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Big plans to lavish your significant other with chocolates, flowers and romance on the 14th? No? No problem. Just connect with local certified matchmaker, love and relationship expert Sophia McDonald for some overdue help in that department.
McDonald, 37, has professionally arranged dates since 2007 when she founded her company, Sophisticated Matchmaking — now an established boutique high-end matchmaking company. However, she stresses, setting people up is just one aspect of her work.
“I call it the art of serendipity,” she explained, over coffee at her home office on Mercer Island. “Serendipity is when you are looking for something, but something else comes to you, and to your surprise, you like that second thing more. That’s what people do with me. They increase their chances of serendipity catching them.”
As it happened, professional matchmaking “caught” McDonald in a most serendipitous way. Born in Russia to a wealthy family, she says her privileged upbringing allowed her to travel and experience different cultures of the world at a young age. She earned a Master’s degree in Political Studies, which allowed her to become a public relations consultant for several Russian politicians. She likens her PR work to her matchmaking, because, in both cases, she was “helping people sell and represent themselves and create a winning profile.”
When she was 26, McDonald immigrated to the United States. Soon after, she fell in love with a successful American real estate developer, whom she describes as “tall, blond and handsome.” The couple wed in 2000. Sadly the marriage did not last, and they divorced several years later.
“I’ve been through good and bad, dating and married and divorced, trying it all,” she admitted. “As a result, it’s allowed me to have a compassion and understanding of where my clients are coming from.”
Following the split with her husband, McDonald found work selling upscale homes with Sotheby’s International Realty. Working within the real estate market also influenced her matchmaking career. “Real estate showed me that my success was dependent on building relationships, which are based on trust,” she explained. “If you can build on trust, you can close the deal. It’s the same in business as it is in relationships. Trust is the most important thing; people have a fear of being taken advantage of.”
It was around this time that McDonald began to realize she had a knack for getting people together. She successfully set up dates for several of her friends and realized she was equipped with an intuitive quality that made her a successful matchmaker.
“I see people, and I can learn a lot about them in a short time,” she claims. “I’m very visual, intuitive and perceptive. When I meet two people, and spend some time with them I just know who belongs to whom, and usually have a good idea if they will like each other or not.”
It is this perception of character that has enabled McDonald to succeed in her career. She also cites Eastern Philosophy, namely Taoism, as a heavy influence on her practice. “[Tao te Ching] really spoke to me because it appreciates the spirit and deemphasizes material possessions,” she explained. “It’s living in the moment, versus living in anticipation of happiness in the future. Lao Tzu says, when you realize you lack nothing, the whole world belongs to you. When you let go of what you are, you become what you might be.”
This message, she says, is completely translatable to the dating world. “When people are looking to date, they feel defective because they are single,” she explained. “A little bit of my matchmaking is to help people be rid of their limiting perceptions, which lets them find ways to feel happy and fulfilled. To clean up the backyard, so to speak.”
In order to assist her clients with their “clean-up,” McDonald employs phone interviews and home visits, which allow her to gain an understanding of each individual’s background. The ultimate goal of consultation, she says, is to help each client develop a sense of self-awareness. “If someone is self-aware, they recognize all of their faults and take responsibility for wrongdoing,” she explained. “Everyone has a pattern in their relationships, because most of our patterns are predetermined by our past. The first step is to recognize these patterns, and then second, you must learn how to start liking what is good for you. In order to do this, you have to change within.”
McDonald stresses that her services are not for everyone. “I don’t take clients when I do not believe I can provide what they are looking for,” she said. “Some people have very unrealistic expectations; not many, but some. You don’t have to settle, but you have to be real.”
On the other hand, McDonald encourages anyone who is over the age of 30, successfully employed and trying to meet their soul mate to enlist in her services. Her clients are neither damaged nor desperate, she assures. Rather, many simply have demanding work schedules. As a result, they are often unable to invest their time in meeting new people. “I would call it not being able to recognize their needs,” she explained. “People look for things to satisfy egos; good-looking, well-educated, et cetera rather than things that make people happy as a human being.”
Ego-based criteria, McDonald says, comes from the mind, and is never fully satisfied. She believes that spiritual wellness, which originates in the heart and soul, is much more critical to the long-term happiness of couples. “The goal is to find someone who accepts you, loves you and allows you to grow,” she said. “I don’t promote myself as a millionaire matchmaker, so the clients that come to me aren’t looking for sugar daddies or hot babes. They are looking for soul mates.”
Another demographic she serves is men and women who have endured a negative romantic experience in their past and are unsure about how to proceed in the future. “I focus on emotional and spiritual healing, from past relationships, divorces, broken hearts,” she explained. “A lot of the time, people are looking for someone to heal the pain, but that’s not a good solution. They need to heal the pain before they can take that next step.”
Whatever the case may be, McDonald addresses each client’s needs in a sensitive, specialized way. “My approach is very delicate, intuitive and deep,” she explained. “It’s not an internet scheme or throwing dates at people to see whatever comes out. I take everybody as a personal project, and they have my individual attention.”
McDonald is very happy with the way serendipity allowed her to find her true calling. “In matchmaking, I found my passion,” she says. “I don’t feel like I have to get up and go to work every day. It brings me deep, personal fulfillment.”