Amy Van Doran : New York’s High End Matchmaker on the Commoditisation of Love, Sex and Relationships

Meet Amy Van Doran

In this, the premier edition of the Love is not a List Podcast with Gillian McCallum, she meets with Amy Van Doran of the Modern Love Club. Amy is an award winning high end matchmaker who finds love for New York’s top achievers, with personality.

Discussing the commoditization of Love, Relationships, Romance and Sex, Amy’s shares her intelligent, thoughtful look at society today and the way it impacts on our romantic endeavours.  

Read the full transcript below of this engaging interview  – to find out exactly what happens when London’s top matchmaker meets New York’s top matchmaker. 

How Savage is the New York Dating Scene?

[Gillian McCallum]: Hello. I am here with Amy Van Doran. She is one of the globe’s foremost matchmakers. She seeks out the most extraordinary people and she introduces them to one another. 

She also has one of the most interesting stories in Matchmaking. She didn’t actually realise that matchmaking was a thing. She started off thinking that she was performing performance art, and I’m going to be asking her a little bit about that this week, along with what her secrets are and what she thinks is really going on in Internet dating and the world of dating in general, because we know there’s some weird stuff going on right now.

Hi, Amy. Thank you so much for joining me from New York!

[Amy Van Doran]: Hello, darling. Thanks for having me.

[Gillian McCallum]: So straight in. Tell me about New York dating. Is it as savage as everyone tells me?

[Amy Van Doran]: Yeah, that and more. It’s pretty competitive, I think, that people move to New the kind of people that move to New York tend to be very competitive, always looking for the next best thing, super career oriented and less relationship oriented. And the male to female ratio is very wonky.

[Gillian McCallum]: So I know that you said you started out basically thinking what you were doing was performance art, because I knew that you were coming on and I knew how important creativity and dating was.

I actually made myself a little hat that I wanted to wear for some of this meeting together[To see this wonderful hat and more – please take a look at the Love is Not a List youtube channel], and I hope you can see just how fabulous this is with my collection of hearts here. But that leads me very nicely on with my homemade hat. Do you like it? First of all, is this what you are?

[Amy Van Doran]: Wow. You made that yourself?

[Gillian McCallum]: I did. I cut out the black and I got the little hearts and I put it together just for you.

[Amy Van Doran]: Wow. What a beautiful hat you’re wearing for a podcast.

Why Do People Write a Love List? 

[Gillian McCallum]: Thank you. I appreciate your kind words. So tell me about creativity and dating. Tell me about how they intertwined. Tell me why it’s important. Tell me why your clients are looking for it.

[Amy Van Doran]: So I think that dating follows different economic systems. And so in the past, like in a very long time ago, people were dating for practical reasons, like people needing, like, a piece of land and then or needing someone to support the household. 

In the 50s, people started dating because they wanted to choose the best partner. And so they got really interested in being in love with the person. And as we kind of moved into the age of sort of capitalism and late stage capitalism, dating has sort of turned into a marketplace with online dating. And so people, I believe, have become so consumed with trying to figure out if a person that they’re swiping on is someone that they want to they’re treating like something you buy, right? 

Like they’re putting an order at Starbucks. I want tall, dark, handsome. I want them to be six foot three. And so people, instead of looking at people and how people make them feel, they’re looking at people as something that you order.

And so we’ve been kind of trained to, as people online date more and more, we’ve been kind of trained to figure out what’s wrong with people instead of creatively figuring out ways to connect. 

And so the work that I’ve been doing lately has been around how do you creatively make containers out of being socially generous for the other person to thrive and kind of unlock what’s special and love being going back to being more of a collaborative thing rather than something that is setting each other up to fail.

[Gillian McCallum]: And I think that’s one of the things that’s really common in dating, though, is the sense of you start with this huge, long list and you are just literally going one by one by one through the people. 

You obviously call it a rolodex, which is your fabulous list of people. But for the people out there who are dating, who are perhaps not using a matchmaker, it’s this sense of going one by one by one, of trying to go through a huge list of people with the idea of discounting them rather than counting those people in. 

