Your friend’s dating advice isn’t working. Enter: Maria the matchmaker.

In early December, I was drinking Prosecco in a busy bar in New York City’s Financial District. I was talking to another woman about our love life when a Backstreet Boys song came on, when a tall brunette wearing magenta sequins walked past me. She urged us to line up for a free portrait session with a photographer. "You can use these in your dating app profiles!" she says.

She is 39-year-old Maria Avgitidis, or Maria Avgitidis, as she is known online. Her holiday party was attended by more than 100 people, many of whom were eager to meet her for the first time.

In an age where anyone can gush about dating tips online, Avgitidis stands out. While she's not the most popular influencer in the space — she has about 125,000 followers on Instagram and TikTok — her blunt, no-nonsense advice does seem to work . This has helped her build an incredibly welcoming community. She claims to have had at least 2,500 people get engaged since 2021, thanks to her 12-date rule (more on that later).

Avgitidis, who has nearly 15 years of matchmaking experience, is skeptical of advice from uncredentialed creators; her credentials come from the Global Love Institute, an organization that teaches aspiring matchmakers and dating coaches research rooted in behavioral science and psychology Support strategy. She's also wary of self-proclaimed "dating experts" who turn their love lives into contentment.

Jolene Sianna

“The difference is, I was in the dating industry before social media was a thing,” she said. "When I first started, I was just going to bars and 'tell me your problems,' but I wasn't making content out of that. When you make content, you say the most ridiculous bullshit to get engagement."

The dating scene is terrible right now: Apps are a dead ringer, and real-life encounters seem like a '90s myth. For many singles, Avgitidis' advice is a beacon of light in a confusing darkness.

Avgitidis grew up in suburban New Jersey. Her grandmother and great-grandmother were matchmakers. In kindergarten, she asked back and forth between two classmates: "Do you like her?" "She likes you, do you like him?" before announcing that they were boyfriend and girlfriend.

“I haven’t changed,” she told me two days after the party. She speaks with the confidence of a born leader. Her posture and eye contact are excellent. Her cat eyeliner was drawn with precision. (Disclosure: I met Avgitidis at a conference in 2019 and was a guest on her podcast , Ask the Matchmaker .)

We're talking takeout sushi and boba in her childhood home, where she currently lives with her husband, 6-year-old son, 3-year-old daughter, and parents. (She is her mother's part-time caregiver.)

Her email contained an accidental spelling error and advertised her work for $5,000 instead of $500. “Three people signed up that day,” she said with a laugh.

She told me she had no intention of becoming a matchmaker. Instead, she went to New York University to earn a master's degree in global affairs and worked for a market research firm in New York. An early adopter of Twitter, she used the hashtag #NYCIR to bring together New Yorkers engaged in international relations for weekly drinks. These events usually attract singles. After a couple who met there got married, others asked Avgitidis for help. She charged her first three customers $500 each and then emailed everyone she knew. "I thought, 'Hey, if you know anyone, I'm setting these people up. Let me meet your friends."

After she was fired in 2009, she took on more clients. Her email contained an accidental spelling error and advertised her work for $5,000 instead of $500. “Three people signed up that day,” she said with a laugh. “That’s when I understood the value proposition.” And her company, Agape Match, was born.

"I remember lying to [potential clients] that I was 30 years old, because who the hell is going to give money to a 24-year-old?" she said. The first two years were financially stressful. "I'm scrapping it. My diet consists of hot pockets and lentil soup and a slice of pizza," she said. "When they process my card, I just pray it doesn't go into the red."

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So, she became anxious. Every night, she uses Foursquare to visit the most crowded bars to find potential matches for her clients. She hosted monthly dinners at a Greek restaurant, huge bashes on Halloween and Valentine's Day, and presidential debate watching parties in Jay Z's private room at the 40/40 Club. (It was the venues that marketed her, not the other way around.) Six years later, the events aren't profitable, but her database of singles — the most important tool in a matchmaker's arsenal — continues to grow.

Over the years, she also met men for herself. "I've been dating forever. I never get tired of it," she said. "And, I met my husband when I was 28, so I realized that if I were 38, I would be like, 'Oh my gosh, where is he now ?'"

In 2012, she met her future husband, scientist George Pyrgiotakis, through a mutual friend. Four years later, they had what she calls "our big Greek wedding " in Athens.

The matchmaking industry has come a long way since the days of Fiddler on the Roof and is still growing . Most companies, including Avgitidis's, cater to wealthy singles burned out on dating apps. Due to enough demand, Agape Match has grown to a team of six.

Like most modern matchmakers, Avgitidis thoroughly interviews each client to analyze which partner would be the best fit for them. Next, she searches her database of singles, recommendations from other matchmakers, and even her own Instagram followers to find potential matches. She plans the date (restaurant reservations are always handled by Maria), follows up with both parties the next day, and (if needed) uses feedback from the matches to improve the client's dating game and refine her search for the next person.

Garrett Money

Today, Agape Match has 15 to 20 clients at a time, most of whom are straight men ages 29 to 45 working in finance in New York and Washington, D.C. She is also employed by multiple NFL players, actors, politicians, shipping heirs and CEOs of major corporations. Some people require their matches to sign a confidentiality agreement before the first date. "Then there are more celebrities and they're like, 'I don't give a shit.' Just tell them who I am," she said.

Her six-month fees range from $18,000 to $100,000. Services include add-ons like dating app ghostwriting, photo shoots and wardrobe reviews.

"It just depends on how difficult they are," she said of her fees. "We'll have clients who want a very specific age group, but it's hard to find based on their age gap. Or I'll have clients who want to travel all the time, and they want someone who's career-oriented, but [the match] can't be oriented. Nine to five. They want someone who can jump on a jet at any time. I know there are women who think, “Oh, I’ll do that. "I said, 'No, you won't.'"

