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.”
Knowing When to Let Go
After being single for a while, she met a handsome chiropractor at a party who was nine years her junior. They were married for six years, and she credits him with teaching her that age is irrelevant. The marriage broke up over his desire to be a father. She did not want any more children.
“I had to let him go,” says Summers. “Now he has two beautiful sons.”
Her next marriage was to a retired professional football player who she knew from the local sports scene. At the time, Summers was building a successful business and she became disillusioned by his inability to hold a job.
“I was supporting this guy,” she says. “I told him, ‘This might work for you but it’s not working for me.’ ”
When she got breast cancer, it was a dramatic wakeup call that she needed to make changes in her life. They divorced after 10 years of marriage but remain friends.
“When you release someone to a different situation, they are able to better themselves,” says Summers. “He found his niche as a handyman and is happily married.”
Fourth Time’s the Charm
For the past few years, Summers’ matchmaking business has focused on working with male clients; she found that women were less patient and more inflexible.
“A woman would come in who had been single for years, and then wonder why I hadn’t immediately found somebody for her,” she says. “(With women), I often found somebody who I thought would be the perfect fit, and they wouldn’t be willing to meet them.”
With the men, she feels like she’s in charge. “I tell them, ‘If you’re hiring me, then I’m picking the woman who is appropriate for you,’ ” says Summers.
To find her clients the perfect match, she looks for women everywhere – Whole Foods, restaurants, the Nordstrom cosmetics counter. “I am always looking for them,” she says.
She had exceptional success with one client in particular.
“This man came into my office, and as I was interviewing him, I realized he was the right person for me,” she recalls. “He had raised three sons by himself, was a nurturer, was physically active, was successful and had style.”
After introducing him to two women, she asked if she could add herself to the database. “There was dead silence,” she recalls. “Then he said, ‘I would be so honored, Miss Barbara.'”
That man was Robert Cairns, her fourth husband — and she believes her last. Married for 17 years, they have four children, five grandchildren and a 4-year-old great-grandson between them.
Keeping it Exciting
She knows from experience that keeping a relationship strong doesn’t just happen. It takes effort. Even though they’re married, they continue to date, taking turns planning a weekly activity.
Every year, they get out a calendar and fill in what they want to do each month. It may be as simple as visiting family or it could mean going on a cruise. “If you don’t write it down, you won’t do it,” says Summers, who recently returned from a trip to Cuba. “You have to keep your relationship exciting.”
Cancer-free since 1993, the lifelong athlete exercises on a regular basis, doing spin classes, weight training, playing golf and meditating. She walks her Labradoodle daily on the beach in Del Mar.
Summers said she is enjoying herself more than ever. For her most recent birthday, she rented a limo and gathered a group of girlfriends for a night out on the town – a night of dancing that went into the early morning hours.
“I love driving my Mercedes fast with the top down,” she says.
Summers’ career opportunities continue to expand. In addition to her busy matchmaking business, she works as a relationship coach and leads seminars and workshops around the country on topics such as how to keep a relationship hot, handling a divorce, and identifying what you’re looking for in a partner. She is a regular guest on San Diego news shows and is working on a podcast about relationships.
Summers plans to make matches into her 80s and beyond, and expects to be a centenarian.
“This business is forever in my heart,” she says. “I will never be too old to be a matchmaker.”
If you’re a man looking for love – or a woman looking for relationship coaching – contact Barbara her.