And do you think that’s got a lot to do with where we are? You talked about late stage capitalism. Do you think it’s got a lot to do with that kind of consumer culture that we’re viewing, as you said, dating very much as being a consumer.

You’re going into Starbucks and you want exactly how you want it. You want this exact checklist. And do you think people are doing that and do you think that’s preventing them from finding the person that’s right for them?

[Amy Van Doran]: Absolutely. So when I first started matchmaking 15 years ago, online dating was less of a thing. There’s definitely no Tinders or Hinges. 

There was definitely no swiping culture. And so when I was interviewing people for matchmaking, they’d come in and they’d say, hey Amy, make me a match. 

Now people come in and they say, oh, hey Amy, make me a match. That’s this tall, this wealthy, all these superficial things. And so what it does is it makes it so you’re reducing your quest for love to a list of arbitrary things that are no indicator of happiness. 

What is Important When Dating? 

Like there’s no correlation between someone being six foot three and you feeling emotionally heard, cared for and supported, which I actually think is much more important for a life partner than the superficial things that people are kind of searching by.

[Gillian McCallum]: Absolutely. And it comes down to the concept of how does someone make you feel? Do you feel heard? Do you feel taken care of? Do you feel loved? And none of those things can be found in a bank balance. 

None of those things can be found in heights, although Jeff Bezos’s new fiance may feel differently to that. But I’m sure he’s also a really interesting and good guy. 

You can tell me more, I’m sure, about how things work in the tech world because I know that you’ve got lots of tech clients, but I also know that you’ve got some other perspectives on tech and how that impacting things. 

So you said there that this concept of a list that I always say love is not a list, but this concept of a list, this concept of a checklist, you see very much intermingled and tied in with the concept of where we are in terms of capitalism. But I think you also probably see it as being intertwined with online dating and the way the online dating works. 

Would that be fair to say?

Why Is Online Dating So Hard? 

[Amy Van Doran]: Absolutely. And the online dating platforms are also a form of capitalism because they benefit from you actually not finding your match, right?And so if they gave you your first match out the door, then you’re not going to sign up for another month or another year of membership.

And so the longer that people are fixated on superficial things, this thing that should have brought people closer together instead has everyone sitting in their apartments alone, oftentimes on the toilet, just swiping by themselves and they’re just swiping indefinitely looking for the next thing. 

But nobody was actually really connecting. And so the thing that is supposed to bring people closer together I think is training us to make it more and more difficult to connect. And I think part of that has to come from the fact that historically when we looked at what women were searching for in a partner, it was never primarily on the basis of looks.

[Gillian McCallum]: Looks formed just one part of the way someone smells, the way someone moves, the way someone looks at you, the way someone treats you, the way someone acts around others, none of which can be derivated from a photograph. 

And so I am beginning to feel, really, that Silicon Valley in many ways, which was predominantly originally male dominated, although we know there’s lots of really big female figures in there now. 

But their concept, the male gaze, if you like, on how dating should be, which was selecting someone on the basis of a photograph, is that something that you find? Is that something that you were thinking through as well?

[Amy Van Doran]: So with the people that sort of started a lot of these apps, they were people with strong sort of quantifiable minds, right? And so they want algorithms, they want numbers, they want love to fit into sort of a mathematical thing. 

And as we know, love is an emotional experience. And the more and more we try to control love by trying to apply math or logic or theory to it, the more and more we’re actually taking the love or the magical possibility of connection in sort of the moment or the event.

Because I think that love historically has been sort of a happening: you’re walking down the street, you drop your keys, you look up, you meet someone, you’re at work, you drop your files, you look up. There used to be the event and

we’re taking the event out of love. And so there isn’t that moment of discovery or that trust or that place where there is that creative creation.

And so I really want to inspire people to go back to using the world as sort of their playground to find and create experiences or containers for love to exist.

Do people need to learn how to date again?

[Gillian McCallum]: And so it sounds to me as though what you’re doing is in a sense what we also do in the UK with my matchmaking company, which is we’re trying to teach people how to date. 

