If TV shows like Millionaire Matchmaker scared you away from the age-old dating process — especially if you happen to have red hair — now may be the time to revisit these professionals who play cupid. Since the pandemic hit, matchmakers report their business has been booming.
Tammy Shaklee, matchmaker and founder of H4M Matchmaking, an LGBTQ+ matchmaking company, is “fascinated” by both the industry’s recent rise and by the self-awareness and relationship preparedness she’s witnessing in clients. “They’re really ready now,” she tells Bustle.
Tennesha Wood, dating coach and founder of The Broom List, a matchmaking service for Black singles, is also encountering more introspection since lockdown. “People got online, were sick of being online, [and] were like, ‘OK, I actually need something else — and I’ve actually taken the time to sit down and think about what I want,’” the matchmaker tells Bustle.
But it’s not just the daters who’ve changed. While the high-end matchmakers you’ve seen on screen definitely do exist (Google “matchmaking services” and you’ll instantly see the words “Elite” and “Luxury”) as well as ones that are more traditional (e.g. those who only take wealthy men as clients), a wave of less pricey, modern matchmakers — with a more personalized approach — are setting up, coaching, and pep-talking this new crop of mindful singles.
Why Is Matchmaking Useful?
There are countless misconceptions about matchmakers, but a major one Wood finds is newcomers thinking they’re like Patti Stanger and her tell-it-like-it-is approach. “That’s not necessarily a bad style,” she says, but it does mean some clients expect conflict and yelling.
Instead, Wood says her job is to help daters set realistic goals. “Most matchmakers will really try to understand what it is that you want and try to temper your expectations if it’s not something that’s possible,” she says. “Matchmakers aren’t here to change your preferences or needs.”
For Claire AH, matchmaker, dating coach, and owner of Canada-based Friend of a Friend Matchmaking, the process is a good companion to other ways of meeting people. “Matchmaking is a great tool, but it is not the full toolbox,” AH says. “The best thing you can get from matchmaking is an outside perspective who’s invested in helping you find the best partner. … [They’re] somebody who’ll help you, expose you to slightly different things than what you’re used to, and will get that feedback loop going with you.”
Feedback — whether it’s about your dating patterns or how you’re coming across to dates — is a unique benefit. (And a stark contrast to the ghosting many singles encounter on apps.)
“That’s a critical part of the dating process,” Wood says. “You could have the best intention, but if there’s something that you’re consistently doing, and it’s a turnoff for the type of people you’re trying to date, you need to know that.”
Compared to apps, Shaklee says, matchmaking is a human approach to dating. “We can help you opt people in,” she says, “instead of technology conditioning you to opt people out.”
Morgan, 38, was so frustrated with online dating in 2018 that when her mom suggested she give matchmaking a try, she quickly reached out to a company recommended to her: Three Day Rule, a tech-enabled personalized firm in select cities. “[I felt like], if there’s an expert out there that can help me find that person, why not?” she says.
After hitting it off with her assigned matchmaker, she says her experience — which quickly led her to her husband — was the opposite of online dating. “You have to decide you’re no longer interested in [a date] in order to be matched with someone else,” says the Chicago-based publicist. “They really [value] quality over quantity.”
For Wood, however, it’s not just about top-notch matches. “I consider myself a coach, a teacher, a cheerleader, but overall my goal is to not only help people meet the right person but in the process, understand themselves as a dater — and also just as an individual.”
Who Is Matchmaking For?
Wood says the process isn’t for the “no one wants to go out with me” single — it’s for the “I’m not finding the right person” one.
Shaklee, who met her spouse via a matchmaker, also squashes the notion that “desperate” people hire them. “I look at matchmakers as working with singles who can get a date,” she says. “When I hired a matchmaker, I was a prolific dater … [but] I wasn’t meeting anybody I’d take home to Oklahoma.”
Morgan says matchmaking appealed to her because she was craving a real connection with someone. “It didn’t really matter to me which way I did it,” she says. “It’s just about whenever you’re ... ready to be in a relationship and also ready to give up some of the control in terms of being set up.” Morgan’s cousin helped make that choice easier. “[She] gave me some advice … about how she’s always sought out experts to help her where needed — accountants, financial planners, therapists, etc. — so why not dating? That kind of stuck with me.”
