When I first got hired to work as a matchmaker for an elite dating service in New York, I assumed I'd have to transform myself into a version of Patti Stanger. Thinking about her blunt confidence, decisive nature, and occasionally brash tone made me nervous. After a year of dabbling in matchmaking as a hobby — I set up my college classmates and wrote about their blind dates for a column on my school's student-run blog — I was about to put my skills as a matchmaker to the test in a professional setting. I was terrified. On my first day of training, I was just 21 years old; my most formative romantic experience to date was getting dumped at a grocery store. Did I really have what it took to make it as a matchmaker?
During a series of training sessions, my fears were mostly put to rest. I learned that matchmaking is more of an art than a science, and that every matchmaker approaches it differently. I learned that my boss's academic background was in communications and her professional background was in the hospitality industry; she was intuitive, excellent at reading people, and had an ultra-soothing presence. Her style of matchmaking was based on understanding people's energy. Another matchmaker focused on offering coaching services to his clients, to make them feel as confident as possible on their dates. Another was naturally very social and liked to find fascinating matches for her clients while out with friends. The message was clear: as long as I followed a few basic principles of what makes a strong match, I could put my own spin on the job. I just had to figure out what worked for me.
I began the job with a small handful of clients, with the goal of taking on more as my skills progressed. Here's how it worked at my company: Clients paid $600 a month for two first dates with different matches. Matchmakers were always on-call to offer pre-date pep talks, outfit advice, and post-date analysis. Every time I was assigned a new client, I'd meet with them one-on-one to learn about their relationship history, what kind of relationship they're looking for now, what their lifestyle looks like, who they're attracted to, and so on. From there, it was up to me to find potential matches, screen them all to determine which one are a good fit, choose the winners, and arrange the dates. I found matches in our company's massive database of eligible singles, plus I used up to eight different dating apps and sites at a time, scoured my personal network, attended singles events, chatted up attractive people on the subway, and more.
I won't lie, matchmaking intimidated me. I'm an introvert, not a people person. I had zero experience tracking down the kind of successful, sophisticated, attractive, and charming people my clients expected me to deliver. I was afraid people would lose faith in my abilities once they realized how young I was.
But I had one asset on my side. Prior to matchmaking, I had studied journalism, worked as a reporter for my school's blog, and interned at a variety of magazines. I was a solid interviewer. And really, isn't the process of getting to know my clients and their potential matches deeply just a series of interviews? The skills I used as a reporter — researching my subject, acting approachable, asking smart questions, and listening well — translated directly into my work as a matchmaker. It's like what I learned in journalism school: You might not know everything there is to know about a topic when you begin reporting a story, but if you ask the right people the right questions, you'll get there.
It was exhilarating to feel myself learning new things every day, whether that was a list of which hotel bars in Manhattan took reservations and which didn't, or a profound lesson on love.
I loved matchmaking. It was my window into a new world. Sure, I might have been a 21-year-old who considered an eight-dollar bottle of wine to be a splurge, but my clients were glamorous, well-traveled 30- and 40-somethings with enviable careers. And I loved the adrenaline rush that came from toggling between dating apps, sprinting across the city to interview a match, and the sweet satisfaction of setting up a perfect first date. It was exhilarating to feel myself learning new things every day, whether that was a list of which hotel bars in Manhattan took reservations and which didn't, or a profound lesson on love.
I also learned the importance of finding a career that suits your personality. As much as I adored my job, I crawled into bed every night feeling drained. Keeping up an aggressive social façade while carrying on dozens of intimate, deeply difficult conversations a day was not my cup of tea. I found myself missing the relative calm of my old life, typing alone behind a computer. Even when I wasn't working, I didn't feel like myself. I didn't have the emotional energy to get through a date (for myself) after spending all day arranging dates for my clients.
Playing With Matches, By Hannah Orenstein
Ultimately, I scaled down my role at the company so I could return to college in the fall, and I left the position that winter so I could intern at a digital publication during my last semester of school. Once I graduated, I pursued work in media, as I had always planned — first, as a writer at Seventeen.com, next (drawing on my matchmaking experience), as the dating editor at Elite Daily. My first novel, Playing with Matches, came out earlier this year. It's about a young matchmaker who's in way over her head, drawing from my real-life experiences as exactly that. In the years since- I've set up a few couples on a purely recreational basis, but I have no interest in returning to my former career full-time.
I'm glad that I gave matchmaking a chance. It was a once-in-a-lifetime career opportunity and I'm so grateful that I tried something new. The experience truly changed my life. Even if I didn't stay in matchmaking for long, it taught me a valuable lesson: an amazing job isn't so amazing if it's not suited to your personality.
My best match yet? Picking a career — writing and editing — that makes me feel like the best version of myself.
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."