Single in Philly: Are You There, Waffles? It’s Me, Christy

From matchmakers to Match.com, I set out to chronicle what dating in Philly is like these days. So how did my heart get involved, too?

I’M LATE FOR the matchmaker. It’s only five minutes past the time we said we’d meet at a coffee shop in Center City, but every minute I keep her waiting could be one more minute I’m delaying true love. (Or so the theory goes.)

The matchmaker, Monica Mandell, is the Philly representative for a Chicago-based firm called Selective Search, and she’s a far cry from the yenta caricature I’d semi-envisioned when I set up this meeting over the phone. A petite brunette in her mid-40s, she laughs at my jokes and chats animatedly about her husband and their three kids. Even before we get down to business, I can already see why her clients — all men, all of whom can afford her base fee of $15,000 — would want someone like her on their side in the search for a soulmate.

“Our clients tend to be men who are successful in every other aspect of their lives,” she says. “At this point, they’re not looking for someone just to date. They want significant, important relationships. They want love.” And so they go to Monica, who in her former life was a psychologist, and she guides them through a two-hour interview and a 17-page questionnaire. She then searches a 50,000-person database of Selective Search women on their behalf, looking for a match.

The database women have all submitted their detailed profiles and photos for free. If Monica likes what she sees, an interview follows. And if the interview goes well, the woman is entered into a small pool of potential partners, until the right client — a potential match — comes along. For the women, it’s a win-win: The process is totally confidential, and they’re out nothing if a match never materializes. But if the right client does come along, well … It happens more often than you’d think, Monica says, smiling. She boasts a 30 percent success rate (success being clients in happy relationships) after first introductions, and 45 percent by the third try.

Okay, says a girlfriend a few days later, when I tell her about the meeting. “But $15,000? At that price, aren’t they really just buying a wife?”

I tell her — and also myself, a little — that paying someone to help you find love isn’t exactly the same as subscribing to the mail-order-bride catalog. And besides, these guys — Selective Search clients — tend to have the cash to spare.

“In Philly, they’re the Who’s Who of the city,” insists founder Barbie Adler. And Adler, a 37-year-old former headhunter for Korn/Ferry, has built a small empire around finding them life partners, running searches for matches in much the same way corporations run searches for employees.

“Isn’t that fascinating?” I say to my friend.

“Yeah,” she says. “And so romantic.”

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