Making the Match
In search of worthwhile dates
Photos by Charlie Neuenschwander
Dating. Dating. There are many ways to look at the unpredictable mix of equal parts joyful possibility and angst-ridden dread. Sort of like a job interview, but potentially for the rest of your life. When young people date, it’s different than when older people date, as the goals tend to be slightly different, and the younger generation is more likely to make use of more ways to find dates than ever before – all the websites and apps and swiping. But along with these very modern methods, an ancient one is making a comeback: matchmaking.
Leslie Wardman became a professional matchmaker almost by accident. “I didn’t seek it out, matchmaking came to me. It was a fluke. I had been working in broadcasting when I saw something about matchmaking. Long story short, I was curious – and after reaching out and chatting with the owner of the company, the next thing I knew, I’d been offered a job. I was hired out of a pool of 250 others,” Wardman says. “I thank God every day for that.”
She now has outposts of her company, Ambiance, in multiple cities in three states. It’s expensive, exhaustive and process-driven, and that’s very much by design. “Love is the biggest mystery, isn’t it? Our process has several stages. We are picky – very, very picky – about who will become our clients.”
When Wardman pronounced the word “process,” she gave a slight, lilting roll to the r, as though to imbue it with a little more mystical authority. She is jolly. There’s no other word for it. Even by phone, her joyful, curious spirit is clear. She loves her job, and her clients. Back to that process, though: A short, basic form comes first, then an intensive questionnaire, followed by a personal interview (which can last up to 90 minutes or more) conducted by Wardman are the first steps.
Each day, from about 9-11 a.m., Wardman goes into what she calls serious match mode, and immerses herself in the nuances of each person. “I start with the basic skeleton, like, ‘Does this person fit this person’s age requirement?’ Then I start matching other elements. Where a person is in their career is very important.
Balance is huge. I look for humility and good energy in people. People can go through phases of ego, and ego can get in the way.”
Once she makes a match, she notifies each party and gives them a little synopsis about one another: eye color, height and so on. Then, Ambiance coordinates a date, including making a reservation for the couple at one of the company’s partner restaurants. The following day, she or a team member calls each person to see how the evening went.
“A happy dater, someone who is going to be a successful dater, is someone who has their ducks in a row. That person is mentally and physically healthy, knows himself or herself, and is generally a happy person. He or she has done the work to become self-aware and open,” Wardman says. On the flip side, an unsuccessful dater is someone who has not taken the time to work out his or her issues, and is generally prone to negativity.
“There is nothing worse than sitting down with someone who says something like, ‘Wow, this place is so expensive,’ or who leads by talking about an ex. People are allergic to that. You’ve got to watch what comes out of your mouth.”
Kerrie Loyd treats dating like an adventure and keeps an open mind, which matchmaker Wardman would applaud. She enjoys meeting new people and is something of a unicorn, in that she adores first dates. “For me, first dates are the most fun. I think [that] because I’m a writer, I really enjoy getting to know people and asking them about themselves,” Loyd says.
Extra Fun Date • Rock Climbing
Visit Climb Up OKC, 200 SE 4th, to get in a great workout and establish trust right off the bat by belaying your date, thus keeping one another from plummeting to your (at worst) bruising. And if you both want to climb, try the stylish new Threshold Climbing & Fitness, 6024 Westlake Memorial.
Second dates are still fun, but a little different. “By the second date, you are both trying to envision this becoming a weekly thing, and evaluating how that would feel. By the third date, if there is one, you pretty much know,” Loyd says. She’s become proficient at reading her dates quickly, and with startling accuracy. “At the end of a first date, there’s usually a kiss, and that can tell you everything you need to know about whether you’ll want a second date.”
She is an effervescent, smart, blonde, 40-something, never-married professional whose impressive career took her to the Big Apple for more than two decades – where she worked in publishing for large companies including Simon & Schuster, Penguin and Harper Collins. Among other cool career highlights, she led the marketing effort for the best-seller-turned-movie He’s Just Not That Into You. In other words, she’s a catch.
Two decades in Gotham was enough for her, and two and a half years ago, after earning a master’s degree in strategic communications at Columbia University, she moved home to Oklahoma City, where she works as a professional writer in the health care industry. And dates. She’s naturally outgoing and vivacious, and often has several dates a week.
