Finding love | The Gazette


Cat Cantrill (left) meets with her client Joni Delaney Jan. 3 at her office in Cedar Rapids. Cantrill founded the Heart Agency after closing her dance studio during the COVID-19 pandemic and is Iowa’s only professional matchmaker. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)

Cat Cantrill (left) meets with her client Joni Delaney at the her office in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023. Cantrill founded the Heart Agency after closing her dance studio during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)

Cat Cantrill meets with a client at the her office in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)

Cat Cantrill (left) meets with a client at the her office in Cedar Rapids Jan. 3. Cantrill founded the Heart Agency after closing her dance studio during the COVID-19 pandemic and is Iowa’s only professional matchmaker. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)

Cat Cantrill founded the Heart Agency after closing her dance studio during the COVID-19 pandemic and is a professional matchmaker. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)

Before she became a matchmaker there were times Cat Cantrill didn’t believe in love.

Thirteen years after marrying her husband at age 22, the Arizona native found herself divorced and alone in Iowa with two children and few acquaintances.

Two failed relationships and myriad miserable dates followed that abusive relationship and nasty divorce. Ultimately she found her way to Brian — her fiancee and partner of eight years.

During that time she coached women at her Vitality Fitness and Dance Studio in Cedar Rapids where the pleas from her clients grew louder with the isolation of the pandemic. The women she mentored holistically in dance and life wanted help finding their “Brian,” too. That’s when she realized she had the ability to help people find love.

“I can bring the best out of people. And not only that, but I can see the good in everyone,” Cantrill said. “Why am I not using my talents to connect people in real life?”

So when her studio closed in January 2022 due to the pandemic, she opened The Heart Agency.

Now one year old, The Heart Agency in Cedar Rapids is more than a date coordinator.

Her process

For this dating coach, matchmaking isn’t simply a game of romantic trigonometry. It’s about helping matches gravitate toward each other naturally.

As a love doula, Cantrill says much of her work focuses not just potential matches, but helping clients harness the best of what they already have within themselves.

“They bring it out themselves. I just give them the tools they need to do it,” she said.

Her services range from $350 to $4,500, depending on how much involvement a client wants. On the low end of pricing, she offers three months of sessions that help clients date more successfully on their own. On the high end, she offers full service for busy individuals looking for love.

Clients go through her “blueprint,” take personality tests, undergo background checks and go through a rigorous evaluation before being set up on dates. Cantrill said before dates, candidates are shown profiles of their match without a photo — a departure from the world of online dating where vanity metrics dominate.

For free, singles can join “The Library” on The Heart Agency’s website, where Cantrill has amassed profiles from more than 600 single people in the area.

When working with clients, Cantrill says she often first must reassure chronically single clients that there’s nothing wrong or “broken” about them that has left them single. Second, she helps them realize that they are deserving of love. For discouraged and frustrated daters, that is often a tearful realization.

Some of the initial steps in Cantrill’s process help clients identify their own personal traits and resets sometimes arbitrary expectations that have been set for their dating preferences by themselves and others, like friends or parents.

She also helps people identify their inner saboteurs — personal blocks that may have interfered with their ability to find long-term relationships in the past — and recalibrate their dating habits with practical advice.

For example, the idea of chemistry or “the spark” is mostly a matter of anxiety and brain chemistry, she said — not necessarily an indicator of whether a suitor is “the one.” You don’t need to wait three days after the first date to call back, either.

“Sometimes, the matchmaking piece isn’t necessarily bringing two people together,” she said. “Sometimes, the matchmaking piece is the disconnect you have with yourself, and it’s rematching within yourself. Sometimes that’s all it takes.”

Looking for love?

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There, singles can join the agency’s library of more than 600 singles for free and find upcoming speed dating events for Valentine’s Day in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and Des Moines — all led by Cat Cantrill.

Cat Cantrill also offers advice through Dear Matchmaker, ranked in the top 10 percent of podcasts on Spotify globally with thousands of downloads.

But finding the right match for long-term relationships is best done from a position of strength. To increase success in finding the right soul mate, she teaches singles to create romance in their own lives, first.

“The happier you are in your life, the happier the types of people you’re going to attract,” Cantrill said. “I help people (be) people again.”

Getting out of online dating that has become so prevalent for singles today and helping people develop their own interests, hobbies and joys is a great first step to do that, Cantrill says. For divorcees who married young and devoted their focus to raising a family, it’s a vital step, she adds.

It’s something Cantrill, now 48, realized she was missing when she started dating again after her divorce. Before finding Brian, rekindling her passion with dance helped her emanate the energy she needed to find the right match for love.

“I don’t want to just be part of someone else’s life. I deserve to have my own,” the entrepreneur said. “Sometimes what we’re seeking in a partnership is what we’re lacking in ourselves.”

What makes a good matchmaker?

Being in the business of people means you have to love people in every sense of the word, Cantrill said. That means creating a safe space where clients feel comfortable opening up, learn how to be vulnerable and find the courage to put themselves out there again. It also means listening without a bias and putting aside life experiences to truly listen.

Cantrill is certified through the Global Love Institute and is a member of the Matchmakers Alliance. But most of her training for the job came through her dance studio, where friends pushed her to realize how many long-term relationships and marriages she was responsible for helping.

“I was a matchmaker in that studio,” she said. “I created a space for people to come together, to have relationships with each other.”

The role of dating apps

Online apps for dating have become a billion dollar industry and a dominant force that has shifted the paradigm for singles. The paradox of choice has created so many options that singles often feel paralyzed. Those who find matches online often struggle with fear of missing out by “settling” for the wrong person.

Combined with a lack of vetting or background checks, it’s been the cause of a lot of frustration that simultaneously addicts users with strategic bursts of dopamine. Many apps, after all, are designed to keep people using them.

“It’s made people be really disgusted with people,” Cantrill said. “It’s given people permission to hide behind a screen, creating distrust and making people not want to connect.”

But online dating sites can remain an important tool in matchmaking if they’re used carefully. Rethinking the “types” of people one is drawn to and why is a big part of using the apps correctly, according to Cantrill.

Sometimes, successful dating means giving a second look to the profiles you might never think to “swipe right” on.

“If you find yourself in a cycle of poor dates, it’s not that there’s all these bad people,” Cantrill said. “It’s just you’ve trained the algorithm to deliver these types of people to you.”

Why hire a matchmaker?

Cantrill said people are intrigued when they find out she is a matchmaker. But her new career also faces a stigma as outdated and unnecessary. Clients can also be seen as desperate. But Cantrill likens The Heart Agency’s work to other professional resources commonly used in other areas of our lives.

“We hire Realtors to find the right house, financial advisers to manage finances,” she said. “But when it comes to love, you’re just supposed to know how to find a great match for you?”

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