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This article was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on November 24,
1999. All rights reserved.
Beyond the Singles Scene
by Melinda Sherwood
The man of your dreams is intelligent, romantic,
(but not too sensitive) and attractive. The woman of your dreams is
successful, independent, and "well-maintained." You’re ready
for the "big" relationship, but you aren’t the kind of person
to settle for less. So where do you find this hunka-hunka-burnin’
If you live in central New Jersey, as I do, you know the irony of
being single in a state that rivals India in population density. Here,
however, there are few formal networks for meeting a mate.
First there is the bar scene. At least that’s where lots of singles
turn first. The choices eventually begin to fall into a few
niches: High-class joints with minimal standing room; cavernous
of preppies guzzling beer; dark and smokey bars with lots of people
wearing leather (see accompanying story, page 17).
Then there are the singles groups: Good for the "juice and
crowd. The Princeton area has scores of them — singles who dance,
singles who pray, singles who hike, singles who endlessly discuss
being single. Most of them are large groups, and they aren’t shrinking
(see listings at the end of this story).
In the face of these choices, some singles get fairly creative. I
chose to take swing dancing lessons — a reasonable place to find
a "partner." Indeed, a tall, attractive foreigner swooped
down upon me at once. She, too, was without a date, and with the
of a few couples in attendance, it turned out to be largely a girl’s
All of this testifies to my what I know to be true, from firsthand
experience, and what other exasperated singles are always saying:
for all that Princeton offers in cuisine and culture in a community
that is largely diverse, intelligent, and young, dating is an
sport. People could get paid big bucks to make it easier. In fact,
M. Chatfield is to dating agencies what Pebble Beach is to miniature
golf. "We don’t take everyone," says Maureen Chatfield from
her Bedminster office. Only the finest specimens become part of the
agency’s pedigreed clientele. The typical Chatfield man: an
executive or successful entrepreneur; well-traveled, fit, educated,
articulate and picky, picky, picky. The women of M.Chatfield: equally
successful, and like their male counterparts, most are making six
digits. They include 30-somethings with biological clocks counting
down, a la Ally McBeal, or well-seasoned divorcees living off a hefty
They are just the kind of people that Chatfield, a former New York
city actress, artist, and restaurant owner, might welcome at her own
dinner table. "It’s my quest to change the format of what we
says Chatfield, "so people like myself, who are educated,
world-traveled, stylish — who have sophistication — can meet
people of like mind."
And like wallets. Although the initial screening costs only $100 —
roughly the same as any other dating agency — a contract with
the agency costs from $1,200 for six "introductions" to $2,400
for an executive contract that includes a full-scale ad campaign in
newspapers like the Wall Street Journal or New York Times.
The ads are easy on the eyes: a sultry Chatfield sits in her antique
filled Bedminster office with 30-year-old assistant Michelle Dehaven,
a breathtaking blonde in a chic New York black suit, standing
The copy invites men to look no further for women of "style and
Once a week, Chatfield and Dehaven get together to sift through the
company’s 1,500-person database in search of clues to client’s hearts.
In the cupids’ toolchest: pictures of ex-boyfriends, girlfriends,
husbands, and wives, and the Riso-Hudson Enneagram, a 144-question
personality test that goes beyond skin-deep. Clients have to chose
which statements best describe their tendencies: "I’ve been more
of a street-smart survivor," or "I’ve been a high-minded
So far, M. Chatfield can take credit for 80 yuppie marriages. The
market in suburban areas such as Princeton is strong, says Dehaven.
"Your grandmother isn’t hosting teas anymore, and the bars aren’t
an option," she says. "The traditional ways of meeting people
are gone. Everyone is gasping for air at the end of the day because
they have so much to do. The dating business is just another vehicle
to find your mate."
The door to Dehaven’s office is open when I arrive and
I’m immediately struck by the low-key decor. Perhaps I was expecting
posters of lovers hanging on the wall, construction paper cupids
from the ceiling, at the very least, a bowl of candy hearts sitting
on the desktop. Instead I see only a phone, fax, a glowing laptop
computer, and Dehaven herself, who stands up to greet me and offers
the kind of handshake I expect at a job interview. I hardly have time
to adjust to the formality before Dehaven plows into my psyche with
a list of questions that only a shrink or best friend could ask
getting sued: Income? Religion? Age? Occupation?
She enters each of my answers into the computer, which is turned away
from me. Within 20 minutes, she knows just about everything about
me, right down to the foods I eat and books I have read.
Then, an interesting turn: Dehaven asks me to describe the man of
my dreams. I hesitate. It never occurred to me that such a man exists,
primarily because I had yet to invent him. Thus, I concoct my fantasy
on the spot, guided only by Dehaven’s prompts: His occupation? Age?
Carnivore or vegetarian? Favorite pastimes?
Finally, the money question: How much do you want your partner to
make? At first I draw blank, but then it comes to me: it’s not
an issue, I say. Dehaven raises her eyebrows almost imperceptibly
and looks up from her laptop computer, where I assume she is carefully
sculpting my perfect mate that she will later somehow breathe life
into. "You’re still young," she says kindly, in the only
of commentary between us.
