She’s thin, his wallet is fat — now that’s a match

Michelle Dehaven

Maureen Chatfield

Just for Singles: Dating Agencies

Corrections or additions?

This article was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on November 24,

1999. All rights reserved.

Beyond the Singles Scene

by Melinda Sherwood

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She’s thin, his wallet is fat — now that’s a match

The man of your dreams is intelligent, romantic,

sensitive

(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’

love?

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

predictable

niches: High-class joints with minimal standing room; cavernous

enclaves

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

cookie"

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

exception

of a few couples in attendance, it turned out to be largely a girl’s

night out.

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

ill-fated

sport. People could get paid big bucks to make it easier. In fact,

some have.

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

upper-level

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

settlement.

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

do,"

says Chatfield, "so people like myself, who are educated,

attractive,

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

close-by.

The copy invites men to look no further for women of "style and

substance."

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

idealist,"

for example.

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."

Top Of Page
Michelle Dehaven

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

floating

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

without

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

moment

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

important

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

recognized

brand names in platinum jewelry. During that time, she carefully

straddled

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

scares me."

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

psychology,

as well. The mating rituals of the elite, says Dehaven, are no

different

from those of anyone else. "There are still traditions so

programmed

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,"

she says.

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

chances

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

Enneagram

gives Dehaven and Chatfield that extra bit of insight into their

clients.

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.

"If

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

self-absorbed,"

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

information

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

Coast.

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.

Goodbar,"

did for the sexual revolution what "Psycho" did for showers.

Diane Keaton’s ill-fated quest for the perfect man in the hip,

cosmopolitan

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

method.

Top Of Page
Maureen Chatfield

On the Riso-Hudson Enneagram, Chatfield is labeled an

"Enthusiast." She is extroverted and versatile, at best,

high-spirited, creative,

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

attended

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.

"I

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

this market."

When she opened her Bedminster office in 1993, she started taking

everyone, including "a half a dozen women who were

overweight."

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

discovered,

is that men are a precious commodity. Again, it comes back to human

nature: "Men have tremendous egos, and they figure they can

hunt,"

says Chatfield. "What they don’t realize is that women don’t like

to go to bars. They like someone to introduce them." Women,

conversely,

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:

herself.

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

visual

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.

"People

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,

and p."

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

"passive"

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,"

Dehaven explained.

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

traumatic.

Both Dehaven and Chatfield have first hand experience to know that

there is no formula. Dehaven met her husband, Gerry, at a bar in

Hoboken

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

guy,"

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

described

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

Dehaven,

"all the mothers in the world would be sending us their sons."

Top Of Page
Just for Singles: Dating Agencies

M. Chatfield Ltd., 435 Main Street, Bedminster 07921.

Maureen Chatfield. 908-781-7776. Home page:

http://www.mchatfieldltd.com.

Also at 195 Nassau Street, Princeton. Mariam Miller. 609-688-9222.

Together, 2633 Main Street, Suite 103, Lawrenceville

08648.

Amy DiStefano. 609-912-0900; fax, 609-912-0313.

Variety — not exclusivity — is the key to matchmaking,

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

or databases.

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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