Your Friends’ Dating Advice Doesn't Work. Enter: Matchmaker Maria.

Her signature tip has reportedly led to at least 2,500 engagements.

Meet Maria Avgitidis, known as Matchmaker Maria online.

In early December, I was sipping prosecco at a busy pub in New York City’s Financial District. As a Backstreet Boys song blared, I was chatting with another woman about our love lives when a tall brunette sailed by, resplendent in magenta sequins. She urged us to line up for a free portrait session with a photographer. “You can use these on your dating app profiles!” she said.

That was Maria Avgitidis, 39, or Matchmaker Maria as she’s famously known online. Her holiday party had well over 100 people, many of whom were eager to meet her for the first time.

In an age when anybody can spout dating tips online, Avgitidis stands out. Although she’s not the most popular influencer in this space — she has roughly 125,000 followers across Instagram and TikTok — her blunt, no-nonsense advice seems to actually work. And it’s helped her develop an unusually passionate community. She claims at least 2,500 people have gotten engaged since 2021 thanks to her 12 Date Rule (more on that later).

Avgitidis, who has nearly 15 years of matchmaking experience, is skeptical of advice from creators without credentials; her certificate is from the Global Love Institute, an organization that teaches research-backed strategies rooted in behavioral science and psychology to aspiring matchmakers and dating coaches. She’s also wary of people who call themselves “dating experts” simply because they turn their own love lives into content.

Jolene Siana

“The distinction is that I was in the dating industry before social media became a thing,” she says. “When I started out, it was just going to bars and ‘tell me your problems,’ but I wasn’t making content out of that. When you’re making content, you’re going to say the most ludicrous sh*t to get engagement.”

The dating scene is rough right now: apps are firmly in their flop era and IRL meet-cutes seem like a myth from the ’90s. For many singles, Avgitidis’ advice is a bright light in the confusing darkness.

Avgitidis grew up in suburban New Jersey. Both her maternal grandmother and great-grandmother were matchmakers. In kindergarten, she went back and forth between two classmates, asking, “Do you like her?” “She likes you, do you like him?” before declaring them boyfriend and girlfriend.

“I haven’t changed,” she tells me two days after the party. She speaks firmly with the confidence of a natural leader. She has excellent posture and eye contact. Her cat-eye liner is drawn with precision. (Disclosure: I met Avgitidis at a conference in 2019 and have been a guest on her podcast, Ask a Matchmaker.)

We’re talking over takeout sushi and boba in her childhood home, where she currently lives with her husband, 6-year-old son, 3-year-old daughter, and parents. (She’s a part-time caretaker for her mother.)

Her email had a fortuitous typo, advertising her work for $5,000 instead of $500. “Three people signed up that day,” she says with a laugh.

She didn’t set out to become a matchmaker, she tells me. Instead, she went to NYU for a master’s in global affairs and worked at a market research firm in New York. An early adopter of Twitter, she used the hashtag #NYCIR to gather New Yorkers in international relations to meet for drinks once a week. The events typically attracted singles. After a pair who met there got married, others turned to Avgitidis for help. She charged her first three clients $500 each, then emailed everyone she knew. “I’m like, ‘Hey, if you know anyone, I’m setting up these guys. Let me meet your friends.’”

When she was laid off in 2009, she solicited more clients. Her email had a fortuitous typo, advertising her work for $5,000 instead of $500. “Three people signed up that day,” she says with a laugh. “That’s when I learned about value proposition.” And so her company Agape Match was born.

“I remember lying to [potential clients], saying I was 30, because who the f*ck would give a 24-year-old money?” she says. The first two years were a financial stretch. “I was scrapping it. My diet consisted of Hot Pockets and lentil soup, and a treat would be a slice of pizza,” she says. “When they would run my card, I just prayed it wouldn't go in the red.”

Garret Maney

So, she hustled. Every night, she’d use Foursquare to visit whichever bar was most packed in order to find potential matches for her clients. She hosted monthly dinners at Greek restaurants, big bashes for Halloween and Valentine’s Day, and watch parties for presidential debates in Jay Z’s private room at the 40/40 Club. (The venue pitched her, not the other way around.) Six years in, these events weren’t turning a profit, but her database of singles — the most important tool in a matchmaker’s arsenal — was growing.