In reality, Dehaven and I are extremely close in age, but she exudes
the confidence and poise of a woman much older and more worldly. At
30, Dehaven has already chased after her fortune in the city, raised
a child on her own, and found the man of her dreams. Now married with
three children, she recently made the great rush back to the suburbs,
and by all appearances, appears to have come full circle. In fact,
she’s far from where she started.
Born in New Jersey, Dehaven lived in a small town most of her life;
her father was a construction worker, her mother a homemaker. By the
time she graduated from high school, however, the city was an
component of her life. She worked her way through Rutgers, Class of
1988, by selling commercial real estate in New York. She eventually
found her way to Rudolf Erdel, one of the top 10 internationally
brand names in platinum jewelry. During that time, she carefully
two worlds — the blue-collar world from which she came, and the
white collar world she had gained entry into. "I feel I really
know people — all kinds of people," she says. "No one
Exiting the world of high fashion, Dehaven joined the matchmaking
business when she married and moved back to the suburbs of New Jersey.
Matchmaking isn’t such a stretch, she says. "Everyone is a brand
and I have to find out which one fits," she says. "If one
person says I went to see `The Matrix’ with Keanu Reeves this weekend
and another says, I went to see Roberto Benigni’s `Life is Beautiful’
then I know it’s not going to be a match. It may seem superficial,
but it works."
Behind every one of her hunches is some basic sociology and
as well. The mating rituals of the elite, says Dehaven, are no
from those of anyone else. "There are still traditions so
into them," she says. In matters of money, for example, women
are far less forgiving than men, so that Dehaven was forced to turn
down an amorous toll collector who once came to the agency. "My
female clients, who are CEOs or lawyers, would not be interested,"
The men who come to M. Chatfield generally expect less in the way
of bank accounts, and more in the way of beauty. Thus, a "smart
and attractive" aerobics instructor making under $30,000 was still
a sound investment for the company. "Men are a lot pickier than
women," explains Dehaven.
The double standard toward money issues among upper-class singles
is balanced slightly by the weight double standard. A man can be a
little overweight, says Dehaven, but slightly padded women won’t find
room in the Chatfield clique. For the extremely overweight, the
are nil. "Obesity is indicative of a whole other problem,"
says Dehaven. "An addiction to anything — work, religion,
or food — we try not to deal with extremists."
The agency weeds out closet addicts, posers, and plain misanthropes
through a series of tests. Prospective clients are required to show
a driver’s license and resume at the first meeting and asked to sign
a form of good health. Then the take home exam: The Riso-Hudson
gives Dehaven and Chatfield that extra bit of insight into their
Each person is given a title that typifies their overall attitude
and place in the world: The Reformer, the Helper, the Achiever, the
Individualist, the Investigator, the Loyalist, the Enthusiast, the
Challenger, and the Peacemaker. It’s uncannily similar to the signs
of the Zodiac, but Chatfield insists there is a science to it: "If
someone’s a risk taker, and someone’s security oriented," says
Chatfield, "it’s not a good match."
If that’s not enough, the two Cupids can always rely on gossip.
someone tells me that he’s down to earth, and easygoing, and then
a woman goes out with him and says he was overbearing or
says Dehaven, "that’s the kind of stuff I need. It helps me zoom
in on who’s right for them." When it gets intimate, however, the
agency backs off: "I say you guys have crossed the line and have
a personal relationship now so we’re no longer involved."
It takes about 45 minutes for Dehaven to dredge up the kind of
she can use to paint my portrait and profile my ideal mate, but I
still don’t know if I have the goods to make it among the single creme
de la creme. Dehaven promises to contact me in a few days. I leave
the office and await a phone call to find out if I am eligible for
membership to one of the most exclusive dating agencies on the East
When dating agencies first arrived on the scene in the
1970s, they were no doubt a byproduct of the women’s movement, the
slowly rising divorce rate, and a new battalion of gainfully employed
liberated women. All that changed in the early 1980s, when sexually
transmitted diseases and just plain fear sent single women back into
seclusion in droves. One movie alone, "Looking for Mr.
did for the sexual revolution what "Psycho" did for showers.
Diane Keaton’s ill-fated quest for the perfect man in the hip,
bar scene made the phrase, "looking for love in all the wrong
places," an anthem of sorts for love-struck singles.
Today sexually-transmitted diseases still technically pose a major
fly-in-the-ointment to any institution involved in pairing. But since
it’s illegal to screen, says Chatfield, it’s a non-issue: "If
everyone was AIDS-tested today, next weekend they could go out —
how could you possibly guarantee that they’re current?"
Thus, dating agencies have to resort to other means to screen out
undesirable candidates. Charging $1,200 a head is probably one good
On the Riso-Hudson Enneagram, Chatfield is labeled an
"Enthusiast." She is extroverted and versatile, at best,
and productive, or at worst, overextended and scattered. "I can
do a lot of things well, and I used to beat myself up for that,"
she says. "But now that I understand who I am and I really like
that about myself."
