Lonely, divorced and 40, Doug had exhausted all the traditional avenues for a Washington bachelor trying to find a date.
"I didn't feel comfortable in a singles bar," admits the quietly attractive college professor. I don't drink, so I'd sip orange juice and feel ridiculous.
"The Ski Club of Washington is supposed to be a good place to meet nice women, but I'm not particularly athletic. I have to be at work too early in the morning to go to an Open University class in the evening. And I would have tried a church group, but I'm an agnostic."
Doug finally met a woman at the Phillips Collection -- the "singles bar of the intellectual set." But the relationship didn't last long. He stopped short of placing a "personal" in the Washingtonian.
For about a year Doug had been following advertisements for The Georgetown Connection, a video-dating service run by contemporary matchmaker Joan Hendrickson. This summer he made an appointment to check it out.
Doug's initial wariness melted upon meeting Hendrickson, a soft-spoken ex-houswife who looks more like a Club Scout den mother than a stereo-typically nosy yenta.
When she pulled out a profile card and videotape of Elaine, a 33-year-old librarian, Doug was hooked.
"I became infatuated with Elaine's tape," he recalls. "She seemed lovely and nice. Just the kind of woman I wanted to meet."
He spent a weekend "climbing the walls" while Hendrickson called Elaine in to look at Doug's videotape.
"His tape was appealing," recalls Elaine, who admits "it was out of character for me to be assertive enough to do something like this.
"But I wanted to expand socially. And so soon as I saw Douglas, I felt there was something special about him."
On their first date, Doug and Elaine went to a Chinese restaurant. (She had mentioned on her taped interview that she liked Oriental food.) They began seeing each other more and more frequently, and recently became engaged.
"We've come to love each other very deeply," says Elaine. "We plan to marry in the spring."
This modern-day love story is "very, very satisfying" for matchmaker Hendrickson, who for four years has been playing cupid, via videotape, from her Georgetown townhouse.
"I'm in the love business," says Hendrickson. A smile. "What could be more fun?
"I try to really get to know a client," she says, "so I can find a match." She offers clients wine or coffee and sometimes spends hours chatting with them about their hopes and dreams of a perfect mate.
"I try to help people present their best qualities on videoptape. Then I steer people to other people."
With her motto -- "There is a lid for every pot" -- Hendrickson claims she can find nearly anyone a match. She has found matches for an unwed mother, a 72-year-old man and a blind woman. While she makes no guarantees, she has been known to extend a membership indefinitely until a match is found.
Hendrickson boasts marriages, a few babies and many dating couples. Some matched mates have broken up, she admits. "But they come back. They're willing to try again."
One of a handful of video-dating services in the country, the "connection" begins with an initial interview and videotape. The member completes a profile form listing first name, job, education, interests and what they're looking for in a relationship. A snapshot is attached.
Hendrickson begins showing the profiles and videotapes to other members, and the original member is invited back to view tapes of those who have selected him or her. Each member may also see all the profiles and choose six tapes for previewing.
"People say it's like being in a candy store," she says with a laugh. "You get to pick and choose in a non-threatening way. I do provide editorial comments because I know everyone quite well and can be good at choosing the right partner."
Men pay $50 and women $25 for the initial interview and videotape. Six appointments to preview tapes costs $245 for men and $150 for women. Hendrickson charges women less, she says, to get a balance between the sexes.
"It's harder for women to do something like this -- pay to meet people. And at first we had more men than women, but now it's balancing out."
The "connection" has about 300 members, mostly professionals, with the average age 35 for men and 30 for women.
"They are attractive, likeable people," says Hendrickson, whose face-framing brown curls make her appear younger than her 46 years."They want to be selective and not put up with the hassles you run into. Everyone here is open to a relationship."
Drawn by Henrickson's comfortable, almost sisterly manner, clients sometimes tell her things they have never told anyone else. She seems at once both strong and vulnerable, content, yet searching -- like her clients themselves.
"This city is so transient, with so many people in it, that singles can get very lonely," she says. "But being lonely doesn't mean you're a loser. There are an abundance of people to meet -- you've just got to find them. We provide a small-town network not available in big cities."
Loneliness, to Hendrickson, is not an unfamiliar subject. "I was lonely," she admits with some shyness, "when I was married." And after 23 years as a housewife she got the "empty-nest sydrome" when her three daughters went to college.
When she realized she was becoming a hypochondriac, she took a Dale Carnegie course, a career workshop for women and wnet back to college. She left her husband five years ago (they are still separated), and fell into matchmaking through an accident of necessity.
"I needed a job desperately, and the only place that would hire me was Video-Date," says Hendrickson, who was hired as an interviewer. "It was badly managed, but I thought it had potential."
In 1976 Hendrickson and another interviewer, Susan Hoffman, bought the service. (Hoffman recently married Hendrickson's brother and is phasing out of the business, while Hendrickson's 26-year-old daughter Susan has joined the staff.)
Hendrickson changed the name to "take the focus off dating," and took the title of matchmaker because it's "a time-honored profession" that "gets rid of some of the stigmas attached to dating services."
Bring a matchmaker, she says, "really lets me care about people. I try to find out what is special about each person -- what makes them happy.
"There's a feeling I get about types of people that belong together. There are polyester people, tweed people, Mercedes people. I like putting them together.
And it would seem her clients like being "put together."
"It's been a very successful thing for me," says a 43-year-old suburban window who is dating two men she met through the connection. "You have to overcome the initial inhibition, which isn't easy. But it's worth it."
"It really helps you clarify your goals of what your're looking for in a person," adds Tony Fuller, a 50-year-old executive. "And it helps you meet the right type of people."
The one person Hendrickson still hasn't found a match for is herself.
"I've learned that everyone, myself included, has the same bottom line. They want to be loved. I get a ton of love from my children and from the people I help here."
And what -- if there is such a thing -- is a universal for finding a relationship?
"You've got to be positive about yourself and what's around you. Try to look at the best side of everything and everyone. That's the best way to be happy and to attract people to you."
The Georgetown Connection, 1656 33rd St. NW, 336-6460.