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Playing with Matches:
Mastering the Fine Art of the Hookup

or, What Miraculous Twist of Fate Could Possibly Have Brought Us Together Like This?

by Daphne Uviller

The instinct to pair up all the single creatures in the world may date back to Noah's Arc, but matchmaking techniques haven't improved much since then. Noah basically said: "You, you're male and you, you're female. Get on the boat. Procreate."

Parents operate in much the same way (though they might toss in a few other parameters.) They matchmake because they want to insure their genes a ticket to the future. You, on the other hand, set up your friends because you care about helping them find eternal love. And because if they get married, they'll invite you to their wedding, where you might meet someone for yourself.

With that noble impulse in mind, the BTD delivers to you plots on a platter, new ways to get friends to the altar -- or at least to the appetizers. There are only two elemental states within which you will begin your matchmaking:

1) The parties are aware they are being set up.
2) They parties are clueless pawns trapped in your brilliantly conceived scheme to bring them together.

The first one requires less work by you, as the participants are essentially left to their own devices. The second requires you to plot and strategize, to employ no end of imagination, to be Emma Woodhouse, Puck (not the MTV guy), and Julie McCoy all rolled into one.

Matchmaking 101

The first method -- in which the matchees knowingly set out on a date that you have arranged -- is the easiest logistically, because all your efforts happen prior to the date. Your job, in this case, is to think long and hard about who would be right for whom, then call each party and broker the blind date.

Here the general rules apply. People will need more than just "Hey! You're both thin and Irish." Think about the way your targets live and lead their lives. Trying to match up a night owl and an early bird? It could work, but the odds are long. Looks and income and -- even, dare we say it -- location are each important in their own way, and you should be cognizant of the bookends that you're trying to put together. But these factors won't make or break a good match.

Instead, look for a subtle but important detail around which your two friends can start a conversation. Are they both politically active? (Maybe you can introduce them at a rally.) Are they both artistic? (Throw them a curve; take them mini-golfing.) Are they both workaholics? (Get them to somebody's lakehouse, pronto!) More than anything, a mutual interest will give them the common ground they need to suss each other out and go forward... or go home.

Be a Bolt from the Blue

As we said, you could think long and hard. Or, you could think short and light. For instance, you're at a cafe, sipping your multi-dollar morning coffee drink and reading the paper, when you overhear two people chatting with each other. One of them is in town from the West Coast and he's exclaiming over how much he loves being back in this East Coast city, where all his friends and family are. He's making good money writing/directing/producing/gofering in that West Coast city and likes the weather, but he misses this -- he gestures around the buzzing cafe.

[OK, so you're probably thinking, "Um, BTD, what are the chances that I will ever actual overhear that conversation?" Remember this is all advice from real people who have tested these methods in our own labs. -ed.]

Let's review what you already know just after a few moments of unavoidable eavesdropping:

You know where this man lives and what he does. You know what he looks like, what he sounds like and you can guess at his age. More importantly, you also know a little something about his character: he has an East Coast soul. Perhaps he's a little too chatty for your taste, but you happen to have a woman friend -- also from the East Coast -- who's currently living out west. She's attractive, smart, as talky as this guy, about the same age and she has a sense of humor about blind dates: She's given you carte blanche to send her way any guy who seems decent.

At this point, your caffeine and your chutzpah have revved up. You approach the man and say, "This might sound nuts and I don't know if you're in a relationship, but..." and you tell him -- bluntly, bravely -- why it has occurred to you that he should at least have a drink with your friend when he returns to that other coast.

Even if he is in a relationship (and if he is, you wash your hands of him, right? We all know BG's 'no poaching' rule), he will find it exceptionally flattering and he'll forever have a story about the stranger who tried to set him up in the cafe. If he seems amenable to the prospect of a date, get his e-mail address, give it to your friend and let the pair take it from there. (But don't let them forget, when their newfound starry-eyed romance kicks in, to set you up with some of his friends.)

