Dating Diva

MEETING THEIR MATCHES: Patti Stanger with two bachelors on the set of the Millionaire Matchmaker.

Stanger with Destin Jude Pfaff and Rachel Federoff, who help her make matches on the show.

Like a lot of successful people, Patti Stanger knew at a young age what she wanted to be—a matchmaker. In fact, one can trace Stanger’s career back to grade school, when she would forge her friends’ signatures on Valentine’s Day cards for their potential prince charmings.

Matchmaking is something she was born to do, the star and producer of TV’s The Millionaire Matchmaker, said during a recent telephone interview from Los Angeles. Both her mother, who now lives in Florida but grew up in South Orange before moving to Short Hills, and her grandmother, a Newark native, were matchmakers.

“They didn’t do it for money, but that’s what they were. They were very active in the community,” says the 50-year-old Stanger, who talked with Park Place at the start of a mid-winter’s day of new-show pitching; in addition to The Millionaire Matchmaker on Bravo, Stanger has her sights set on producing three other love- and romance-related reality TV series, all of which she is shopping to networks, and none of which she can yet discuss in detail.

“My grandmother actually found my mother her husbands both times she was married. It left an impression,” says Stanger. Short Hills schools, too, were rife with chances to play cupid, she says. “I remember at Millburn Junior High, we were so bored—boys wouldn’t even approach girls. We’d go to all these bar mitzvahs, and the boys didn’t have the chutzpah to ask a girl to dance. They’d all stand in the corner.” Stanger, ever the ringleader, took matters into her own hands. “We decided we were going to go to a dance at the local Catholic school, Christ Church, one night. The gentile boys were super-hot.” But the scenario there was the same as at Millburn Junior High: clumps of boys, disappointed girls. “So the priest came up to me and said, ‘You need to get this thing started,’” Stanger recalls. And she did.

The rest is history, says the star whose reputation for a certain boldness—she’s not above telling potential matches for her millionaire clients they need to lose weight or change their hair color—is as solid as her track record for leading countless couples to the altar.

For those who have yet to witness Stanger chastise a lonely millionaire for breaking her two-drink maximum rule while on a date or her primetime scrutiny of a lineup of potential “millionairesses,” there are some personal details that need filling in.  Stanger, who lived in Short Hills until she was 21, dated a boy “a town away in Springfield who taught me how to drive” while attending Millburn High, but eventually reached the conclusion that “dating was just weird in Millburn.”

She earned a degree in fine arts from the University of Miami in 1983 and began a career that touched down, briefly, in fashion. But “I was always fixing people up,” says Stanger, who has never married. (In 2010, she ended a six-year relationship, but says she’s still sure she’ll find Mr. Right.) Throughout all that romance trafficking, including her 1990s stint as marketing director at Great Expectations, the country’s oldest and largest dating service, she noticed that not all dating demographics were created equal: well-heeled clients needed extra help, she says. Not only did they lack the time to find dates, but they felt the need for added discretion when being set up.

So in 2000, she founded the Los Angeles-based matchmaking service, Millionaire’s Club International, which, in addition to being the launchpad for one of the most successful shows in Bravo’s lineup—The Millionaire Matchmaker’s sixth season begins shooting in March-—is still flourishing. Even in this economy. “There’s less volume now in millionaires. We get fewer of them, but the ones we do get have more money,” Stanger says. And they still join the club looking for love from all over the country, though most of the couples set up on the show by Stanger and her on-air protégés, real-life couple Rachel Federoff and Destin Jude Pfaff, are from Southern California.

Which is not entirely the way she would like it. Stanger often refers to herself as her clients’ fairy godmother. But if she were her own fairy godmother, she would transplant more East Coast types to the Millionaire’s Club’s West Coast headquarters, says Stanger, who returns to New Jersey every year to visit cousins in South Orange and West Orange and shop at the Mall at Short Hills. (“No taxes—it’s great,” she says.)

“I love East Coast people—people from New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Their level of integrity is much stronger,” she says. “There’s a definite coastal thing, and people from New Jersey and the whole surrounding area are very, very honest. I wish they’d move to California.”

Stanger’s own ingrained East Coast honesty leads to admissions: she never expected to be a TV personality, she says. (“I’m more of a screenwriter by nature—I was like ‘Huh?’ when they wanted me to be on the show.”) It also has led to controversial off-the-cuff comments—she took a media drubbing in 2011 for saying that “Jewish men lie,” and that gay men have monogamy issues during an interview on the Bravo show Watch What Happens Live.  She later apologized for both comments on Twitter.

But that very public sensitivity lesson has not stopped Stanger from telling it like it is. Even when she’s relaying recollections of her formative years to a local magazine. “We used to call Short Hills ‘Short Thrills,’” she says. And “I heard that somebody once called Short Hills the most boring town in America.”

Stanger’s respect for her hometown, and for her gay and Jewish clients, is there, though. She just forgets to make it front-and-center sometimes.

“Millburn High is the number-one school in the country,” Stanger adds, in a way that doesn’t suggest backpedaling, just honest reflection. “A lot of prominent people come from that area—movie stars, politicians. There’s something about it that, when you stay there, it builds your character. I’m glad I grew up there.”

Patti Stanger’s Dating Tips For New Jersey Women:

  1. “The biggest problem with dating in New Jersey is that no one gets out of the house. In the summer it’s easier—you go to the swim club or whatever. But you have to make an effort to get out and do things in the winter, too. Go somewhere. Anywhere.”
  2. “You need to find some singles spots. It’s much easier in New York. New Jersey is coming around, I think, but somebody needs to take the initiative and open more places for single people to hang out in New Jersey.”
  3. “Pay it forward. If you want to get dates, you have to help your friends get dates. Start fixing people up and you’ll end up fixing yourself up.”
  4. “Get out of your zip code. It’s OK to date a New Yorker. There are plenty of opportunities to go places in that area. Don’t stay in your hometown.”
  5. “Ask me questions: It’s what I do. I’m on Twitter at @PattiStanger. And I do answer!”



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