As far as personality goes, the pros want flexibility. “My ideal client is someone who’s open-minded,” AH says, “and willing to try things outside of exactly what they’ve always wanted or exactly what they’ve done before.”
Wood agrees singles have to consider people who aren’t historically their “type.” “I have a lot of clients that say to me, ‘Well, my type is’ … and they get stuck to that idea when they’re presented with new matches,” she says. “[My] comeback to that is always, ‘If you’ve been dating your type this whole time and your type hasn’t been working for you, maybe it’s time we consider what a new type should look like.’”
Just like singles have a list of red flags, matchmakers have deal-breakers for potential clients, too.
Lack of openness is at the top of Wood’s list, adding that if someone won’t open up to her — who they just met — they won’t do it on a first date, either.
Instead, she looks for self-assured clients. “I can tell when people don’t know themselves ... there’s an ambivalence to everything,” Wood says. “If you’re just ambivalent with your own needs and what you want, chances are, you’ll be that way with a partner.”
While matchmaking isn’t cheap, it’s also not solely for the older, millionaire clients you’ve seen on TV if you look beyond VIP services. “My youngest clients are 23,” Shaklee says.
AH’s clients aren’t a particular demographic — it all depends on what they’re looking for and what she has available. “I try to work with a larger variety of people, so I don’t just have straight men and women in their 40s.” Some of her best clients, she adds, are ones who’ve said, “You’re never going to be able to find me a match.”
How The Matchmaking Process Works
Think of signing up for matchmaking a bit like applying for a job: First, you’ll fill out a questionnaire to help matchmakers screen candidates. Questions will vary, especially for modern matchmakers who may not have strict restrictions on things like job title or gender.
Wood looks for people who are at least 28 years old, have a four-year college degree, earn at least $75,000, and are ready for a long-term commitment. For others, like Shaklee, salary won’t matter: “They’re either financially responsible and this is an investment, or they have the money and this isn’t even a concern.”
If you seem like a good fit, you’ll have a 1:1 interview — sometimes more than one — where the conversation gets deeper (think: past relationships, deal-breakers, goals, etc.).
Shaklee spends up to an hour-and-a-half during these calls, mostly focused on values and compatibility. “We talk about personality types [and] discuss the five love languages in great detail,” she says.
AH’s initial interviews are 10-15 minutes long, where she’ll ask about kids, locations you’re open to, and any major requirements you have.
References And Home Tours
Some, like Wood, will want references. She asks to be connected to a family member or friend (hint: they’ll be discussing your exes) — and then it’s time for an “MTV Cribs-style” home tour.
“Your home is your most intimate space,” Wood says. “So it’s usually really reflective of the things that are really meaningful to you — even the ones that you might not speak about.”
If your matchmaker thinks they can match you, they’ll bring you on board. For those like AH and Wood, it’s time for a more in-depth 1:1 interview.
“All the things that we talk about throughout the process, those are the things that we’re keeping in mind as we look for a match,” Wood says. “I always just assure people that these are really intimate details of your life, but ultimately these are the things that you’re going to have to be able to reveal to your partner.”
Once a match is found, your matchmaker will see if there’s interest. Wood shares photos, details on what they’re looking for, common interests, and why she thinks you’d be a good fit. AH and Shaklee, however, don’t provide photos.
“I do talk to people about what they’re attracted to ... their celebrity crush, things that they liked about exes, [and I] ask them to send me photos,” AH says. “But I don’t share photos because ... Tinder exists.” Instead, she’ll share bios and invite clients to ask questions.
When Shaklee presents matches, she provides a talking points sheet that teases what you should ask the match on a date. As for details, it’s first name and industry only. “It’s enough due diligence to make sure you don’t already know each other, but it’s not enough to look each other up,” she says.
Unlike the top-line information she was used to on dating apps, Morgan’s matchmaker provided a comprehensive description of her now-husband. “It’s a full Word doc that has two pictures, but a lot of background,” she explains. “I had a really good sense of who he was.”
If there’s interest from both parties, next comes the first date — something matchmakers also have a hand in. “We’re very concierge, so we pick the restaurant, we make the reservation, [and] we give you courtesy reminder calls,” Shaklee says.
