Valentine's Day weekend is coming up, a chunk of the country is still in some sort of a Covid lockdown and there aren’t many social gatherings where people can mix and mingle.

What to do if you’re lonely and looking for love when we’re supposed to be masked, isolating, and staying six feet apart?

Actually, New York’s leading Irish American matchmaker says there’s never been a better time to find a mate because of the profound need for human connection during these pandemic times.

Maureen Tara Nelson owns her own self-named matchmaking company on Long Island, with offices in Manhattan and Florida too. Her business, she tells the Irish Voice, is more robust than ever. People are spending more time at home thinking about their lives and who they might like to be with.

“As crazy as it sounds, right now is the easiest time to meet someone,” she says. “I’ve heard everything from, ‘I feel so lonely’ to ‘I don’t want to die alone.’ We are making lots of connections and giving people more chances to meet their match.”

Nelson, whose grandparents were from Knock, Co. Mayo, feared for her business in the early days of the pandemic when the country, particularly New York, went into lockdown. The whole point of matchmaking is human contact, but how could that be possible when we were living in fear of a contagious killer virus?

She quickly pivoted her business to virtual interviews and matchups, and they’ve proven to be a big hit she says.

“People have been asking for years about doing interviews with me over the phone instead of coming to my office. I have to see them to get to know them and their personalities, but now we’ve been using either FaceTime or Zoom,” she says.

“So many people have been stuck at home so it’s been easier for them to reach out to me and do interviews virtually.”

Zoom is useful for work meetings and other types of events, but can it facilitate a romantic first date? Absolutely, says Nelson, who put together a virtual platform for her clients to navigate the first few months of the pandemic when in-person meetings were not only discouraged but could even be hazardous to one’s health.

“We have our couples do different things, putting music on in the background, eating their favorite foods, having some wine,” she says. 

“Then on a second date, we tell them to have a theme -- for instance, the favorite place they’ve ever visited. You would show something you got from that place and talk about it. One of our clients loves Hawaii so she decorated her background in leis. These kinds of things really help people to show their personalities.”

Some of Nelson’s clients – the age range is early twenties to an “unbelievably spry” 95-year-old lady – are comfortable getting together in person as lockdown restrictions are loosened. “I recommend that they meet outside and during the day when it’s bright out,” she says.

Her roster of eligible singles has never been higher, with more than 2,000. Half of them are, she says, “on hold,” meaning that they’re partnered and hopefully on their way to happily ever after.

Nelson’s track record of getting clients married is impressive, with over 1,000 couples becoming husband and wife during her 20 years in business. (She plans on soon expanding her business to include the gay community.) 

Prospective singles go through a background check before she accepts them as clients – no felons allowed – and she conducts a number of interviews to figure out a person’s likes/dislikes, personality traits, and what they’re looking for in a partner. 

Then she gets to work and starts matching with her team of four assistants, one of whom is her son. The service they provide, she says, far exceeds dating apps “which don’t provide a personal touch or guidance or coaching at all.”

Once a first date has taken place, Nelson checks in with the couple to see how they got on. “Ghosting” – a common hardship for singles when a person suddenly goes radio silent – isn’t allowed. If there’s some sort of communication issue between the new couple when they first meet, Nelson tries to make it right.

“You know, everyone is nervous on a first date. Maybe they said something foolish. We can fix nine out of 10 miscommunications,” she says.

“We like to have them go out or meet at least three times and then see what happens. I’ve never had someone say that the third date was worse than the first.”

Nelson’s initial fee for clients is $1,000. There are different levels of service, and there’s a celebrity program where famous people can register to meet each other confidentially.

She made headlines last April when an annual survey of her female clients showed the ladies lusting for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and his CNN anchor brother Chris, who were voted as the most handsome men in New York, over the Jonas Brothers. Even Stephen Colbert name-checked Nelson's survey on one of his late-night broadcasts:

Andrew, who was previously married to Kerry Kennedy for 15 years, now regularly appears on his brother's CNN show. When asked about his placement on the survey, the elder Cuomo replied, "I'm eligible."

Landing a governor as a mate is a rarity, Nelson knows.  But cupid can strike when least expected.

“So many people are out walking in their neighborhoods now because they are home more.  I know some people who have met on their streets, walking their dogs,” she says.

Valentine’s Day will be different this year, Nelson says, but she’s a true believer in love which has never been more needed.

“We all know people that we’ve lost to Covid. And it’s the hardest time in our lives really,” she adds.

“But people really do want to meet and connect. If you see them smile, give a smile back. You never know what will happen.”

You can learn more about Maureen Tara Nelson's matchmaking services online, or call 516-444-2861.

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