For 20 years, John Estes had been eating at Queenie's in Utica Square.
Then, one day, he spied something that wasn't on the menu: Nancy, a "second timer" like himself.
She'd been praying for a love story to tell, said Nancy, who caught John's attention the first time she ate there. The second time he saw her there, he approached her.
They exchanged names and small talk. He thought she was cute, and she thought he had a great smile.
After following her "four seasons" dating rule of a one-year courtship, the couple married March 6, 2009 "3-6-09 I'm kind of a numbers person," Nancy Estes said.
"I'm a teacher, so I knew I would never meet anyone unless online or in a bar," she said. "Not that there's anything wrong with that." The couple just thought set-ups, bars, the Internet and church were the only places they could meet people.
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Turns out, as other couples we talked to discussed, you just never know where and when you might find that love you're looking for. And we've heard from many singles who are looking for a few tips for finding their perfect match in Tulsa.
We asked some local experts professional matchmaker and long-time romantics alike which places and what ways are best to meet a potential valentine.
Leslie Wardman was coming out of a 20-year marriage when she found herself suddenly single.
"I was like a deer in the headlights. It's like landing on another planet. Planet Single," Wardman said.
Then one day she was thumbing through a magazine and found the inspiration for her future career in an article about people balancing a love life with the demands of daily life.
"They are busy, single professionals. How are they going to meet one another and fall in love? So I started the business with my daughter, and there has been no looking back," Wardman said. "It was one of those totally meant-to-be things."
That was 10 year ago. Since then, Wardman's Tulsa-based Ambiance Matchmaking company, 7136 S. Yale Ave., has connected hundreds of singles.
"We are first date specialists," Wardman said. "Ninety percent of our first dates lead to a second."
The company has expanded with locations in Bentonville and Fayetteville, Ark., and one opening in Chicago. It has even made connections abroad, she said.
"Basically we help eliminate people striking out on their own, the whole hit-or-miss thing," Wardman said.
Matchmakers provide a screening process for singles, she said. "Online dating can be dangerous," Wardman said, explaining that many people fall prey to fraud and those who are less than honest about their intentions.
Ambiance interviews the applicants and then matches up clients who are accepted on dates once or twice a month. For the first date, the matchmakers schedule a meeting for the prospective couples at some of Tulsa's top restaurants.
"I tell people, we don't guarantee love or marriage. That is way too tall an order. But we do guarantee whoever they are matched up will fall within the perimeters of whatever we go over in the interview," she said.
Although it may seem difficult at times to find that perfect someone, Tulsa has a lot of good people, Wardman said.
"It can be difficult and super lonely to find that niche. But if they are new (to a town), using a matchmaker is a great networking tool," Wardman said. "And it is catching on with the younger generation."
The typical matchmaking client used to be in his or her 40s, she said.
"But quickly, we are seeing more people in their 20s and 30s."
Every client's situation is different, however.
Through the process, the clients always learn something about themselves, according to Wardman.
"It's like Dating 101. They figure out what they want and what they don't want," she said.
But when it comes down to it, making the perfect match is all about timing, Wardman said.
"There is nothing better than getting two people together," she said. "Timing is a funny thing. Energy is a big one, too. Where people are in their lives plays a big part of finding someone."
Love in all the right places
Some folks have success online, and others meet in the workplace. Even a friend or relative can connect you to the perfect match.
The key is to play it safe while keeping an open mind.
Matthew Victor and Sharla Peeks Park met on OKCupid.com in 2011. That October, they had their first date. This June, they'll tie the knot.
"I would certainly recommend online dating," Victor said. The reason might surprise you.
"She is not what I was looking for," he said. "She's a redhead and a mom two things that I never would have looked twice at in a potential mate. But something caught my eye in her profile."
If it's meant to be, "God will find a way of making it happen just about anywhere," said Park, who also recommended online dating.
Of course, you may run into people who don't represent themselves accurately or fairly, she warned.
"Those people are around even when you are not online," she said. "But if you are safe and sensible about it, you can find the love of your life like we did."
Or it could be "in your own backyard," said Jessica Provorse, who met her love at her workplace. They're currently contemplating a weekend to run off to Eureka Springs to get married.
"Your love may be someone you are already friends with or maybe someone you may meet later on through your friends," she said.
One of the keys to finding love, wherever and however you look, is to "relax and be yourself," she said. That, and "don't try too hard."
And certainly don't limit yourself to the "usual place," she said, hinting that Cupid could be sitting in a coffee shop.
"Who meets their soulmate at a tiny cafe over coffee?" Estes said of her and her husband's romantic meeting. "You couldn't script it any better."
Biggest mistakes to make on first dates
(Or, how to avoid what matchmaker Leslie Wardman calls, “Blah, blah, yawn,” moments)
- Don't talk too much. Think of the conversation like a tennis match.