AH sometimes gives pep talks beforehand. “I have clients who are coming out of a divorce or loss of a partner,” she says. “I try to just encourage people to get through the date however is best for them.”
Wood can’t help but get excited during dates. “When a date is happening, I’m literally sitting by my phone waiting for them to call me after,” she says. “I’m like, ‘Man, it’s been like three hours [and] they haven’t called. It must be going really, really well.’”
Post-Date Feedback Call
After the date, it’s time to debrief. “The most important thing I ask in that call is, ‘Do you want to see this person again?’” Wood says. “And if the answer is yes, on both sides, I let both people know and I share the feedback of what [the other] person enjoyed about the date and ... let them go naturally from there.”
She’ll share that information even if date #2 is a no-go. “If somebody doesn’t want to go out with my client again, or if my client doesn’t want to go out with the match again, I really drill down on why,” she says.
How Much Does A Matchmaker Cost?
So, how much will a matchmaker set you back? As Shaklee puts it, “It’s expensive.” Like many parts of the process, the price will depend on the expert — an industry vet, a newcomer, a VIP service, a boutique firm, a platform-based company — and the package. Some offer services based on a number of guaranteed dates or matches, and others by time period. At the low end, it could cost less than $500 per year; at the (very) high end, you can spend up to $250,000 annually.
“For people that are not into sales-y type approaches, a more boutique matchmaker is better for them versus one of the big names,” Shaklee says. “I hired the big machine and it works, but it’s a different experience. You’re talking to a salesperson. They … have sales goals [and] quotas each month.”
If you hire someone who’s established or has a large social media following, Shaklee says you may spend up to $50,000. H4M is “in the thousands, not the tens of thousands” and clients can pay in three installments.
At Friend of a Friend Matchmaking, a year of matchmaking starts at $499 Canadian plus tax. “I offer a significantly lower cost option,” AH says, noting that a VIP service is a hundred times more. “I say one to five matches generally over the course of the year.”
Wood’s clients are on three- or six-month packages, which start at a few thousand dollars. Even though some clients want to add a new date into the mix — a byproduct of dating apps, she says — she recommends focusing on one match at a time.
Platform-based matchmaking companies tend to offer date-based packages. Nabeela, a 27-year-old publicist in New York City, used platform-based matchmaking company Tawkify in 2020 and spent $2,500 on a package that included three dates, while Morgan signed up for a three-month option at Three Day Rule where she was guaranteed three matches. “Some people might be hesitant because of a financial commitment, but ... if it’s the rest of your life, it’s certainly worthwhile,” she says. “I joke around with [my husband] that he’s the best money I’ve ever spent, but it’s true.”
Choosing The Best Matchmaker For You
When you’re looking for a matchmaker, ironically, you may want to spend some time finding The One. “I advise anyone to interview more than one matchmaker,” Shaklee says, noting that she spoke to two in Austin, Texas, when she was on the hunt. “With one, I was interviewing with a large firm’s staff, and with the other, I would interview with the principal owner and matchmaker,” she says. “It’s important to ask who will be making the matches. Will it be a team of matchmakers? Will I be considered with the full database of singles? Or only other active matchmaking clients?”
Nabeela used an Excel sheet to keep track of all the matchmakers she contacted in her search. “Do your research in terms of some of the best in your area, or if it’s global, whatever that looks like,” she says. “Narrow it down to your top five, and then have calls with them. You’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you — and they’re going to obviously try to sell you.”
She also suggests looking at online reviews and asking around to see if anyone you know has used the top-rated services. Morgan went with a word-of-mouth recommendation and ended up having chemistry with her matchmaker. “It helped that she was close in age to me and seemed to understand where my head was at,” she explains.
If asking around town or reviews aren’t working for you, Shaklee says the Global Love Institute (previously known as the Matchmaking Institute) can provide a list of certified matchmakers in your area: “In the last 10 years, certified matchmakers now regularly collaborate and introduce their singles or clients to each other ... a win-win for all.”
Morgan suggests looking for someone you can be honest with. “Make sure you have a good relationship with them,” she says, “because they’ll take it as seriously as you do.”
In fact, Shaklee refers to matchmakers as love agents. “If you were an actress, you’d want the right agent,” Shaklee says. “This is your love life — you want the right agent.”