Feminist matchmaker Amy Van Doran is sprinkling fresh air on the jaded, app-happy business of romance with the opening of the Modern Love Club, a "store that sells nothing", both an office for her matchmaking service and The Love Museum (hosting its first gallery show, "Girls I Love") for anybody who wants to play.
Sometimes, to find love, you have to shift your perspective. Whether traveling to a new location, deviating from your normal route from work, visiting a museum, or looking up from your phone to converse with a stranger, it takes a little upside-down to allow in joie de vivre. It may even open you up to love.
Amy Van Doran, matchmaker and founder of Modern Love Club, is anything but expected: more service than business, prone to falling in love with everyone she meets, with energy matching her neon hair and a dream of finding great souls their dream partner. Now, she has realized a dream of her own by opening a storefront gallery ("A Store That Sells Nothing") nestled into 156 1st Ave.
The Club serves both as her office and The Love Museum, a gallery now showcasing Girls I Love, a collection of art made by powerhouse females like Kirsten Bode, Jenna Gribbon, Loretta Mae Hirsch, Sarah Moran, Carly Silverman, and Sera Sloane, curated by museologist Marina Press.
It is also an impromptu outdoor date spot: Two chairs and a small cafe table invite passerby to sit and talk, turning interaction into a moment suspended in time, or performance art enticing you to take a chance on discovering the hidden gems all around you.
Fittingly for a spot in the still-weird LES, the Modern Love Club inspires us to consider life as anything but boring. Van Doran, who broke ground as the "first feminist matchmaker", trained her fellow matchmaker Emily Lesser, and interviewed thousands of people for her Rolodex of clients, is herself no stranger to taking risks on captivating people.
She grew up in Cape Canaveral, Florida, about a mile from the Space Center. Her grandfather "owned an anarchist junkyard stocked with 1960s debris left over from space missions." Van Doran wanted to be a basketball player and an actress, and came to New York when she “met an interesting older man and sold my car for $500 and moved.”
In the creative chaos and hustle of New York, Van Doran channeled her love of acting, art, image consulting, and party throwing into one completely unique gift: matchmaking. After years of growing her business and clientele, and treating her life as art and the people in it as its stars, she finally gets her wish to open a storefront where she can gift the gift of love - or its possibility - to all.
I chatted with Amy about matchmaking as art, making it as a business person, owning your power, and holding on to the pursuit of love.
Anya: Why do you love “love”?
Amy Van Doran: I don’t know if I necessarily love love. I love being helpful, and I like letting people be vulnerable and open up around me quickly. I am happy when I see a beautiful couple with a harmonious match, but the end goal for me is not necessarily love; it’s my utility. It’s a fixation not on love but serving a bigger purpose than me.
Anya: You have been called the first feminist matchmaking service. What is a feminist approach to matchmaking?
Amy: Traditionally, matchmaking has been about the trade of youth and beauty for financial stability. It's usually geared towards men and very few matchmakers take on women as clients. We believe that everyone should have agency when it comes to their love life. Half of our clients are brilliant women who are changing the world! This shouldn't be a big deal, but it is, and the thing I am most proud of on this planet is finding these women their equal. Nothing makes me happier than seeing a strong, successful, self realizing woman with her equal match.
Anya: Is New York a fertile place to find love? Everyone’s always running around, looking for something.
Amy: I find people’s experience of love to be very difficult here. People who come to New York to break even have to be extremely Type A, extremely career-oriented. Everyone’s very good-looking, always looking for the next best thing. What’s the cool bar? The designer bag? What we’re doing here is that we’ve carved out a Utopian experience in this room that people really love. People are relationship-oriented and willing to suspend disbelief to make love possible.
Anya: Tell me about the Store That Sells Nothing. When and how did you dream up this concept?
Amy: I always wanted to go back to my roots by working in an East Village store front but I didn't want the hassle of having to actually sell things (my first job was managing a boutique around the corner on 9th street). The East Village and all of its characters are my tribe, and showing art and matchmaking here is a privilege. What I love and loathe about this city is that it requires creativity to keep art sustainable. Long term, I don't know how smart of a business model this is. This week we gave away lots of free love advice, hosted an impromptu concert, and repaired someone's shoe that was broken. Oh! And have given out so many directions.
Anya: Your storefront is a matchmaking service by day and an art gallery and event space by night. Why did you decide on this configuration?
Amy: Well, the matchmaking service supports the art gallery. Actually, museum! The Love Museum! What is really exciting is that we don't have to curate the art by what is popular or what sells. It's literally the purest form of love: for this show we picked our favorite works from our favorite friends. The show is called "Girls I love" and me and Marina (my co curator) just picked work by women with women as the subjects made by our favorite women. Literally most of the work is just work done by my best friends.
