Sameera Sullivan always had a knack for figuring out which of her friends would make a good couple when she was growing up in Sugar Land. Her friends would call her for relationship advice so often that her mother joked she should be charging for her services.
After graduating, Sullivan moved to Portland, Ore., where she earned two master's degrees (in adult and clinical psychology) and worked as a recruiter in the aerospace industry. She even managed to match both her cousin and another good friend with their husbands in her free time before giving in to destiny and joining a matchmaking service, eventually founding her own, Lasting Connections, in 2012.
"I think you're supposed to do what you're meant to do," says Sullivan. Though she's based in Portland, Sullivan frequently works with clients in Houston and Dallas. Her services are free for women wishing to join her database, but men's packages start at $25,000 and can go as high as $120,000 for Sullivan's personal attention and coaching. But she gave Houstonia some of her dating insight for free.
Houstonia: What's the difference between a dating service and a matchmaker?
Sameera Sullivan: Now with online dating there are so many companies that are just dating services that take advantage of lonely people. I am not a dating service. I take three to six clients per quarter and work with them—I have scouts but I am the one interviewing every person they are going on a date with, some via Skype but I travel a lot.
My whole thing is to offer quality service, get to know clients on personal level and only take people who you can match. You have to be 100-percent able to match them or find them quality matches and make a difference in their lives. It's not just matching them based on location and age when you may have nothing in common like on Match.com. It's not just intuition, it's understanding human psychology and relationship patterns. Most of my clients have been married and divorced, and they need to know how to break certain patterns of behavior. I also do the coaching and the date feedback after each date—even after a relationship [forms] I'm still involved.
Coming from a background in recruiting, how similar is finding a candidate that's the right fit for a job and two people that are compatible in a relationship?
Definitely the clients I'm working with have one thing in common—they're elite, with high net worth and very busy lives. When I was working in the aerospace and defense industry, I was looking for CEOs with specific experience and for these guys I'm looking for specific type of woman. That's one of reason they come to me, they want someone professional who's got their own thing going on, not someone who wants a sugar daddy.
That's actually kind of reassuring.
Men have such a bad reputation! That's another thing I screen for—I'm not working with a 60-year-old looking for a 25-year-old. I have clients who are super successful looking for somebody who is passionate about what they do and financially stable.
How has online dating changed the way people interact? What's the drawback?
Online dating is for people coming out of relationships. My clients would never do Tinder because they want confidentiality. People will go on Tinder or Match.com just to shop—there is a high percentage of users who are not even divorced yet, who are doing online shopping trying see what their worth is, see what kind of attention they get.
Another thing happening is online dating is not so commitment-minded—it's like the grass is always greener, because you can always find someone else. Not perfect? Just go find another date. A lot of my clients are Baby Boomers—even if they've tried online dating, they're against it because it's a meat market out there, it's a zoo. That's why people are going back to the matchmaker.
How much of your job is finding people the right match and how much is coaching them to be a good partner?
When I take on a client I get to know them in the initial interview over the phone, and then we meet in person and I'll spend a day with them, go to their home, see how they live. Most need coaching, at least a little, as they go. I do work with women—I may suggest they change way they dress or their hairstyles—sometimes women need to be more sensual. I'll tell a guy to stop hiding the bald spot and shave his head because it's not doing him any favors. But really my clients are savvy and have great interaction skills, so the biggest thing is finding them the right matches, the right kind of women.
Sometimes they think they need one type of woman, and I'm like, "No, this is what you need. This is what you want." And they listen to me and trust my judgement, and they'll find someone who's completely different from the kind of women they've been dating. I also have a post-divorce program, it's two years and three phases. Some of these guys have been in relationships for 20, 25 years—they don't even know what they like anymore.
There's been some anecdotal reporting that couples are becoming more divided over politics, especially this election season. Is that something you're seeing?
That's the biggest thing that has come up this year, in this election cycle. I always say don't talk politics on a first date but when it comes to Trump or Hillary this election is more about values and it's caused a lot of issues. I had one client who went on a date with a Trump supporter—and he liked Trump but with everything going on he's turned off by that and not voting. It was a disaster—they got along well but the whole date became an argument about whether he was a Trump supporter. It was ridiculous.
I've heard of couples breaking up because it creates so much anger. People are so passionate about their views that I ask about that now—all matchmakers are starting to.
What's the dating market in Houston like?
Houston is amazing, there are a lot of men here, a lot of executives, so Houston is an amazing market for a matchmaker because a lot of people need us.
What's your best advice for someone who's trying to find the right person?
The biggest thing I tell everybody is to be yourself but get out of your comfort zone. You'll be most successful if you do something you're not used to doing, even just smiling at a stranger or making eye contact at a coffee shop. If you're really looking for a partner be alert all the time and not looking at your phone. If you see someone you like at a grocery store, make eye contact and smile; make small conversation in line at the coffee shop; compliment somebody—make that human connection again to those around you and be present in the moment. Once you start doing that like we used to 20-25 years ago you can find the right person just being out and about.
Note: This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.