During these years, she was meeting men for herself, too. “I was always dating. I never got exhausted of it,” she says. “But also, I met my husband at 28, so I recognize that if I were 38, I’d be like, ‘Oh my God, now where is he?’”

She met her future husband, scientist George Pyrgiotakis, through mutual friends in 2012. Four years later, they had what she calls “our Big Fat Greek Wedding” in Athens.

The matchmaking industry has come a long way since the days of Fiddler on the Roof, and it’s still growing. Most firms, Avgitidis’ included, cater to wealthy singles who are burned out from dating apps. There’s enough demand that Agape Match has grown to a team of six.

Like most modern matchmakers, Avgitidis thoroughly interviews each client to analyze what kind of partner would best suit them. Next, she scours her database of singles, references from other matchmakers, and even her own Instagram followers to find a potential fit. She plans the date (the restaurant reservation is always under Maria), follows up with both parties the day after, and — if needed — uses the match’s feedback to improve her client’s dating game and refine her search for the next person.

Garret Maney

Today, Agape Match has 15 to 20 clients at a time, mostly straight men ages 29 to 45 in New York and D.C. who work in finance. She’s also been hired by several NFL players, actors, politicians, shipping heirs, and CEOs of big companies. Some required their matches to sign NDAs before the first date. “And then you have even more famous people who are like, ‘I don’t give a f*ck. Just tell them who I am,’” she says.

Her rates range from $18,000 to $100,000 for six months. Services include add-ons such as dating app ghostwriting, photo shoots, and wardrobe reviews.

“It just kind of depends on how difficult they’re going to be,” she says of her fee. “We'll have clients who want very specific age brackets that are really hard to find based on their age gap. Or I’ll have clients who want to be traveling all the time, and they want someone who's career-oriented, but [the match] can't have a 9 to 5. They want someone who can pop into a jet at any point. And I know some women think, ‘Oh, I would do that.’ And I’m like, ‘No, you wouldn’t.’”

After my interview with Joseph, Avgitidis followed up to ask what I thought of him. I told her our conversation had been helpful, and she said, “No, what do you think of him?”

Joseph, 36, has been a client on and off since 2018. He was sick of unsuccessful setups from family and friends and uninterested in dating apps. Several of his co-workers and friends found love through Agape Match, so he decided to try it out. “They've made a process that's awful for a lot of guys [actually] fun,” the New York business executive tells Bustle. “Maria’s reputation is second to none. There’s a skill and expertise that goes into her approach. It’s methodical, not a guessing game.”

He’s been introduced to 25 women — “I’m just being very picky, but they’re all really wonderful people” — but says her coaching alone would’ve been worth the investment. “She’s like the big sister that a lot of men never had, just being very blunt and to the point. She doesn't do it in a way where you feel like you're going to go crawl up in a ball. You feel like she's very constructive in it, but you need to hear it.”

His takeaways? Don’t treat dates like business meetings; don’t try to impress women by taking them to restaurants where you’re buddies with the owner; and stop dressing like Eugene Levy. (After my interview with Joseph, Avgitidis followed up to ask what I thought of him. I told her our conversation had been helpful, and she said, “No, what do you think of him?” He was perfectly pleasant but I declined the setup.)

At the holiday party, I met one of her newest clients, a 44-year-old finance guy who sought out her services after a broken engagement. With a self-deprecating smile, he said, “I clearly haven’t been doing myself any favors, so I might as well trust Maria.” It’s a common sentiment.

“I can find 30 women for one man in the amount of time it takes me to find three men for a woman.”

Agape Match rarely takes on female matchmaking clients. Avgitidis says that women tend to have more preferences, which makes the search more time-consuming. She estimates that, in terms of hours, it would cost her the time equivalent of $5,000 to find one single, emotionally available guy who’s enthusiastic about being set up with a particular female client. “I can find 30 women for one man in the amount of time it takes me to find three men for a woman.”