Loyd has used dating websites and apps, and is currently just using one: Match.com. “I have tried OkCupid, Tinder, Match.com and Bumble, and for me Match is the best fit. I actually had a date the second night after I got to Oklahoma.”
She likes Match.com because there’s a financial commitment, which she feels helps “weed out some of the scoundrels” … but a few manage to slip through the cracks. “Lots of people lie about their age,” she says. “In fact, I dated a man for a while, and was actually at his father’s funeral, and I just couldn’t make the math work. It turned out he was 12 years older than he’d said.”
That scoundrel was in New York, but she’s found knaves of the same ilk, and worse, here. She mentioned a photographer she dated who intentionally lists his age as 47 (he’s in his mid-50s) so he can underhandedly attempt to snare 30-somethings. “There are all of these men who are in their late 40s and beyond, who are trying to date women in their late 20s and early 30s. Even the really good guys, who aren’t scoundrels, are all about the 20-somethings.”
Cheap Date • Coffee
There’s a coffee shop for every personality type. Bohemian? Try the Gray Owl in Norman (233 E Gray), or Red Cup in OKC (3122 N Classen). Coffee snob in a good way? Try Elemental in OKC (815 N Hudson). Unimaginative? There’s a Starbucks right over there.
The feature she likes about Bumble is that the woman must make the first contact, which eliminates the sometimes hundreds of unsolicited and potentially downright creepy messages she has received through OkCupid. “OkCupid is the worst in terms of unsolicited messages. It’s always the dregs, too, because they have nothing to lose and are playing a numbers game.”
These days, she has largely stepped off the whirlwind merry-go-round of online dating, and is taking a step back. “Everyone is multi-dating. There’s a rush when you first meet someone, it feels like anything is possible. But the dance just goes on and on. I’m interested in finding a long-term partner now, and sometimes I wonder what it will take to find ‘the one.’”
When Loyd does go out these days, she employs a series of go-to questions for her date, which clues her in quickly to things like honesty or weirdness. “I’ll say, ‘So how’s it going on Match?’ and their response will tell me a lot. For whatever reason, one man I was on a date with, an attorney, took that as an opportunity to show me a photo a woman he was talking to in Colorado sent him. She was naked and doing something disturbingly intimate. Why would you show that to a date?” Why, indeed?
Perhaps she should have referred him to Eileen Eleftherakis, founder of the OKC dating service City Social Club, who coaches her clients on how not to turn off their dates. She also offers a low-cost, low-pressure, fun way to socialize and meet other single people in your age range. Membership is available at a budget-friendly $25 per year. From there, events, blind dates and matchmaking services can be added on at a variety of price points.
“Most people come to me to find a mate,” says Eleftherakis. “Lately, my clientele has skewed toward people in their 50s and 60s, but I also have a large group of 30-somethings. For me to set up a blind date is $25 per date. I want to be as inclusive as possible, low-cost and low-risk.” Each Friday night, her company holds a social dinner open to a particular age bracket, and Saturday nights are blind date nights.
Speed dating events are one of her specialties, and she holds them monthly. “I tell my clients that practice dating is important. Whether it leads to anything or not, just being able to say, ‘I have a date,’ makes people happy.”
Basic Date • Drinks and live music
Jones Assembly, 901 W Sheridan, in OKC’s Film Row is perfect for both. In Norman, head for The Mont, 1300 Classen, or Blackbird, 575 S University, on Campus Corner, and follow it up with a stop at The Deli, 309 White, or Opolis, 113 N Crawford.
She holds follow-up calls on Mondays, and coaches her clients based on the feedback when necessary. “I have one client who is brilliant, but he annoys women. He’s in my unlimited program, and we have been working with him for two years.” The things women tend to dislike in a date are sloppy chewing and bad table manners, people who don’t tip well and men who won’t stop talking about themselves.
“Men tend to be kinder in their critiques, but they can be very selective up front about looks or age, sometimes to a fault. I coach both sides to read the other person’s profile and figure out three questions and three follow-ups for the date,” Eleftherakis says.
Her advice echoes that of Wardman and aligns with Loyd’s philosophy: Stop being ridiculously selective, and realize that no person is perfect. We all have flaws. “Look for the core things that matter and have a reasonable approach about the rest,” she encourages.
