Culture

TV's Hard-Nosed Matchmaker

"Are you single?" she asks, by way of an introduction over the phone, and you can practically feel the wheels beginning to turn. In Patti Stanger's world, you might be just one date away from true love—and if it comes with a hefty bank account, even better. But that's the point, according to Stanger, founder and CEO of the Millionaire's Club, a matchmaking service in Los Angeles that helps wealthy men find the "women of their dreams." She's also the star of a show about her club on the Bravo network called "Millionaire Matchmaker," which documents Stanger at her passion-pursuing best—and sometimes worst. The series finale airs Tuesday, March 4, and Stanger promises there will be a "shocking proposal." Just don't expect it to be hers: like "the cobbler that has no shoes," as she refers to herself in one episode, Stanger isn't married.

Though she's no Miss Lonelyhearts, either. She's been with her boyfriend, Andy, for four years. And it's no surprise how she met him: one of her matchmakers in her service fixed them up. "Oprah doesn't want to get married, so does that mean that Oprah doesn't have a healthy relationship? That's a bunch of crap," Stanger says. "It depends what you want. I get it all the time. I'm in my 40s, and they're going, 'What's wrong with you?' And you know what, I'm kind of happy." That unapologetic approach is exactly what has made Stanger, 46, so successful, and so perfect for television. She's basically a drill sergeant of love, laying down her orders, expectations, code of conduct and commandments to her hopeful clientele, most of whom get saucer-eyed at the mention of one of her most important tenets: no sex. At least until "you're in an exclusive, monogamous, committed relationship that is sexually and socially monogamous," Stanger says. That is for "protection," she adds, but not just in the safe sex way that you may think. "It's the pleasure principle," she explains and then, putting her University of Florida psychology minor to use, adds, "Because as oxytocin [the "love" hormone] kicks in, you're bonded to him for life. That's why we're at risk and they're not," she says. "Men don't bond through sex." Her recommendation is 90 days of just dating, kissing, cuddling.

Could it be that Stanger has cracked the problem of modern love? Her recipe: employ 21st-century tools—the Internet and dating services like hers—but adhere to what, nowadays, seems like old-fashioned, traditional values. "Men want you to be Madonna in the bedroom, Martha Stewart in the kitchen and Mary Poppins in the nursery," Stanger is fond of saying. That may sound as though she wants to set feminism back a few years, but that isn't the case, she says. "Let's be clear, I'm not saying, 'You don't get equal pay for equal work'."

Millionaire Club memberships start at $15,000, and that gives the allegedly millionaire men access to a database of nearly 25,000 women. The service is free for women. They have to go through a thorough personal evaluation—and agree to pay a penalty if they ask for anything from the men. They can be given money, jewelry, vacations, etc., but they cannot ask for anything. Since the show has aired, business has gone through the roof, Stanger says. And the quality of women "has gone up a hundredfold." That will be welcome news to someone such as Julian, one of her charges, a 28-year-old millionaire who lived like a 21-year-old frat boy in what Stanger caught flak for calling "chateau ghetto."

"This is not a millionaire," she says as she rolls up to his Pasadena apartment in her silver Mercedes coupe. A third-generation matchmaker with a "sixth sense" for the business, Stanger can sometimes come across as brash and unsubtle, but it's for the clients' own good, in her view. You're a millionaire, live like one, she says, casting a disapproving gaze on the chain-link surroundings during her meeting with Julian. And her tactic works. As she zips off to her next appointment, the camera lingers on Julian as he admits defeat: "Patti's claiming that she can do a lot for me, and I'm willing to give it a shot because obviously I'm a man with problems." He struck out with one of the woman she found for him. According to Stanger, Julian is still a work in progress.

With 110 million single people in America, Stanger's success with fixing up the rich and dateless has spawned a stretch limo's worth of ideas for her to corner many markets: "Gay Millionaire," "Millionaireness" and "Celebrity Dating." But even Stanger realizes that a true match comes down to chemistry. Maybe money can't always buy you love, but at least her version comes with enough instructions to help further the cause. She offers this one, free of charge: "We have such a wish list of what we want and don't want that we're not willing to give an inch," she says, adding, "It's not that your expectations are too high, it's that they're unrealistic."

What's on her wish list? Well, Andy did look at rings last week, she says. She'd like a diamond—heart shaped.

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