In the age of Tinder and other apps that let users hook up with a simple swipe, as well as a plethora of online dating services, is there any need for an old-fashioned matchmaker?
Absolutely, says Michele Fields of Denver's Bon Jour Matchmaking Service, who is celebrating her thirtieth anniversary of putting Ms. Ideal together with Mr. Right in and around the Mile High City. "I've helped lead to more than 300 marriages," she notes, "and I don't know how many matches. But a lot."
Fields launched her matchmaking career in 1989 "because I'm an insomniac. I knew I had to have my own business so that I could make my own hours. And then I watched a movie called Crossing Delancey with Amy Irving, which had a very obnoxious, pushy matchmaker. I looked at her and thought, 'That would not appeal to me. I could do a much better job and not be pushy.'"
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Even before she made it her profession, "I would naturally match-make people," she reveals. "I'd even look at people I'd dated and think, 'I wonder who would be better for him?' And Great Expectations" — the largest dating service of the day (if the company isn't defunct, it's mighty close) — "was overpriced and impersonal, and they charged a fortune for you to have pictures taken and videos made. They nickel-and-dimed you to death, but they were the only game in town. So I thought, if I eliminated the overhead and did it from my home, I could charge a lot less and do a much more personal job."
This last goal is central to Fields's approach. "I meet and interview every single client, because how else can you match-make?" she asks. "My clients receive a six-page questionnaire so I can get as much information as I can to make sure it will be a good match on both sides. I'll ask, 'Will you date someone who owns guns?' I'll ask about abortion, capital punishment, allergies. That's a big one, because if someone is allergic to cats and you have three cats, that's the end of that."
She's also very selective about whose romantic wishes she'll try to facilitate. Rather than accepting anyone who wants to secure her services, she generally sticks to well-heeled, highly educated folks within a preferred age range — men between thirty and seventy, women from thirty to 55 or so. And she also rejects those who have shortfalls in other respects.
For example, she says, "I do not work with, and have never worked with, gold-diggers. Three times in thirty years, I got the sense that someone was a gold-digger, and I wouldn't work with them. And on the other side, if I get sixty-year-old men wanting me to set them up with forty-year-old women, I won't work with them, either. And it happens. There was one guy who wasn't even divorced yet and was begging to work with me. That was a no."
There are enough affluent people looking for love in Denver to support multiple matchmaking services, and Fields says some charge five-figure sums. In contrast, her contracts call for a one-time fee of from $2,500 to $3,500, with Fields setting the amount based on "how many challenges a client has" — like, for instance, if a person is older than the average client, has had multiple divorces and is so rich that potential matches are limited. "And when they have more challenges, the fee is lower," she reveals. "It's not a numbers game. I'm not trying to find as many people as possible and hope one of them works out. I'm trying to find the one."
Moreover, the agreements are open-ended, meaning that they remain in force until a match is made.
"I've had many people who've gotten married to the first person they met," she allows. "But I also had a person who was a client for eleven years before the perfect person came in." And in the last year or so, she's instituted a policy she dubs "Win-win. Let's say you meet somebody I set you up with and you marry them, or you move to another state, or you meet someone out of the service. Instead of dropping you as a client, you can sell your place in the service for what you paid or less, or gift it to somebody else. They have to fit in with the clientele — be comparable to you as a client — but if they are, then you got married and you got your money back. Now, that's a win-win."
Among Fields's clients over the years have been a number of well-known personalities in business, sports and media, as well as innumerable business powerhouses — and at this point, she knows what they like.
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As an example, she talks about "a new guy who came in — a lovely guy, 34 years old, but he had a shaved head and a very heavy goatee. And I said to him, 'Let me just tell you, my women love full heads of hair, and you very clearly could have one' — you could tell by his hairline — 'and they don't like facial hair. You need to shave your facial hair and grow out the hair on your head and then we can get started.' And the next day, he called and said he'd shaved his beard and was growing out the hair on his head. Now, that's a good client, a client who's going to be successful. Because I know my audience."
She believes the knowledge she's gained over the past three decades give her a leg up on matchmaking rivals who connect clients to potential mates they've never met, websites that seem to have fees attached to every little thing, or phone apps "that are convenient, but you can fake pictures on them, or put on old pictures. They're cheap, so a lot of people start with those, but there are pedophiles and rapists who use those things — they're fantastic vehicles for that. And women are just too trusting. They'll invite people to dinner at their house the first time, which is terrible. I don't even let my clients do that, even though I do an informal background check on everyone. I don't charge them for that, but I need to make sure that no one's done anything egregious."
At the same time, Fields puts the responsibility for those who were dissatisfied with other services before they tried hers on the individuals themselves. "People need to be better consumers," she says. "They complain to me about them, but a lot of times, nobody lied to them. They just didn't do enough research or ask enough questions."
For her part, "it's not just about making money. As long as I can pay my bills, I'm fine. I'm not looking to be a millionaire. That ship has sailed. But I did this all myself. No one helped me, ever. No one told me how to do it. I've never taken out a loan, I've never taken a partner. This is me, period. And over the years, I've helped make a lot of people very, very happy."