The Art, Science and Business of Love: Maria Avgitidis…
She is the only Greek American match maker in North America. “Proxenio,” the Greek practice of marriage making, courses through her blood for five generations. She is the alchemist of agape, breaking down the mysteries of attraction and forging them anew into bonds that transcend the first date and eventually lead to marriage. She has run a very successful exclusive matchmaking company, Agape Match, for the past six years. So deep is her entanglement in the fine arts of love, so pervasive is her business acumen that she founded the first professional association of match makers in North America. Her client database registers at over 60 000 members from all over the world. Agapame.com, the online version of her matchmaking company, recently launched last year. Her in-depth commentary on the intricacies of romance comes right in time for our followers on Valentines Day. And as if you already haven’t figured out, love the Greek way does not come with a companion how-to guide. Combining the art of love with the precision of science as well as keeping a mindful eye on the bottom line, Maria Avgitidis sheds some insight into the mysteries of love, both traditional and modern.
The Evolution of Match-Making
“Greek people are natural meddlers,” Avgitidis states matter-of-factly. She recounts the story of her great great mother who became the official unofficial match maker of her village in Asia Minor. Her grandmother, who came from a gentrified family in the jewel trade, served as the go-between two potential mates. During the turn of the century, match making was tied to the confines of your village, the number of sheep you owned and limited by the number of bachelors and bachelorettes in that village. As people lacked the mobility they do today, basically where you were born was where you got married and where you died. In scientific terms, your algorithm for marriage depended on how many sheep or goats you owned and the number of eligible bachelors in your immediate vicinity. It was when you reached a certain level of physical and economic maturity that you paid a visit to Kiria Margo’s house and told her of your intentions to find a bride. She would scout two or three possible matches, and then confer with the maidens and their families. When the deal was set, and both partners agreed with the approval of their families, a formal negotiation took place between the patriarchs of the respective families to decide things such as the dowry and other financial considerations. In the old days, you would meet and marry in a matter of a week.
Maria’s ancestors, both sides from Pontos, suffered from the exchange of populations. Her match maker great grandmother lost her ears as they bore the only earrings she could escape with. She came to Kozani with literally nothing on her back and had to start a life all over again. “This is a familiar story for many Greeks of Asia Minor,” Avgitidis cites. “We come from this Greek ancestry, the spit-in-the-bucket and start- from-scratch kind,” she says, “the same DNA of courage and perseverance that resonates into the modern day.” It must be the same drive that courses through her blood and the same passion that led her to reinvent ‘proxenio’ in the 21st century.
Her long line of grandmothers meddled in the affairs of the heart, except of course, when it was a case of true love. Such as what happened with Maria’s matchmaker great grandmother. Her great grandfather while stationed as a fandaro in Colchis caught a glimpse of her and knew he had to have her or die. He approached her brother-in-law, who was the head of her family at that time, but the older man refused the deal. So persistent was his love for her that he held out 100 days, extending the terms of his army leave, standing in front of her house in order to convince the family of his ardor. His stubbornness won them over, and he got his bride.
Nowadays the marriage scene in Greece has changed. As a matter of fact, no one really dates in Greece. As Maria explains from the years she grew up and went to university in Athens, young people hang out en masse in Greece. They hang out in large groups long enough for possible pairs to gather an inkling that they have an attraction for one another. Perhaps the fifth time after these group meets, they will mange to stay later and a bit longer than the rest to flirt. From there they will spin off as a couple. Dating within your own commune, however, is made more complicated because it appears as faux incest, according to Maria. This might require the services of a go-between.
That is not the climate in the US. Had it not been for her moving to New York City right after college in her early 20s, Maria might not have fallen into the business. The US and the Northern European countries provide the fertile ground for a match-making business. This is partly due, Maria elaborates, to their insistence on individualism and the satisfaction of the self above the collective group. The insistence on individualistic needs and satisfaction translates very well into a dating culture where one can be very choosy and picky about their ideal partner.
The other single most factor that spiraled her into a matchmaking success was social media and technology, specifically, the boom and boon of Smart Phones. The virtual world has become more important in terms of connection than the traditional face-to-face meeting of two strangers in the night across a crowded room. Facebook Twitter and other social network sites have substituted for the singles bars of yesterday. While some die-hard traditionalists think it “pathetic” that you need a computer to have sex in the modern day, some pragmatists realize how absolutely brilliant the idea is, Maria relates. Not only did social media enhance the word-of-mouth value to her company, it has also created the next generation whose social cushion is lower than the previous one. Its reliance on virtual identity vs face to face identity has made them inept and more dependent on a media go-between. Maria posits that should there be a survey question “Which would you prefer: getting rid of Facebook for one year or not having sex for half?” 95 of those polled would opt to go without sex. The hit movie “Her,” Maria notes, has just begun to gauge the pulse of a new world of multimedia love.
