I have a friend with extraordinary people powers.
I first became aware of them at school. She'd ask probing questions, notice things about how we interacted with each other, and came to understand me and my teenage classmates long before we understood ourselves.
Thirteen years later Jacqueline Burns and I are still great friends, even though sometimes her perceptiveness drives me insane. And she's turned these incredible people powers into a real life job, as the head of gay and lesbian matchmaking at an exclusive, offline introduction service called The Vida Consultancy. It's a role which involves her meeting men and women with different backgrounds, religions and beliefs every day—and helping them find love.
Jacqueline's clients are split into two categories, open members and private members. The private members are busy high flyers with no time to play the "dating numbers game." They pay £5,500 for a six month membership, which is extended to a year if they haven't met the right person. Turns out you can put a price tag on finding the one.
The open members, however, don't pay anything and are simply on the database, giving Burns and her fellow matchmakers a huge pool of people to choose from. All members are heavily vetted, and must be "kind, genuine, healthy, high achieving and cosmopolitan."
I sat down with her to talk lesbians, horoscopes, and religion—and to find out how not being queer actually helps her do her job better.
Broadly: Tell us a bit about your background and how you became a matchmaker.
I did a post-graduate diploma in Psychology, and whilst I was studying I met Rachel MacLynn, Vida's MD. As soon as heard about Vida, nearly four years ago now, I decided this was my calling and had to join.
What is the first thing people always ask you when you tell them you're a lesbian matchmaker?
If I am single and match myself with the clients! Which I don't. Or if I am a lesbian, which I'm not. And whether that is important—it's not.
What is it that you like about your job? Does not being queer yourself make it harder or easier?
I like the mix between high end and personal. I like meeting my clients one on one, and gaining trust. For me I experience the highs and lows just as my clients do. I am still learning about lesbian relationships with each person I meet—they have new insights and experiences which I listen to and learn from. I think because I am not a lesbian it helps me look at relationships as an unbiased third party, and give me enough distance to not get too involved.
Most of the lesbian women I work with have a higher level of emotional intelligence than the straight women.
You must have learnt a great deal about people. Have you noticed any big differences between straight and gay women in your role?
There's something about being a lesbian and having to look at yourself and who you are that means maybe you look at the rest of the world more, and your place in it. Any lesbian who was brought up with Church of England beliefs at a boarding school would wonder what their place is in that world, and have to establish some beliefs.
How do gay women's sense of identity differ to their hetero counterparts?
Most of the lesbian women I work with have a higher level of emotional intelligence than the straight women. They are quite naturally self-reflective, and aware or who they are. Perhaps this is because we are an agency working with people searching for their long term partner, so for the lesbian women I work with, they are already in a place where they are ready to take the next step in finding the right lovely lady for them. As a result they will have already been on a journey of self-discovery, and come out to their family and friends.
**WATCH: 'The Last Lesbian Bars,' our documentary with JD Samson about why America's *lesbian bars* shutting down.**
How do you think this self-discovery affects the women you work with?
Hopefully in a few years time coming out will be as easy as telling your parents you want to get a cat—but for now it does involve a fair bit of introspection. Factors like religion become more controversial; am I going to fight the Church to establish a place in it, am I going to shun religion, is religion shunning me?
How does religion affect your clients and their romantic lives?
For those that are Christian, their place in the LGBT world is a confusing one. It can make dating difficult, as many women do not understand how they could classify themselves as Christian, when the Church so clearly doesn't accept certain basic rights for lesbian women. They are most often compatible with those who also grew up with Christian values at least, so it is not such an alien concept.
Generally speaking, do gay women look for different things than straight people—or even gay men?
Their search is generally focused around values, and energy and not as much on looks. Factors such as religious beliefs, family values, how much activity they enjoy, whether they are interested in yoga or if they are a vegetarian, all is placed at a higher importance than it is with heterosexual couples or gay men.
How would you compare finding matches for lesbian clients to finding matches for hetero ones?
They're different. I would say my lesbian clients are more open minded to dating different types of women, but ultimately to enter a long term relationship which will stand the test of time is perhaps a bit harder purely because the flood gates are only just opening for lesbians coming out and being as understood as gay men.
How important are salaries and money?
Lesbian women care less about the bank balance than straight women do. They are more focused on their partner's intelligence and ambitions.
Tell me a bit about how astrology helps you do your job.
I do look at people's star signs, but more in terms of how to communicate with my clients. I do also look at compatibility between two matches' date of birth and sun sign, but I would never rule out an introduction if I thought they were a match and their signs didn't align.
Can you tell me about the first lesbian couple you matched successfully?
It was a lovely lady who is in her mid 30s. She was looking for someone in her late 30s but we ended up introducing her to a woman in her early 40s on her fourth match. That was in March and they're still together now!