The last Saturday of every month is City Social Club Speed Dating at Joey’s Pizzeria in OKC’s Film Row district. There are five age brackets, and they are all represented. Each participant will meet five prospective dates, and each speed date is eight minutes long. It’s loads of fun, and it’s free.
Eleftherakis sums it up: “My goal is to help people just get out and be social. Once people get over their fear or feelings of being overwhelmed at the idea of dating, they have a lot of fun!”
► Dispatches from the Front Lines
We asked a group of interesting people about their highs and lows on the dating scene.
Favorite Date (So Far!)
“My all-time favorite date was back in college. We test-drove expensive cars that neither of us could afford at the time, and then went over to Boulevard for dinner and drinks. We followed it up with a movie on the couch. It was just a fun, random day. I have to say, Top Golf is a pretty fun date spot, as well … especially if your date doesn’t know how to play.” Jarrad Hewett, author and healer
“At age 16, my boyfriend and I could do a movie and Casa Bonita ($1.79 + drink + tax for $2 total each) for a 10 spot! And, of course, he paid for everything.”
Dr. Joan Hardt, owner of Rejuvena
“My husband, Clyde, and I had so many great dates when we first met over 25 years ago. Perhaps the best was our first out-of-town date to Dana Point. But from the moment I met him, he was always such a gentleman. He made me laugh and feel like I was the most important person in the entire universe, and we became great friends before becoming romantically involved. He listened and encouraged me to be whoever I wanted to be. When I decided to be his girlfriend, I knew I would never find anyone else who would love me as much.” Karel Ford, executive, Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women
“I’ve been married 29 years. A worst date now is when we fight and have to go home with each other.”
Lori Johnson, Anglin Public Relations
“I had a date that started so badly, the Uber driver suggested I run. My date was 20 minutes late, had failed to mention having just moved back home with their mother because they didn’t drive, and then ordered shots instead of dinner. There was no second date.”
“It was with a politician. It was all about him. Dull conversation, limited interests. He wanted to have sex on the first date. I didn’t even know him.”
“I tell my clients that practice dating is important. Whether it leads to anything or not, just being able to say, ‘I have a date,’ makes people happy.”
► More Ideas for You and Some Lucky Someone
Tried and True Try the OKC Zoo, 2000 Remington, or Edmond’s Hafer Park, 1034 S Bryant, for Frisbee. Stroll around the Duck Pond in Norman, 403 E Brooks, but feed the quackers lettuce, not bread. Martin Nature Park, 5000 W Memorial, in north OKC is always gorgeous.
Head for the Border Thackerville, Oklahoma, is home to the world’s largest casino, WinStar, 777 Casino, … which, in turn, is home to top-tier concerts, 15 excellent restaurants including three fine-dining establishments, a golf course, a dreamy spa and plenty of retail therapy. The pool is an oasis. Rooms and suites are lavish, and prices match.
OKC From Above Interstate Helicopters, robinsonhelicopterdealers.com, can take you and your date for a breathtaking helicopter tour of Downtown OKC, or wherever you’d like. It’s about $615 an hour, and totally customizable.
Dinner and a Movie Go to the balcony or Director’s Suites of the Warren in Moore, 1000 Telephone, and do them both in the same chair. Or visit the theaters at Penn Square Mall, 1901 NW Expressway, where you can lie down, nice and awkward, if it’s a first date. Before or afterward, hit up one of the many Classen Curve hot spots, such as RePublic, 5830 N Classen, or OKC institution Flip’s Wine Bar & Trattoria, 5801 N Western.
Extra Fun Dates
Horseback Riding The Riding Stables at Draper Lake, 7900 SE 104th, offers one- and two-hour guided trail rides on beautiful trails throughout the 6,000 scenic acres of land around Lake Stanley Draper.
Dates in a Box
Planning is a skill that not everyone has, or wants to use in every situation. Here in 2018, there are plenty of ways around it: When someone needs a new outfit, Stitchfix chooses it. When they want to make dinner, Green Chef plans it, measures the ingredients and drops it off with instructions (and pictures!) on their doorstep. Now, DateBox will plan and send you stay-in or go-out dates, complete with activities, playlists and even topics of conversation. If this appeals to you, give it a try. You can even download a free date itinerary at getdatebox.com.