The prevalence of smartphones also signals the dawn of a new era of loving. Smartphones have become a social crutch for even the most gregarious social mongers. Even the subway, where some down time would have allowed for some flirting across the car, has now been eclipsed by hundreds of people busily engrossed by the buttons and beeps on their smartphones. This is one reason why Maria’s company has instigated a policy of no phone sharing when matches go on dates. It was more easy to cancel dates even while on the way to one with a smartphone. Without knowing your match’s number, Agape Match guarantees a 100 success rate on dates without any lateness.
Maria predicts that the digital algorithms behind matchmaking will continue to drive the trend. The industry will evolve to keep pace with the advances in technology. Match making wasn’t the same 15 years ago and neither will it be 15 years from now, she explains. But that it will remain a labor of love, at least for her, is a sure thing.
The Business of Love
Maria charges from $8000 to $15000 for clients who take advantage of the match making services of Agape Match. Clients usually sign up for six month contracts. Then follows a confidential consultation that involves dating history, behavior, and character breakdown of what they were looking for. Sometimes the fees are even stiffer for cases that come with added obstacles, a man of 55 who only wants to dare women under 35 for example . Her dating coaching course starts at $5000 and is very popular among female clients. An additional success fee is added to the deal after six months. Why would anyone pay for something like this? Maria explains it best by way of analogy: “It’s the difference between paying a trainer $80 per hour and paying $80 per month for a gym membership. Which do you think gets you more results? People pay for efficiency and effectiveness of matches.” According to her data analysis, the average person spends 11 hours on line weeding through on-line matches for one date. A professional dating service can save time for busy professional types as well as safeguard privacy and guarantee a specially selected line of potential partners that fit the criteria of each client. The chance to find love under this the best case scenario–priceless.
Her firm boasts a 3 out of 5 ratio for first dates that go on to seconds and thirds. In fact, the great majority of her matches enter into a relationship within three months of their first meeting. She can number at least 23 marriages to date. Even if dealing with affairs of the heart, it is still a business that requires detailed record keeping and data accumulation. She keeps a thick Rolodex for her Greek clients; in fact 35% of her database is Greek and one third of her clients are Greek as well. But her firm caters to other cultural groups including Jewish-Americans Catholics, gays and lesbians, whoever seeks her out. But in all cases she provides a luxury product.
Date Coaching for Eros, the Greek-American Way
So what is the dating coach’s advice for love and marriage? First, Maria cites that the list of the top 10 things that women want in a marriage partner has not changed for 30 years or more. For women it is about changing what they are looking for not changing who they are. In other words it’s not about losing weight or getting a boob job, it’s about broadening your prospects. A 40 something groom might turn out to be a better partner than the one you insist on.
While many think love relies on chemistry, which it does, there is a science to predicting which couples stay together for the long haul. Algoridis explains, “Love does not prevail over all. Love prevails on a good foundation.” By foundation, Maria means, the fundamental points in common to cultivate a relationship successfully. She cites the book The Five Love Languages by Gary Chatman that outlines the five different communication styles that partners bring with them into a relationship. Styles that give weight to different values or “lifestyle” choices. Chances are the more similar these communication styles are, the more successful will be the relationship. For example, say one partner values an active lifestyle, someone who in Chatman’s breakdown would be labeled as “Physical.” The probability that this partner will find compatibility with a partner who is not physical, who thinks of quality time as sitting in front of the couch watching Netflix, is slim. “Basically, partners have to be able to speak each other’s language,” Maria says. ” If they do not, that is not a good foundation to start with.” This is why someone could have a very “bad” boyfriend for her but find out he is very “good” for friend. It’s about synching values and lifestyle choices.
As for the Greek-American community, which Maria cites is totally a different breed from other Greek communities around the world, including in Greece, the number one prerequisite for love is “Help me find someone Greek.” The Greek-American insistence on marrying someone of the same culture has become a phenomenon, to the extent that Avgitidis confesses, “We are brainwashed in our culture to marry Greek.” But there’s a reason for that. Maria attributes this imperative for cultural endogamy on the historical development of the Greek community in the US, especially as it revolved around the Greek Orthodox church. When immigrants came over from Europe, due to their common Catholicism and their settling in many of the same neighborhoods, they met and married more frequently outside their ethnic group. It was not a big deal for an Irish man to marry an Italian woman or a Polish girl. But because the Greek culture has insisted on keeping its traditions intact, Greeks have been less flexible in their choice of mates. This has perpetuated the idea that you should marry Greek at any cost. Maria also blames the Greek ego for claiming exclusive ownership to such values as family, hard work, and success. “Being family-oriented, hard-working, and successful are not exclusive to the Greek-American community,” Maria has tried to reason with some of her clients. “You can step outside of your cultural group to find the same qualities.” Additionally, there are the constant questions of how the non-Greek partner will become integrated into the community, will the children grow up to speak Greek, will they be baptized as Greek Orthodox?
However the landscape of love evolves in this coming century, Maria Avgitidis has one principle that keeps her business going, “Sex makes the world go round and dating is a huge mechanism for its turning.”