet, Amy also started doing image consulting for men, while also providing them coaching within their personal lives. Those around her were perfectly entranced with the person she was, and she continued to flourish as an open-minded, empathetic socializer.
Through her love of performance art and perhaps even more so through her personality, her “Modern Love Club” began to take shape. Setting up a love advice booth for strangers in the city, she interviewed folks about their love lives, which gave her perspectives on the subject. She grew more and more comfortable with interviewing people, creating a process of her own in how she approached her work. It was these moments that seemed to entice her, fabricating this “addiction” inside of her––an organic growth that started from childhood and continues to exist today. Soon enough, operations in opening her very own brick-and-mortar fell into place.
I had bought an office, and I had put a couch in there, and started interviewing people. But even more so, I was listening to a bunch of David Bowie songs and I was like, "Oh, Modern Love––maybe that will be the name of the company?" But it is weird––I never really like making any decisions as to––well like people––I don’t know, like––luckily I was able to just listen to what I was good at and just was able to lean into what people were kind of responding to.
Though she generally takes many of the characteristics that come with a more “traditional” matchmaker or matchmaking ideal (i.e. social dances or gatherings, the more historic or religious Shidduch), she creates her own spin to draw people in to stand out. Amy does not apply a set of golden rules to how she approaches her work, and even more so, the people who she chooses to work with. She is not going to work with a rich white old male with no values and pair them with a supermodel less than twice his age. She isn’t going to convince the only man a woman should go after is a man who is at the top of his company and brings home a six-figure plus salary. She will, however, work with those who simply want to find love, who are looking for a connection that cannot easily be found within their everyday lives. These are people who share similar values to herself, who care about the world around them and help shape our society for the greater good. They are artists, writers, baristas, musicians, business workers, therapists, what have you, who have entered into her Rolodex awaiting to be matched.
I do these hour long matchmaking interviews that I almost approach as you would when writing a book or a play, making up this character in my head––I go through my hour long interview and I am getting all these details on how a person speaks––what their values are, what kind of things inspires them––tapping into what mindsets a person finds important. So for me, as an example, I am highly visual. So dating someone for me who has a similar ability to see the world as I do is more important to me than say like, having kids. When it comes to matchmaking, if someone is really into humor or is just like really funny in this specific way, I have to translate that into how someone else may enjoy that humor––so I really am like, making this character up in my head during this hour, and then everyone gets this little file in my head where I am kind of imagining them on a date or walking down the street together. Does that couple make sense? Well they get along?
[Even more so] I let people have at least three deal breakers––but it is funny, usually the things people ask for are, like if I listen to what they actually wanted, they wouldn’t be so happy––so I kind of have to go more freestyle. In the first couple of years, though, I did go and say like, ‘you can just tell me what you want and I will go find it,’ but now I am more like, ‘no, that is not working––you have some serious blindspots––you know you do not need the tall, rich, white guy.’ People need someone who is going to make them happy and get you––so I now sort of pay less attention to the more superficial things that people want or think that they need.
With this said, Amy does what she can to ensure her clients are being open minded with who they might be matched with, even in ways they might not have considered when it comes to online dating. In most cases, with the rise of dating apps such as Tinder, Bumble, and even Grindr, the amount of power that comes with choosing your next date, a simple swipe right or left, means potentially swiping away those you may actually have a connection with. In most cases, you can easily filter out people who do not fit your criteria, potentially creating a playing field of a dangerous mindset that promotes ostracization and even exoticism.
[In the grand scheme of things] I have been thinking a lot about this [fetishization and marginalization]. For me, part of the problem––and the big overall issue that I am trying to solve––is bringing more people into the conversation. So you know, it isn’t just me hacking away in the corner saying that these problems are inherent within dating. But for example, if I have an Asian male client or an Asian female client or just an Asian client in general, and I interview someone who says, ‘I typically never date Asian people,’ I kind of go like, ‘oh shit’ because it kind of ended up being more of a thing that I imagined it wouldn’t be until I had actually started interviewing people.
There are unfortunately a lot of people who are close minded when it comes to race. When it comes to these people, I try to ask where they got those ideas from; maybe ask them to reexamine their mindset––you never know. Somehow, it could just be leftover programming from our culture or perhaps out-of-date traditions that they really haven’t been paying attention to.
She paused, collecting herself for only a brief moment to then say:
I feel like people shouldn’t be reducing love simply to what we imagine it to be. Love is something that is getting bigger and better––more beautiful than what we imagined it to be.
And with that, Amy was right. Love is forever changing in ways we never could have predicted. In the never-ending days of self-isolation, the idea of the modern relationship has forever changed, being re-examined under a new norm. When it comes to being single, the way one begins to approach dating has fallen under a platform where deeper connections are meant to be made. Love no longer exists within simple instant gratification. We have entered into a time where connections are coming through in the form of conversation––we are beginning to understand how a person thinks, what they feel, and who they truly are before any physical connection can be made. Relationships are blooming in ways that seemed to have been lost in the age of dating apps and hook-up culture.
Even more so, the path to our own self-love is rapidly taking on a new form. In being alone with ourselves and our thoughts, we are beginning to become more aware of our own bodies, what are our triggers and how our own mind works. We are making our own self-discoveries, and whether that is learning how to love your own self expression, or realizing that you are worthy of other love, this time is making us come out stronger than ever before. As Amy said herself, love, whether manifested in self-love or love for another human, is becoming a bigger and more beautiful thing - she is living proof of it. Amy knows what it means to become fully in love with the person you are. She knows what it means to create your own self expression and share that with others. She even knows that out there, people can fall in love, meet their significant others, and meet their soulmate by just simply being themselves. And don’t you see? She is that person.
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