Matchmaking Guru Knows No Boundaries

Paul Carrick Brunson is putting a modern twist on an age-old practice: matchmaking. Brunson is a professional matchmaker who uses social media to help set couples up. On this Valentine's Day, host Michel Martin speaks with Brunson about the business of matchmaking and about how people view marriage in the modern age.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, my Can I Just Tell You? commentary. And it's Valentine's Day. And if you're involved, you're probably planning a romantic dinner or a fun night out. But if you're not involved, you might be doing one of three things: hanging out with friends, treating yourself or you may be cursing the love gods.

For those of you who are still looking for Mr. or Ms. Right, listen up, our next guest might be able to help you. His name is Paul Carrick Brunson and he is an old-fashioned matchmaker. And he also calls himself a new-fashioned date coach. He caters to young professionals. He uses social media to help set people up. And in an interesting twist, he is an African-American.

And Paul Carrick Brunson joins us now in our Washington, D.C. studios. Welcome. Happy Valentine's Day to you and your beloved. I know there is a beloved in your life.

Mr. PAUL CARRICK BRUNSON (Matchmaker): There sure is. Thank you very much, Michel. It's a pleasure to be here with you.

MARTIN: So, is this life following art? You know, there was this movie called "Hitch," starring Will Smith.

Mr. BRUNSON: My favorite.

MARTIN: Who was, in fact, a matchmaker and a date coach. He kind of helped people find that love connection. Is that where you got your idea?

Mr. BRUNSON: That was actually not my inspiration, although it's probably my favorite movie. My inspiration is, my wife and I have a foundation and in 2008 we had a summer camp where we had 100 students come to the summer camp. Not one of the 100 students had two parents in their household. And it was looking at that and the impact that that made on them psychologically, socially, academically that led us to say, wow, is there something that we can do to help get people together and help form more of these nuclear families?

MARTIN: And you actually earn a living from this?

Mr. BRUNSON: Oh yeah.

MARTIN: I hate to be rude, but one wants to know, this isn't like a hobby. Like, you know, I've been known to set people up too, but I do expected to be invited to the wedding. But you actually earn a living from this. You and your wife actually do this as a job.

Mr. BRUNSON: That's a question that we get quite often. And I'll say that we've been doing this full-time now for almost two years.

MARTIN: How do you go about setting people up? I know a lot of people are familiar with the online matchmaking services.

Mr. BRUNSON: Sure.

MARTIN: You send in a profile.

Mr. BRUNSON: Right.

MARTIN: And that seems like that would be efficient.

Mr. BRUNSON: It is. You know, I think you hit the nail on the head with the word efficient. That's the reason why people contact matchmakers. That's the reason why people go online. Matchmakers are like the headhunters of the industry. So what we do is people contact us, we have a fixed pool, but we also go outside of that pool to identify what we call qualitative matches.

MARTIN: And how many successful matches do you believe that you can claim credit for?

Mr. BRUNSON: Well, all right. So, that's a great question. I'll give you the real quick. The real quick is we've actually had two marriages. We have had hundreds of clients, literally, but I want to break out how we determine success, right? Success could be looked at as marriages or it could be looked at as committed relationships. It also could be looked at as people that have just evolved with regards to their dating and they're dating more.

You know, we have several clients that come to us and they have not gone out on dates in the last year or two years, literally. You know, these will be 35, 40-year-old women that have never gone out on a date in the last decade. And so once we're about to put them on several dates, you know, that's a success.

MARTIN: I do want to talk about race for just one minute. Because you are, to your knowledge, the only what, African-American male matchmaker in the business? And there has been so much discussion about the relationships between black men and black women, particularly. And as a side conversation, the relationships that black men and women have with people outside the race. And I'm just interested in your perspective on that.

Mr. BRUNSON: I'm asked a lot, with regard to race, because as you mentioned, I'm African-American, and with regard to, I'll call it the ethnicity issue, is that - one thing I've found is that love comes in unexpected packages. That's one thing that is tried and true throughout all of the matchmaking that we've done, throughout all the research that we do, throughout all of our affiliations, is love comes in unexpected packages.

