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culture

I Want Your Job: Sofi Papamarko, Matchmaker

This modern-day matchmaker takes a personal approach to helping others find love.

I Want Your Job finds Torontonians who make a living doing exactly what they love to do, in any field, and for any salary, and asks them how they did it.

20131228 Sofi Papamarko   Friend of a Friend Matchmaking 4453  Photo by Corbin Smith

Sofi Papamarko doesn’t look like your average yenta. The bubbly 33-year-old started off as a freelance writer, moved to an ad agency when she decided she was going to “be a grown-up,” then worked for an environmental charity. But it was her success as an amateur matchmaker that led her to launch Friend of a Friend Matchmaking in May 2013. With prices designed to compete with popular online sites like Match.com, Papamarko touts herself as the “everyman’s matchmaker.”

Her process involves an intensive intake questionnaire and face-to-face meetings with clients. She carefully reflects on possible matches before setting up an e-introduction—and her clients then decide for themselves if they want to meet up. Since launching last year, she’s created five successful couples, and in the future, she wants to expand to take on more queer, trans, and polyamorous love-seekers as part of her mandate of accessibility for all. “Next year, who knows?” she says. “Maybe I’ll be going to a bunch of weddings.”

Our interview with Papamarko—about compatibility, matchability, and finding love in the big city—is below:

Torontoist: What made you decide to become a matchmaker? What skills and traits do you have that make you a good matchmaker?

Papamarko: Originally, I was thinking I needed a side business to help supplement my freelance writing. Full-time wasn’t doing it for me, and when I went back to freelance writing, I needed to do something else—will I become a server? What will I do? And then I thought, why don’t I just do this matchmaking thing for fun, as a side business? I thought it would be a little bit of beer money and it would give me time to focus on writing. Then it just took off. It’s all I’ve been doing, full-time, for six months. When I launched in May, I was hoping to have 150 clients by the end of 2013, and I have over 360 now.

When I was a freelance writer, my beat was dating and relationships. I had a relationship column in Metro for a year, and I wrote a sex column for Sun Media under a pseudonym for a year and a half, so it’s a field of study that I’m very interested in. I am single myself, so I’ve done a huge amount of reading and dating, so I can understand what people are going through: what works, what doesn’t. It’s weird to say “dating expert” if you’re single, because obviously you haven’t mastered anything, but I’ve gone on a lot of dates, and I’ve talked to a lot of single people, and in my hobbyist matchmaking, I’ve created successful couples. There’s apparently some diploma you can get in Matchmaking—it’s some weekend course run by a self-described matchmaker, which strikes me as a bit of a money grab. There’s no class I could have taken, so I think it’s a lot of intuition and understanding how people get along.

In an age when most people are using online dating, what do you bring as a matchmaker? Does your human element compete with the more algorithmically driven services?

I think I can get more out of people when I interview them than a computer can with binary codes. If you answer a certain number of questions the same way, sure, a computer might spot that. But if your favourite band is the Smiths, and that guy’s favourite band is the Smiths, there’s a talking point, and how would OKCupid know that? There’s also an efficiency in being set up by somebody who gets you, and gets somebody else. Instead of a computer being like, “You might like this person!” and then spending hours trying to find someone who’s on your wavelength and who gets your sense of humour, it’s easier for me to tune into that. A computer doesn’t understand the vibes of different people.

I noticed that you often do a lot of outreach to get men to use your services, but I feel like there are a lot of men trying online dating. Why might men be less comfortable using a matchmaker?

I think it depends on the man. A lot of men come to me, and when I tell them I have a hard time attracting male clients, they say, “I don’t understand why that is, because this is great.” I think if you’re the type of man who won’t pull over and ask for directions when you’re lost, you’re not the type of man who would go to a matchmaker. It’s basically asking for help.

There’s also the visual aspect to online dating. I don’t send photos, and while I keep in mind each person’s physical type, I primarily set people up based on personality. Since men are such visual beings, they do not love the idea of that. Guys also don’t love paying for things when there are free options like Tinder or Plenty of Fish out there, but the guys who come to me and are willing to pay are the ones who are looking for serious relationships. When I set people up, I save them five or ten hours of looking through interests and tastes and screening profiles. I’m definitely the next step up from online dating.

Toronto, as a city, seems to have a reputation for being cold. How does that affect your business and your clients, who might have been trying for months or years to meet someone?

I think if Toronto was a more open, European-style city and people just chatted to whomever on the street, I would have a harder time. But people do feel really isolated in Toronto, especially people who haven’t grown up here or don’t have solid groups of friends. This is a hard city to penetrate [laughs]. That sounded sexy. I don’t think we’re cold—I just think we’re wrapped up in our own lives. If you started talking to someone on the street, their first thought is often, “Is this person crazy?” rather than, “Oh, this person is friendly, I’ll chat with them.” On my trips to Europe, or even during my trips to Chicago, people just started chatting to us on the subway, and we were super taken aback. We’re just not used to that in this town, which makes it difficult to date. Plus, the guys who do tend to approach women are a little suspect—there was that whole pick-up artist thing in the Eaton’s Centre—and that also makes us more suspicious, and makes guys not want to approach.

What do you do with someone who seems unmatchable?

There are a lot of unmatchables, and that’s not necessarily their fault. I think my upper limit is going to be 400 clients, because my brain is only so big. So for even the most normal person with the most reasonable expectations, I just may not have their match in my database. Clients do have better chances if they’re more open-minded: if you want someone who’s a certain height/build/income/education level/nationality, their pool gets smaller and smaller. I feel badly, but people are aware that I’m not a magician who’s going to create this partner for them.

What’s the best part of the job?

I feel honoured and privileged that I get to meet new people every single day. I’m incredibly fascinated by my clients—I have doctors, lawyers, geniuses, actors—I have every profession imaginable, and I get to ask them really nosy questions about their love lives, which makes my inner grandmother so happy. The best feeling in the world is when someone writes me and says, “Last night’s date went awesome. I’m going to ask her out again.” I’m actually helping people and changing their lives. There’s my meaning.

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