But you’re going back to really the fundamentals by the sounds of things you’re saying to people in some ways, get rid of all this criteria that you’re looking at, get rid of the idea that you’re going to swipe 3000 times and find the one you’ve got to start creating moments. And that sounds fabulous to me. So how do you tutor someone or teach someone to create these moments in their life?

Because especially, I think, I know we’re not allowed to talk about COVID anymore, but having a period where we were so insular, we were so alone, we were on our own, I think people came out of it incredibly selfish and bad tempered and isolationist. 

And so what are you doing to coach those people, to get them out there to create these moments? What do people have to do? What do they have to change in their lives to be able to create these moments?

Amy’s Basketball Dating Metaphor

[Amy Van Doran]: I think that people spent a lot of time in their heads and so we have a culture now of people that are sort of shell shocked and we all came out of COVID socially a little bit less strong than we were before. 

And so having the generosity and the vulnerability of spirit of saying like even I’m professionally supposed to be outgoing and I’m still kind of like warming back up to being a social creature. 

And so I think just being generous and patient with people and vulnerable saying I’m socially a little bit, I’m working through some stuff, but just giving everyone the benefit of the doubt and social generosity I think is really important.

And stop being so focused on your own experience because when you’re so focused on your own experience, it’s kind of castrating the ability to connect. And so instead of thinking about how am I feeling? Is this person good enough for me? 

Trying to figure out what’s really wonderful and miraculous about the person in front of you in this moment. And so being really moment to moment focused and trying to as if you’re shifting for goals like trying to figure out what’s the gold in a person rather than what’s wrong with the person, or figuring out reasons to disqualify a person and when you start looking for the magic of a person, it kind of activates them. 

They’ll start activating magic and sort of in this you start this cycle of a goodwill in basketball.

There’s this term called the, do you know the term the alley-oop?

[Gillian McCallum]: I don’t know any basketball terms. I’m going to be entirely honest, and I know you’re a big basketball fan.

[Amy Van Doran]: So the alley-oop, I just think is such a beautifully poetic basketball move. Because what an alley-oop is, is the basketball player goes and he acts like he’s going to get the point in the basketball hoop, but instead he throws it just short of it, and the other guy jumps in the air and he slams it into the hoop so the other guy actually gets the points. 

But it’s being set up because we’re all, instead of thinking of each other as like you versus I, if we start imagining each other all being on the same team, the more we can all set each other up to thrive and be socially generous. 

Just like you’re socially generous with me and I’m socially generous with you, even though we’re both matchmakers is the more generosity we promote, the more it kind of comes back and it raises the goodwill of love and creativity for everyone.

[Gillian McCallum]: You have said so much there that I’m not even quite sure which strand to grab ahold of and run with because you’ve boiled it down a lot to a word that’s kind of unpopular now, which is kindness. 

Leading on from that generosity of spirit and giving people a chance and how vital it is to do that in order to create opportunities.And you are the salmon swimming against the tide there. I mean, I know we are as well when you’re talking about trying to change the mindset, because I think for so many years we’ve been taught this idea you must have a list, you must know what you want, you must go out there and get it. 

And it doesn’t you know, I think the the example I often give people is if you were sitting next to this person at a dinner party and you didn’t know how tall they were because they’re sitting down, you didn’t know what they did for a living, and you didn’t know that they hated horse riding. When you’re like a huge horse fanatic, but you just hit it off.

Think about that as a scenario rather than going into dating this huge list. And I remember one client that came to me for coaching and I knew straight away I had this incredible guy that I knew I could introduce her to. 

And I was so excited to share the details of this guy because you and I had got that same knack of we just know. Like, we just know. And I knew this guy. This was her guy. 

And this is such a good feeling when you have that strong sense. And when I was describing him, she was she was stopped doing everything I said. I can see it until I said one thing. I said that he also really liked off road motorbiking, also kind of off road biking. Might not be motoring, but off road biking, and she just turned around to this, oh, no, I could never date someone that enjoyed biking like that.