I never, never, never, never would peg any of my clients to one particular ethnicity. A matter of fact, when clients come to me, and they have their, you know, their list of 27, 50, 150 items, right, typically race is somewhere in the top, I'd say five or six. And that's something that I try to play devil's advocate on and I'm typically successful at that.

MARTIN: And that's for all races?

Mr. BRUNSON: That's for all races. Oh yeah.

MARTIN: All races generally assume that they'd be most compatible with someone from the same race.

Mr. BRUNSON: Absolutely. I think that's the innate assumption.

MARTIN: But what about the low marriage rate among African-Americans in general? I mean, until the 1960s, African-Americans had a higher marriage rate than whites did.

Mr. BRUNSON: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.

MARTIN: And it has completely reversed. Why do you think that is?

Mr. BRUNSON: Absolutely. When you look at the numbers, one thing you have to look at is that the marriage rate is a precipitous drop across the board. All ethnicities in the United States are looking at this. Not only that, but the belief around marriage is significantly dropping. But where is it dropping, is the question. It's not necessarily dropping just in the African-American space. Where it's dropping is among socioeconomic groups.

If you look at the top 12 percent socioeconomic in the United States, black, white, green, yellow, marriage and the belief of marriage has never been higher than it is now. Where it's dropping is it's dropping in the middle class and it's dropping in the lower socioeconomic rungs of this country. And that is an issue because when social scientists project out to 2050, 2060, they can actually see a flatline in marriage, you know, down to zero percent.

MARTIN: So what you're saying is the more successful and affluent you are, the more likely you are to be married.

Mr. BRUNSON: Absolutely. No question about that.

MARTIN: Why do you think that is?

Mr. BRUNSON: Well, marriage amongst the middle in socioeconomic classes of this country is facing attack. If you look at pop culture, media, where do you see positive images of marriage? When do you pick up the newspaper, when do you - you know, you go onto your favorite blog and you see information and you're inundated with positive information, reinforcement, around couples and marriage and the strength of it and the positivity of it? You don't, right? What you do is you see what the divorce rate is. What you do is you see the percentage of black women that are single. What you do is you see what the marriage rate is dropping to.

And so I think that this topic of marriage is critical because I can't think of any other act in your life that is more important than the quest for your significant other. You know, my wife and I just had our first child and I can tell you that the act of my wife and I courting and wooing each other and coming - becoming one was - is the foundation for everything else in our life. So you have some element, right, of our life that is of high significance that's facing attack in this country. I mean, that's a big issue.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with Paul Carrick Brunson. He is a matchmaker and a dating coach and he's talking with us about dating in the modern age. Will you match same-sex couples or same-sex - same gender loving individuals? Will you match them?

Mr. BRUNSON: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely.

MARTIN: Do you find any difference in the techniques that it takes to get people properly matched?

Mr. BRUNSON: Well, I'd say, I mean, I am a heterosexual male, so when it relates to - when you were talking about homosexual individuals, it's a challenge that I do have. But one thing that I will say is that there's a bit of science, there's a bit of art to matchmaking. If you look at the common denominator in successful relationships, not just marriages, I'm talking about successful relationships, there are commonalities. Shared values, right? Shared vision, right? The ability to communicate. The ability to resolve conflict. These are things that are indisputable, right?

So when you look at the courting process, you look at the whole match -the initial dating phase, values should be the largest component of that. And what's interesting with my clients is I'll ask them, I'll say, you know, what are your values? Tell me. Prioritize - and that's a deep question, to look at, wow, what are my values? What are the guiding principles of my life? So if we guide our lives the same way, a man and a woman, or in a same-sex relationship, a man and man or woman/woman, if the life is guided the same way, then we have a higher likelihood of growing and evolving together.

MARTIN: What about you meet somebody who says, I haven't been on a date in two years?

Mr. BRUNSON: Sure, sure.

MARTIN: What's the first thing you do?

Mr. BRUNSON: Well, you know, the first question is one of self, right? This is going to sound very clich´┐Ż, but the question of whether or not you love yourself is a very important question. You know, Psychology Today did a really good study on this. I think there is a - it's one out of five of us are impacted by negative, you know, pathology, right? So in other words, there's a significant number of us that are not even ready to begin the dating process.

