June 22, 2001

Match Making Latino Style

By Yvette tenBerge

At some point, we all end up looking for the same thing when it comes to relationships. Some pour over entire sections of newspapers and magazines hoping to find their Prince Charming or their Cinderella. Others pay a small fortune for the chance to scan the video archives of countless dating services. And those who are more traditional attend function after function just to "get themselves out there."

Our culture is filled with the seemingly impossible tales of perfect romance, from the childhood fascination with storybook love to the dream world couplings of the movies. And we are hooked on them.

Matchmakers Angie Ropohl and Liliana Rice.

As soon as we are old enough, we begin to date, searching, sometimes beyond hope, for that perfect someone. Somewhere out there must be the knight in shining armor, and somehow we must be destined to find him (at least that's the way it works in the movies, right?). And every so often we have to stop and ask, "Is this the one?" We sigh though, because inside we know that if we have to ask, then they probably aren't.

Ah… that elusive thing called love.

About a month ago, a press release for You & Me Latinas, a mother and daughter team who claim to be "in the old-fashioned business of match making", landed on my desk. I had to smile, laugh actually. What a nice change of pace from school district and water board stories. It was the phrase "match making" that I liked. It conjured up images of wise, bright-eyed grandmothers and mysterious, gypsy fortunetellers - people who we like to believe might have a window into life and love. Let's just say that the face of match making has undergone a few nips and tucks over the years.

I walked into You & Me Latinas' small, modern office at 111 Elm Street, where I met Liliana Rice, a gracious Colombian, and Angie Ropohl, her business-savvy daughter. They speak for a while about what they do, pointing out that their goal is to find their clients the "life partner" for whom they have always been looking. I can feel them watching me, and suddenly, I become very conscious of my bare, left ring finger. I shift a bit in my seat. Hmmm… seems like they're selling a product that everyone, even the most strong-willed and independent of us, can use.

I try to change the topic. How does the daughter of a South American surgeon and a homemaker grow up to make her living helping Latina women "find better horizons" through marriage? Liliana smiles, and begins to describe the changes that her life took after her mother's remarriage to an American man. "As a little girl, I listened to my grandmother, and to the other women in my family. I was able to see that there was a niche between the Latin lady and the Caucasian man," says Liliana, describing the compatibility she so often encounters between the mix of these two ethnicities.

She tells me about the first match that she ever made, this one between her brother and his wife of now 18 years. Although already impressed, I had to look to her daughter for conformation after she told me that she made the match with an Ecuadorian woman whom she had never even met. She had a "strong feeling" about it, Liliana said very simply, so she acted on it.

"Something was telling me, `That's the girl for him.' So, I bought him a ticket to Ecuador, where she lived. He didn't want to go, but I said that the worst thing that could happen is that he would get a two-week vacation from this. Nine days later, he called," says Liliana, clasping her freshly manicured hands together. "He asked for my mother, sisters and I to come to Ecuador because he was getting married."

Obviously, Liliana has skills, and after this episode, she began to examine them more closely. Intrigued, I had to ask her how she does it. Liliana and Angie exchange a glance that tells me that they are asked that question all the time. "I think that we all have that sixth sense inside of us, but we often do not trust it. But when you do, it becomes reality," says Liliana, explaining her insight. "This is what gives me pleasure, because everybody deserves to have their dreams come true."

Although Liliana has been bringing couples together for more than 17 years, she and Angie have been You & Me Latinas for only the past three years. The decision to do so is an attempt to mix business with pleasure, and it appears that finding true love isn't exactly cheap. Their prices, though (roughly $1,000 for women and $2,000 for men) guarantee their services for up to three years, and unlike other services, You & Me Latinas allows their clients to make payments, if necessary. According to their literature, the contract lasts for over three years because "love requires attention and time," and their goal is to introduce clients to as many as two to four people a month, depending upon schedules, flexibility and other circumstances.

In comparison most other dating services are a lot pricier, demand payment in full before gaining access to any of their services and require you to spend time making and watching videos tapes - all this with a contract that's only good for one year.

But the question remains: why do people seem to be flocking to services like this?

"What we have found is that one big factor in people's lives is time. Nowadays, people are so busy. They do not even have time to watch videos, so we do all of the work. We have done some studies and found that people move in three circles: family, friends and work," says Liliana. "So, even though you are doing the regular things in your life, you will get surprise calls from us telling you about a person who could work for you."

It is about this time that Liliana returns her attention to me. I shift in my seat again. She locks eyes with Angie as they simultaneously blurt "Sam." Liliana smiles at Angie and purrs, "Good job, honey." I look at them there together, and I'm almost afraid to ask… almost. Sure enough they wonder if I have a moment to look over a profile of someone they "have a feeling" would work for me. Seeing as how they simultaneously pulled this name out of more than 600 "single" people (a word they use to refer to any client who is not actively dating another client), and even though I hate to admit it, I am intrigued.

I do not tell them this, but reviewing his profile leaves me more than a little surprised. Even though they know nothing about my personal life or my preferences, they may have hit the nail right on the head. Liliana warns her clients, though, that even if "two people match perfectly on paper, we have to wait and see about the chemistry."

Since the goal of You & Me Latinas is marriage to the partner of your dreams, I ask Liliana about her successes. She answers my question by pulling out a large binder filled with thank you cards, wedding pictures and snap shots of smiling couples. She also provides me with names and phone numbers of clients.

Peter and Monica Palen's story interested me the most. Both of these 41 year-olds have successful careers, and both have children from previous relationships. Peter is a Command Master Chief for the U.S. Navy, and Monica is a dentist in Tijuana. When I asked them why they chose to use a dating service, their answers seem to line up with

Liliana's comment about lack of time. Both were somewhat hesitant to use a dating service, but after a while it just seemed to make sense.

"It is very frustrating and expensive to actively go out searching for a date. I did not meet a lot of potential dating partners through work, and I really did not go out to night clubs that much, so I had to do something else. For quite a while, I also met women through several telephone dating services," says Peter. "You & Me Latinas was just a much simpler and easier way to do it, much less stressful than going out on your own."

I pop the question that everyone wants to know: did they "just know" that this person was "the one" for them? I turn to Monica, a self-described "happy client," for this question. "I knew right away that Peter was the ideal man for me. I felt it in my heart. He treated me like I was very special, and he was wonderful with my kids. He asked me to marry him after going out for two months, and I immediately said, `Yes,'" says Monica, who went on first dates with three other men before meeting Peter. "About a month after we became engaged, he had to go away with the Navy for four months, but we were married right after he returned to San Diego."

As for their thoughts on Liliana, both agree that she knows her stuff. Peter seems to sum it up best. "Liliana is pretty good at developing a profile of who you are, and the type of person you are looking for. Once she has the profile developed, she puts you together with someone who matches you fairly well. I have to honestly say that even though other meetings did not blossom into relationships, she was pretty darn accurate about who she matches you with."

As for me, I'll have to wait a few weeks until Sam returns from Europe to give my personal evaluation. From what I have gathered over the past few weeks, though, the art of match making is very much still alive and well.

You & Me Latinas can be reached by telephone at 619-233-0284. People of all ethnicities are welcome. Log onto their website at: www.Youandmelatinas.com.

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