In an era when television tells you what not to wear, what not to weigh and how to decorate your house, Patti Stanger will tell you who not to date — for a healthy fee. Most people know her as the host of the Bravo show Millionaire Matchmaker, and her clients, mostly men, pay upward of 20 grand to be introduced to potential wife material. Armed with her list of ironclad rules, culled from Mom’s advice and her own life experience, including once serving as marketing director of the It’s Just Lunch dating service, Stanger came up with a business plan to defeat what she calls “the feminization of America.”
To the untrained ear, Stanger is bossy, slightly obnoxious and direct. In New York, where the third-generation matchmaker is from, it’s “to the point.” I find her to be fearlessly open and chatty one morning in Marina del Rey, while she gets her makeup done for a TV shoot. “You know, I got my business idea from reading the L.A. Weekly,” she proclaims. “You guys used to have this alternative section in your classifieds called “the edge,” and there’d be ads for ‘millionaire seeking girl’ or ‘girl seeking generous benefactor.’ I would place ads and get leads. I got really good at writing — use this word, not that — it’s what got me on the map.”
A lot has happened for Stanger in nine years, and with the advent of the TV show she finds that her clientele is changing. “Our usual clients are calm and content, but the show brings crazy people who are so time-consuming, I’m, like, Charge them twice! A lot of that stuff is scripted, but the dates are real. They cast the men, they cast the girls. They can’t use my people — we have confidentiality clauses in our contracts. Some clients are superfamous — not run-of-the-mill celebrities, but sports stars, Wall Street economists. Others are low-key and so far under the radar. I have a Pulitzer Prize–winning author. He doesn’t need people to know he’s in the club — that’s really tacky. Are you single?”
Granted, I’m not exactly a social butterfly, but my belief has always been that boys are boys when it comes down to it and there are general traits shared by all. So, I have to ask: Is there any real difference between a millionaire and a nonmillionaire besides the cash? “Millionaires are more demanding because they have a narcissistic perception of themselves. There’s nothing worse than the ‘nasty nerd.’ They think they’re God because of the money. They never got the cheerleader in high school and now they’re screwed. But everybody’s got a history, baggage. It’s not like buying a house; these are people with emotions and feelings. Millionairesses are the worst, though. They’re twice as much work — they like to complain, and they don’t learn as fast. I did two nights of parties for millionairesses and not one of them said thank you. That’s fucked up, and I can see what they do to men. I’ve got a waiting list right now; I don’t need it. I’m, like, ‘Look, you’re 53 years old and not that hot. Get over yourself.’”
Stanger believes that matchmaking is social-service work. Part therapist, part stylist. She even employs an interior designer for special cases. It requires skill and patience to teach these successful businessmen how to apply their strategies to their personal lives. For the money, she conducts only one, albeit thorough, official background check: She talks to his friends and visits his place of employment. As for the men, evidently the East Coast versus West Coast phenomenon isn’t only in rap-music and the art market. “California men are lazy idiots. They’re spoiled rotten! They never want to get out of the dolphin pond where they’ve been fed and serviced, and they expect the hottest little hottie on the market. New Yorkers may not be as pretty as California men, but they’re way more masculine. They’re hunters. They’re also taught that pedigree is the most important thing — where you came from, what school did you go to, what have you accomplished in your life. In California, it’s all about, ‘Oh, you’re a trailer-park trashie with a seventh-grade education? You’re hot — let’s go!’ It’s the only place I’ve been where a zero male expects a 10 and still thinks he can do better.”
Borrowing a question from her playbook, I ask: If you could date anyone in Hollywood, who would it be? Without hesitation, she answers, “Viggo Mortensen.” Her voice softens as she goes on to explain, “Everyone thinks I’m crazy. Although I would take his beard off. I like him with his long hair, without the beard. He has a serious quality. He lives in Venice. He’s cultural. He loves photography, poems — he’s creative. He’s low under the radar. That’s my kinda guy. He takes care of his son. He’s not obsessed with the perfect Bambi.” Despite her “10 commandments of dating” and her strictness with her clients (no sex — it’s in the contract), her personal life is a different matter. She doesn’t date a millionaire, and has been involved with the same “regular guy” that her office mates fixed her up with for a number of years now. When asked by others why she isn’t married, she’s quick to point out that Oprah isn’t married either and it works for her.
So why hire a matchmaker while Internet dating is so popular? “I think Internet dating is very dangerous. There’s no one screening the content, or telling you what you’re doing wrong. Of course, you don’t go back to someone’s home you don’t know, and you only meet in public places. It might be a way to get your numbers moving and give the universe a chance to set it up organically — like, right place, right time. But is it successful by the number of people that try it? No. And a lot of people get hurt. Even I ended up not doing it anymore.”
Photo by Kevin Scanlon