Improve your chances with this method by asking yourself the following questions: 1) Does each matchee understand there are no guarantees? 2) If they hate the date, will they hate YOU afterwards? 3) Have you overlooked any obvious cultural or religious disparities that will guarantee this first date to be a disaster?

If the answers are yes, no, and no, then proceed with the fun.

Strangers in the Night, Exchanging Numbers

Then there's the second category, in which the matchees don't know they're being set up. In order of easiest to hardest, here are three tried-and-true techniques that will bring your unsuspecting prey into the sights of your own Cupidesque arrow.

Herding the Party Animals

Whether it's a cocktail party, a New Year's Eve bash, or a barbecue, a big fete (yours or someone else's) is a fine place to test your matchmaking prowess. Say you've just struck up a conversation with an unattached, charming, confident woman. You came to the party with a guy friend who's a bit shy. He passes you on his way to the bar. You grab him and say, "Hey Alan, this is Lisa. She was just listing three easy ways to understand quantum mechanics. Weren't you just telling me how much you loved the play Copenhagen, the play about World War II physicists?"

OK, the conversation might go more along the lines of, "Hey Alan, this is Lisa. She was just saying she loves to eat lasagna and was wondering how to make it. You have that great recipe; what's your secret ingredient?"

But you get the picture. First, find their common ground and illuminate it with such brilliant clarity that they can't possibly miss it. Second, facilitate their conversation until it becomes apparent that they're either turned on by each other, in which case you subtly remove yourself (try one of these if you need them: "Well, I'm starving!" "Well, I'm thirsty!" "Well, I have a plane to catch!"). If, on the other hand, you sense they're painfully uninterested in each other, you can subtly remove one of them ("Hey, Alan, isn't that Phil over there? Doesn't he owe you 20 bucks?").

Dinner: Setting the Table for Two

This requires careful thought and brings with it the risk of being exposed as a matchmaker. If you invite three couples to dinner along with your two targets, the matchees will immediately recognize what you're up to, become rigid with anxiety, and fail to enjoy the evening. So mix when you match. In addition to your couples, invite three single men and two single women; kind of a sampler plate approach. Even if only two people are really candidates for your match, the others never have to know that they're mere decoys.

If your matchees are not finding opportunities to talk to each other, you must ask them to help you in the kitchen with dessert. You need one person to slice strawberries and another to hand-whip the cream. After you get them started, go back to the table. If they're miserable in there, the task will come to an end soon enough. If they're content, the rest of your guests may start to wonder where dessert is.

Tip 1: Don't let anyone else at the party in on your machinations; someone is sure to slip up and shatter your delicate handiwork in an instant.

Tip 2: Pay attention to the setting. Candles, music, wine: these props work their magic even at a table set for six.

Your Piece de No More Resistance: the Group Activity

Ah, the very height of heart-handling, the apex of this amorous avocation, the mother of all matchmaking (devised and practiced with great aplomb by certain members of Team BG, by the way.) As with the dinner party, this method requires buffer participants so that the matchees are not suspicious. Unlike the dinner party, though, this requires more than menu planning on your part. For this method, you organize an event that highlights a common interest between the matchees. You find a Habitat for Humanity project and coordinate no fewer than five friends to spend a Saturday hammering nails into the roof of a shelter.

Or -- and this may requires months of advance planning -- you identify a group of athletic friends and propose that all of you train for one of the three-day AIDS rides that happen throughout the year and across the country (when it comes time to pair off as tent-mates, well, it's a no-brainer). If your matchees are neither service-oriented nor athletic, you convene a bunch of friends on a rainy afternoon at your home, where you all read aloud A. R. Gurney's epistolary play, Love Letters. Provide wine and biscotti or tea and cookies. Spread pillows on the floor and read while reclining. Congratulate yourself on supplying a subtly romantic setting.

The beauty of setting up people while obfuscating your intentions is that no one can be hurt or humiliated. But if they DO get together, whether for a fling or forever, never be humble about your tremendous feat. Always remind them, especially when they are planning the seating chart, what you did for them... and what they can do for you.

Daphne Uviller is the very picture of innocence, even when she's up to something. In her last outing for the BTD, she took you to Italy.

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