Anya: I’m fascinated with the business side of matchmaking as a creative pursuit. Does this come easily or more difficult for you?
Amy: I think if I had a different background, if there had been a safety net, I wouldn’t be so interested in being practical. But because everything in my life is so wildly impractical, I had to learn how to do it, or I would be dead. So many of my friends who are artists are burdened by their creativity. They’re always doing Kickstarters or they don’t want to work. For me, self-reliance is extremely important. So for me, running a business is the highest form of creativity, especially since it doesn’t happen naturally to me.
We shouldn’t even be allowed to graduate high school without learning how to do finances, bookkeeping, what’s an APR rate? It’s interesting that young people have an opportunity to take out student loans, but not everyone has the education of what that means. My mental elasticity for that isn’t as ripe as it should be. But everyone should do what they’re good at (like if I can outsource that to an accountant). Every day you have to make up the protocol. What I’m good at is not having a protocol, but for a business to grow and thrive there has to be a kind of script. I have good business mentors.
Anya: Who are your clients?
Amy: We’re looking for the outliers. We’re looking for non-traditional people with that special je ne sai quoi. They’re not going online and typing in “NYC Matchmaking.” Our clients change all the time. Emily (Lesser) and I both try to work with people who inspire us, people we like to be around: Brilliant, beautiful, strong, inspired women, and good, expansive, kind guys. We have a lot of scientists and lady doctors. Fashion people, tech CEOs, startup consultants. Real estate. A sexy finance girl who in the past wouldn’t have found us.
Anya: Why choose matchmaking over Tinder?
Amy: The thing with LinkedIn is that people usually get jobs. I get 100 emails a day from people asking for referrals for a job. Eventually, you will get hired. But at the end of the day, the personal touch is what motivates people to give each other a chance. On Tinder, it’s on to the next thing constantly; no one’s even sitting still long enough to see if they are compatible because of the endless supply. Guys see all of these beautiful women on the dating app and they think they can have all of them. But there’s no one to tell them they are not compatible. They think they can get that one hot girl everyone’s talking to, with the good pictures (and half the time it’s a good filter). And everyone else is getting ignored. Tinder in general has been extremely disappointing for me.
Anya: I think the Internet has taken a lot of people out of their shells, but it has also made people feel like they have to be someone, to present a certain image. How can you remain authentic while still trying to be successful?
Amy: I do think you have to value authenticity. You have to value vulnerability. Your capacity to connect with someone is directly connected to your capacity to love. When you go on dates, people feel that you’re open and willing to connect, and they feel safe. The more open you are, the more you are able to experience love. Some people are closed because they had a bad experience or they never fully learned how to open. Or they don’t trust themselves because they try to function in a normative society - people who are trying to fit into this mold of who they’re supposed to be. We know a girl who is so into "what’s right on paper" that she is not really into what is authentic. She feels a little bit lost to me. And that’s what is holding her back from having a great love. You have to know yourself, not take yourself too seriously, and willing to be vulnerable.
Anya: Do you think people look up to you as a leader in your field?
Amy: I feel really uncomfortable in that role. I think I’m incapable of not doing what I want, and I’m unapologetic about it. I think, for a lack of a better world, I’m a little too punk-rock to be a role model. Own your freak. But that works for some people better than for other people. Other people need to own their inner perfectionist, or their inner control freak. A well-executed normal is as perfect to me as anything else. Everyone should do what they’re doing as best as they can. If you’re weird, be a weirdo. If you’re a high-functioning Type A, Columbia law student at the front of your class, then just be that. Know your brand and just be willing to completely go there.
Anya: Do you have any muses you’re currently looking up to?
Amy: Ilona Smithkin (model). She’s 95 and took up performing at 90. Advanced Style filmed a documentary about her and she did fashion shows for two major designers. She is one of the most spiritually advanced, shaman like people. She is emotionally affected by color. This woman has lived all the lives and this is her last life. She is perfect.
Anya: Are art and romance intertwined?
Amy: Matchmaking and curating, for sure. Curating love lives, curating art. For me, I can't live without art, or romance. They are the only things that matter to me. And I certainly want all of my art to be an extension of my love and romance. But, what can I say! I am a romantic.
"Girls I Love" opens on October 8, 2016 from 5pm-9pm, and runs through November 5, 2016.
For more information regarding Modern Love Club and Amy Van Doran's matchmaking services, visit Modern Love Club.