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 of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.