Matchmaker and memoirist Sue Shapiro
Sue Shapiros knack for setting up lonelyhearts
By Pamela Ryckman
Susan Shapiro nestles into her regular booth at Cozys Soup & Burger, the diner near her Greenwich Village apartment where she orders a chef salad they call Sues salad from her favorite waiter, an old-timer named George. She seems to know everyone in this place and every third person strolling past the window. I am very well-known within a 15-block radius, she says.
With her raw, witty memoirs Five Men Who Broke My Heart and Lighting Up (Delacorte Press), Shapiro established herself as the queen of confession, unafraid to expose a history of heartbreak, weed, and therapy in print. Yet Shapiros latest book, Secrets of a Fix-Up Fanatic: How to Meet and Marry Your Match (Delta) is decidedly more upbeat.
And on this particular afternoon at Cozys, its suddenly clear that this cynical, naughty Villager doubles as a sweet Midwestern yenta.
You look like a writer, she says to a young hipster fumbling with multiple newspapers at the counter. Do you write for the L.A. Times?
Within minutes, she has learned his name, the newspapers he writes for, and the names of his editors, whom she knows. She hands him a promotional card for her book and, since hes cute and single, plans to invite him to one of her singles parties.
Wow, he says, looking overwhelmed, caught in Shapiros maelstrom of energy and spunk. Youre a good promoter without being aggressive.
After meeting her husband-to-be through a former boss, Shapiro began her quest to bring others together. So far, she has fixed up twelve marriages, including her brothers, her book editors, three couples from her writing group, the singer Lisa Loebs (on national television), and countless other couples. Based on this track record, Secrets exhorts readers to do something so retro it is revolutionary: Instead of barhopping and using Match.com, put fate in a friends hands. Being set up, Shapiro reminds us, is the oldest, cheapest, fastest, safest and nicest route to love.
While mainstream in theme and packaging, Secrets may be less of a departure for Shapiro than it appears. Like her memoirs, Secrets divulges lessons learned on the couch and includes personal anecdotes about Shapiros own dating pitfalls. She charts her path to the altar at age 35 and examines what has made her ten-year union with a TV/film writer last, though she initially dismissed him as not her type. Its the success of her marriage that has made her both a believer in matchmaking and qualified to advise others. I dont want to be a relationship expert who cant have a relationship, she says.
In Secrets, Shapiro advocates abandoning one requirement to open up the dating pool. If youre hunting for a rich, tall guy with a buff body, perhaps youll consider a lover with love handles. Shapiro counsels readers to find the best raw material and then negotiate the incidentals, a strategy that worked for her and her mate. Shapiros husband, for instance, hated her heavy smoking, and she would have preferred a slimmer man. So to help Shapiro quit without weight gain, he agreed to banish junk food from their apartment. He dropped 60 pounds in the process, and each was suddenly more desirable to the other. Like I say in my book, you can buy him new shoes, but not a new heart, she says.
Shapiro professes to be a raging feminist who loves men and marriage. She bristles when female contemporaries dress down and feel the need to act commanding and confrontational early in a relationship; even Shapiro, a literary tell-all who prefers sweat pants to skirts, advocates wearing lipstick and saving some neuroses for the third date. She believes that many strong, intelligent, attractive women fail in relationships because they stand on ceremony. They say Im not going to play games and they dont dress up and they pretend its all about being themselves, but really theyre afraid to get close to someone.
And in case the ladies havent noticed, Shapiro has identical advice for men: Take off the baseball cap and sneakers. Shave. Make yourself presentable. Pretend youre on a job interview or trying to get a bank loan. A blind date could be the most important interview of your life, Shapiro smiles.
Shapiro insists it wasnt hard to change her narrative voice for this book. For her, shifting tones in this case, from feisty to friendly really is as easy as changing outfits. On book jackets for Five Men and Lighting Up, she appears in a tight, black, low-cut dress on a rooftop overlooking Manhattan, the sex kitten with the world at her feet. Secrets features a close-up of the author smiling amiably, arms folded over a conservative white button-down. She could be your best friend, the woman you love or want to be.
There are also elements of self-help in her previous memoirs. After reading Lighting Up, addicts often approach her for advice or for a referral to her addiction therapist. And one day, Shapiro found herself searching for Five Men in a Borders bookstore, first in Biography, then in Romance. When she found it in the Self-Help section next to Women Who Love Too Much, she marched up to a clerk and demanded to know why. You win a guy, you lose a guy, you win a guy, you lose a guy. Thats self-help, he laughed.
Both books led very easily to self-help. A lot of my writing is born from therapy and is about a different obsession of mine, Shapiro says. Now that shes substance-free and married, a self-described die-hard romantic optimist, her focus has moved past her own relationships to others. Shapiro is fixated on fixing people up.
Still, she confesses initial wariness in venturing into self-help territory. She had other ideas she thought were smarter. I feared if I died tomorrow Id be leaving the world a Cosmo article, Shapiro says. But she got around this by working simultaneously on another book, at whose subject shell merely hint. In it, Shapiro says, she eschews Secrets lighter fare for something smart, esoteric, and not commercial.
Both books are complementary, and reflective of Shapiros own personal yin/yang the neurotic, New York intellectual and the nice Jewish girl from Michigan, whose parents 52-year marriage she celebrates in her dedication. As much as I get off on being the dark Villager, I want to play in Peoria, she says.
Sue Shapiro will be reading with another Villager, Marci Alboher, March 29 at 7 p.m. at Borders, 10 Columbus Circle. Find more information about her writing classes and upcoming readings at Susanshapiro.net.