The man behind the toughness, Steven Ward, is the sort of character that reality TV loves — he’s blunt, quick on his feet and most importantly, divisive. The professional matchmaker, self-proclaimed “dating pathologist” and center of VH1 Tough Love is a walking water-cooler conversation, with one camp subscribing to his methods, another writing him off as a sadistic misogynist and yet another falling somewhere in between. No matter which camp you belong to, the introductory interview below should be enough to challenge and support your views on the man. In it Steven talks about his background, the game of romance and the first episode of VH1 Tough Love.
As a professional matchmaker with your own business, Master Matchmakers, did you ever think that you would end up on reality TV?
No, not at all. I just figured that I was going to continue to do what I do in Philly, New York, DC, and eventually try to grow the company and expand it nationwide, but I never really thought that a television show was in the cards.
Was it just a matter of the idea being presented to you? How did it come about?
I was contacted by a development manager from High Noon Entertainment. She told me that they were looking to produce a dating show from the male point of view. And so they put my name on a very short list of candidates and after careful consideration and speaking with my mom and learning more about what we do. They decided to take a chance and to build a show around us and our business.
It’s interesting that they came to you as this idea from the male perspective thing. I was watching some news clips you have on the Master Matchmakers site and it was clear that you have plenty of opinions on what men do wrong in their quest for love.
Oh, absolutely. I would of loved to have had an opportunity to do this with men as well. Even the guys that we use on the show, they have their own issues that I would love an opportunity to work through with them. But, unfortunately there is only so much time in the day and we decided to make this particular boot camp with the women.
I know you went to Drexel, but what did you study there? Did you have a background in any kind of psychology?
No. I look at relationships like modern economics. I think all relationships are partnerships. I was finance and economics student at Drexel. I did extremely well there; I got an incredible, top notch education. After graduating college I had an opportunity to go to Wall Street and do entry level investment banking. But instead, I started working with mom and never really looked back.
So is it just a matter of this sort of thing being in your blood?
Yeah. It’s inherited. It’s instinct. It’s intuition. There is no science to matchmaking. You have to have the quality, you have to have the know how in order to communicate to people effectively and be able to point out what it is that they can be doing differently in order to have more success. That’s kind of the biggest obstacle with matchmaking is learning how to communicate to people what their issues are.
Is there sort of a cosmic level to that too when you say that it’s inherited?
Absolutely there is. I’m deeply spiritual individual, and I believe that everything does happen for a reason but I think most people out there stop short of trying to understand what that reason may be. What I do everyday of my life is try to understand out why I cross paths with certain people and what their message is for me.
It seems a lot of the time a lot of what you’re on this show is really is slapping people with common sense.
Exactly. And I think most of the things that I say are things that a lot of people will realize but won’t ever actually say themselves.
Yeah. So it is just a matter of that outside voice?
Absolutely. It’s that example from the show: I’m the person that will tell you, “You look like s***. Change your dress.”
It must be a difficult thing for you to do though, to be an ambassador of the male sex and put forth this unified opinion. She looks like s*** in that dress to you. But maybe I like her in that dress, you know?
I believe that I, for the most part, can do a pretty good job of speaking for the majority of men out there. And of course there is an exception to every rule and there are a lot of men out there that would disagree with some of the things that I say, but there is far greater majority of men that would agree with me.
That’s just the sense you get?
No. It’s just a matter of fact. I mean I’ve been doing this for almost seven years now. And after spending enough time, working with enough men, you can generalize. I’m not really that out of line in what I say to this women. I think a lot of the men who see this show are going to agree with me.
If you had to generalize men in a few sentences versus women, what would the fundamental differences be?
Men are simple creatures. We need food, shelter and sex. That’s pretty much it. Whereas women are far more complicated and far more emotional. And they require a lot more than just that.
I also saw that you refer to yourself as a dating pathologist. What does that mean?
Basically, my job is to diagnose any disease or disorder that is affecting someone’s love life. By observing them and trying to identify a pattern in their behavior, I can usually prescribe a solution either in the form of insight or a potential match that may ultimately remedy whatever this malady may be.
With everyone being different, it seems in some cases that may be a difficult thing to diagnose?
See that’s the thing is that I’m not dating these people. So I have to introduce them to others in order to just verify my own conclusions. And it’s the veracity of the multiple attempts that ultimately allows me to draw pretty concrete conclusions. There is an old Jewish proverb, it says, “If someone calls you a horse, you turn and walk away. If someone else calls you a horse, you call them a horse back. If a third person calls you a horse, maybe it’s time to get yourself a saddle.”
Is it fun?
Yeah, its fun. This show been very…it’s a lot of work and it’s very demanding emotionally. But it’s been very fun because I have been able to pull all the strings. And have been like a master puppeteer. And what I mean by that is by being able to put these women into position to be successful and then to also to be able to set them up for failure, it gives me an incredible amount of power over their lives, which ultimately will force them to look at things the way I want them to look at them. When you’re just matchmaking and you’re dealing with clients, you have to walk a very fine line because they are customer. They have invested in you and your services, and as much as you want to really set them straight, you also need to be respectful of the fact that there is a monetary relationship here. And I have a responsibility to keep the relationship very amicable and if that breaks down its next to impossible to represent somebody in good conscious. With this project that was a non-concern.
