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mini featureMeet Your Maker
 
photo courtesy of Patti Novak
Matchmaker and TV personality Patti Novak likes to identify flaws when she sees them. Novak, the 47-year-old, blond Buffalo, N.Y. native approaches me, introduces herself, shakes my hand, and says, “If I had more time, I’d help you, because you’ve got some issues to get over, don’t you?” I feel her eyes travel from my worn shoes to the tiny stain on my shirt and to my slightly frizzy hair. Novak leads me past the waiting room to her office, sits down behind a large mahogany desk, and motions for me to join her. Let’s get this started, she says firmly.

Tear 'Em Down and Build 'Em Up
Made famous by her A&E reality show Confessions of a Matchmaker which the network describes as “cupid with a sledgehammer,” Novak’s style of matchmaking combines the hopeful guidance of a fairy godmother with the delivery of a drill sergeant. Novak treats newcomers to a barrage of flaws to be fixed. If you climb the two flights of stairs to her office and arrive winded, she suggests you join a gym. She’ll point out bad hair, gaudy jewelry, and excessive cleavage. If she offers you a glass of water, she’ll check your teeth as you take a sip. But if you can stomach her harsh scrutiny, take her advice, and pony up about a grand (that’s what she charged annually in 2007), she may find you a perfect match
.

Footing the bill to find love in front of millions of viewers is a fairly new thing yet the idea of matchmaking dates back to the beginning of civilization, says Professor Robert Thompson, Ph.D, the Director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. “For a good part of our history, matchmaking was done by authorities and our parents,” he says. “When the mass media came along, it was obvious that this was one of the areas they would cash in on.” Bravo’s Millionaire Matchmaker and VH1’s Tough Love showcase real-life matchmakers helping the hopeless find love. As of 2009, this booming industry is worth over 1.8 billion.

But before there were matchmakers that only worked with the super-wealthy or specialized in “boot camp sessions” for singles, there was Novak, the frank, blue-collar woman with the trademark leather jacket.  Novak began her business after decades of setting up friends and family members; she realized that matchmaking wasn’t just a quirky talent, but a bona fide way to earn a living. In 2001, after ending a 17 year marriage with her husband and dealing with the newfound responsibilities of being a single mom, Novak started Buffalo Niagara Introductions, her first matchmaking business. Since then, she has been interviewed on Oprah, The Today Show and The Rachael Ray Show.  These days, Novak boasts more than 800 clients, pairing each of them up on at least one date per month.


Patti Novak Cupidphoto courtesy of aetv.com
Novak Selects Suitable Singles
Novak conducts her initial client meeting much like a job interview. She sizes the person up the moment he or she enters the office, taking note of every flaw (weight, clothes, teeth, hair, makeup). Then, Novak leads a grueling 90-minute face-to-face session, in which she asks clients to answer probing questions. She’ll ask clients to describe their insecurities, their relationship history, and the reason why they’re single. Joshua Seftel, director of the show’s pilot episode and Novak’s friend, says meeting with Novak for the first time is like meeting with a psychic. “It’s almost magical the way that she can interpret somebody and understand someone so quickly,” Seftel says.

After the interview, Novak steps outside her office and meets with her staff to determine whether she’s willing to take on the client. She turns down about 20 to 25 percent of those who walk into her office, sometimes because of physical appearances. “A shorter man is hard to help,” Novak says, “Women care about a man’s height. Crazy but they do.” Novak adds, “On the other hand, men are fussy about a woman’s weight.” Novak is, above all, a realistic woman. If she doesn’t think she can find someone a match, she prefers to let nature take its course.

Novak recalls, “I had one gentleman come here in December of ‘08 and he had like three teeth. Well guess what, I said to him, ‘Go to the dentist and get your teeth fixed, and when you’re done come back.’ What would have happened if I took that man on and took his money, knowing that I didn’t have one lady that would date a man with three teeth?”

Novak, who Thompson dubs the “Dr. Phil of matchmakers,” works hard to decipher her clients’ love obstacles. This process involves Novak meeting with clients one-on-one, visiting their homes, and in some cases, helping them create a new look by taking them shopping or to a beauty salon. This method provides the drama on her TV show. Take Amy for example (neither Novak nor the show use clients’ last names). Amy was a cute, curly-haired 28-year-old bartender who couldn’t understand why she kept dating jerks. After talking with Amy, Novak identified that Amy’s lack of confidence — which stemmed from a bad break-up and being 30 pounds overweight — was preventing her from being in a healthy relationship. In order to boost Amy’s self-esteem, Novak sent her to get a makeover and told her to go on a diet.


Patti Novak Interviewphoto courtesy of Jeremy Cowart
What You See Is What You Get
Executive Producer of Confessions of a Matchmaker, Robert Sharenow appreciated Novak’s spunk and honesty when he worked with her on the show. “The magic of Patti is that she is naturally dynamic. She’s funny and smart and articulate on and off camera. The Patti you see on the show is an exact representation of the real Patti,” Sharenow says.

The show also highlights clients’ dating skills — or lack thereof.  Those who screw up on a date should be prepared to hear about it. Novak provides a stringent list of “don’ts” for daters. She cautions her clients to avoid sex in the beginning of a relationship (especially if they’re coming out of a serious relationship or marriage — an exceptionally vulnerable time). “If your vagina was supposed to be easy to get to, you’d have it on your shoulder blade,” Novak preaches. She also warns people to refrain from sharing unflattering truths during the first couple of dates. For instance, if you have six cats, keep that to yourself for a while. Or if you’re a virgin, try not to mention that on the first date. Those kinds of admissions signal red flags that can end a relationship before it starts.

Can't get enough? Check out our interview with Patti Novak on our Matchmaker Podcast.

 
 
 
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