No? That’s a definite no from me. And you’re thinking, what is this, a serious conversation? And it was. I was unable at that point to persuade her otherwise. 

And if that is someone that sought advice from a matchmaker like me, and we’re going through a coaching program, imagine people who never seek out advice but don’t get that matchmaking advice but don’t get that date coaching, and they’re on their own, what chance are they of finding the right person for them?

I’m always amazed when they’re able to do it, when they’ve had to go through this huge field. And again, you’ll get this as well. People say, well, yeah, but I can hold out until I find the guy who doesn’t happen to like riding a bike in the dirt. And you’re like, what’s your approach when you do things like that?

The Importance of Tough Questions in Dating

[Amy Van Doran]: So I’ve been asking my clients the really hard question of, do you really want to spend another year on this short amount of time we have on this planet, the miracle of getting to be an embodied person with the ability to love? 

Do you really want to spend another year on this planet missing out on the opportunity to love because someone is an inch shorter or an inch bigger or lighter or darker or richer or poorer than you were sort of programmed to imagine love to look like? Or do you want to get out of your own way? 

Because it is. I think if someone comes in and they’re so focused on this sort of arbitrary list of things, what it really shows me is that they’re not actually ready to receive love.

And so I will encourage people to look a little bit deeper on being like, well, why are we trying to make something so statistically impossible? Maybe you really aren’t ready. And so let’s kind of look at the reasons why you might not feel like you’re ready.

[Gillian McCallum]:  And you talked about a programming there that people are programmed to be searching for this certain thing, and I completely agree with you. What can be done for people who are listening to this or watching this on YouTube to deprogram themselves, to give themselves that chance to find love, the thing that they really want without the barriers that they’ve subconsciously been putting in place?

What kind of advice? I know it’s very general because you don’t know the specifics, whether it’s mountain bikes or height or income or weight or colour or ethnicity, whatever the things are you discussed.

But what can we try and is there anything you can try to coach in general terms, what people can do to start to reprogram the way they think about love and relationship?

[Amy Van Doran]: I mean, the first thing to do is to know that everything kind of there are fads, right? Like in one period of time, women were expected to look plumper because that showed that they were wealthier. 

And now an indicator of wealth is to look thinner because people have more time to work on their lifestyle and can afford to not eat the food on their plate. All of these things kind of ebb and flow with what society thinks is normal. 

And so the first step is figuring out how much of these things have I inherited from my culture, how much of this poisonous stuff have I gotten from looking at magazines or Instagram or TV shows.

How much of it? We’re watching The Bachelor, all the women look the same, we look at the Kardashians, everyone has the same fake ass. It’s all cultural programming. And so I think the first step is to spend less time what people look like on Instagram is not what people look like in real life.

And so start actually talking to people in real life and in communities that are outside of the same community and start getting very local and away from screens and really challenge yourself if you’re like, oh, I’m only attracted to this kind of person. Well, is that true or is that a narrative that you’ve been creating over and over again? 

So, yeah, I think getting off screens and limiting, if you’re going to do online dating, maybe just be open to meeting the first three people that seem interesting and seeing how you actually feel in real life rather than theoretically about a person and give people a chance.

[Gillian McCallum]:  And some of this probably comes down to attachment, attachment style, the way people attached as children. I know that attachment is a key one for you when you’re looking at your clients and when you’re coaching clients. Can you talk a little bit about attachment, how that might affect or impact some of the things we’re talking about?

Rachel Greenwald’s Matchmaking Approach

[Amy Van Doran]: Sure, yeah. Actually at Rachel Greenwald’s Matchmaking coaching that I went to many, many years ago that was very influential on my work, we had a therapist there that was teaching attachment theory, and I had a very complicated childhood upbringing, which I think was really helpful because it helped me be more sensitive to people’s way of attaching. 

And it also because it’s always been so hard for me, it’s kept me more interested in the question at hand. And so I remember walking away from this talk about attachment theory, and the next day I went to my therapist and I throw this book attached on the table, and I said to her, we could have saved ten years. 

