onique Guild is surrounded by couples. In her cubbyhole of an office, the shelves are crammed with wedding pictures of smiling twosomes. Letters from lovers paper the walls. The computer screen glows with the names of hundreds of couples, arranged alphabetically, with comments attached.
“First date lasted eight hours,” reads the notation beside one couple. “He proposed at the top of the Eiffel Tower,” says another.
It can be a little overwhelming, admits Guild — all that ardor packed into her tiny 5-by-11 foot cubicle. But for Guild, who keeps track of other people’s romances for a living, unrelenting happiness comes with the job.
“It’s kind of bizarre, but it’s true — I only deal with the upside of things,” she said, grinning. “Somebody’s got to do it.”
Guild, whose name rhymes with wild, is the national director of success stories at the world’s oldest and largest video dating service, Great Expectations, which is headquartered in Encino. As such, she is responsible for keeping a running total of marriages, engagements and couples who have decided to live together.
Fast-food restaurants measure success in millions of burgers sold, says Jeffrey Ullman, Guild’s boss and founder of Great Expectations, or GE. What dating services sell is more difficult to quantify, but Ullman believes that it should be tallied just the same.
Ullman says that tally includes more than 18,000 clients who have found mates through the service. For the salespeople in the 43 GE centers across the country, figures like that are a powerful way to persuade singles to hand over $2,000 — the approximate price of a three-year membership.
ideo dating — the practice of using videotaped interviews to screen and select potential partners — is a Los Angeles invention. Critics call it flaky and superficial.
Admirers call it forward-looking and cutting edge. Can it be an accident that it got its start in a Brentwood basement?
Ullman, who as a college student had fiddled around with some of the earliest portable video cameras, says the idea was sparked when a friend complained about her lackluster love life.
“Advertise for yourself,” he told her. And then, according to GE promotional literature, “it clicked. Why not advertise for dates with the most effective form of advertising to the masses: television?”
Sixteen years later, GE’s 135,000 members “advertise” their qualities in written and videotaped profiles (“I am tall, dark and muscular. I tend to intimidate the hell out of women,” reads one profile, “I definitely am not a morning person,” says another).
Similarly, Ullman spends a fair bit of time trying to bring GE’s gualities to the attention of the public. Competitors are vying for a share of the singles market — the Los Angeles telephone book lists five other video dating services with names such as Videomates and Network Club.
Ullman likes to win. When his first rival, Videodate, went out of business years ago, he took the sign off its front door as a trophy. To ensure that the GE logo never becomes someone else’s trophy, he invests in promotion — infomercials and other formats in which couples of his choosing extol the virtues of video-aided courtship.
For each such project, Ullman needs GE members to sing the praises of his brainchild. He needs to know which members are happy, which members are bilingual and, preferably, which members combine those qualities with an articulate attractive demeanor. In short, he needs Guild’s help.
uild, 28 and single, says her job involves much more than counting heads.
GE members who have gone “inactive” are asked the vital question:
Did true love cause them to take a dating hiatus? If so, the “success story” coordinator in each GE center sends their written profiles and photographs to Guild.
From then on, Guild charts the developments of these “fulfilled expectations,” entering new details into her database for easy access. She can tell you which couples are photogenic and telegenic (though she stresses that you do not have to be gorgeous to be considered an official GE success).
With a moment’s notice, she can tick off the names of older couples (filed under “55+”), youthful, affluent couples (filed under “yuppie”), or non-Anglo couples (filed under “ethnic”). In a heartbeat, she can find a file full of couples whose union brought two sets of children together (filed under “Brady Bunch”).
“Technically, to be crass, it’s marketing. What better way to describe GE than to show two smiling people?” asked Mark Smith, GE’s national marketing director. But Guild is not a saleswoman, she said. Smith sees her more as a bubbly Sherlock Holmes — probing, efficient and ready to cry or throw rice.
Sometimes it is not easy. The other day, Guild had to deliver the bad news to a single “success story” who had hoped to be featured in the infomercial, but had not been chosen.
“We loved you. We thought you were great. I’ll definitely keep you on file for other things,” Guild told the woman, her voice warm. Guild hung up and shook her head. “She was a brunette,” she said. “We needed to go with a blonde.”
But most of Guild’s other duties are more fun. Complaints are not her department. Bliss is.
The other day, Guild telephoned Cathy, a GE member from Cincinnati.
“So you’re just totally in love and everything is wonderful?” Guild asked Cathy, who is engaged to marry another GE member next year. Cathy gushed about the new house she and her betrothed had bought and the business they were starting.
“I could just hear stuff like this all day,” Guild told her. “Keep me up to date.”