- Avoid drinking too much. Stick to a limit of two glasses of wine or two beers.
- Don't answer your cellphone unless it's an emergency call from the baby sitter.
- Don't talk about your former relationships. It makes for awkward moments.
- Steer clear of conversations about politics or religion.
- Try not to seem too eager.
- Don't drone on about things like your workout regimen or pet for 20 minutes.
- Consider splitting the check for the first date so neither person has the power position.
"Love is a Many Splendored Thing," the song from the same-named movie goes. But that's assuming you've found it.
For some of us, love is quite an elusive thing like chasing Cupid, if you will.
But we've come up with potential possibilities of crossing Cupid's path around town, some of which might also double as date-worthy moments.
Utica Square This shopping center at 21st Street and Utica Avenue's weekly Thursday concert series is a few months away, but you really never know whom you'll meet or literally bump into there. Or just wait until it's warm enough to sit outside at Queenie's or Wild Fork, and snag a patio table for breakfast or lunch, or even coffee at Starbucks and stroll around.
Guthrie Green Soon, it'll be warm enough for the Sunday Market and afternoon concerts at this 111 E. M.B. Brady St. green space, so bring a blanket or lawn chair and kick back. Personally, we suggest the blanket so you can extend your legs out and, horrible as it sounds, trip someone. In romantic comedies, they call that "meet cute." Just keep your fingers crossed the feeling's mutual.
Hit the trails Worst-case scenario, you'll get great exercise, which over time will make you look and feel better. Best-case scenario, if you stroll the RiverParks trails and the Pedestrian Bridge at 2970 S. Riverside Drive on a regular basis, you'll run into some of the same people fellow walkers and runners who very well may be looking for the same thing you are.
Embrace nature Stroll Woodward Park or the Tulsa Municipal Rose Garden at 21st Street and Peoria Avenue, as well as the nearby Linnaeus Teaching Garden. It's light cardio, and springtime will bring people out in droves. Ditto for getting lost in the woods at Oxley Nature Center, 2452 Mohawk Blvd. Not literally lost, mind you, just figuratively.
Church singles groups For the spiritual among us, churches or synagogues are a weekly, even twice or thrice (is that really a word) a week necessity, and some of these houses of worship have active singles groups. Now, we're not saying troll a worship service strictly for love, as you should be there strengthening your bond to a higher power. Still, if you're religious, being active in a singles group, attending Bible studies and volunteering at church functions would be a cool way to meet someone whose beliefs align with yours.
Museums Again, the personal benefits are obvious here as we all need exposure to culture, as well as opportunities to support the local arts. That said, become a member of Philbrook Museum of Art, 2727 Rockford Road, for as little as $55 a year, and you'll be invited to attend events (i.e., opportunities to meet people). Ditto for Gilcrease Museum, 1400 Gilcrease Museum Road, which is $50 for a membership.
Volunteer Not only will you give your karma a good buffing, but you'll meet people if not singles, folks with single friends whom they'd love to introduce to "that sweet, handsome guy who volunteers at the soup kitchen" or "the cute, funny brunette at the animal shelter." After all, charitable, so we overheard/made up, is the new hot.
- JASON ASHLEY WRIGHT, World Scene Writer
Surprise! 5 places you're NOT likely to find love
Chelsea McGuire knows about where to find potential love matches and where not.
As president and founder of Take Heart Tulsa, a "premier adventure club" that McGuire described online as "your personal social calendar coordinators," she shared tips on a recent blog about where not to find love if you're looking for it.
The hottest bar or club
"Many people do not take the singles (hopefully) they meet at the dance club seriously," McGuire wrote. "They are looking for a one-night hook-up, not a serious relationship."
Besides, most will be drinking and even drunk, and "you don't want to attract an active alcoholic, do you?" she said.
Then there's the noise factor: "My name's Andy!" "Angie?" "Sure, whatever you want!"
Still, happy hours and weekday special nights might be good possibilities for meeting singles in a fun, calmer environment, she said.
Church services, spiritual classes and workshops
"I see what you're thinking here," McGuire began. "Spiritual beliefs are an important common interest in a relationship, so why not go to the source?"
The problem is that these are places that are supposed to be sacred.
"This means that most people want to worship/talk with their higher power/self in peace," she said.
Obviously, those singles groups at church are the exception to this advice.
Gyms, fitness centers
Most people don't want to be bothered," McGuire said. "Plus, there is always going to be attractive competition."
Only single women go on cruises with their girlfriends, McGuire said. Single men don't go on cruises with their guy friends.
"They go on cruises with their wives and/or families," she reminded. "But maybe this will change now that I'm telling all of you men out there, 'All hands on deck! Single women aboard in bikinis.' "
"If you're a 'How I Met You're Mother' addict like I am, this one is a given," she said. "Only couples brunch."
For more, check out McGuire's website at takehearttulsa.com