After I interviewed Joseph, Avgitidis then asked me what I thought of him. I told her our conversation was helpful and she said, "No, what do you think of him ?"

Joseph, 36, has been an on-and-off customer since 2018. He was tired of unsuccessful setups with family and friends and wasn't interested in dating apps. Several of his colleagues and friends had found love through Agape Match, so he decided to give it a try. "It's (actually) funny that they created a process that was terrible for a lot of people," the New York business executive tells Bustle. "Maria's reputation is second to none. There is skill and expertise in her approach. It's methodical, not a guessing game."

He's been introduced to 25 women - "I'm just picky, but they're all really good people" - but he says her mentorship alone is worth the investment. "She's like the big sister a lot of men never had, very direct and to the point. She doesn't do it in a way that makes you feel like you're going to crawl into a ball. You think she's being constructive, but you need to listen ”

His takeaway? Stop treating dates like business meetings; stop trying to impress women by taking them to a restaurant where you and your boss are friends; stop dressing like Eugene Levy. (After I interviewed Joseph, Avgitidis then asked me what I thought of him. I told her our conversation had been helpful, and she said, "No, what do you think of him ?" He was very pleasant, But I declined the setup).

At a holiday party, I met one of her new clients, a 44-year-old financial professional who sought her services after an engagement broke up. He laughed at himself and said: "I obviously didn't do myself any favors, so I'd better believe Maria." This is a common sentiment.

"I can find 30 women for one man, which is equivalent to three men for one woman."

Agape Match rarely receives female matchmaking clients. Avgitidis said women tend to have more preferences, which makes the search more time-consuming. She estimated it would cost her the equivalent of $5,000 in working hours to find an emotionally stable single man who was interested in dating a specific female client. "I can find 30 women for one man, which is equivalent to three men for one woman."

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Avgitidis also works with women in other ways, including paid group coaching and offering free advice on social media. For example, every Wednesday, she hosts an "Ask the Matchmaker" Q&A session on her Instagram Story. In nearly six years, she has skipped the ceremony just three times, once spending an hour during labor guiding people through romantic dilemmas.

This devotion is part of her charm, as is her tough love. "If a man treats you like shit, it's because you're physically attracted to each other and everything else takes a back seat," she told me. "You guys were incompatible from the start, and you decided to ignore that because he's 6-foot-4, right?" (Avgitidis, who is 5-foot-11, frequently pleads with women on Instagram to give up their desire for taller men.) )

"Any straight man who likes Stanley Tucci will definitely let you sit on his face," she once explained on Instagram. The logic is: male fans are secure enough in their masculinity to care about women's happiness.

Much of her online success is due to her followers enthusiastically embracing and spreading her advice. The most popular theory is the "12 date rule," which outlines how long you should spend getting to know someone before having sex. (The actual number of dates varies; a six-hour date counts as two outings.) Last winter, she launched some merchandise, including T-shirts, tote bags and mugs that read "12 Dates Bride." "I'm trying to get people to be more intentional about dating because sex can be a distraction," she said. She and her husband waited 16 dates together.

Don’t mistake this rule for formality. She also coined the Tucci Theory: "Any straight man who likes Stanley Tucci will absolutely make you sit on his face," she once explained on Instagram. The logic is: male fans are secure enough in their masculinity to care about women's happiness. On dating apps, insiders sometimes drop mentions of actors.

And more: Avgitidis advises having a carefree "good phase" when not seeking a serious relationship, warns "time thieves" of cheating women, advises couples to live together only after they are engaged, preaches Wearing green clothing makes women look more approachable. , and encouraged ghostly people to text: "Are you dead?"

"If [the DMs] are really long, my eyes get glazed over. I'm like, let's break up."

In 2020, she launched Agape Escapes, a travel company that organizes trips for graduates of her dating intensive program, among other excursions. (Because of the epidemic, the first trip will take place in 2022.) At a holiday party, a woman in her 30s told me about her experience traveling with Avgitidis. The group spent a week taking day trips to Greek islands, eating octopus, and digging deep into their hearts to explore their personal obstacles to finding love. The itinerary isn't the only attraction. “The girls were fawning over her when they saw her,” the holidaymaker said.

Avgitidis is still basking in his growing reputation. She is recognized every day in public. (She always introduces herself, even if someone clearly recognizes her, with a warm "Hi, my name is Maria," a move she borrowed from Bill Clinton.) She's surprised fans about her personal life Interested, too. "Two thousand people liked me for winning the church council election. That was so weird to me," she said.

Interacting with a community of this size can be exhausting. She receives about 50 private messages a day, many of them deeply personal, and she only has the mental bandwidth to reply to a few. "If it's really long, my eyes get glazed over. I just think, break up," she said.

As for the future, she's looking beyond social media. In 2020, she launched a weekly podcast. Next year, she will publish a book. She expects the number of trips hosted by Agape Escapes to increase fivefold between 2024 and 2025. Oh, and a little goal? "I want to solve the dating problem."

I worked briefly at the matchmaking company Tawkify ten years ago and have since worked as a writer and editor focused on the dating industry. Professionally and personally, online and offline, I spend a lot of time talking to people about their love lives. I'm surrounded by a group of women venting about singles or dating apps, and there's rarely one who doesn't exclaim: "Well, according to matchmaker Maria..."

Avgitidis was genuinely shocked. "When I look at Reddit, they'll say, 'Maria the matchmaker dated math,' or 'He stole your time,' or 'That guy should have been a hotshot,'" she says, shaking her head. "I thought, wow, these words resonated. I didn't know I had this power. I had no idea."