What I Learned at a ‘Sex and the City’-Style Matchmaking Party

June 23, 2016, 1:30 PM UTC
"Sex and the City" party
Kristin Davis, Sarah Jessica Parker, Chris Noth, Kim Cattrall & Cynthia Nixon at a party for Sex and the City in 1999 at the Skybar in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
Jeff Kravitz FilmMagic

In a disco-lit private room at an upscale restaurant earlier this month, mother-daughter matchmaking team Janis and Carly Spindel hosted an exclusive singles party for New York City’s elite. Roughly 60 people showed up to find their soulmate. At least, that was the idea.

Janis got into the matchmaking business in 1993 and claims to be responsible for 2,000 marriages. She has “clients,” and she has “members.” It’s a traditional setup some might find offensive: her clients are exclusively men—celebrities, bankers, entrepreneurs—who pay anywhere from $50,000 to $1 million for her services. Her daughter, Carly, does work with a few female clients, but they’re few and far between. “Women are harder to please than men,” Carly explains.

Members, on the other hand, are mostly women. They pay $25 to apply for membership—if accepted, they then have to do a mandatory in-person consultation ranging from $250 to $1,250, where Janis and Carly determine their matching potential. There are no guarantees that they will ever get matched with a client; Janis and Carly choose carefully and “have a no-tolerance policy for gold diggers.” More than 30,000 members are in the database, according to Janis.

The “male-client/female-member” model is the same one reality TV star Patti Stanger employed on her Bravo show The Millionaire Matchmaker. There’s likely a reason for that: Stanger was actually Janis’s assistant for five years before she began her own matchmaking business.

This particular party we attended was for members, and the theme—in true Sex and the City fashion—was “Somebody’s ex could be your next,” meaning the women who attended had to bring an ex-partner or male friend. It was held at Beautique, a restaurant in Midtown Manhattan that’s been described as a “playpen for millionaires.”

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A 55-year-old entrepreneur named Patrick, who was invited by a college friend, said the event felt like “Match.com speed dating.” He’s tried Match.com and eHarmony with no long-term success. For him, this is no different, but he’s willing to give it a try.

“As a business owner who works 14 to 15 hours a day while raising a child by myself, I need another level of access,” he said. “That’s all this is—it’s just another outlet to meet more people.”

Indeed, if you didn’t know you were at an event hosted by high-end matchmakers, you’d think it was a dating event like any other. People sipped on cocktails, bounced around from conversation to conversation. The wants were the same, as were the concerns.

Jahn, a 58-year-old consultant, said the most difficult thing about dating in New York is “finding someone with light baggage.” When I asked him to elaborate, he explained that women in the city don’t make the time for a serious relationship. “So many women I meet have never been married because they’re so focused on their careers that they’re not ready to commit.”

Enter Amy, a 45-year-old woman who works in finance and has never been married. She was skeptical about meeting with a matchmaker at first, describing herself as a “down-to-earth person who is not solely into appearances.” Ultimately, she ended up paying the $250 to go to the consultation, but has not been set up on a date with a client yet. She wasn’t impressed by the men at the event, saying they seemed to lack confidence. “I definitely think men are intimidated by success,” she said. “As much as men say they want smart ambitious women, their actions demonstrate otherwise.”

A biotech entrepreneur in his late 60s said nothing about ambition—only that he preferred to date “younger women” with soulmate-potential who weren’t after him for his money. “Working with a matchmaker is a good idea because they can filter through people and make sure you don’t end up with a gold digger,” he added.

He even offered to pay Janis more than her asking price only to have her turn him down. “He’s a 69-year-old handsome, very wealthy man who was dating women in their 20s,” she said. “I told him, ‘I’m sorry, but I am absolutely not introducing you to women who are in their 20s.’”

Janis has no problem turning down clients—no matter how much money they are willing to pay to be part of her club. She told me about a 47-year-old client she had who boasted about owning multiple homes, cars, boats and a plane. “I told him, ‘You don’t have a wife, and you desperately need my help, but take all of your toys elsewhere,’” Janis said. “I will not deal with pompous asses.”

Related: Chronic Loneliness Is a Modern-Day Epidemic

Before admitting someone into their club, Janis and Carly meet and vet the potential clients over coffee, drinks or a meal. Carly recently met with a big-time venture capitalist who told her hiring a matchmaker just made good business sense. “He said, ‘Why wouldn’t I hire a matchmaker? I outsource everything else in my day-to-day, so why wouldn’t I outsource finding love as well,’” Carly said.

In theory, it makes sense. Why not just maximize your time and efficiency by leaving your personal life in the hands of professional matchmakers? But Patrick, the single dad who came to this type of event for the first time, calls that mentality “cutting corners.”

“In business, saving time is important,” he said. “I’m not looking to save time in my personal life. It’s not about cutting corners when you’re trying to find a quality person to share your life with.”

It’s about an hour and a half into the party, and Carly and Janis are observing carefully, making comments like, “Why is that guy over there hoarding the blonde bombshell?” and “I’m about to go break up those four men doing a business deal in the corner.”

One couple is already chatting on a couch holding hands. Some people are leaving to have dinner together. And Patrick’s expectation for tonight?

“I don’t have an expectation,” he said. “Let’s just say that if I had walked in with one, I’d end up getting my feelings hurt.”