Born in Rye, New York, Chatfield was more or less raised among the
social elite. She studied art and theater for a year and a half at
Hunter College before leaving to pursue a career in acting. She
the Fashion Institute, produced a line of clothing, painted, and later
opened up a restaurant on 60th street in Manhattan with her husband.
In 1985, she left New York for the suburbs of Bedminster, and her
marriage dissolved shortly after. In 1987, the last remnants of her
marriage — Chatfield’s restaurant — was closed for good.
The serene bucolic life Chatfield enjoyed while married turned quickly
into solitary confinement. As a single mother of two teenage children,
she could hardly return to the swinging life she had once known.
had a fabulous life," she says. "I had a penthouse on 70th
and 5th and I never had a problem with a date. There were art openings
and restaurant openings. I realized that living in the country is
wonderful, but it’s socially remote. For people like myself, who had
a rather cosmopolitan life, it was even more difficult, because I
would never go to a `dating service,’ so I knew someone had to address
When she opened her Bedminster office in 1993, she started taking
everyone, including "a half a dozen women who were
That ended up being a bad business decision, she says. "They’re
mad at me and I have to return their money."
To attract the right type of clientele, Chatfield traded in the name
"dating agency" for the much more, vague term "social
agent." It was the kind of high-society spin that enabled her
to cultivate celebrity mystique. "I was an actress, and I had
an agent," she says. "It’s a very common thing when you’re
a professional. Why not have a social agent? If we continue in this
fashion, in another 10 years people will be saying `who’s your agent’
and exchanging cards."
One of the big pitfalls of the dating industry, Chatfield soon
is that men are a precious commodity. Again, it comes back to human
nature: "Men have tremendous egos, and they figure they can
says Chatfield. "What they don’t realize is that women don’t like
to go to bars. They like someone to introduce them." Women,
network more. "They cut out an ad and send it to three friends,
so we get a surge of women."
Chatfield solved that problem by capitalizing on her best asset:
With her sexy face on ads, and well-known name on the letterhead,
Chatfield has been able to pull enough upper-crust men to keep the
women happy. It’s simple psychology, she says: "Men are very
so if they see two attractive women then they will assume that’s a
representation of the client base. They say to me `your image is what
attracts me,’ not little tacky, red hearts and hand-holding. The men
finally realized that the women are here and then they came."
Good looks, social status, and financial security are the minimum
to becoming a Chatfield client, and as it happens, most are also white
and heterosexual. Those aren’t her own criteria, explains Chatfield,
but those of almost all her clients. "We don’t want to sit on
your money," she says. "What’s important for me is to create
the client base. You do what works."
They may all fit into the same tax bracket, but Chatfield insists
her clients give her plenty to work with. "We attract like minds,
but that doesn’t mean they’re cookie cutters," she says.
have wish lists, but there’s something that overrides that and they
can’t put their finger on that. I have a strong intuition. I know
if people say that they want x,y,z, I also know they may want m,n,
Dehaven sums up the challenge: "If this were easy, everyone would
be doing it."
A week after my "audition" with M. Chatfield,
Dehaven calls to tell me that I have been accepted as a
client; my name will remain in the database for a minimal fee, and
if the right guy turns up, I will get a phone call. No hard sell,
though. "I would have a hard time finding a match for you,"
As Woody Allen once said: "I wouldn’t want to belong to a club
that would have me as one of its members." In this case, I am
happily walking the middle line — neither in, nor absolutely out
Frankly, I have never been quite comfortable with the idea of coming
face-to-face with my dream man. Fantasy realized can be an unnatural
thing, like the first time you see someone’s father dressed as Santa
Claus, wearing a moth-eaten red suit and a fake beard. It can be
Both Dehaven and Chatfield have first hand experience to know that
there is no formula. Dehaven met her husband, Gerry, at a bar in
the day he signed on as a client of Chatfield’s. "Never in my
life would I have thought I’d be attracted to a tall white Irish
she says. Fortunately, he dropped his Chatfield contract, and married
her a year later.
When Chatfield’s significant other came to her as a client, he
the woman of his dreams. "Donald came in and said he was looking
for someone 40 and under, with no children," she recalls. "I
have two, but we were immediately attracted to each other."
Chemistry is always the margin of error, says Dehaven. "I’m not
God," she says. "If there was a magic number," says
"all the mothers in the world would be sending us their sons."
Maureen Chatfield. 908-781-7776. Home page:
Also at 195 Nassau Street, Princeton. Mariam Miller. 609-688-9222.
Amy DiStefano. 609-912-0900; fax, 609-912-0313.
according to Together’s Amy DiStefano, who runs the dating agency’s
Lawrenceville office. "I don’t have a typical client," she
says. "If I would have excluded certain areas or people, I might
not have that couple together today." Her clients range in age
from 21 to 75. Weight, looks, and income are not an issue at Together,
but personality is. DiStefano, like matchmakers of old, uses her own
keen sense of character to pair couples — not personality tests
Consultations are free. Clients can expect to spend around $100 to
$200, depending on the number of introductions, but DiStefano likes
to accommodate her clients with payment plans when she can.
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