Seven Questions for Patti Novak

The matchmaker on being a straight shooter with clients, her own dating mistakes and why love at first sight is a fallacy

It’s not that her clients can’t get dates, says professional matchmaker Patti Novak. It’s that their time is limited. Or they’re sick of the bar scene. Or they want a little more privacy and safety than online dating affords. And then there are clients with broken “pickers”; they seem to match themselves with the same—wrong—type of mate over and over. Novak was a natural-born picker. Especially for others.

The matchmaking began around the time her friends started discovering the opposite sex, and she it was to find compatible dates. She soon launched an advice column for the Buffalo News, followed by the A&E reality show Confessions of a Matchmaker, as well as appearances on Oprah, Today and CNN.

Novak left the Buffalo office in the hands of her daughter and recently opened High Desert Introductions in Las Vegas, where initial consultations are free and annual memberships are less than $1,000. She notes there are small differences between the cities—people in Las Vegas are more health conscious and into outdoor activities—but the issues are the same. “People complain about dating everywhere you go,” she says.

How does your matchmaking process work?

First I screen people on the phone to see if this is even a possibility for them—are they emotionally ready for it? If they are just getting out of a relationship, there should be some rest time. I do a criminal background check. I check their driver’s license and two more forms of ID. Then I really get into their preferences and goals during a 60- to 90-minute interview.

Sometimes I hit it on the nose right away, but usually it takes a few months [of sending them on dates, so I can] get to know a person and start changing the habits that get in the way.

What kind of habits?

Sometimes it’s the most commonsense stuff. If three out of the six women I’ve sent a guy on a date with say he dressed sloppy, well, he probably dresses sloppy half the time. If all she does is talk about her six dogs—bleh!—she’s not going to get past the second date. The personal intervention part of my process is so big.

You’re pretty blunt with your clients. What advice is the hardest for you to give?

On the tangible side, for women, it’s about weight. I’m not saying I can’t help a full-figured size 18, but they have to know that it’s probably going to take longer. I can’t help that men are visual. I tell [overweight women], “I have to at least be able to say you’re working on it, and you can’t be making a liar out of me.”

On the emotional side, with older women who feel like they’ve been scorned, it can be hard to tell them to face their own reality and realize they’re poor daters. I try to help them become a little softer, more approachable. They’ve got their walls up. By choosing to not let [those walls] down, they’re choosing to not have love.

For men, the biggest challenge is intestinal fortitude. The offensive way to say it is that they have to get their balls back if they want a woman to respect them. We women can be brutal—we turn them into yes-men and then divorce them because of it. The three things that make for a lasting relationship in this order, without any doubt in my mind, are: respect, humor and sex. If a woman loses respect for her partner, she loses her sense of humor—we don’t think you’re funny anymore, and we certainly don’t want to kiss you.

What’s the status of your own love life?

I’m happily married for the second time. My first marriage ended because of that respect thing, by the way. After him, I dated a narcissist. Took me forever to let him go, but he taught me a lot—I had to face my own demons. I met my [current] husband when I was finally ready. About three years in, I remember saying, “Man, we’re really onto something here.” That’s intimacy. I say it’s like an orgasm: You know it when you get it.

Is there someone out there for everyone?

I don’t think we’re here on this planet to be alone. It’s there if you want it and you’re ready, and maybe you need help finding it. But if all you want to do is date casually, that’s fine. Just stick to online dating.

Do people come in with a long list of must-haves and expect you to fill the order?

Oh yeah. Part of my process is making sense of that list and helping them sort through what’s really important and holding up a mirror to them. You can’t say you’ll only date a man with a Ph.D., when you don’t offer any post-high school [education] yourself. You can prefer it, but you can’t require it.

Is there such a thing as love at first sight?

I don’t believe in it, although my mother would say she and my father had it. We go through so much as individuals and couples over time, there better be much more to it than what you get on first sight. I also don’t think opposites work out in the big picture. When you’re young, that yin-and-yang thing might be exciting, but it’s the very thing you’re going to leave each other for in 15 years.