August 28, 2003
Romancing the Industry
Los Angeles is often depicted as a hedonist's pleasure palace adorned with beauty and perfumed by sex. But where, oh where, is the romance? In a city devoted to storytelling, how do you find the fairy-tale happy ending and meet the person you will marry?
I arrived in Los Angeles already one of the "smug marrieds," as Bridget Jones might say. By now I am more married, less smug. I keep a straight eye on the coupling pursuits of my friends who wonder how they went from single to unmarried. They ask, as Vladimir Ilych once wrote: "What Is to Be Done?"
Samantha Daniels, the self-proclaimed "headhunter of love," says she can help.
You know that impulse to fix people up? Daniels has not only turned that impulse into her business, Samantha's Table, but also into a Darren Star-created TV program, "Miss Match," premiering on NBC this fall starring Alicia Silverstone. Everything old is new again.
Samantha is very much the 21st-century matchmaker. She sees herself in Hollywood terms as a "talent agent." Banish all thoughts of Lainie Kazan. No cliché frumpy, meddling yenta is she. Instead, she's an engaging, well-put-together professional in her early 30s. For someone who has a personal trainer, a therapist, a life coach, an agent and/or a business manager, why not a dating coach?
A graduate of Penn and Temple Law, Daniels was a matrimonial (divorce) attorney practicing in New York and then in Philadelphia with her father before launching her career as a matchmaker three and a half years ago. She decided bringing people together was a happier enterprise than presiding at the dissolution.
Her first fix up was in college between her roommate and a friend from high school. It succeeded. She then began throwing parties and events for singles. She realized that she had a near-photographic memory for faces and details and started organizing her information on a computer. She now has a database of several thousand singles that she consults. Earlier this year, Daniels brought her business to Los Angeles.
Here's how it works: An initial 60- to 90-minute consultation at Samantha's Table runs $400, and clients have to fill out a detailed questionnaire.
"I spend time talking to people," Daniels says. "They tell me their 'preferences' and their 'deal-breakers.'"
She then sets them up with people who fall in between. She does not buy the adage "opposites attract."
"Relationships are hard enough," she says.
Daniels only engages those clients she likes. And, of course, they must like her. She is like a friend. However, no matter how excited she gets about bringing the right couple together, matchmaking is still -- for her -- a business. After the consultation, the client selects a package of dates and services. The prices vary.
As she says, "Some people know what they are looking for; others figure it out along the way."
She has a full list of complementary services, including a stylist, a concierge and even a psychic.
Daniels works one-on-one. She sets up the first date, where it is always drinks and the guy always pays. Those are her rules. Daniels will even coach you on Internet dating (her opinion on it is: be careful, but whatever gets you more options is worth pursuing). Her clientele is both male and female, Jewish and non-Jewish. She has not done a gay fix-up -- yet. But she does have 39 marriages to her credit so far, and many more in serious relationships.
Some common dating mistakes?
"Some women dress too provocatively. At the same time, some men are too sloppy."
Daniels fine tunes her clients. She says one of the biggest obstacles to finding true love is giving up too soon.
"Everyone has a story -- everyone has an interesting life," she says.
Most happy couples, she points out, did not find love at first sight, it took a couple of dates to sink in (at least that's what my wife tells me).
Most important: "You have to be ready and you have to meet someone who is ready," she says.
So what has she observed about daters in Los Angeles?
"In L.A. there's a disconnect: The women think the men are not interested in someone like them," Daniels says. "They assume they only want to date MAWs [model/actress/whatever]. The men, for their part, complain they can't meet anyone 'real.' They assume the women are only interested in their wallets, their cars, their jobs. But actually, they are both looking for the same thing: someone to love."
Her bottom line: "You don't need to find 1,000 right people. Just one."
Daniels is more the traditional Jewish matchmaker than she lets on. She believes that people are meant to be couples.
"Noah's Ark was two by two," she says.
Yet she is single. She confesses that she was too focused on her career.
"Now," she says, "I'm ready."
Is Los Angeles ready? I think so. Not just for Daniels. The time has come for Los Angeles to go from sex to romance.