The author and her husband, Charlie.
After being serially dumped for two decades, I felt defeated. But when I was set up with Charlie, my now-husband at 35, I unexpectedly morphed into a hopeless romantic and began helping others find love.
As an amateur matchmaker who was on a reality TV dating show and has fixed up 30 marriages, I’ve seen how difficult it can be to find the right person, especially on the dating apps. But your search doesn’t have to be a nightmare.
Here are 10 road-tested tips for finding love offline that actually work:
Fix Yourself First
If you don’t like your life, someone else won’t mend it. You’ll pick a better mate when you can be a better mate.
“When you’re emotionally messy and confused, your love life will reflect the mess and chaos,” Patty Gross, a licensed social worker (LSW) told me. She insisted that improving my psyche, home, job, finances, style or education upped my odds of finding a stronger partnership.
A 2023 survey revealed that 28% of couples met in an educational setting ― taking one class, seminar, or joining a professional group can be transformative. Three duets even met in my supportive writing workshop.
“Practicing self-care is essential to looking and feeling better and loving yourself,” Diana Kirchner, a Florida psychologist and “Love in 90 Days” author, told me. “Happy, healthy people have better relationships.”
Don’t Postpone Passion
After I complained my boyfriend wasn’t making me happy, my therapist said, “Love doesn’t make you happy. Make yourself happy. Then you’ll find love.” Indeed, when I landed a nicer apartment and an exciting job as a book critic, I met my husband ― a big reader and fan of my column.
My friend Randy originally sparked with her husband after traveling solo to Poland to find her family roots (a trip he was fascinated to hear about). My colleague Kenan met his Sarajevan wife while promoting his ambitious book project on Bosnia.
People pursuing their dreams attract partners faster, Connecticut psychiatrist Vatsal Thakkar told me. “When mating, different species show off health and virility in varied ways: a peacock displays feathers; male rams fight, ramming horns into each other to show dominance; humans know exhibiting ambition, and drive can be alluring.”
This term, which means switching up the kind of person you pursue, was coined by dating site Plenty of Fish. So if you’re 35 and usually stick to your peers, try someone who is 25 or 50. New Yorkers who consider New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania residents have thousands more potential mates.
“Realtors often say, ‘Buyers are liars,’ for insisting on what they want in a home, then falling in love with the opposite. It’s the same with singles,” Rachel Greenwald, a professional matchmaker whose website boasts having helped 908 couples marry, told me during a recent phone call.
“They can get preoccupied with externals. Sometimes they’re stuck, repeating criteria important in their teens or 20s. But if you’re older, self-supporting, divorced or widowed, your needs change. It may no longer matter if you share religion, politics, financial or co-parenting attitudes. Sometimes the only remedy is to break everything,” she said.
Anyone kind from your past you regret leaving? Check social media to see if they’re currently available. While re-meeting an ex may be remind you why you split, sometimes love blossoms anew.
Ben Affleck and J-Lo reconnected 20 years after their broken engagement. Recovering from her public split with former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Donna Hanover reunited with her high school sweetheart at 53. My colleague Michelle Mead wrote to the college beau she’d broken off with, and they married 40 years later. Judy Burdick, my Michigan bestie, is now engaged to the boy she’d danced with at his Midwest Bar Mitzvah. Charlie and I actually split for a few years when dating and re-met when the timing was riper.
“The more experience we get, the better perspective,” said Dr. Thakkar. “Reviewing previous choices may reveal the futility of pursuing unreachable ideals.”
Mine Your Social Circle
Ask relatives, comrades and coworkers if they know someone single and wonderful; if you already have, check back. Mention that you’re still solo or on your own again, and see if anyone new comes to mind. A former boss set me up with Charlie, and a magazine editor I freelanced for introduced me to her buddy Jon, his runner-up.
I’ve rarely initiated a conversation about anyone’s relationship status, yet I’ve set up high school and college classmates, my brother, my husband’s sister, my book editor and my dentist — all who asked me. The worst response you’ll hear is, “I don’t know anyone.” The best is, “Hey, I just thought of someone you might like.”
Hire A Helper
You’ll need cash and connections to work with Netflix’s popular Indian and Jewish Matchmaking stars or the Millionaire Matchmaker. Yet one session with a relationship guru may be worth spending a few hundred dollars.
“Dating apps can feel robotic, depressing and addictive,” Eddie Hernandez, a photographer and dating coach for straight and gay couples in San Francisco, emailed me. “Anonymity encourages bad etiquette. There’s impatience, self-sabotage and mistakes singles make. We’re hiring others for help with hair, wardrobe, public speaking, employment. Why not with love? Get a wingman to identify your blind spots — in style, first impressions, social etiquette. We discreetly help you present yourself in the best light.”
