Our Patron, Brenda Emmanus discusses love, career women and the art of successful relationships with the modern day matchmaker, author of ‘It’s Complicated (But It Doesn’t Have To Be)’ and co-host of LoveTown, USA on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
Why are relationships, particularly black relationships so important to you?
I believe that strong relationships are the key to a strong family foundation, and a strong family foundation is the key to a strong community. That is the most important thing to me. Community is everything to me. That is the reason why I focus on relationships.
From investment banker to matchmaker – how did that transformation come about?
I didn’t set out to become a matchmaker and did not call myself such at first. I had a summer camp for a large group of Black and Latino kids and I discovered that not one of them had come from a two parent household. So my wife and I started to hold community parties – what we called ‘Brown Sugar’ parties at our home where people could meet each other. That progressed to me going to a matchmaking conference to explore how we could go about extending the idea of these parties. At the conference in New York in 2008, of the 250 matchmakers present at the conference I realised that not one was under 40, not one was a man, and not one was black.
One of my favourite quotes is by Harold Thurman who said ‘Don’t ask what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive and go and do that because what the world needs is more people that come alive.’ – at that moment I came alive.
Do you believe that black relationships are in crisis or are we strong?
It’s important to note that a lot of ethnic groups around the world are facing crisis in relationships. There are certain countries facing much more dire circumstances than in the UK or US. China is one where there is a significant shortage of women and an over-abundance of men. This is causing serious issues in terms of relationships. So it is important to note that we are not facing this on our own.
Communication seems to be a major issue in the breakdown of relationships – so why can’t we just talk?
My business is about bringing people together, but I actually do more coaching around how people get together than physically bringing people together. We have shrinking social circles, we are busy, and despite social media and technology seem more disconnected than ever before. Therefore, we need to have strategies. We need to increase our perception about our possibilities – that’s where someone like me comes into play.
You are a matchmaker, a life coach and an author – but how do you personally define your role?
I have been attempting to grasp this as I don’t like to be put in a box. In terms of the matchmaking, there is a science to it. We know that values make us compatible, we know that personality types and attraction makes us compatible. If we know these things and understand this about ourselves, we are in a better position to be a match for someone.
So how do you physically go about matchmaking hundreds of clients and organising thousands of dates for people?
We do use databases and group sessions but we start with making people conscious of who they are – the more we know about ourselves, the more we love ourselves. The more we love ourselves, the more emotionally healthy people that we attract into our lives. The next thing is to say – now that you love yourself, you have to be in a position to meet lots of people and when you do, you have to make yourself vulnerable. We also make introductions and screen people like head hunters. People have the tools available to them, so they just have to know how to use them. The truly fascinating thing is that you cannot love without being vulnerable first. Vulnerability is the pre-requisite to love and we often think we can reverse the two.
We have heard the argument that independent, assertive women are a turn off to men – is there any truth to this in your opinion?
Most of my clients are successful Afro American women and one of the first things we talk about is the term independence and what it means to them. What I say is that we don’t do anything by ourselves so we need to be mindful of what we define as independence. What we need is not independence, OR dependence, but inter-dependence. All the qualifications, characteristics and success that women need in business – being assertive, being knowledgeable and intuitive – all these are things that men truly desire. Increasingly, women are earning more than their partners but I don’t believe men are worried about that. We say – great! The challenge is not who is bringing in the income; the challenge is the communication around the income, or the ability to problem solve around that income.
Are high expectations also a challenge for us?
I do not believe we should ever lower our expectations. The more we raise our expectations – the higher quality of life we will have. Broadening your expectation is good because you are inviting more into the realm of possibility and that is most important.
Do your clients expect you to ‘fix’ them?
Of course! A lot of people believe that we do – but we tell our clients early on that we do not have the ability to change anyone. You are the only one on the planet empowered to change yourself. If you want to change your situation, you have to change YOU! Once someone understands that – then change begins to happen.
What about high profile couples like Barack and Michelle Obama, Jay-Z and Beyonce, and Will and Jada – can aspiring to be like them cause us problems?
I think it is an issue if we believe we can take mentorship from someone we cannot talk to or someone who we cannot truly observe their walk – so yes, it could cause some issues, but there could also be some positives. What is interesting is that I’m a big champion of Jay-Z and Beyonce, Swizz Beatz and Alicia Keyes, Barack and Michelle Obama. I think we are seeing now in my lifetime, the presentation of the power of unity, especially within the black family. I also think what is important in our lives is to have mentorship. We have it in the business world, why don’t we have it when it comes to love – one of the most important aspects of our lives. Having this mentorship – people that you can talk to, that share your values, is the most important thing that we can do.
Do you feel a pressure on your own personal relationship- now that you are in the limelight singing the virtues of love and relationships?
That’s interesting! Someone said to me once, ‘Paul, if you ever get caught in an affair your career is over!’ but what’s fascinating is that this adds no additional pressure to me because that was not my mind set to begin with. I wrote an article for Essence a few years ago before all the TV stuff and increase in my profile saying why I would never cheat on my wife. In it , I began to break down how important vows are to me, especially when you take an oath before God. It is the most significant thing you can do, and so the fact that I meet more women is irrelevant. There is a perceived pressure and stress, but my wife and I are very good communicators. We’ve had our problems, but we resolve them very quickly.
Your book, ‘It’s Complicated (But It Doesn’t Have to Be): A Modern Guide to Finding and Keeping Love’ – what are you trying to share with us?
The fact is that we over complicate things in our lives. I truly believe that less is more. In terms of our relationships we over think them, we over analyse, we over stress and it’s not that serious. So the less is more dynamic is far more beneficial to us. The book offers 21 Steps around how to establish and maintain a healthy relationship – it could be business or personal. The impetus for the book was my son – to present something in his life that would stand the test of time. The steps are evergreen. You could read this book today or in 15 years time, and it would still apply. Another big reason is that I wanted to deliver a product that encorporates a variety of the issues and themes that interest me.
How do you measure your success?
I am interested in sales of the book of course, but when someone tells me how much the book has changed their life, then that means more to me than anything. I’ll know I have done my job when the conversations around relationships shift to that of the relationship with self first. Also, when we begin to see data that confirms that the number of black marriages, infact, all marriages, increases. I think the idea of marriage has been tarnished in this day and age and I would love to fix that.