The men who pay professional matchmakers
Featuring Rachel MacLynn
Sally Williams and Fiona Wilson
Last updated at 4:30PM, March 9 2013
From seduction boot camps to dating coaches – why single males are paying a fortune to find true romance
One day last August, Duncan Cheatle walked into a London café to meet the woman he hoped would change his life. At 44, Cheatle had a lot going for him. He was a successful entrepreneur; he liked going on adventurous holidays to such places as Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar; he had a lot of style. But unfortunately he was still single and was growing increasingly unhappy at living his life that way. He’d been close a couple of times, but it hadn’t worked out. And now, as he saw it, “I don’t want to be getting nearer 50 and still not settled down.”
And with that in mind he agreed to meet Rachel for coffee. Rachel was an elegant, angular woman with glossy blonde hair. Although only 34, she had her own business and spoke a language Cheatle understood – “consultant”, “connecting”. Their conversation was nothing more than a friendly discussion. But by the time Cheatle left he was convinced Rachel was the woman for him. “I trusted her straightaway,” he explained later. Here, at last, was someone who understood him. A week or so later, he met Rachel again. This time in her office, where he paid her £8,000, plus VAT, for a minimum of 10 dates over 18 months and the promise to help him find, if not the love of his life, then certainly a romantic partner.
Rachel MacLynn is a professional matchmaker. She offers her service to high-end, successful people, mostly in their thirties and forties, and what they get for a fee is a series of introductions and a personal approach. As the founder and CEO of Vida Consultancy, she meets her clients, questions them closely on their life history and what makes them happy and, backed up by her psychology background, attempts to match them with a compatible partner. It is MacLynn’s job to accompany her clients on their anxious journey to love, sometimes in person, although more likely via the telephone. “They can, within reason, ring me any time they want,” she explains. She is your cheerleader, therapist, a friend who has no needs. Apart from your money. MacLynn is currently helping 40 people find a partner.
And she is not alone. There are a growing number of dating coaches, matchmakers, “pick-up” artists, seduction experts who, for a fee, will work on your behalf, rather than you trying to work it out alone. Because the matchmaking industry is self-regulated, it is hard to say how many professionals are out there. But the Sara Eden dating agency, for example, which charges up to £10,210 for membership and covers London and the Home Counties, has seen a 200 per cent rise in inquiries in the past year or so. “It used to be a taboo to use a dating agency, but now it is like a status statement. It has the same cachet as a personal trainer,” says Daniel André, the CEO of Elect Club, whose members range from executives to models. And with one million more people living alone than they did in 1996, MacLynn believes the love business is set to expand. From a background in occupational psychology, she launched Vida Consultancy two years ago after seeing matchmaking grow in the States. “Stepping away from a career in business psychology to focus on a career in matchmaking is the best decision I ever made. The industry is hardly tapped into at all.”
Finding a mate, whether for conceiving and raising children, enhancing one’s socioeconomic standing, companionship or simply for having sex, can be a haphazard process, down to the referrals of friends, lucky meetings or chance chemistry in the office.
Online dating promised a better way by expanding your universe of potential partners. Match.com, which went live in 1995, is now the biggest dating site in the world, with 17 million users a month.
But people lie on their dating profiles. They post old photographs, or say they are looking for love when they are married. In an analysis of its own data, another site, OkCupid, confirms that men exaggerate their income (by 20 per cent) and their height (by 2in).
Also, compatibility is calculated with an algorithm. Most internet-dating sites rely on a questionnaire that asks such things as race, religion, sense of humour, musical taste, desired age range and body type. The data is fed into the computer, which finds matches based on your stated preferences. Some, such as match.com, also learn from what you do on the site. So, if a woman says she doesn’t want to date anyone older than 30, but often looks at profiles of fortysomethings, match.com will know she is in fact open to meeting older men.
But still, how can a computer know what’s right for you when it doesn’t know you? “People come to me and say, ‘Will you do all the searching, vetting and screening for me, because I don’t have the time to be trawling through the internet,’ ” says MacLynn, who sees her role as gatekeeper and quality controller.
Jill Rhodes-Harvey, founder of Rhodes Harvey Introductions, is more forceful. She sees online dating as “a mass market of people you would normally cross the road to avoid, let alone go out and date”.