Hernandez recommends updating your profiles and photos on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, X and TikTok, since prospective dates might Google-stalk you. For your profiles, don’t use half-naked, posed, dressy, professional or misleading photos that don’t look like you — or you may get ditched within 20 seconds of a first rendezvous. It’s always best to look natural, candid, and like yourself.
If you can’t afford to pay for advice, seek guidance from happily married people in your life who’ll be honest. I told the boss who’d fixed me up with Charlie, “He’s smart and sweet, but not my type.” She replied, “Your type is neurotic, self-destructive and not interested in you. Go out with him again.”
I’ve been thankful every day for 27 years I had someone from a different generation who’d challenged my preconceptions and pushed me to give him a second chance.
Colleagues helped me plan a multi-tiered approach (setups, revisiting exes who were available, socializing at sports games and bars, hosting singles soirees), and they warned me that, like job searches and house hunts, finding the right person might require creativity.
“Dating is a game of numbers,” said Kirchner, who recommends getting a “love mentor” and going on casual coffee dates with several suitors while keeping your clothes on. “Then politely back away from anyone who doesn’t want what you want.”
Seeking a dramatic, idealized liaison with your true soulmate can be frustrating — and futile. (“Romeo and Juliet isn’t a love story. It’s a 3-day relationship between a 13-year-old and 17-year-old that caused six deaths,” the meme goes.) Just aim to make a new friend.
Or could an old friendship catch fire? My college roommate’s mom fell for a bridge player she knew during the pandemic, when all she originally was looking for was worthy partner.
“One person who will satisfy all emotional, physical and spiritual needs is a tall order,” New York psychotherapist Esther Perel, whose bestseller “Mating in Captivity” was translated into 25 languages, emailed me. “Those with more social resources on their own do better in marriage… Instead of looking for someone who checks all the boxes, focus on a person you can imagine writing a story with that entails edits and revisions.”
Assuming a partner can satisfy your every single need as a best friend, confidant, co-parent and companion sets you up for disappointment, Chicago marriage and family therapist David Klow, notes in his book, “You are Not Crazy.”
“Finding alternative ways to have others in your life frees up your relationship to be a source of joy rather than a letdown.” (Enter: friends, relatives, coworkers, coach and therapist.)
Shrink Your Checklist And Sarcasm
When someone new asked if I’d set her up, I immediately began brainstorming... until she added he’d have to be tall, smart, successful, handsome, her age, in a similar field, residing nearby, and wanting children immediately. By item six, she’d lost me. The more specifics she named, the more it seemed she wanted a fantasy, not a human.
Stick with three essentials.
“It’s not like a restaurant menu where you order someone of a certain height, background, education and profession,” Rachel Greenwald, author of “Find a Husband After 35 (Using What I Learned at Harvard Business School),” told me.
“The more open-minded you are, the more chances for love,” she added.
Suppress the urge to post polarizing political rants and save the vitriolic proclamations like, “I don’t want another selfish, narcissistic, emasculating monster,” for your next therapy session.
Leave Your Couch
Working remotely has benefits, yet it’s doubtful you’ll meet a mate lying around your living room in sweats. I’ve introduced guests at parties, charity functions, readings and singles events, many who bravely came alone.
“Being tech dependent and socially isolated, modern dating can be hard,” Francesca Hogi, an LA lawyer turned love coach who lives with her boyfriend and her dog, wrote in an email to me.
“People expect matchmakers to have the secret sauce — a magical portal to pull out the perfect partner. But they’re not a substitute for taking action yourself.”
So, volunteer at a local soup kitchen, hospital or museum; get a membership to a new gym; join a softball or bowling team; join a book, hiking or cycling club, group travel tour, or new house of worship. One hopeful study revealed that 27% of couples met at bars and restaurants, so instead of texting Uber Eats, consider getting dressed and going out.
Long before Taylor Swift made her name chronicling love gone wrong, I was able to turn all of my previous bad breakups into a memoir of heartache, with a wonderful spouse in the last chapter. As we prepare to celebrate our 28th anniversary, I can say for sure: Love gone right is both worth the wait and the struggle.
Susan Shapiro is the bestselling author of several books her family hates including, “Five Men Who Broke My Heart,” “Secrets of a Fix-Up Fanatic,” and “The Forgiveness Tour.” An award-winning Manhattan writing professor now teaching online, you can follow her on Instagram at @profsue123 or on Twitter at @susanshapironet.