Elite Matchmakers are in high demad by busy jet-setters who are still looking for Mr. or Mrs. Right.
By Colleen O’Dea
The Beatles famously sang that “money can’t buy me love” and that is as true today as it was in the 1960s, if not more so. But money can buy the services of an exclusive matchmaker whose goal it is to help the well-heeled find their one true soul mate.
Such services are becoming more popular because it is getting more difficult—particularly for the busy jet set—to find Mr. or Ms. Right, or even someone who comes close to having the qualities and values a wealthy, successful single person is looking for in a companion, according to elite matchmakers.
“They want to meet people like them and sometimes find it difficult,” says Mairead Molloy, whose London-based Berkeley International is an exclusive “introduction service”—aka, matchmaker—with offices in Europe, the U.S. and Australia. “People tend to be very discrete when they are wealthy … yes, they fear gold diggers, especially if they have been divorced.”
“Everybody says it’s impossible now to meet someone,” agrees Jill Kelleher, who founded the elite personal introduction service Kelleher International 26 years ago. “Couples who are married don’t have a lot of single friends to fix up. The bar scene is out. Young people just kind of go out together.”
And if you’re a person of wealth, Internet dating services are out of the question. “They’re too high profile,” Kelleher says.
The days of meeting the right person at Princeton or Yale and getting married right after college are mostly gone, Kelleher notes. People are working hard to build or maintain a business and don’t think much about socializing. Suddenly, they find themselves still single in their late 20s or 30s or when they are older and want to find someone—quickly—and don’t know how to go about it. Others have been in failed relationships and are looking for the magic formula to a meaningful relationship.
Amber Kelleher-Andrews, Jill’s daughter and the firm’s chief executive, describes a typical client’s comments on deciding to seek help in finding the right match: “I always thought I had to work hard for my education, my career, my home, but I thought the girl would automatically happen. Nobody told me that would be the hard part.
“That person is the most important relationship you will have in your entire life,” she continues. “We just assume it is going to happen with somebody someday. We spend so much energy and attention on the career and the education, but not on the love.”
The demographic trend away from marriage in the U.S. is undeniable. The median age at first marriage for a male was 22.5 in 1970 and rose to 28.4 in 2009, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Among women, the average age was 20.6 in 1970 and 26.5 in 2009. Even more telling, two-thirds of men and 57% of women aged 20 to 34 had never been married in 2011. Just under a third of U.S. adults age 15 and older have never tied the knot.
While there’s no official count of single millionaires, if the census statistics hold true for the one-percenters, there are somewhere between 800,000 and 1 million wealthy bachelors and bachelorettes in the U.S.
And according to firms like Berkeley and Kelleher, more and more of them are consulting exclusive introduction firms for help in finding a soul mate.
The wealthy are not much different from everyone else in turning to matchmakers. In his book Love in the Time of Algorithms, Dan Slater writes that online dating in the U.S. is a $2 billion industry that has served roughly a third of the nation’s 90 million single adults. The growth of online dating sites corresponds to the rising age at which people marry and the drop in the marriage rate as a whole, he notes.
“The ascension of women at work and their rising financial status, the lagging prospects of men, the ebb of the marriage rate, and the ever-rising marriage age—these are societal trends that have dovetailed with, and been a boon to, online dating in recent years,” Slater writes.
Berkeley’s membership has been growing, and the firm has been expanding; it opened offices in Paris and Brussels last year, Molloy says. The rich and single are not put off by Berkeley’s high prices—a full annual membership costs $40,000 in Los Angeles and the equivalent of $32,000 (25,000 euros) in Europe.
Kelleher’s services can be even pricier, ranging from $15,000 for a search in one state to $45,000 for a search anywhere in the nation. Kelleher has 17 U.S. locations, two in Canada and two in Europe.
For $200,000, an exclusive client works directly with Jill or daughter Amber, her partner in the business, as members of the CEO Club.
The high fees of elite matchmakers weed out those who are not serious about the service, and detailed personalized screenings can disqualify others who might not be appropriate, those in the business say. This helps guard clients against the pitfalls of traditional online dating, from false claims about height, weight, age and income to the full “catfish”—the creation of a completely fictitious identity to cultivate a love interest for its own sake or, sometimes, to get money.
“Wealthy people do in fact have to be on the lookout for gold diggers,” says Jonathan Alpert, a licensed counselor who writes a column on the HowAboutWe.com dating site. “I’ve heard countless stories from both men and women who either seek out wealthy people or have been sought. Let’s face it, money is sexy and can be the ultimate aphrodisiac.”
Alpert is not a professional matchmaker, but he gives advice and help to clients who want to talk about their online dating woes. The negative social stigma associated with looking for love online has virtually disappeared, he says. But many clients have not had good success in online dating.
“Ten years ago, I hardly had any clients talking about their online dating experience,” says Alpert, whose most recent book is Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days.
