Matchmaker Paul Carrick Brunson, one of the institute’s star graduates, showed up to give an inspirational speech, camera crew in tow. He is filming a matchmaking docu-series with ABC. (Lisa Bonos/The Washington Post)

In April, a synchronized swimmer, a therapist, a recent college graduate and a physics instructor walked into a penthouse with a view of the Manhattan skyline. This isn’t the setup for a joke. It’s the first step in the next phase in their careers: as matchmakers and dating coaches.

They came from all over — Las Vegas, Charlotte, St. Louis, Denver and elsewhere — to spend four days and $4,000 to get certified by the Matchmaking Institute. Every year the institute holds a four-day conference: The first two days are for those new to the field; the final two days brings veterans together with would-be matchmakers. Getting certified through the institute isn’t required to work in the industry, but the budding matchmakers I spoke to found it beneficial, especially for networking. Other sessions covered what it takes for the brain to fall in love, how to build a database of eligible singles and how to dump difficult clients.

These matchmakers in training were coming from different professional backgrounds. But they have a few common interests: Each of them talks enthusiastically about how they love connecting people. They love helping people. And they love love.

They make earnest statements like: “I’ve been surrounded by love my entire life, and I want to share that with the world.” Many of them are single or divorced. Being uncoupled is a life experience that they say has taught them how rare love is. And yes, they will probably ask about your own dating life.

Less than two months since they attended the Matchmaking Institute, some of these newbies are up and running their own businesses; others are still working on the transition. Here’s a snapshot of four newbies and what’s drawing them to a field that feels old-school but is trying to revamp itself for a digital era.

Rachael Simon, 31, is a professional synchronized swimmer and Pilates teacher in Las Vegas.

Like any professional athlete, Simon is trying to figure out what’s next. She’s always been a connector of people, she says, whether it’s bringing two people together for friendship or romance. Simon introduced two friends who’ve been together for five years, and she recently revamped her 65-year-old mother’s profile and got her signed up for Tinder.

“I do think people get very frustrated doing it on their own,” Simon says, adding that online dating — with all the messaging and pre-screening of dates, can be “like a part-time job.” In her own search for love, she’s applied to be a contestant for “The Bachelor,” where she made it to the final round but didn’t get picked.

Simon started thinking about going into matchmaking after listening to an interview with Lisa Clampitt, founder of the Matchmaking Institute, on the Huffington Post’s Love and Sex podcast. It was at that moment that Simon realized matchmaking was a thing people did professionally. She debated about attending the institute — “it’s a lot of money to spend” she noted, and it’s unclear to her whether being “certified” from the institute is necessary.

But ultimately, Simon says, the money, time and travel was worth it — mostly for the networking. (The matchmaking industry is full of master networkers.) She’s been in contact with some matchmakers she met at the institute and says she might work for them before starting her own company, a love internship of sorts. But for now, Simon is still teaching Pilates and performing, while getting her feet wet in a new field.

Althia McLaughlin, 41, is a therapist who started her own matchmaking and dating coaching business in Charlotte.

Matchmaking seems to draw a lot of burned-out counselor types, a sort of rehab program for mental health workers. For example, Clampitt, the Matchmaking Institute’s founder, is former social worker who wanted to continue helping people, but with less of the life-or-death heaviness of her earlier career. McLaughlin’s path is similar. “While I love therapy,” she told me over the phone recently, “it got to the point where most of the work that I did was trauma-based work, pretty heavy stuff. Even when a client came to me with with issues that weren’t related to trauma, I found myself doing a lot of relationship work.”

In her role as a therapist, McLaughlin was limited in how much she could help people with their relationships. For starters, when she’s working with therapy clients, McLaughlin wouldn’t talk about her own life. “My therapy clients don’t know if I’ve been married or if I have kids.” She’s divorced, by the way, has an 8-year-old daughter and is in a committed relationship. Talking about her own life and search for love, McLaughlin says, has helped her better relate to her clients.

And now, when she works with someone to identify unsuccessful patterns in their dating or relationship life, she can go one step further than she could as a therapist: She can set them up with someone new. Or go on a mock date with a client (for $150 an hour) and give them feedback they can use on real dates in the future.

For now, she has four clients in their 20s to 40s, she says, and is charging $2,000 for six months of matchmaking but is looking to raise her rates soon.”I still kind of look at it like I’m doing therapy,” McLaughlin says. The work is still heavy, she says, but in a different way: “There’s more hope attached to it from the get-go.”

Danielle Eisenberg, 23, is a recent college graduate in St. Louis, working the phones for a matchmaker in Los Angeles.

“I absolutely love people,” Eisenberg says. As a kid, people kept telling her they could see her as a psychologist. But she saw therapists as being “extremely negative,” and she prefers to look at the negative and focus more on the positive and moving forward.

She did find her way to matchmaking through psychology, though. Her therapist kept talking about the “Queen’s Code,” a somewhat mystical-sounding way of relating to men. Through Eisenberg’s research on the Queen’s Code, she came across Julie Ferman, a matchmaker in Los Angeles. An informational interview segued into Eisenberg making phone calls for Ferman. A lesson for aspiring interns everywhere: “I said, ‘Is there anything you don’t get done during the day that you need someone to do?’ ”

For the past four months, Eisenberg has been calling people in Ferman’s database of singles (all matchmakers have one) in an effort to find good matches for Ferman’s clients. Eisenberg supplements her work for Ferman with working for a clothing boutique in St. Louis.

Selling clothes is a lot like selling romance, it turns out. There’s lots of talk of finding a good fit for your clients, of gaining their trust and then nudging them to go a little off-type, in the way a personal shopper might observe someone’s style and then gradually suggest items that are better suited for their body. Many of the sessions at the institute included a pitch for the matchmakers to buy something else: another master class, for example, or an online course in how to become a podcast star.

Eisenberg, who’s in a relationship, faces a tough sell to her fellow millennials who are swiping faster than they’re settling down. “I want to teach the younger crowd what it’s like to love someone and be in a monogamous relationship,” she says, adding that she worries for her peers who see dates as disposable.

“When people finally find the real thing, they’re not even going to know it,” she says, a rare flash of pessimism in this eagerly optimistic group.

Michael Kiewe, 32, is a physics professor who’s turned his attention to the laws of attraction in Denver.

Kiewe was one of the few male matchmakers at the institute. And what brought him there, he said, was the lack of information out there on matchmaking. “I tried to figure out: How much does a matchmaker make? How stable is it? It’s not that easy to get that information.” He started by talking with Rachel Greenwald, a matchmaker in Denver, where he lives. Based on her recommendation and his budding interest in the field, Kiewe decided to sign up.

The answers to those questions — how much a person can expect to earn and the industry’s stability — are hard to determine, whether or not someone plunks down $4,000 for the training and certification.

For now, though, Kiewe is eager to take on women and men as clients. (Most high-end matchmakers, like Clampitt, take on men as paying clients, while women can enter matchmaking databases and get set up free of charge.) “I have been warned that it’s difficult to do that,” Kiewe says, “but I feel like I have more ways of reaching men than the typical matchmaker.” He’s single and is plugged in to a network of men from a personal development program.

There’s so much frustration among singles with the online dating scene that he doesn’t anticipate having trouble recruiting clients. “It’s like playing darts in the dark,” he says.

Even while at the institute, Kiewe was in the middle of setting up two friends in Denver. They didn’t end up being a match.

Even with the lights turned on, darts are difficult to aim.


Podcast: The invention of dating

5 reasons to keep swiping when you’re over online dating

The top 10 posts from Solo-ish’s first year