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Professional matchmaker makes dating less of a chase

A hundred married and long-term couples attest to Julie Ferman's intuition: she may know more about your 'perfect' date than you do.

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Decades of matchmaking have given Ferman insight into human nature – she's seen just about every type. There are the predictable: the young woman determined to marry, the recently divorced, or the commitment-phobic man looking to date as much as he can. But Ferman has been surprised, for instance, by older women determined to date young men, and older men who don't understand why much younger women won't say yes to a date. Often, she explains, "We don't see ourselves as aging, we only see others as aging."

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Frequently her job is to get a client to let go of preconceptions about what's attractive and what's not – easier with women than men. Money, power, or respect in the community ("romantic market value," Ferman calls it) helps women overlook bald spots and pot bellies. But, she observes, "guys can rarely fall in love with a woman they aren't initially attracted to."

That ability broadens, though, as men mature and realize the importance of a good companion, and Ferman is usually able to nudge skeptical clients beyond a profile photo to consider other, more important characteristics, like a good sense of humor or interests such as music and art.

The toughest clients aren't fat or bald. They're the unhappy ones looking for a relationship to make them happy. "They think that's all that is lacking from their lives – the right person," says Ferman. They're impossible to please because they're looking for a panacea, not a person.

"You have to come to this party as a satisfied, loving person, able to see what's right in human beings instead of what's wrong. That's where success is," she says. "It's much more about being a loving, happy person than about finding a loving, happy person."

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"The thought of dating again was really intimidating," says Melanie Bentley, a training manager at a healthcare company who came to Ferman a year after her marriage ended. She says that she didn't know how to meet men anymore.

"But Julie made the whole process exciting and fun, rather than frightening," she says of Ferman's enthusiasm for the men in her database and the whole idea of dating again. It was like having a good girlfriend as a guide, says Ms. Bentley. "Sometimes I'd call up just to talk to Julie or her staff about the date. It really helped to have another person's opinion."

After three referrals, the fourth was the charm: Daniel Simon, a 45-year-old real estate appraiser. The couple is getting married May 10.

Success stories like Bentley's have helped make professional matchmaking a growth industry, says Lisa Clampitt, founder of the Matchmaking Institute, a certifying organization that aims to lend credibility to an unregulated profession. She says there are 1,500 independent matchmakers in the US, with sales of $250 million in 2006. "People are burned out from online dating: the lack of privacy, the time management issues, old photos on websites, people lying about their age and marital status," she says. "There's a lot of wasted time and disappointment."