Chaldean singles turn to matchmaker to find like-minded life partner

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BY GEORGEA KOVANIS
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

Professional matchmaker Theresa Sitto is outgoing, encouraging, earnest and honest. Which means she isn’t afraid to tell her clients to cut or — as she did in the case of a blond woman whose brown roots were showing — color their hair.
I try to be as diplomatic as possible,” says Sitto, 57, a retired English-as-a-second-language teacher who lives in Bloomfield Hills. “I’m the person looking out for them.”
She prays for her singles, most of whom are members of metro Detroit’s 120,000-strong Chaldean community — people of Iraqi ancestry who are Catholic — and, until about 25 years ago, who tended to choose marriages brokered by families over dating. She loses sleep worrying about them.
But she never gives up.
In the year since she opened her service, MATCHaldean, Sitto has four engagements to her credit.
“I think there’s someone for everyone,” she says.
She was a natural
The child of Iraqi immigrants — her mother was 13 when she wed in an arranged marriage — Sitto grew up in Detroit’s North End neighborhood surrounding Blessed Sacrament Cathedral. She is the sixth of her parents’ 14 children. Her father owned a grocery store and when he died, Sitto, who was 18, was expected to help keep the store going.
But with the encouragement of her older brother, she became the first girl in her family to go to college. She met Farouk (Fred) Sitto at a Chaldean social group she started; they wed and have two boys and two girls.
All of their children have now graduated from college or are headed there. Upon her retirement from Walled Lake Consolidated Schools in 2008, Sitto says she needed something to do with her newfound time.
Her son, Brent Sitto, a 25-year-old attorney from Bloomfield Hills, suggested she become a matchmaker. He’d caught a clip of the reality series “The Millionaire Matchmaker” on TV and figured his mom would make a good one.
“She’s always looking to set people up,” he said. And she’d already fixed up her brother-in-law with his wife. The twist: She’d specialize in matching up Chaldeans.
Looking for love
Things have changed in the Chaldean community since Sitto watched family-approved suitors vie for the hands of her older sisters. Rather than brokering marriages, parents are more inclined to let young people date. Marrying outside the Chaldean culture is more common than it once was. And while 95% of Sitto’s clients are Chaldean, Catholics from other ethnic backgrounds have joined her service, too.
Relying on her son for legal help, she researched other dating and matchmaking sites, figured out a pay structure — no money up front but if she finds you a date and you decide to meet the date, you must pay a $100 registration fee for service and $35 for each first date you go on. She found office space and opened MATCHaldean in July 2009.
She now has more than 250 clients, ranging in age from 18 to 80. “I’m seeing people from every facet, whether they’re newcomers or refugees or American-born. They’re serious about being in a relationship that leads to marriage. I’m helping to bring like-minded Chaldean singles together … so we can keep the culture and the community alive.”
Some are never married, others are divorced or widowed. She has more female clients than male. Most of the women are well-educated. Many of the men are well-educated (“I just had a Mideast neurosurgeon sign on,” she says), others are entrepreneurs with less formal education. Most are from Michigan, but she has a few from other states, including California.
The service is confidential — something that is especially valued in the Chaldean community. Sitto takes pains to make sure none of her clients run into each other at her office. Among her singles are a father and son; neither has any idea the other is using Sitto’s service.
Some singles, especially men, are picky. Most want women who are younger than they are. Most want women who are shorter than they are. Most want slender women.
One fellow e-mailed a doctor-style height and weight chart for Sitto to consult when she considered matches for him. “I appreciate him being candid,” says Sitto. “It’s going to be harder, looking for that specific,” she adds, but, “if they can’t be candid with me, I can’t be of service to them.”
Some want fast results. “Please,” said a 71-year-old man, “I’m in a hurry.”
Success story
At 44, Emmanuel Dabish of Waterford had never been married. “The opportunities weren’t there,” he says. “Everybody knows each other. It’s very hard to get in so to speak without having them already know everything about you.”
He signed on with Sitto, who happens to be his sister. “She’s always been a good judge of character,” he says.
Sitto made her brother go through the same process as her other clients — a thorough interview in which she asks questions about relationship and dating history, interests and hobbies, what kind of person they’re looking for. She asks about reading and radio habits, explaining that she probably wouldn’t try to fix up someone who exercises every day with someone who seldom gets off the sofa.
In January, Dabish, who works as a butcher, went to lunch with Aieda Jamil, a 36-year-old English-as-a-second-language teacher from Commerce Township.
Over lunch at a coney island restaurant, they chatted for about an hour. They shook hands when they parted. And the next day, each briefed Sitto on the date. Each told her they’d like to get together again.
Slowly, they fell in love. Dabish introduced Jamil to his mother, who was battling cancer. When she died in March, he leaned on Jamil for support.
“Her true colors really came through,” he says. “She was fantastic. I started playing Phil Collins’ songs for her, the “True Colors” song, because her true colors were shining through.”
He bought a guitar so he could sing to her. He learned to say “I love you,” in 10 languages, including sign language. “She inspires me. I can’t explain it. I want to be so creative just to show how much I love her.”
He proposed on July 2.
“He really makes me happy. I’m really blessed,” says Jamil.
The couple is to hold an engagement party this afternoon.
“You’re never too old to dream a dream,” Sitto says.
Contact GEORGEA KOVANIS: 313-222-6842 or kovanis@freepress.com