Courting Cupid

Whether you’re looking for new love or rekindled romance in 2013, consider calling on the experts.  Andrea Goto meets a couple of matchmakers. Photography by Katie McGee. 

I’ve noticed a growing unrest among a majority of my friends—both single and married.  The unmatched fear a lonely life of cozy pants and Lifetime movies, but claim that Savannah’s singlescape looks like a wasteland, pockmarked with shaggy-headed boys in skinny jeans in need of a good scrubbing.  The betrothed, on the other hand, are wearing cozy pants and watching Lifetime movies, imagining that the romance is somewhere “out there” in a pair of dirty J Brands.  This paradox begs the question: Is it impossible to be lucky in love?

To get an answer, I invited two real-life Cupids to sit down with me over delectable bites and boutique liquors (i.e. “truth serum”) at the cosmopolitan 22-Square Bar inside the newly renovated Andaz Hotel on Ellis Square.  What started as an innocent exploration of how to meet and keep that “special someone” quickly turned dark and dirty.

Prepare to get horizontal.  (That’s a therapy joke, silly.)

Meet Our Guests

 

Michelle Aycock is a licensed counselor who has specialized for more than 16 years in working with couples and individuals experiencing marital/relationship problems.

 

 

 

 

Heather Olson is the area director for Singles Plus, a private matchmaking company that has been in business for nearly 20 years.

 

 

 

 

Savannah Magazine:  In the spirit of the season, let’s begin with the bow-wielding, diapered cherub.  Does Cupid exist or is “love at first sight” a lie?

Heather:  Sometimes it’s not.  Sometimes you get really lucky.  If the chemistry and compatibility are both there …

Michelle:  People think relationships should be convenient.  They get together as a couple and then think they shouldn’t have to work at it anymore.  You have to work.  It’s work.

Heather:  We see people who have grown up without money problems, who went to good schools—they didn’t fight for anything.  They didn’t start their first job until they were out of school.  Everything was given to them, so why should a relationship be any harder?

SM:  Besides the obvious (like kicking puppies or preferring to be called “Big Daddy”), what red flags should we look for when we meet a potential mate?

Michelle:  One of the things that I like to understand from a psychological standpoint is a person’s “family-of-origin” issues.

Heather:  Their what?

Michelle:  Family-of-origin issues.  We tend to recreate what’s familiar.  If you didn’t see your parents be affectionate, you would think that’s normal.  I try to help people understand this so they can find someone who doesn’t recreate that pattern.

Heather:  (Nodding.)  The first challenge is always between our clients’ ears.

SM:  If there’s a lot of garbage between those ears, are you ever tempted to say, “Look, you’re alone because you’re not a nice person?”

Heather:  You have to have a lot of courage to come to my office.  And you probably have to have a lot of courage to go to Michelle’s.

Michelle:  Absolutely.

Heather:  I get people who are skeptical and controlling.  They are in a really scary place in life that they have no control over.  And now they are significantly invested in the process, financially and emotionally, and they want to make sure that I’m qualified to take control.  They are testing me.  Once they know that I can handle them, they’re okay.

Michelle:  I’m very honest.  I don’t beat around the bush.  With couples, usually it’s the men who don’t want to give control over to someone else.

Heather:  I see that a lot with men, too, especially highly successful entrepreneurs who have been married six times.

SM:  Can you help them?

Heather:  We can.  Everything they’ve ever touched has turned to gold—in business.  Women are not a business.  These men make business decisions in their relationships but they need to make emotional decisions.  Relationships aren’t spreadsheets.  So we try to help them understand that the reason they’re picking the wrong women is because they’re looking for eye candy—someone to feed their egos and make them feel special.  Well, guess what?  She just took half your wealth.  And you thought you were the smart guy.

SM:  Is there one necessary ingredient that needs to be in place for a relationship to work?

Michelle:  There has to be an emotional connection.  All the other things we can work on—patience, anxiety, kids—but if you don’t feel like there’s a connection … it’s not something I can make happen.

SM:  OK.  So, Heather, when you’re trying to match people, what traits are you putting together?  I’m assuming it goes beyond, “You’re a girl looking for a guy—and hey!  Here’s a guy!”

Heather:  That’s the difference between a dating service and a match-making service.

SM:  If a woman is scoping out a potential mate without a matchmaking service, what should she look for?  Funny, smart and hot?  Wait, that was my criteria.

Heather:  If they were to pick from a photo, 90 percent of our clients would go for someone completely wrong for them.  I don’t have the magic answer because we do an in-depth level of comprehensive compatibility profiling.  But when it’s “the one,” they always say, “I just felt a connection.” And then they say, “I think I’m going to put my membership on hold.”  (Laughter.)

SM:  How has technology changed the dating scene?  Is it easier to meet people?

Heather:  Meeting people has never been the problem, whether you’re a Barbie doll or not.  When people say, “Nobody clicks on my profile because I’m not a Barbie,” well, you know what?  People like Barbie and Ken—or Brad and Angelina—they’re the hardest people to match because they have so many issues.

Michelle:  That’s so true.

Heather:  It’s like, “Would you like a mirror before we sit down?”  Because we know who they’re really in love with.  (Laughter.)

SM:  Has social media changed our relationships for the better or worse?

