Barbara Summers is a survivor in every sense. Over the course of her 71 years, she has become a master at adapting to life’s unexpected opportunities and adversities to reshape, redefine and improve her life.
Her personal identity has shifted multiple times — teen mom, abused wife, entrepreneur, breast cancer survivor, matchmaker, author, life coach, great-grandmother. And she has come through it all proudly, with strength and confidence, refusing to be a victim. Her honesty and love of life on her terms makes her someone we admire for her fearlessness.
“Believe me, life hits you in the face with a lot of obstacles,” says Summers, a Solana Beach, California resident. “I crashed and burned and got back up.”
It’s a message she has written about in her book Next! A Matchmaker’s Guide to Finding Mr. Right, Ditching Mr. Wrong, and Everything In Between, and that she shares regularly during speaking engagements and workshops around the country.
A Passion for Matchmaking
Summers has lived her life based on the belief that if you have a passion for what you do, money and satisfaction will follow.
That has definitely been her own experience, whether that be turning a personal passion for fitness into a gym or leveraging her knack for connecting couples to create her successful matchmaking business. Her ventures have included Love That Body, Love That Maid and Love That Job. (It’s not difficult to tease out a common theme here, which seemed appropriate — and a little cliché — for Valentine’s Day.)
“I’m reinventing myself on a constant basis,” says Summers.
This Valentine’s Day was a busy one for Summers, as you might expect from a woman who makes her living as a professional matchmaker. She appeared on a San Diego TV station to provide relationship advice. She also was in the midst of launching her own podcast and preparing for a series of speaking engagements.
And that doesn’t include her day job — working with a full roster of clients who depend upon her to find them true love, or at least lust. Although she has successfully set up people since junior high — including her brother and sister-in-law — Summers had no formal matchmaking training (is there such a thing?).
On a whim, she hung out a shingle at a La Jolla gym offering 15-minute matchmaking consultations, charging $50 per person. More than 200 people signed up and she had to book four additional nights to accommodate the demand.
At the time, Summers was working as a title representative — one of the few jobs she’s ever hated. She launched Healthy Professional Singles, left her job and hasn’t looked back.
“Obviously, I did a great job,” she says.
The Art of a Good Match
She calls good matchmaking part skill, part intuition. And she obviously has both, given her success: nearly 400 marriages and counting. She’s become an ordained minister so she can marry couples herself.
“You need to have an underlying feeling that two people would be good together and a solid understanding of what makes relationships work, in order to be a successful matchmaker,” she says.
When Summers meets new clients, she digs into every aspect of their relationship history. The first thing she does is visit them at their house, and she gets nosy. She looks at how many pets they own, what’s in their refrigerator, the state of their bathrooms. “I like to see what their life looks like through their eyes,” says Summers.
She isn’t afraid to ask the most personal questions and offer constructive criticism. She recalls one client who had nine dogs and a busy career.
“Between work and taking care of her animals, she was frazzled and overcommitted,” she says. “I convinced her to find homes for some of the dogs, and to declutter her house. I told her that she needed to make finding love a priority. Sometimes, in order to find love, you need to clear the way.”
Summers found her client the perfect match: a veterinarian. “Their mutual love and knowledge of animals gave them an instant bond,” she says. “They were compatible in many other ways, which made falling in love and getting married almost inevitable. The rest, as they say, is history.”
She doesn’t believe there is only one person out there for people. And what you need in a mate today may be very different from what you wanted earlier in your life. “There are a lot of combinations that will work for you,” says Summers.
The thrice-divorced Summers knows a thing or two about this subject.
“I celebrate people who have stayed in relationships, and I celebrate people who have left,” she writes in Next! A Matchmaker’s Guide to Finding Mr. Right, Ditching Mr. Wrong, and Everything In Between. “It’s about doing what’s right for you.”
Strength Through Adversity
Life hasn’t been all hearts and flowers for Summers.
Originally from Westerly, R.I. — a seaside community on the Atlantic — she grew up in St. Louis. She met and married her first husband and high school sweetheart, John “Champ” Summers, after graduation, and “bing, bang,” got pregnant with her daughter.
Champ Summers played baseball at Southern Illinois, and was drafted into the minor leagues out of college. He was soon called up the majors, playing right field for the Chicago Cubs, the Detroit Tigers and the Cincinnati Reds. He finished his career with the San Diego Padres, where he played in the 1984 World Series.
The life of a professional baseball player’s wife was an exciting, glamorous one for Summers — traveling to exotic places, meeting interesting people and being treated as a celebrity. But there was a darker side to Champ Summers. He developed a drug addiction and became physically abusive to her.
“I was scared for my life; it was a very bad time,” says Summers, who got a restraining order against him. “I thought I would be with him forever. I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing, but I had to take charge.”
Summers made a heart-wrenching decision. To protect herself and her daughter, she had to walk away from her husband, her fitness business and her big, beautiful house in Tempe, Arizona.
“The mover said to me, ‘Where are we going with all this?,’ ” Summers recalled. “I said, ‘I don’t know. I think San Diego.’ ”
Starting a New Chapter
She had only been to San Diego once and that was to escape the Arizona heat. She didn’t know a single person there. But at the age of 37, with characteristic bravery, she headed west with her sheep dog in the car, and the moving van following behind.
Without a place to live, Summers stopped at the first real estate office she saw, with the moving van parked out front. She told the real estate agent, “I need a place to live.” They drove to a Cape Cod cottage in La Jolla that looked out at the ocean. She paid two years’ rent on the spot and started the next chapter of her life.
“I proceeded to make this town my own — work, friends, relationships,” she says. “San Diego has been really good to me.”