Your Analyst, My Matchmaker

Come this summer, when a man approaches a woman in a bar and asks

for her number, she may just say, as she fiddles with her hair and dives back

into her martini glass, “Have your shrink call my shrink.”

By then, eligible New Yorkers in therapy-and, let’s face it, even

Tara Reid is reportedly in analysis over a guy-can hire licensed psychoanalysts

as the agents of their sex lives. Some New York doctors have created a new

mating game: It’s called TheraDate, it costs $2,000 to play, and it’s about as

sexy as its name implies-in other words, it’s a kind of psycho- shidduch .

Said Dr. Frederick B. Levenson, the 56-year-old Greenwich Village

psychoanalyst behind TheraDate: “Therapists are certainly more qualified to

match people up than any other kind of dating service.”

Here’s TheraDate’s credo: “We stack the deck in your favor-like

no one ever has-to help you find the right life partner.” And here’s the

function TheraDate performs: Your shrink reveals the cold, ugly truth about you

to other shrinks ( aaaugh! ), and the

patient whose issues and neuroses best match yours gets your number. TheraDate

urges you to give it three dates and-this part sounds like it violates several

federal antitrust laws-you are told to discuss the arranged relationship in

therapy.

“Eighty years of research, information from your therapist-and

your prospective partner’s-and a team of experienced psychotherapists” are

supposed to bring you happiness. If you play by the rules.

Which brings us to the first rule of TheraDate: If you’re not in

therapy, you’re disqualified-not only because there is no doctor to vouch for

you, but also because the therapists making the rules think you’re probably not

ready to meet your match.

“By definition, people in therapy are interested in their own

behavior and how that behavior impacts other people,” said Dr. Levenson, author

of The Anti-Cancer Marriage: Living

Longer Through Loving . “There is more depth in somebody who is willing to

look into themselves, and whether we offend people or not, we consider people

in therapy smarter than the general public.” Specifically, you have to have at

least two months of analysis under your belt within the last two years.

Tucked into an oversize brown leather chair in his cozy basement

office on East 11th Street, Dr. Levenson said he decided to get involved in the

personal lives of his patients after rejecting the idea for 25 years. “The

women say, ‘The guy is totally unaware of his feelings, he doesn’t know how to

communicate, he keeps to himself, he doesn’t treat me properly,’” he said. “And

the male perspective is ‘She’s crazy’ and ‘Money is all they care about’ …. And

they ask me, ‘Where can I meet someone decent?’”

He said that he used to reply, “Well, where do you think you can meet someone decent?”

And typically, he said, his female clients would date bad boy after bad boy and

his male clients went in pursuit of arm candy.

But on March 18, Dr. Levenson and three other Manhattan

mental-health professionals began sending information about TheraDate to 38,000

New York therapists, asking them to present the idea “in session” with any

appropriate clients. They did another mailing to 20,000 therapists in Los

Angeles. They also launched their Web site, http://www.theradate.com, and began

running small ads in New York

magazine, Time Out New York and Los Angeles magazine.

In two weeks, the Web site received 5,000 hits, mostly from the

tristate area, and over 100 people registered in order to receive more

information, including the 10-page survey with which Mr. Levenson and a

committee of licensed or certified psychologists, psychiatrists, social

workers, psychoanalysts and counselors will evaluate daters. So far, 20

professionals have signed on to help make matches.

For a recommended fee of one regular therapy session (an average

of $150 in Manhattan), your therapist will present you as Bachelor or

Bachelorette No. 1 in the 10-page survey, which is expected to take your doctor

45 minutes to fill out. Here is how you are being evaluated: What are your

defense mechanisms? What are your personality factors? Are you argumentative?

Are you dominant or submissive? What was your family environment like? Where do

you fall in the birth order? How is your relationship with your mother and your

father?

Having your doctor create your profile is supposed to skirt what

the TheraDate Web site calls the “efficient faking” that a client, left to his

or her own resources, resorts to when courting or being courted. “We want the

therapist to provide much more objective information than the client could

give,” said Dr. Levenson. “These are paid professionals dedicated to getting to

know the patient better than the patient knows themselves.”

The completed form will be sent to TheraDate’s headquarters in

Fair Lawn, N.J., where Dr. Levenson is on the faculty of the New Jersey Center

of Modern Psychoanalysis. There, professionals go through the forms looking for

similar educational backgrounds, religions, defense mechanisms, nervous

tics-even sensitivities to auditory, olfactory and tactile sensations.

“Similarity throughout the literature promotes compatibility,” said Dr.

Levenson. “Opposites attracting is a statistical myth.”

Then clients will be given the first names and contact

information for their potential dates.

“We are going to call them up and tell Bob about Mary and Mary

about Bob, and give phone numbers and let them call each other,” said Dr.

Levenson. So clients don’t abuse the program, they are allowed only eight

matches a year. “We are not a casual dating service,” Dr. Levenson said. “If

you want a casual dating service, please don’t bother with us.”

The idea of adding a new dimension to the doctor-patient

relationship hinges on the release form TheraDate clients have to sign before

their doctors will take the first step. But plenty of New York City therapists

think more consideration should go into it. “I don’t think that matchmaker is

an appropriate role for a therapist,” said Avodah K. Offit, a Manhattan couples

and sex therapist and author of The

Sexual Self: How Character Shapes Sexual Relationships . “We don’t know how

different people are outside the office.”

For many professionals, that’s the whole ball game. Dr. James

Williams, a Park Avenue psychoanalyst said filling out a TheraDate form would

be a “no-no” because it would “cloud the transference” between patient and therapist-the

fantasy relationship created between two people who know each other only inside

a small office where they are totally isolated from the rest of the world. “The

idea is to keep the analyst-patient relationship as pure as possible,” said Dr.

Williams.

Jane Greer, a couples therapist in midtown and author of How Could You Do This to Me: Learning to

Trust After Betrayal , said, “The

way you see yourself and how your therapist sees you can be very different.”

And organizing a patient’s personal life, she said, “is contrary to the notion

of therapy, which is teaching patients how to take care of themselves.”

Dr. Offit did admit, however, to once having the impulse to set

up two patients. “I thought they were just wonderful for each other,” she said.

“They were in the same profession and they seemed to have similar attitudes,

and they were the right age for each other and they were both good-looking. As

it happened, they met each other apart from my intervention, and it was a

disaster.”

Dr. Greer actually did put two of her patients together. “They

were both going through a divorce, and they were both saying how isolated they

felt,” she said. “I didn’t know if they were going to be suitable for each

other or would find each other attractive, but I said, ‘I’ll give you each

other’s numbers and see what happens.’ They became the best of friends; it

could have been something else if they had an attraction.” They didn’t.

And this is where most critics skewer TheraDate. “Before you go

out with a guy, you just need to know if he’s cute, if you like him-you don’t

have to know that he had a bad relationship with his father,” said Ellen Fine,

co-author of The Rules . “They are

playing God on some level …. There is no way to tell if there’s a spark …. If

you have nothing else to do, try it-something is better than nothing-but … I

don’t love it.”

But Judith Kahn, a 44-year-old fund-raiser who lives on the Upper

West Side and works for the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services,

said a man in therapy is attractive to her. “It would indicate they are open to

the idea of working on themselves, and you would hope that in the relationship,

you wouldn’t have to convince them that therapy could be a helpful thing in

overcoming hurdles.”

Still, she wouldn’t trade romance for it. “It’s not based on

likes, dislikes or habits. I think it’s about chemistry and a certain type of

magic.”

Finding Mr. Right, she said, “is a crapshoot.”

Then again, according to Freud, “Self-love or narcissism is the

only possibility for love that most people have.”