So does TV actually help your process?
Absolutely it does. Having producers and having the ability to create situations for these women put them in an opportunity to be successful. Basically the network and the producers and everything, picked up my costs, the caring costs of working with eight different women. And that cost is usually time and money: going out, recruiting the right people for them, spending the money to background check them and verify them, get character references. By having a budget and having a lot of resources from the network and the producers to be able to do that very efficiently and very effectively, it made my job exponentially easier.
And there was no compromise at any point to your ideology just for the sake of TV-making?
You know there was a few times where I really questioned the objective of some of the things that we were doing. But once I had a chance to really get into it, and put my spin on things, and make sure that I had an opportunity to explain things to the women and help them see things in a certain light, then it was easy for me to create situations that would result in a positive change.
Are there any philosophical differences between you and your mother/Master Matchmakers partner, being that you’re opposite genders?
Yeah, absolutely. I think my mom is much more image conscious than I am insofar as the opinion of others really matters to her. In terms of how she is seen, how her approach is critiqued, because my Mom feels like she…that the proof is in the pudding. That the ends justifies the means. Whereas in my mind, in my attitude, I don’t believe there is any reason to sugarcoat or make excuses. I’m a very blunt, very matter of fact individual. I learned that from her because my mom is that way ninety-eight percent of the time, but in business you have to learn to be more professional. And so I think my mom conducts her business somewhat more professionally and I think I conduct it more personally.
It could probably be said that your bluntness is your gift, or a gift. Is also a curse ever?
Yeah, it can be. I’m not comfortable lying or misleading anybody. I don’t like to sugar coat. I don’t like to tell white lies. Former speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once said, “If you tell the truth the first time. You won’t have to remember what you said.” So that always been my attitude and you know what? There was an expression about me in college, one of my fraternity brothers said, “You’re loved or hated. But never ignored.” And I appreciated that.
As soon as we posted the supertrailer for VH1 Tough Love, there was a lot of criticism of it and you around the Internet. What do you say to those who think you’re sexist?
I respect and honor and cherish women. I put women on a pedestal. And I teach men to wield their power, and wield their strength, and use it to take command and control over their love lives. I believe that women are much more powerful in relationships than men, because of their sexuality, because men really do have to rely on the woman in order to have an opportunity to have sex. Whereas women can have it whenever they want. I believe quite the opposite. I believe that will come out on the show when people see how I enable women, rather than subjugate them like some of these other shows.
People think you’re mean, too. I know there’s “tough” in the title of the show, but…
Well look, I’m not mean. You’re only mean if you spite someone. You’re only mean if you say something that is half true or untrue. That’s mean. It’s different than brutally honest. You know brutal and mean have a sort of common thread to them, but the fact is I believe in blunt, shock therapy. I believe in intense psychotherapy. I believe in being very matter-of-fact with people, because if they’re not emotionally secure enough to handle it, then, what will happen is over time it will continue to resonate, and resonate, and resonate. And if they are growing and if they are evolving as a person, then eventually it will make sense. If they aren’t growing and they aren’t evolving, then obviously they’ll carry a grudge and they’ll be jaded about it the rest of their lives. I see a lot of people like that. I have the ability to say things to people that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. And I’m very, very accurate in my assessments of other people and so, although some people may consider it mean, I consider it a necessity. Because there are people who go about their entire lives living in these delusions and there is nobody to just smack them in the face and bring them back down to reality. That’s me. I’m here to smack that person in the face and bring them back to reality. And a smack in the face hurts.
After watching the first episode, sometimes I felt like some of the feed back basically amounted to, “Don’t be yourself.”
Listen, the fact of the matter is that dating, like it or not, is a game. It’s a prelude to a relationship. It’s a seduction. It’s a dance. It’s not a matter of not being yourself. It’s a matter of projecting yourself in a very amiable light. It’s somewhat counter-intuitive to what I’m telling you, which is that I don’t care if I’m not well-liked by the women on the show or the people that I work with. But I’m not the one dating them. When you’re trying to interest somebody in you romantically, you need to play to their fantasy. You need to make them believe that you’re what they’re looking for. It isn’t about you. It’s about what they want.
If everyone stopped playing the game, everyone could be as honest as Steve Ward, though, right?
Well, yeah, but then nobody would end up in relationships. I don’t think that people in general are emotionally secure enough to handle the truth all the time. I also don’t think that there are a lot of people out there that are capable of being brutally honest and doing it in a constructive way that makes sense. That’s what I think my gift is. That’s my talent.
When you pursue a relationship, do you play the game or take the brutally honest route?
I play the game. I play it better than anyone. Casanova once said, “Knowing that I was personally calculated to please the fair sex, I always strove to make myself agreeable to it.” That’s what romance is. In the words of William Shakespeare, the world is a stage and we’re all merely actors.