Heather:  There are success stories about people meeting online.  There have to be—it’s a numbers game.  Two monkeys could meet successfully online.  Matchmaking sites are computer programs that match people based on their location and political views.  It’s not about personality traits or core values.  It’s a computer program.  The only live people that work there are in collections.  (Laughter.)

Michelle:  I say get rid of it.  Get rid of Facebook.  It’s the devil.  Two or three years ago, I wasn’t seeing as much infidelity as I am now and it’s due to social media.  If you’re adamant about having a Facebook page, it has to be together as a couple.  I don’t have a Facebook page because of the destruction I’ve seen.

Heather:  Do you think infidelity is a marital problem or a symptom of a marital problem?

Michelle:  I think it is a symptom.  But that doesn’t excuse it.

SM:  Is infidelity different for men than it is for women?

Michelle:  That’s a pattern I look at.  Also, is this a one-time thing?  Was it two years?  It makes a difference.  One may be an attention getter to show that he or she is unhappy.

Heather:  How do you help someone overcome the infidelity?

Michelle:  It is very hard.  Men are more likely to leave, but women will stay.  We would rather stay—whether it is for emotional or financial reasons.  It all comes back to the fear of being alone.  Men in their 50s, they’re studs and bachelors, but we’re old maids.  “The cat lady.”

SM:  Cougar?

Michelle:  Wrong kind of cat lady—she’s OK.  (Laughter.)

SM:  What is the number one reason why relationships fail?

Michelle:  It’s usually because a person’s identity changes.  Somebody loses a job, or the kids move out—

Heather:  —and now they’re stuck with the guy and they’re like, “Wait a minute.  I don’t think I really like you anymore.”

Michelle:  —because they haven’t been working on that relationship along the way.

SM:  Are people waiting longer to commit to long-term relationships?

Heather:  We’re seeing men younger, but women older.  Women hit their 30s and they’ve got their career in order and then suddenly they gasp, “I’m not pregnant!”

Michelle:  Baby time!

Heather:  Then they’re picking breeders instead of spouses.

SM:  And that’s a bad thing?

Heather:  It’s great if you’re breeding, but if you want something after that 18th birthday, you might be in trouble.

SM:  By the time a couple comes to a therapist, is the relationship already over?

Michelle:  When people come to me as a couple, they’re usually in a crisis.  It’s one step before a divorce attorney 95 percent of the time.  It’s refreshing when I have couples come in that notice they’re starting to argue too much and are concerned.  We solve the problem.  But most of the time they have years and years of problems and come to me as one last-ditch effort.

SM:  Can it work?

Michelle:  It can, and it does, but it depends on how open they are to it.

Heather:  Is it part of your job to tell them that the other possible outcome is to divorce nicely?

Michelle:  That has happened.  I’ve been very honest with couples and have told them if I have nothing to work with.

SM:  Is that a relief to them—like they have permission to end things?

Michelle:  I think it feels good when they have a direction.  But then sometimes they can turn things around when they hear this.

SM:  Let’s change gears because I’m getting depressed.  We haven’t even talked about sex yet.  Should we go there?

Heather:  The thing about sex and relationships is that no one feels like it’s OK to talk about them.  A women is interested in sex emotionally, so if she feels like she’s expected to do everything—work and support the family, be the father and the mother—she will have less respect for her partner and therefore lose interest in that department.  But men are entirely physical.  So when they haven’t had that physical contact in a period of time, they’re significantly affected by it.

SM:  Is it harder for women to disconnect from their busy lives in order to intimately connect with their partners?  I admit I’m guilty of choosing the laundry over my husband.

Heather:  But if he were to say, “That laundry is going to be there tomorrow; why don’t I rub your feet tonight?” you’re suddenly in the mood.

SM:  At some point, should a woman who’s not feeling “in the mood” just have sex with her partner anyway?

Michelle:  Even if she doesn’t want to?

SM:  Well …

Michelle:  Not “being in the mood” is a symptom of something wrong.

Heather:  Unless there’s an actual medical problem, then the issue is between her ears.  Maybe she’s not feeing appreciated; she’s not feeling respected. . . .  This is especially true with moms who stay at home with their kids.  The man gets a paycheck and positive feedback from work, while she gets play dates and poop.

SM:  Wow, you managed to make sex talk depressing.  How about having a little fun with it?  Do you encourage people to be experimental in their sex lives?

Heather:  Now we’re getting into it!

SM:  I’m not advocating life-size plushies (yes, I’m judging), but is it important to spice things up?

Michelle:  It comes back to being interesting.  If you just lie there—whether you’re a man or a woman—you’re not showing interest in your partner.

Heather:  When the attentiveness is there, sex does not get boring.

SM:  Because it’s on my romantic radar, I have to ask; in your professional opinion, is Valentine’s Day overrated?

Heather:  It’s really good for business.  (Laughter.)  But really, it’s up to you whether it’s going to be Valentine’s Day or just February 14th.

Michelle:  But you have to tell men what you want.  I have women who say, “He should know.”   No one should know.  It’s what we call “mindreading” and it’s a big no-no.

While every question I posed was purely hypothetical—truth serum, be damned—I would be remiss if I didn’t heed the relationship expertise of these wise women and publicly proclaim to my husband that I would like flowers for Valentine’s Day.  That, or an uninterrupted hour with my laundry.

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