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The Feminist Matchmaker Fighting Against Dating Apps

Professional matchmaker Amy Van Doran's new community-building art exhibition, the Love Museum, just might help you find your soulmate.

Sarah Bellman

Sarah Bellman

'Portrait of Amy Van Doran' by Jenna Gribbon. All photos courtesy of the Modern Love Club

A new store is hitting New York's East Village with a very unique business model. It isn't selling anything—or, at least, anything you can carry out in a bag. Instead, the Love Museum is offering a much better deal: a shot at finding true love.

Sitting with her dog—which is wearing a collar that says "feminist" on the tag—Love Museum founder, Amy Van Doran, admits she falls in love with at least 16 people at a time. But these diverse individuals (including comedians, actors, and CEOs) aren't her potentials partners—they're her clients. Van Doran is the owner of the Modern Love Club, a boutique matchmaking company that aims to break the industry's patriarchal stereotypes.

Although she has a harder time attracting men to her service than women, Van Doran often grabs interesting individuals off the street in hopes that they'll join her comprehensive rolodex of clientele. Now, she's planning to take it one step further with the Love Museum's first women-centric art exhibit, Girls I Love!, which opens October 8. Co-curating the show with Marina Press, Van Doran wants the small storefront—which displays "witch-y" work from five of her friends hung on pastel walls—to draw intrigue from forward-thinking passersby, resulting in a potential interview for a selective spot on her matchmaking roster.

Before the Love Museum's official debut, I met up with Van Doran—a cartoon-obsessed free spirit rocking a bright orange bob with lipstick to match—to learn about the lost art of matchmaking, Tinder, and treating the world like it's your neighborhood bar.

VICE: What prompted you to create the Love Museum?
Amy Van Doran: I've been running the Modern Love Club for eight years as a matchmaker. I started off giving free love advice on the streets. The museum is this durational performance piece where I'm actively listening to the contemporary state of what's happening with love in New York City. I'm curating people's love lives, so I thought it would be cool to have this fun gallery that doesn't have to make a lot of money. Because matchmaking sustains the business, it can be a true labor of love.

Why did you choose to open in the East Village?
It's where my people are. I like the sense of community. I like that people just come in here and tell me their life stories. It feels really magically charged. In the East Village, people actually talk to one another. We set up this free date spot, so people will walk in and start hitting on one another. What I love is that it's the opposite of Tinder. People are meeting in real life. This has been a conduit for getting strangers to talk to one another again and use art as a way to open conversation.

A painting by Jenna Gribbon

Have you already noticed couples connecting in the storefront's " free dating spot"?
Yeah! I just sit there watching them. It makes me so happy! It doesn't have to be a big deal to talk to strangers. You can just sit in a chair and engage with whoever walks by. Every person that I've ever fallen in love with I've met while walking down the street or doing something I love. People like having that magical inception in this place, whether they are hiring me as a matchmaker or getting involved by making art. It's a place where they can come and not have to buy anything, not have to spend any money, but just talk to strangers. That's my life's work.

"If you went to ten of your friends and said, 'I want to meet someone great, [can] you all set me up on a date with your favorite male person?' your dating experience would be so much more uplifting."

What are your thoughts on online dating?
With online dating, people keep looking for the next thing, so they're not focused on who's around, who's connected to who, who can vouch for who. If you went to ten of your friends and said, "I want to meet someone great, [can] you all set me up on a date with your favorite male person?" your dating experience would be so much more uplifting. You would go in thinking that this person is going to be great instead of assuming that you're going to be disappointed.

So what do you do if you're new to a city and don't know many people?
First of all, you get to choose your friends. I remember when I moved to New York 12 years ago, I'd just walk around and say, "Hi!" But don't treat it like the stakes are high. Just look at each person and try to see the humanness in them and the humanness in you and connect. It's not about having a laundry list of what you require from other people, but rather that everyone is fucking special and interesting and surprising. It's like treating the world as if it's the bar you usually go to. Whenever someone goes into your bar, you're like, "Hey! I haven't seen you around here before. What's your story?" Just treat the entire city like that.

What do you have to say about love that differs from advice reality-TV matchmakers give?
Our culture is built on selling things, and I think the way that you sell things is to make people feel bad about themselves. It's really hard on us. I don't know how anyone is getting out of bed in the morning. You watch reality TV and all the women have blond hair, their skin is the same color, and their teeth are so white. It gives you this idea that love is for other people. But what I've found through doing this for a while is the people who are the most successful are not the people who are doing anything to make themselves homogeneous. They are clear about who they are and align who they are internally with their visual representation of themselves. If everyone is trying to be someone else, it doesn't feel special. I'd rather be one person's favorite person than everyone's passively fine person.

But I don't have any answers or solutions. I think that anyone who claims to have that is just full of shit.

Follow Sarah Bellman on Twitter.

Girls I Love! will be open to public on Saturday, October 8, 6–9 PM at the Love Museum on 156 First Avenue in New York.

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