In this series, we explore how different people make ends meet in an age of increasing inequality and job instability, by looking at what they do, how much they make, what the job is like and what their hopes are for the future.
Name: Judith Gottesman, MSW
City: San Diego
Career: Matchmaker and dating coach
How Long: 11 years
Goal: To help people find love, and finish writing two books
Becoming a Matchmaker
I’m just as much a dating coach as a matchmaker, so some people hire me just for the coaching and other people hire me just for the matching — my matchmaking clients all get the coaching included. It’s very helpful because when I make a match, a lot of times the coaching is a key ingredient to making it a successful match. So people don’t blow it, right?
I really like helping people, and I have a psychology background. In college, I started helping people be matched and with the coaching aspects without even knowing that’s what it was called back then. During grad school and afterward, in my 20s, I was matching people because I started recognizing people as soul mates. I just started telling them, “You two really need to be together,” and they all wound up together! So years later, after all these people were still happily married with kids and everything, I finally started my own business, Soul Mates Unlimited. I just had my 11-year anniversary.
It took me a long time to start it as a business, and once I did, it took a few years to build it up to full-time — I’d just been doing it on the side, informally, for the good deed of it all. But enough people asked me. I felt weird charging for it because I felt like I can’t control or predict if I have a match or how long it’s going to take, so I wanted to make it clear I’m not a dating service — I’m not one of those companies that, they call themselves matchmakers, but they’re really just dating services where they’re randomly setting you up with people, meeting a quota, saying we’ll promise you six dates in six months or whatever they say.
My date-coaching sessions are $180 an hour. For matchmaking, I’m still, as far as I know, the only one in the world who charges the smaller fee on the front end ($3,600) to sign up and be a client, and the majority of the fee on the back end, after they’re successfully matched. That’s just what I came up with that I could ethically feel good about.
If their goal is marriage, they pay me when they get engaged — $7,200. If their goal is not marriage, they’re on the honor system to pay me when they’re officially a match in their minds. I just had a senior couple who are each widowed and they didn’t want to get married again, so they just paid me because they announced to each other and the world that this is a lifetime commitment they’re making to each other. And there’s lots of millennials who just don’t believe in marriage.
Soon, I realized I needed to specialize in a niche because I didn’t want to be this giant company with a bunch of employees; I wanted to do all the coaching and all the matching myself — I didn’t want to trust anybody else or rely on anybody else to do the matching or coaching. I decided to specialize in the Jewish community. People in New York or California think there are so many Jewish people in the world, but actually, we’re 0.2 percent of the global population. So it’s hard for Jewish people to find each other — and I believe, as a matchmaker, you’re more likely to be compatible and harmonious as a couple if you share things in common, like religion. I want to help Jewish people find each other. But the coaching I do for anybody.
My business has grown tremendously. I used to fly around and meet clients in person when I first started out. As it grew, I realized I was charging way too little, and it wasn’t feasible for me to fly around and meet people anymore. And I realized there’s no reason I have to meet people in person — we don’t need to have romantic chemistry.
I try not to work weekends. For the date coaching, my busiest time is before and after the weekend: Before a date on the weekend or on Monday, about a date they had over the weekend. My busiest times of year are usually before and after every holiday. I guess either people were upset to be alone on the holiday and are like, “I better find love,” or maybe if it was a family holiday, they saw all these couples and they wanted to be part of one as well. Or maybe their family members at Thanksgiving are like, “Why are you still single?” I even have family members give my matchmaking or date coaching as gifts. I have packages they can buy (four coaching sessions for $540, 12 for $1,800 or a year’s worth for $3,600) — siblings, best friends, parents give it to their kids.
I do all ages. I’m unusual in that I literally have clients from twentysomething to ninetysomething. Which is harder? I always say that everyone’s hard until I have their match — then it’s easy!
But the harder thing about the younger generation is the texting. A lot of twentysomethings don’t know how to talk, and they don’t know that you should call the person afterward — not just to plan another date, but because if you want to connect with a person, you need to call between the dates to talk about your day or whatever else. They’re so used to texting; then they wonder why they’re not feeling this connection to a person, and I ask, “How much time have you actually spent talking to this person?” They’re like, “Well, we text every day.”
People even contact me about the specifics in this day and age of #MeToo — when is it okay to put my arm around a woman, or kiss them? A lot of younger people are really fearful, especially if they’re less experienced. They want to make sure there’s mutual consent.
Making It As a Matchmaker
Lifestyle-wise, it’s a tough business. I spend a tremendous amount of money. People think, Oh you’re making all this money because you don’t need to have big fancy offices — because a lot of matchmakers do have fancy offices. I spend a tremendous amount of money on good old-fashioned print ads. I advertise in every major Jewish publication in California. I find in this business, most people rip out my ad and it sits in their drawer or on their fridge for six months before they call me. It takes a lot, psychologically, for people to say, “I’m ready to pay somebody to help me find love.” Even though they probably don’t realize they’ve spent the same amount on dating apps over the years! And they’ve definitely spent more if they’ve been on a lot of dates.
I have an office, but I’m not paying for a giant corporate office with 10 employees. There’s a lot of these big franchise companies out there that have offices all over the country and they have very big overhead because they have a big staff, and you’re being matched by people who’ve never even spoken to you. But I have tremendous overhead in my ads because the print ads are what works for me better than internet ads.
Goals, and the Long-Term
My primary goal is always helping people find love. Then for myself, I’ve been working on two different books. One is about the lost art of dating, and the other is on finding your soul mate; my goal is to finish both these books and get them out to the public.
Matchmaking is hard work. For a Gen Xer like me it’s not a common profession or the most lucrative compared to tech, being a doctor or lawyer, etc., but it’s very fulfilling. As a former social worker, I find the people who do best in life are happily coupled — and helping people find love is the best kind of social work I can do.
This industry is very trendy right now — everybody wants to be a matchmaker or dating coach. They think it’s fun, easygoing, feel-good work, but it’s actually intense. I think there’s going to continue to be a lot of people who set up shop and come and go pretty quickly because it’s actually very hard work. There’s nothing more personal and intense for people than their love life, so you’re dealing with people in very vulnerable times in their lives, and sometimes you have to be the bearer of bad news when you have to tell them the person doesn’t want to go out with them again or something. That’s a tough position to be in. I encourage my clients to tell them directly because they’re grownups, but I do have clients who will ask me to do it for them.
It’s not all fun and games — this is love. It’s an intense feeling and it’s an intense business, and it can be pretty heavy at times, but it can also feel really good to help people find each other.