Arlene Vasquez Washburn, one of the top matchmakers on the East Coast, owner of the Ridgewood-based matchmaking company AV Connections, CEO of the Matchmaking Institute in Manhattan and one of just a few people in the world able to charge $50,000 for an introduction that might eventually lead to marriage, recently went on a date.
She is a woman with strong opinions about dates. Most of her clients are lawyers, doctors or pharmaceutical industry leaders, she said — people too busy and too widely desirable to waste their time searching online dating services like OKCupid or Match.com. They sign contracts laying out schedules of sessions in which Washburn gets to know their tastes and coaches them on the finer points of fashion, grooming and etiquette necessary to compete in the modern dating economy.
“I’m basically the executive recruiter for that high-level position” of husband or wife, said Washburn, 51. “I vet people to verify that they’re qualified to meet my VIP client.”
Washburn’s own date was not so transactional. For one thing, she is already married, to a man named Warren Washburn, a longtime truck driver for UPS who now manages other drivers.
And for this outing, on the sixth anniversary of their first meeting, she held no pre-date strategy session. Instead, she left her house dressed like the Bergen County suburbanite she used to be, in black high-heeled boots, a black blouse and black designer pants with rips down both thighs. He dressed like the country boy he remains, with gray cowboy boots, blue jeans and his fancy blue shirt untucked. They drove to the Buck Hill Brewery, 10 minutes from their home in Warren County, overlooking the Paulinskill River.
By the conventional rules of dating, and the advice she sometimes gives her clients, Washburn and her husband never should have met. Instead, this man who dresses like a cowboy taught the Bergen County dating expert a rule about love that supersedes all the others.
“You need to be open-minded about romance,” said Warren Washburn, 53, “otherwise you’re going to be alone for a long time.”
An unlikely romance
Think of all the places where a professional matchmaker might meet her future husband. At a corner café on the Champs-Elysees, perhaps, or overlooking a Knicks game from a private box at Madison Square Garden.
Um, no. As a single woman working in sales for a major pharmaceutical company, Arlene Vasquez was used to dating “high rollers,” she said. Then she met Warren Washburn. On Match.com.
“I met my husband online!” she said. “I tell that to everyone. I scream it from the rafters.”
Things did not begin smoothly. Warren kept sending her notes online. He seemed nice, funny and smart, she said. But he didn’t have any photos attached to his profile, so she assumed the worst.
“After his fourth note I decided to reply,” she said. “I said, ‘You must be hideous looking. Because if you are as cute as your notes, you would have a photo.’”
Actually, Warren’s problem was that he and computers don’t get along. But he quickly figured it out.
“The next day he had a photo,” she said. “And I said, ‘Oh, he’s totally my type! Blond hair, blue eyes!’”
For her matchmaking clients, Washburn doles out strict rules about what’s appropriate to discuss on a first date and what is not.
“Act like you’re at a cocktail party,” she said. “Don’t talk about your exes. Keep things light! You’re two strangers. Why divulge all that information right off the bat?”
But when she and Washburn first spoke by phone, all her rules went out the window.
“Warren is a very transparent guy, so he told me his whole life story in that one conversation,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh my god, this guy has no filter, no secrets.’ But at least he’s honest.”
Another problem: She lived in Hillsdale, and he lived in Blairstown, 60 miles away.
“He was not geographically desirable,” she said.
So they met halfway, at a Starbucks in Rockaway. She drove her Mercedes-Benz. He arrived in a pickup truck, wearing cowboy boots and a plaid shirt.
“I thought this would be interesting,” she said. “We talked for hours.”
Washburn loves fancy dining so much her friends nicknamed her “Zagat.” But as the sun set and the conversation flowed, they decided to walk next door for dinner. To an Olive Garden.
“The Olive Garden isn’t really my cup of tea,” she said.
In sum, this guy broke all her rules. He dressed differently, shared too much, lived too far away, and was uninterested in fine dining. He is also smart and funny, capable of switching seamlessly from conjugating verbs in Latin to telling silly jokes.
“What kind of furniture do you have on your deck on March 17?” he said recently. “Patty O’Furniture. Ha!”
He is also generous. Soon after they started dating, Washburn was laid off from her job at a major pharmaceutical company. She had been working informally as a matchmaker for years, she said, and decided to take a risk by turning her side hustle into her main business.
Warren offered to help.
“He pulled out his paycheck and he said, ‘This is how much money I make, and this is how much I need. The rest is yours,’” Vasquez Washburn said. “It was unbelievable. High rollers don’t do that.”
They were married on Aug. 8, 2014.
“My friends were surprised when I started dating a salt-of-the-earth guy, a regular guy,” she said. “And as it turns out, I fell in love like I never have before.”
The Washburns live in a comfortable home outside Blairstown, overlooking the Paulinskill River. Their yard was littered with brown and yellow leaves on a recent Saturday afternoon, and the air was starting to chill, when Warren pressed a button inside his wife’s red Mercedes-Benz. The convertible roof folded back into the trunk.
Warren and Arlene looked at each other and smiled. They drove to the brewery, where a reserved table waited by a window upstairs. As they sat and waited for their drinks, they talked about their continuously surprising romance.
“You know what’s interesting? I feel like I love you more now than ever,” Arlene said. “I thought I had hit the pinnacle, and then the love got stronger. What’s up with that?”
“I don’t know,” Warren said. “I feel the same way.”
“Really?” she said.
“Yeah,” he said. “Definitely.”
Arlene, a professional student of relationships, noticed that her husband’s face was pointed directly toward her, but his body had drifted off to one side.
“So I’ve been studying body language, and whichever way your torso is facing is where you want to go,” she said. “So can you turn this way? Your torso?”
“I sure can,” he said, schooching around in his seat.
Finally their food arrived, a salad for him and salmon for her.
“This is absolutely delicious, honey,” said Arlene, sitting by a window overlooking a line of trees and the river. “Just the other day I went to Tavern on the Green. And it was OK.”
“All that stuff is overrated, you know?” Warren said.
“We’re so lucky,” Arlene said. “We have everything here that we need.”