Like I was doing the same shit over and over again, but there’s a formula and if I had just known what that formula was, I wouldn’t have kept walking into the same I wouldn’t have kept walking into the same situation that I was setting myself up to fail in.

And so we could go through the attachment stuff if we wanted, but I just have to highly recommend it to anyone who’s out there just familiarising themselves with their attachment style. 

There’s a great book called Attached. It’s super easy to read, and it really can save you the time of being attracted to people that if someone’s not available, if you’re trying to hail cabs that aren’t hailable, that’s never going to work. And so trying to figure out who is someone that’s actually got a secure attachment style that is ripe and ready to be connected with, and are you actually ripe and ready to be connected with? 

Because if you don’t, if we’re trying to hail cabs that aren’t available, or if you’re unavailable yourself, all of the dating in the world, you can go on 1000 dates, none of it’s going to matter. Because if you’re not ready to have an attachment with someone, then you’re just going to make yourself exhausted and cynical, and you’re going to keep thinking that it’s the outside world.

But really, after 15,000 matchmaking interviews that I’ve done, everyone’s like, what’s the secret to love? The secret to love is you being engaged with what’s happening with you. It’s not something outside of you. It’s all you. And until you figure out what’s working and what’s not working and where’s your block, nothing’s going to change.

Dating While Working on Yourself

[Gillian McCallum]:  And one of the things that you said earlier just to join those two bits together, was that you should be out there and you should be dating while you’re still working on yourself. There was a small comment you made earlier, and I think that’s important because so many people say, I’m going to date when I’m going to date, when I’ve lost 100 pounds, I’m going to date when my kids are 15, I’m going to date when I move town, I move country. 

There’s all of these things, barriers, again, that people are putting in place that I think the concept of, as you said, read the book, get to understand your attachment style. Make sure that you’re looking out for the right attachment style, but don’t be working yourself and say, like, in a year’s time when I’ve done this work, I’m going to go out there and date. Do you agree with that? Do you disagree with that? What’s your perspective?

[Amy Van Doran]: I think that you always have to be working on yourself. But I think through dating, you can also use that as a lens for you to figure out where you’re at, how you’re relating, how you’re you know, there’s a feedback loop and you can actually through only in relationship with another person are we triggered in the same way that our early childhood attachment stuff is.

And so only in these vulnerable states of romantic love. Can we actually see where the healing still needs to happen? And can we use each other as mirrors to

have the opportunity to figure out where we need to upgrade and where the work is? And I think a good partner will be lenient and open minded with where you’re at, just as you are lenient and open minded with where you’re at. So the whole idea of not being so judgmental of our partners is also giving the other person

permission also be less judgmental to you. And so if we give each other a little bit of slack, we can move up the personal development ladder and find our Omega matches or become our Omega Selves together.

Because if you wait for everything to be perfect, well, that’s never going to happen.

Amy Van Doran of the Modern Love Club – Thank you!

[Gillian McCallum]:  Amy Van Doran of the Modern Love Club. You are an extraordinary matchmaker for extraordinary people in New York City. I have one last question for you, which is, what is the best piece of advice you can give everyone? It’s not allowed to be about matchmaking or dating, just a hunk or a nugget of advice that you would like to share with people. What have you got for me?

[Amy Van Doran]: Let me think. I think that the best piece of advice that I can give anyone is just to make sure that you’re tapping in with being the most radically accepted version of yourself, because I think that the key with that is it gives everyone around you also the space to be themselves. And I think through that, there can be more connection.

And also, coconut oil is really good for a lot of things. Coconut oil is good for makeup. Coconut oil is good for your skin. You can bake with coconut oil. And I think it’s one of the world’s best lubricants, so I’m a big fan of coconut oil.

[Gillian McCallum]:  Thank you so much, Amy. An absolute pleasure. Lovely to see you. And lovely to talk to you.

[Amy Van Doran]: As always, it was a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

If you would like to listen to this Love is Not a List Podcast interview, or to find the full, thrilling series, you can do so in the following brilliant places: