The author of these ads is Sandy Sternbach, a matchmaker specializing in high-end romance: she works primarily with wealthy singles over 40 who have advanced degrees, often from Ivy League institutions.
Sternbach’s job is comparable to that of a corporate head hunter. She travels regularly across the country interviewing candidates to send on appointments with her clients. She is a regular client of the lavish Taj Hotel in Back Bay: although Sternbach lives in New York City, she comes to Boston every few weeks to meet potential partners for her clients.
“It’s like home,” she said in the Taj’s chandelier-laden living room.
Sternbach’s highly personalized service is a stark contrast to the vast world of online dating. The number of people meeting through online dating apps has skyrocketed in recent years, according to a new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In 1995, only 2% of introductions took place online. By 2017, that number had risen to 39%. Meanwhile, the number of connections made through family and friends has declined sharply.
But matchmaking and online dating aren’t completely mutually exclusive. Lisa Clampitt, who heads the Matchmaking Institute, an organization that provides certification and networking opportunities for matchmakers, says dating websites and apps have made people more comfortable having a “third party.” »Involved in their love life. As a result, she says, more and more people have started to view matchmaking as an “acceptable” option.
The appeal of the matchmaker is that the “third party” does most of the work. Sternbach’s matchmaking company, The Right Time Consultants, offers rigorous and confidential service. Sternbach interviews each candidate personally before arranging a date, and afterward, she gathers feedback from both sides on how it went.
“Think about what you say to your girlfriends,” says Lauren, a retired business executive who asked to be identified only by her first name. “Very good, but boring. He doesn’t know how to pace himself. He is too desperate. It doesn’t matter. “
Sternbach uses the comments to coach his clients through future dates. If a series of dating goes well enough that the two people want to enter into a more serious relationship, they may choose to “freeze” their matchmaking programs. If one is not interested, Sternbach can gently drop the other. This part of the service is “a blessing for those of us who don’t like to hurt the feelings of others,” Lauren says.
Sternbach will not disclose the fees it charges for its services. Sarah Knudson, a sociology professor at the University of Saskatchewan who has written on linkage and twinning, explains that bespoke services like Sternbach’s typically cost thousands of dollars. Among the companies Knudson studied, the most expensive personalized services cost up to $ 30,000, she says. Clampitt says the average price for a luxury matchmaking service in New York City is $ 25,000.
Boston’s matchmaking market is smaller and “a bit more conservative in nature” than New York, Los Angeles and Miami, Clampitt says. “I feel like there’s a little void there,” she said. Clampitt says his New York-based company has been hired by Boston men who want to date women outside of Boston.
“They want a little more glamor and sex appeal,” she says.
The high price tags, uneven gender dynamics, and class-specific ad descriptions may turn some off. Is there something off-putting about the fact that highly privileged people are exclusively looking for a partnership with each other?
Sternbach, who studied at New York University and the University of Southern California, says she’s just decided to work in the social environment she knows and loves best. “I’m used to being with those kinds of people. These are the people I get along with, ”she says. “If I want to represent them, I have to respect them and believe in them.
Nancy Gold and Barbara Black Goldfarb, best friends who run Elegant Introductions, another luxury matchmaking service that advertises in Harvard Magazine, provide a similar rationale. “We both have multiple degrees; it’s our social network, ”explains Black Goldfarb. “It was a logical extension to find people who match and gravitate towards these populations. We relate to them and they relate to us.
Carol Cohen-Hodess, a rider who was married to the late Celtics co-owner Alan Cohen, says she was introduced to Gold and Black Goldfarb through a common Jewish community in Florida. A mutual friend called Cohen-Hodess and said, “Barbara was president of [Jewish] Federation in Miami. She’s the real deal.
Knudson says people generally tend to find partners with similar educational and socio-economic backgrounds whether or not they’ve hired a matchmaker. “It’s really rare for someone who didn’t get a college degree to associate with someone who got it,” she says. “There is nothing deeply wrong with what matchmakers do.”
In interviews, twinning clients tend to describe their preferences in terms of ambition, success and lifestyle fit, and not in terms of socioeconomic status.
Carol, a widowed writer who found Sternbach through the New York Review of Books classifieds, says her new husband’s Ivy League MBA hasn’t sparked the romance, “but it’s not nothing.” She adds, “It means he did certain things and pursued certain things.”
Lauren, the retired executive who worked with Sternbach, says she wasn’t happy with online dating because “I felt like I was fishing in the wrong pool.”
“I needed to find people whose lifestyle was more in line with what I thought was a good match for me,” she says.
But while matchmaking isn’t “deeply unnatural,” in Knudson’s words, the industry surely has its unsavory aspects. Some clients refuse to budge on extremely specific criteria – several matchmakers say they had to tell clients to be more open-minded about size, for example.
“As soon as they spend money, they expect miracles,” Clampitt says of demanding customers.
Then there is the imbalanced gender dynamic. Clampitt and Knudson claim that many companies take only male customers and match them with women who don’t pay for the service.
Additionally, many matchmaking services do not work with women over 50. “It’s very difficult,” says Clampitt, whose company works with older women. When a business takes women over 50 as customers, says Clampitt, “you need to be able to find men who will be dating within 10 years of their age.” Sometimes this requires Clampitt to collaborate with other matchmakers, whose clients might well marry his own.
Sternbach is also proud to include women over 50 among its clients. She does not, however, work with same-sex couples. She says she doesn’t have the expertise and the database to work with gay singles.
It’s easy to imagine the matchmaker as “a fun figure,” says Carol, the remarried widow who enlisted Sternbach’s services. But it’s clear that the profession treats unattractive structural factors like education, wealth, and geography as much as it hunts down romantic intangibles.
Cohen-Hodess attributes his current marriage, to some extent, to the supernatural. She says she believes her late husband’s mother, with whom she communicated through a psychic, “sent” her. Metaphysics aside, she and her husband, Blake Hodess, have some commonalities that make her an obvious match. They are close in age, they are both Jews and they are both from Massachusetts.
“I wanted someone with that New England mentality,” Cohen-Hodess says. Her husband was based in Massachusetts, but wanted to date someone in Florida, where he traveled frequently to visit his parents. “He couldn’t stand the cold anymore. Today, the couple spends part of the year in Massachusetts and the rest of the year in Florida.
Lauren only met her current husband after she quit working with Sternbach. She says she’s been introduced to about “half a dozen” wealthy and educated prospects in two years.
“Even if the people she introduced me to weren’t my endgame, they could have been,” Lauren says. “She was never far away.”
Marella Gayla can be contacted at [email protected]