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That personal touch

Dot-coms can't match the matchmaker

By all rights, online personal ads should have made the yenta obsolete. Internet dating pools are deeper; search engines are stronger than any Rolodex.

Instead, Los Angeles is the city where money — that is, a lot of money — can buy you love.

The city has nearly 200 matchmakers and dating services, according to the Better Business Bureau. (By comparison, the lovelorn populace of San Francisco makes do with only 11.) And despite all the dot-com cupids, the old-fashioned marriage brokers say business has never been better.

“You meet (an online date) at Starbucks and they’re older, they look different, they’re just out of a relationship,” says Samantha Daniels, who inspired the short-lived NBC sitcom “Miss Match” and has just published “Matchbook: The Diary of a Modern-Day Matchmaker.”

“I’ve looked for matches at Barneys on a Saturday or taken clients shopping for sexier, hipper clothes. I understand innuendo, energy and vibes because I’m a person, not a computer.”

With nearly half of all Angelenos between 35-44 unmarried, there’s plenty of people who might benefit from Daniels’ approach. However, only a fraction of them could consider paying her fee. Packages start at $15,000; she says 70% of her clients are in the entertainment industry.

Other matchmakers say they have access to clients that web surfers will never have the chance to meet.

“I specialize in beautiful women and successful men,” says Dianne Bennett. A former Beverly Hills meter maid who turned to matchmaking 15 years ago, she wears gold clip-on earrings and a blue cardigan that matches her eyes, giving her the look of a kindly, if brassy, Midwestern aunt. But once she opens her mouth, she’s Auntie Mame.

Bennett maintains a stable of more than 1,000 female clients, categorized as “blonde,” “brunette” or “exotic.” They are between the ages of 20-35 and “must be slim and look like top models and movie stars.”

These women pay nothing for membership because she’s not looking on their behalf. She’s catering to the needs of about 50 men, mostly between the ages of 35-55, who pay Bennett anywhere from $5,000 to $100,000 to find them a wife.

That approach might seem retro in the 21st century, when services like It’s Just Lunch and Great Expectations rely on blind dating — a practice Bennett derides.

Services “don’t show photos because the women aren’t pretty,” she says. “You can’t match women who aren’t pretty. That’s just fraud.”

With a client base equally divided between men and women, Debra Winkler Personal Search is more egalitarian in its approach. However, there are limits. “We only take people who want long-term relationships,” says head matchmaker Jennifer Turner. “(And) if they’re grossly overweight, we won’t accept them. It’s the difference between shopping for a BMW and a Chevy.”

Even successful online dating services are seeing the wisdom in going analog. Jewish singles network jdate.com is launching Joe’s Club, an offline social secretary that arranges group dates, art tours and other outings.

“We try to get people who don’t have as much time to spend (online),” says Greg Liberman, chief operating officer of Jdate parent Spark Networks. “We take the heavy lifting of planning out of their hands and try to facilitate great chemistry for the table.”

And the philosophy behind the newly minted Teamdating.com is that there’s a better chance for success — not to mention safety — in taking matters offline with friends in tow.

“The Internet should be an extension of your social life,” says Teamdating.com co-prexy Ray Doustdar. “It shouldn’t become your social life.”

Ultimately, the real reason for the romance reality check may be that you can Google everything except instinct.

“It’s a hard business,” says Jill Kelleher of Kelleher & Associates. “We’re handling people’s emotional lives. But what’s more important than love?”

Maressa Brown contributed to this article.

Catch me a catch

Most matchmaking services don’t know the number of marriages they’re responsible for; many clients don’t keep in touch once they’re in relationships. However, all in-person matchmakers screen clients, conduct background checks and request that clients fill out personal profiles and provide pictures as well as after-date feedback. Beyond that, your mileage may vary.

Matchmaker: Samantha Daniels
Service: A bicoastal matchmaker with an “industry-centric” clientele, Daniels utilizes a 10,000-person database and has about 75 active clients at anygiven time. Fee includes access to a dating coach, fashion stylist and concierge.
Cost: $400 for initial consultation; prices range from $15,000 into the six figures

Matchmaker: Dianne Bennett
Service: Male clients choose dates from portfolio books of more than 1,000 “gorgeous girls,” and the price is adjusted accordingly. For female clients, Bennett makes no guarantees.
Cost: Women join for free; men pay between $5,000- $100,000

Matchmaker: Debra Winkler
Personal Search
Service: From a pool of several thousand active members, DWPS provides anywhere from five customized blind matches to an unlimited number of searches. A clinical psychologist is on staff; Dr. Pat Allen, author of “Getting to ‘I Do’,” conducts monthly seminars.
Cost: From $5,900- $25,000

Matchmaker: Elite Connections
Service: Of the three people on this matchmaking team, two met their husbands through matchmakers. Access to prospective matches’ profiles/pictures; unlimited dates. The pool of several hundred active clients is evenly divided between men and women. Relationship counselor and dating coach on staff.
Cost: From $795 for a two-month trial to $5,000 for a VIP membership

Matchmaker: Kelleher & Associates
Service: This mother-daughter team operates like an executive search firm, with 10 offices and 21 matchmakers nationwide. Unlimited blind dates from a pool of about 600 active local members. Psychologists and life coaches on staff; potential clients are screened at the Four Seasons Hotel.
Cost: $500 to join the national registry; $100,000 for the most personalized membership.

Matchmaker: Joe’s Club: From the creators of Jdate
Service: In addition to full membership to Jdate.com, club members can go on group dates that include restaurants, art tours and cooking lessons. Ten thousand club members culled from 40,000 Jdate.com members in Los Angeles.
Cost: $1,000 a year

Matchmaker: Creativemates.com
Service: Membership is by invitation only to this boutique dating service catering to people in the arts and entertainment. Service is Internet based, with occasional in-person mixers.
Cost: $49 a month

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