“At best, a few would talk about how they utilized a matchmaker or introduction service,” he says. “Now, at least several times a week a client will come in and talk about their online dating woes, enlist my help in writing their profile and ask my opinion on various guys or gals they are communicating with online.”
Kelleher-Andrews says KI gets about 1,000 profiles a month and screens them to determine whether they will be good clients, based on their location, education and other information. Those who do not become paying clients could still wind up in Kelleher’s files as participating members.
In a way, the use of matchmakers is a return to the way people got together throughout most of history: Matches arranged between families was virtually the only way men and women got married through the 1700s in North America and Europe, and that process is still the norm in some parts of the world, including India.
“It used to be that people stayed in the same place and their friends and family matched them up,” Kelleher says. “Now we do it.”
While today’s online matchmakers mostly pair people up through the use of computers, exclusive firms like Berkeley and Kelleher operate differently, bringing more of a personal touch and intuition into play.
“You have to be a little bit lucky, too,” Kelleher jokes.
At Kelleher, clients have a personal meeting with a staff member to talk about who and what they are looking for. Team members then search through their database, which spans some 24 offices in the U.S., Canada and other parts of the world, and consult with their local offices to find people who might be a good match for a client. And if they can’t find the perfect someone, they will launch a search to find him or her.
Berkeley does not use a database, but relies on personal interviews and Molloy’s extensive contacts and experience. Molloy says she uses her instincts to tell her who will make a good match. For instance, “you wouldn’t put old money to new money,” Molloy warns.
Matchmakers stress that each client has unique needs.
Kelleher-Andrews says male clients are especially vulnerable: “[Women] can pick up when someone is really creepy. Guys cannot do that. They do need to have someone watch over them.”
On the other hand, Molloy says women, particularly those who have already had a relationship fail, can be insecure. “Sometimes a good-looking woman is looking for a man who is not so good-looking because it will help her feel secure.”
Women want someone with a sense of humor, while men tend to place a higher value on looks, Molloy says. Kelleher’s clients are looking for people with similar values who are well educated and physically fit. Most members of both sexes are “very picky,” the matchmakers agree.
For all the expense and sophistication associated with matchmaking for the ultra-wealthy, the behind-the-scenes chatter that leads up to the fix-up tends to be very old school—high school, or middle school, that is.
“We tell Bob about Mary, and we tell Mary about Bob, and then Bob arranges for the date,” Molloy says, describing the setup. “Then the next day, the girls call and ask each one of them how it went.
Then they tell Bob what Mary thought about him and vice versa. It is very like high school. Sometimes we need to hold their hands.”
The matchmakers boast of high success rates, depending on a client’s age and flexibility.
“It depends on the person, their mentality, if they are positive,” says Molloy, whose clients typically range in age from 28 to 59, but who also are as old as 83. “The older people get, the more they feel they can’t put up with things.”
Kelleher-Andrews says it can be harder to find a match for female clients because there are so many eligible and desirable women in their 40s, 50s and 60s, but not enough male members in their 50s, 60s and 70s.
“We’d love to get more men in their 60s,” she says. Sometimes a match that seems perfect in theory just doesn’t materialize.
“We can do everything but give you chemistry,” Molloy says. “You make success yourself.”
Sometimes it just takes a while.
Kelleher-Andrews recalls a match she made between a male widower and a female divorcee with two children that played out like a fairy tale. He chauffeured her to the house he was building, carried her across the threshold, and led her into the backyard, where violins serenaded them while they dined on a catered meal. He popped the question, she said yes and Kelleher had itself another success story.
“It took two years to find him, but it was worth the wait,” Kelleher says. “She believed in us.”
Molloy tells of a male client who was on a train to London to meet a woman with whom she had arranged a date. While on the train he bumped into a woman and—boom, it was love at first sight.
“He calls me up to say he has met his one, but he didn’t want to approach her, as he was going on a date that he found through us,” Molloy recalls. “Then he goes on the date, and who does it turn out to be? The woman from the train. They eventually wound up getting married.”
Kelleher tells the story of a couple fixed up through the firm’s Arizona office: “The man came in and we said, ‘I have your future wife.’ The woman came in and we said, ‘I have your future husband.’
They both said, ‘Oh yeah, sure.’ They went on the date and the office hadn’t heard back from them. And then, just recently, they called to say they just got married in Paris and they wanted us to be the first to know. We were their first call to announce their marriage.”
The thrill of the perfect match keeps women like Kelleher, who describes herself as “getting to be a certain age” and has been trying to ease into retirement, working.
“You kind of get addicted to this,” she says. “We live vicariously through our clients.”
Molloy agrees. She has a degree in criminal psychology, and when she isn’t matching up clients, she does counseling work at a clinic in Cannes. Still, she enjoys matchmaking.
“It’s something fun to do,” she says.