Avgitidis works with women in other ways, including paid group coaching and doling out free advice on social media. On Wednesdays, for example, she hosts “Ask a Matchmaker” Q&A sessions on her Instagram stories. She’s skipped the ritual just three times in nearly six years, and once spent an hour guiding people through romantic woes while in labor.

That kind of dedication is part of her appeal, as is her tough love. “If a guy treated you like sh*t, it’s because you guys were so attracted to each other physically that everything else took a back seat,” she tells me. “You weren’t compatible from the jump, and you decided to ignore that because he was 6’4”, right?” (On Instagram, Avgitidis — who is 5’11” — regularly begs women to get over their lust for tall men.)

“Any straight man that likes Stanley Tucci would absolutely let you sit on his face,” she once explained on Instagram. The logic: Male fans are secure enough in their masculinity to care about a woman’s pleasure.

Her success online is largely due to how passionately her followers have embraced and evangelized her advice. The most popular theory, the 12 Date Rule, outlines how long you should spend getting to know someone before having sex. (The actual number of dates varies; one six-hour date counts as two outings.) This past winter, she dropped merch — T-shirts, tote bags, and mugs — that say “12 Date Bride.” “I'm trying to make people more intentional in their dating because sex is a massive distraction,” she says. She waited 16 dates with her husband.

Don’t mistake that rule for prudishness. She’s also coined the Tucci Theory: “Any straight man that likes Stanley Tucci would absolutely let you sit on his face,” she once explained on Instagram. The logic: Male fans are secure enough in their masculinity to care about a woman’s pleasure. On dating apps, guys in the know will sometimes drop references to the actor.

There’s more: Avgitidis recommends a carefree “ho phase” when not seeking a serious relationship, admonishes “time thieves” for stringing women along, advises couples to move in together only after getting engaged, preaches that wearing green makes a woman more seem more approachable, and encourages people who have been ghosted to text, “Did you die?”

“If [a DM is] really long, my eyes will glaze over. I’m just like, break up.”

In 2020, she launched a travel company, Agape Escapes, which organizes trips for graduates of her dating intensive program, in addition to other excursions. (Due to the pandemic, the first trip took place in 2022.) At the holiday party, a 30-something woman told me about her experience traveling with Avgitidis. The group spent a week day-tripping around Greek islands, eating octopus, and digging deep into their psyches to explore their individual barriers to finding love. The itinerary wasn’t the only draw. “Girls were fawning when they met her,” the vacationer said.

Avgitidis is still wrapping her head around her growing reputation. She gets recognized in public daily. (She always introduces herself with a warm “Hi, my name is Maria,” even if she’s approached by someone who clearly recognizes her, a move she borrowed from Bill Clinton.) She’s surprised that fans have taken an interest in her personal life, too. “Two thousand people have liked that I won my church council elections. That’s so weird to me,” she says.

Interacting with a community of that size can be draining. She gets around 50 DMs a day, many of them deeply personal, and has the mental bandwidth to respond to only a few. “If it’s really long, my eyes will glaze over. I’m just like, break up,” she says.

As for the future, her sights are set beyond social media. In 2020, she launched a weekly podcast. Next year, she’ll release a book. And between 2024 and 2025, she expects to quintuple the number of trips hosted by Agape Escapes. Oh, and one other small goal? “I want to fix dating.”

A decade ago, I had a brief stint working for the matchmaking company Tawkify, and have since worked as a writer and editor focused on the dating industry. Both professionally and personally, online and off, I spend a lot of time talking to people about their love lives. It’s rare that I’m among a group of women venting about singlehood or dating apps and someone doesn’t pipe up to say, “Well, according to Matchmaker Maria…”

Avgitidis is genuinely shocked by this. “When I look at Reddit, they’re like, ‘Matchmaker Maria date math’ or ‘he time-thieved you’ or ‘that guy should be a ho phase,’” she says, shaking her head. “I’m like, wow, these words are resonating. I didn’t know I had that power. I had no idea.”