After work, Kady Grant heads to the subway, just like thousands of other New Yorkers. But instead of avoiding eye contact with her fellow riders or plugging into a pair of ear buds to drown out the world, she is on high alert. She picks a station and starts scanning the platforms. Her mission? To spot potential matches for her clients.
Grant, 25, is a matchmaker. She works at an art handling company by day, and works the trains by evening and the occasional lunch hour. This summer she joined Erika Christensen, 32, who founded Train Spottings two years ago, first as a blog, and soon thereafter as a professional matchmaking service. Christensen and Grant are the Love Conductor and Associate Love Conductor, respectively. A couple of Cupids act as additional recruiters and fill out their team.
“I’m always fishing for my clients,” said Grant, who commutes from Sunnyside to Greenpoint. She likes to spend an hour or two spotting after work or a few minutes here and there while she’s on her way out somewhere.
From the beginning Christensen, a Greenpoint resident who also works as a freelance graphic designer, chose the subways as her main stomping grounds. The MTA estimated annual ridership at 1.7 billion in 2012, with an average weekday ridership of 5.4 million, giving Christensen and Grant plenty of fish to choose from.
“The train has this amazing quality that it refreshes constantly,” said Grant. “You don’t even have to leave the station.” It’s the perfect venue, she said, because the diversity of New York City is reflected underground, bringing people from all walks of life to one place. Her clients, too, run the gamut, she said, from professionals in the finance industry to photographers to a cop. They are men and women, straight and gay, often busy and sometimes jaded by trying to date in New York and online.
Christensen’s ultimate goal, she wrote in an email, is “to totally eradicate loneliness in NYC.” She added a winking emoticon.
On a recent evening, Grant hit the L train platform at Union Square in search of a tall, somewhat burly, man for her client, Molly. As soon as she reached the bottom of the steps, she stopped, scanning near and far.
She strolled up to several men in turn, a business card reading, “You’ve been spotted,” at the ready. She sidled up casually, clutching her purse and a shopping bag, a little sway in her step.
“Can I ask you a question?” she says to break the ice with stranger-wary New Yorkers. She asks if they are single, explaining first that she is a matchmaker, and tells them she has a great person for them, handing them one of her cards with more information.
We get rejected on their behalf all the time, said Grant, who says she is glad she can save her clients the experience.
Spotting is only the first step. Once in possession of a card, potential matches need to sign up online and provide more information. Grant and Christensen go with intuition on the platform, but follow up with potential matches to see if they’ve really found a fit. Christensen estimates that only about 25% of the people they hand cards to eventually sign up. Of those, roughly half end up going on a date with a current or future client.
Train Spottings might be considered the offline antidote to online dating. Each matchmaker works with only a handful of clients at a time to ensure a dedicated human guide and lots of personal attention throughout the process.
After signing up for three- or six-month packages, Grant and Christensen’s clients are set up on one completely blind, date a month, planned by the matchmakers just for them. There are no photos, phone numbers, or full names in advance, only an introductory email with both parties bcc’ed. This is to avoid pre-date Googling, judgment, and false expectations, Grant said.
“What is important is sense of humor, support and attraction,” wrote Christensen. “And I believe these qualities can sometimes show up in surprising packages!”
While the potential couple is on a date, the matchmaker is on call in case the two can’t find each other and to field anything else that might come up. Grant makes post-date calls to both participants the next day to get feedback.
“Dating is a sensitive thing,” said Grant. “There’s a lot of room for vulnerability.” She says she provides support and tangible advice for her clients throughout the process. “With online dating you’re just kind of left in the dust,” said Grant.
Online dating can be so consuming, she said. People are inundated with apps, basing their choices on thinly made profiles, and getting caught up in the calculated games of electronic communication even before they meet someone. “I think it’s just healthier to go into a situation and be face to face with a person,” she said, “and decide how do I feel around this person.”
For Valentine’s Day, the Train Spottings team is co-hosting a secret-crush party Saturday with Laura von Holt, aka von Hottie, to help New Yorkers connect with their crushes. To attend, New Yorkers were invited to fill out an online form asking von Hottie and the Train Spotting team to invite their crushes to the party at The Penny Farthing.
Grant, Christensen, and their Cupids, Cooper and Alicia, will also hand out 500 Valentine’s Day cards on the subway Friday evening to put some smiles on New Yorkers faces, even the single among them. “Come here often?” the cards read, atop an illustration of two subway commuters. Designed by Grant—who is an artist—the backs say, “Happy Valentines Day Stranger! Pass this along to a fellow commuter!”
The goal is to temper the negativity of Valentine’s Day attitudes and make people happy, said Grant.
“It’s our duty,” she said. “We are romantic professionals!”