The way most matchmakers work is by allowing you to browse through profiles as you would books on a shelf. Others choose for you: they bring five books to your door, ask you to select one and then return to the shop with the four others.
Vida’s model is based on executive recruitment. Clients pay for the personalised service – exactly how much depends on the target search: £8,000 (local cities and towns); £15,000 (either Europe or the States); £25,000 (both); £50,000 (global). It also has a database of names scouted by “search consultants” – people located in various cities around the world – who are paid a commission for each recruit. Registration is free for these singles, but each is interviewed on the telephone by Vida’s staff (there are five) and spoken to in person if a client wants to meet them.
Jill Rhodes-Harvey is critical of the modern matchmaking business, seeing it as “a money-making industry” run by people from “banking and recruitment agencies”, lacking the personal touch of traditional matchmakers such as Heather Jenner, who ran the high-society Marriage Bureau in the Forties and Fifties and met and introduced all her clients.
“Professional matchmaking is about finding love for a client, whether they are white, black, attractive, not attractive, 25 or 65. It is not about offering a pre-set number of introductions – that is about putting a certain number of bodies in front of you.”
“The industry does need to be more regulated,” MacLynn agrees. “A lot go into matchmaking without any previous experience, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do their job.”
And those singles who have the means seem to be signing up to the idea, especially men. Vida has more men on its books than women – just under 60 per cent; the majority of Rhodes-Harvey’s clients are men; Kezia Noble, the “pick-up instructor” and author of The Noble Art of Seducing Women, only coaches men. “Men in the modern era are very confused and intimidated by women, and this is the result of the ongoing feminist movement,” she has said. “[Women] are empowered by programmes such as Sex in the City and that has led them to be very aggressive, quite dominant. Men think, ‘I don’t know what approach to take; if I get it wrong she is going to be quite ruthless about making me look stupid.’ ”
Some remain sceptical that the primeval mystery of human attraction can ever be unlocked with money, but Cheatle believes £8,000 is worth a try. “Why would you not invest in what is probably the most important thing in your life?” he says.
‘I’m 44 and I want kids. I don’t want to keep waiting and waiting’
Duncan Cheatle, 44. Spent £8,000. Entrepreneur. Earns: undisclosed. Used matchmaker Vida Consultancy. Current status: dating. Time since last relationship: six months.
“I haven’t found it that easy to meet people I feel strongly for and who feel strongly for me. But then, I’ve seen a lot of people get married to people they are not entirely sure they are completely in love with. To me, that’s a no, and I’d rather stay single.
“I met a fantastic, gorgeous woman when I was 31 and we were together for four years, but neither of us was quite ready. I’ve never lived with anyone. I don’t want to think how rare that is.
“After graduating from the Cass Business School, I joined an accountancy firm. I set up my business 12 years ago. I have a golden rule that I will never have anything to do with anyone at work, because I am the boss and that would be an utter disaster.
“I’m 44 and I want kids. While I don’t have the issue of a biological clock, I don’t want to keep waiting and waiting.
“Rachel [MacLynn] was recommended by two friends. I procure lots of services in business and this isn’t entirely different from that. Why would I not invest eight grand in someone I trust to help me find connections when I am very busy? And when I do meet people, they are invariably married, attached or not right. Rachel can’t be a miracle worker, but she can clarify criteria or things that are deal-breakers. I like women who are really bright, fun and attractive. Heels are good, but if they’re wearing flats, that’s fine as well. Caked in make-up is probably not my cup of tea.
“I signed up six months ago and have met four women. I took the first date to a cocktail bar in Old Street. She was a good match on paper, but there was no chemistry. But the way Rachel does it is that she sets you up with a date and you give her feedback. I totally bought into that. It’s a case of building a picture. Number two was attractive and we met again. She was great, but there wasn’t enough there. I met my third date in a bar in the City. She didn’t ask any questions. It’s nice to be asked about yourself. And she didn’t say thank you. As a bloke, you always pay. It’s a big turn-off when a woman goes off to the loo when you are about to get the bill and they don’t offer or say thank you.
Number four… We shall see. We met in a restaurant. She works in marketing and we’ve been together three or four months.
“It was a leap of faith, because you are paying a substantial fee upfront. But Rachel said, ‘Look, trust me, I will make it work.’”