So the very first question that I ask when someone comes to me is, do you love yourself? Once we get around that, okay, the very first thing is to look at how we can optimize the number of men or women that they're meeting. You know, social media is a great tool. You know, online dating is a great tool. There are various places where you can actually meet a higher number of people that are aligned with your values. So I think there are many ways that we have been very successful with in increasing the number of possible mates that people are meeting.

MARTIN: I have a question from the control room, from somebody who is in your demographic, I would say.

Mr. BRUNSON: Okay.

MARTIN: And this is a question I've heard from people who work on my staff, who are in their 20s and early 30s. They say, why is it so hard to find people, to have quality relationships? And I hear this - I have to tell you, I hear this from both men and women.

Mr. BRUNSON: Sure, sure.

MARTIN: And who presumably aren't just looking for the hookup. Do you hear that from both men and women, and why is that?

Mr. BRUNSON: Oh, hands down. I live between Washington D.C. and New York, right? And those are known as probably the mecca, right, of the single folks. And then you have other cities, you know, Los Angeles as well. Social scientists have many, many reasons. There's mobility, right, the fact that more people are moving for reasons other than family.

You know, how many people do you know that have moved to Washington D.C., to New York, to L.A., for family first? I lived in Salt Lake City, Utah for a while and I could name many, many people that move there for family first, right? So I think that the mobility and the drive around mobility is big. Perception - we were talking about marriage and whether or not marriage is even - is there any value, right, to marriage?

MARTIN: So if you are in one of those kind of high-stakes poker, high-pressure areas...

Mr. BRUNSON: Sure.

MARTIN: ...where people are very career-driven and perhaps aren't as interested in their personal relationships, what do you do?

Mr. BRUNSON: Sure. I mean, you get active and you make sure that you put in the hard work. I think that's probably the number one reason, is that - you know, I think about growing up. You know, my parents instilled in me, you know, you work incredibly hard for your career, you work incredibly hard for your education. But there was no conversation around relationships and how hard you're supposed to work. Relationships are hard work.

You know, I mentioned that I've been married for 10 years. Every day is hard work. And so I think that's the common thread, is that it's hard work. So that means that you being, you know, methodical, right, about, okay, where am I going to go, you know, spending significant time, right, with your online sites, expanding your social circles and your value circles so you can be introduced to more people, right, being in love with yourself unconditionally, right? All of this, all of these things take hard work.

MARTIN: Well, I think a lot of people would say a lot of men in D.C. already are in love with themselves, but that's another question, so I'll just say...

Mr. BRUNSON: Uh-oh, uh-oh.

MARTIN: Well, one of our - one of our single folks wants to know what it costs, what your services cost. And if you don't want to just say yourself, matchmaking, date coaching, what does that cost?

Mr. BRUNSON: Sure. So matchmaking is fairly pricey, right? So you think of it in rungs, right? You have online dating as kind of the lower end, then you have dating services, the big brick and mortar companies, that's kind of the middle tier, and then matchmakers are the specialists. So matchmakers, you can probably expect to pay anywhere between six and 10 thousand dollars a year for a matchmaker. Some matchmakers, you know, charge up to $150,000 per year. I spent a significant amount of time training with a matchmaker when I got started in Denver and she charges about $150,000 a year, with a $150,000 back-end bonus. So these are very pricey services.

MARTIN: Wow.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Marriage counseling's cheaper. Anything else? Is there anything else that you would leave us with on this Valentine's Day as we wrap up? Some people listening to our conversation are feeling perhaps a little bit more encouraged. Some people are probably feeling perhaps even more woe-is-me than they were before. What's your last word of wisdom here, you know, for us?

Mr. BRUNSON: I'd say two things. One is love comes in unexpected packages, right? And love is closer than you think. It really is. That's our mantra. And I've seen love, you know, just spontaneously happen. But you have to put the work in. And if you're methodical about it and you are unconditionally loving yourself, you'll see that love is closer than you think.

MARTIN: Paul Carrick Brunson is a matchmaker. His company is called One Degree For Me and he joined us in our studios in Washington, D.C. Mr. Brunson, thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. BRUNSON: It was a pleasure being here. Thank you for having me.

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