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A conversation with Erin Connolly

When Erin Connolly learned that the original founder of the local Gatherings singles club was selling the business, she made her move. Like Victor Kiam and his Remington Shavers, "I liked it so much, I bought the company!"

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How do you do your matchmaking?

I have a database and an Excel spreadsheet. I get a little calendar for my events. And it's always two red balloons on my car. See, I'm simple.

 

Most events are casual, but the dinners are more structured?

Yes, always even numbers of men and women. If you just did the dinners, it's hard to maintain that. This week, I get 15 women to RSVP and three men. But I have more men at my happy hours and dances, because it's noncommittal. So I'll send an e-mail saying I have 15 women registered, and I'll get back "sure," "sure," "sure," "sure," "sure." I could have 15 men on my patio tonight if I needed to!

 

You said that you bought the company because you were a member. But I can't imagine you not knowing hundreds of people.

I was selling medical equipment and traveling to four states. I was in Holiday Inn Express every night. I was 44 then, and your social life shrinks because every year one or more of your friends gets married. I felt this total void; it's like, "Gosh, I don't even know any friends who know new drinks to try anymore." I wanted some more fun friends. I used to actually pray about it.

 

What do you think about Forbes saying Pittsburgh's bad for singles?

The same things that make this place strong make us weak. I think it's the strong ties we have. I'm from McKees Rocks; I came from a family of six, my mom from a family of 10, and four aunts lived on my street. But when you meet new people, it doesn't mean you hate your old buddies. They think it's disloyalty, or they're afraid to leave that comfort zone. People say, "I'm not gonna come all the way from the North Hills to the South Side!" I'm like, "Are you on a moped, or what?"

 

What do you notice about age?

Most of my members are 40 to 55. I notice people that are younger are more attracted with looks. People that are older tend to really want companionship.

 

Is there anything particularly Irish about what you do?

Like if I do a dance, I always do it somewhere they serve alcohol! It's not the drinking, but it brings people together. When I go somewhere, I always sit at the bar. That's how I recruit a lot of my men. They sometimes say, "I'd just like to meet people naturally." And I say, "How's that working out for you?" I get enough people together to let nature take its course.

 

What are your successes?

I have one marriage and 20 couples dating in 18 months. And the marriage, [they met on] the worst night. It was a dinner [in] December or January and it was snowing really hard, [but] almost 15 to 16 people showed up. One couple met there, she's an attorney and he's a plumber. And they got married the following February.

Another one: "The last time we saw each other was at your Gatherings dance. ... That evening I met Norman ... he's an absolutely wonderful man. He has such a gentle nature and is so sweet and considerate. I even flew down to Florida to join him for his vacation. I have never felt so cared for. ..." So it's not just "Oh, we're partying!" This is really caring!

 

Have you ever met anyone in the club?
Right away [on the phone] they want to date me. I put the kibosh on it. To go out with somebody and have it not work out, then I'd get a reputation. I do things with men in the club but I keep it platonic until I am sure it [is] going to be something. It's good for me, because that's never how I lived my life before. To actually meet people and get to know their middle name!

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