Dispensing Tough Love
by Ronald Sklar
Although Steve Ward makes his living matchmaking and love coaching, the most meant-for-each-other hookup of all may be Steve and VH1.
Tough Love, the VH1 series based on his successful matchmaking business and value-added relationship philosophies, has become one of that network’s top ratings-getters. Viewers have responded to the series with the love/hate mixed emotions of tough love itself. Some call it ugly and sadistic. Others call it necessary medicine. Yet America comes banging at the door, begging to be let back in, week after week. It’s now in its second season, with, as they used to say on Love, American Style, more love to come.
Focusing on a group of lonely ladies who seem to be looking for love in all the wrong places, Steve plays the good cop and the bad cop of love. He steps in and steps up, enforcing and forcing, wrenching, watching, questioning, probing, tapping, poking, drilling, and helping these participants inch their way (hopefully) toward fulfillment and self-realization. Will they? Keep watching, sucker. At the very least, they’ll get a foothold on that tough road called the right path. He’s like the Mike Rowe of Love: it’s a dirty job, but somebody has to get down in the sewer so that the rest of us can function.
Damn you, by the way, if you think you are any better than these vulnerable trainees. You’re watching a boot camp without having to put on the boots, but part of you is right down there, on your belly, writhing with them. Face the truth, if you can handle it: you need a dose of tough love yourself. Right?
Even Steve does not claim this stuff to tickle. He says, “It’s really just a matter of looking at yourself in a different way and saying, ‘what can I be doing differently to get the results that I want?’ I feel like everybody can improve in their love life. I don’t think anybody is doing it perfectly. You could be doing things a little differently that might improve that relationship. And improve every aspect of your life.”
Throughout the course of the season, the girls get schooled in everything from “what it takes to make a man go ‘wow!’” to examining father issues and other darker anxieties and roadblocks.
“What we try to preach on the show is [how to be] introspective” Steve says, “and to be willing to consider other people’s opinions. And not staying so steadfast in your belief.”
Because this is not kid’s stuff or for sensitive hearts, Steve comes well equipped and battle ready.
“I grew up around it,” says the Philadelphia native. “My mom [Tough Love co-star and business partner, JoAnn Ward] has been matchmaking since I was a little kid. She’s always taught me right and wrong when it comes to dating and relationships. Once I started doing it full time after graduating from college, I made it my full time occupation. I read voraciously on the subject of love and self-improvement I do a lot of collaborating with peers. I just continue to educate myself and try to share my insights with other people.”
Their Philadelphia-based service, Master Matchmakers, reaches its loving but firm hands out to the four corners of the nation, bringing people together, and more.
“Mom was always doing it professionally, ever since 1985,” Steve says. “Even earlier than that, she set up her uncle with his wife, and her brother with his wife. When she remarried, she set my father up with his second wife. She ended up introducing her sister-in-law to her husband. And that was all before she ever turned a buck doing it. My stepdad, who I call my dad, encouraged her to go out into the dating industry in the mid-eighties and she’s been doing it ever since.”
When a production company tracked them down for a possible series, they were a bit skeptical, but VH1 was looking for love from a male point of view.
“When they called at first, my mom hung up on them,” Steve says.
However, like a perfect, loving relationship, the TV show has done wonders for the family business. How’s that for symbiotic?
“Master Matchmakers has blown up,” Steve says. “We have more people contacting us than ever before. We’ve developed different types of services to offer in addition to just matchmaking because the response has been overwhelmingly women. So if we want to find a way to continue to service these women but we don’t necessarily have men to match them with, there are still things we can do. We can coach them. We can help them date on their own. There are different packages that we’ve created for people who are looking for a little bit of support in their love life.”
In the meantime, there is always the TV to keep us warm (as well as a companion book published by Simon and Shuster, called Crash Course in Love, co-authored by mom JoAnn).
“There are a lot of people who are really affected by the program,” Steve says. “I’m not just acting. It’s not just entertaining. It’s not just traditional shock-value programming. It’s informative. It’s educational. I appreciate that people are learning from what I’m doing. They’re applying what I’m doing on my show to other areas of their lives. That’s exciting to me.”
For more about VH1’s Tough Love, and to watch a few, go to http://www.vh1.com/shows/tough_love/season_2/series.jhtml/series.jhtml
For more information about Master Matchmakers, go to www.mastermatchmakers.com
You can also follow Tough Love on Facebook and Twitter.
|#1 © 2009 Eric Williams. All rights reserved.|
|#2 © 2009 Eric Williams. All rights reserved.|
|#3 © 2009 Eric Williams. All rights reserved.|
|#4 © 2009. Courtesy of VH1. All rights reserved.|
Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: December 20, 2009.