I’m the last person to watch TV; I don’t even own one. But I recently stumbled across a most unexpected source of advice. At least, what we could call advice in pop culture. It’s Patti Stanger of Bravo TV’s “Millionaire Matchmaker” fame. As a yenta for the 1 percent, she keeps a steady clientele of people who must prove their annual income before gaining membership in the “Millionaire’s Club.” She demands that club members be multi-millionaires; she won’t even consider the lowly poor slobs who make 2 million or less per year. She claims she has a high success rate; although the episodes rarely show the success stories.
What happens on the program? Well, first a parade of charmless, unattractive, insanely wealthy people contact Patti. Then, after a cringe-inducing selection of dates for them, the millionaires embarrass themselves completely and then decide they’d rather stay single. It’s a perfect storm of failure; a great formula for reality TV.
But Stanger is surprisingly prudent and wise – especially for Hollywood. Don’t get me wrong; she acts out everything I can’t stand about our current culture. She panders to the shallow, vapid super-rich, many of whom seem to be lacking in basic ethics and manners. She comes across as catty, fussy and very high-maintenance, more of a diva than an astute businesswoman. She sees people as types, not individuals. And she publicly humiliates people, particularly those who have to audition to be the millionaires’ dates. Who knows what she’s like in real life? But on the screen, she comes across initially as someone you love to hate…
…that is, until I saw the video clips of her dating advice.
She has interesting things to say about the role of men and women, and to my surprise, she advocates for the more traditional type of relationship. She does not arrange dates for dating’s sake; her focus is on getting people married off.
For her Club members, she enforces a strict two-drink maximum while on dates. This is to avoid impaired judgement so that both parties involved can figure each other out with a clear-eyed look at the potential future.
And speaking of drinks on dates, she has a very traditional definition of the word date. In her words, “no meal, no date.” In other words, it’s not a date if it’s just drinks or only coffee. She expects her millionaire men to share a meal with a woman – and obviously she expects them to go to high-end restaurants. She also expects the men to pay for everything, even if the women are Club members.
For both men and women, she stresses the importance of politeness and good manners. She expects her men to be chivalrous gentlemen and her women to be gracious ladies. But really, if her daters actually listened to her about that, it would make for bad reality TV.
She also advocates for two things that are unheard of in Hollywood: no sex before monogamy, which she feels should not happen until after three or more months of dating. She thinks a proposal should be offered within a year of dating as well. And surprisingly, she does not want people living together before marriage. The men sometimes try to get around that first rule, and if they succeed and Patti finds out about it, she kicks them out of her Club. She feels very strongly about these issues, particularly about cohabitation before marriage. (And recent studies justify her feeling.)
I gotta admit it: Even though I loathe TV, it’s an occasional guilty pleasure. As an introvert, I like people-watching, and reality TV has legitimized that for everyone. For me, reality TV is a lot easier than, say, staring at a crowd on the subway, which is just plain awkward.
(Read Molly Mesnick’s account of winning Jason’s heart on ABC’s “The Bachelor,” as told exclusively to CatholicMatch.com.)
As far as Stanger herself, I was initially mesmerized by her spectacular meltdowns, the non-stop cursing, her raunchy sense of humor, and her blatant cruelty (I did say “guilty pleasure,” emphasis on “guilty”). It made me wonder who she really is off-camera. The more I got to know about her background, the more the incongruity between her public persona and her dating guidlines made sense.
Turns out, Stanger comes from a long line of Long Island yentas, traditional matchmakers in Jewish communities. Her mother, along with all the other matriarchs, groomed her for the family business, but in this day and age, the real-life matchmaker has taken a backseat to the Internet and other modern conveniences. So Patti moved to Hollywood and set her sights on the super rich. She occasionally brings her mother on the show as a consultant, but as a typical mother, all she can consult Patti on is “that mouth!”
Also in typical Jewish mother fashion, she worries about Patti’s single status. The program often shows Patti on dates or talking about the ups and downs of single living. I get the sense that the point of contention for Stanger is that her current fame makes her suspicious of potential suitors’ motives; and with good reason – it is Hollywood, after all. Everyone goes there hungry for fame and money, and Patti has access to both.
I briefly wondered if underneath her tough-talking, Hollywood power-mongering exterior is still that good Jewish girl from Long Island (and that’s pronounced “LawnGuyLind” in New Yorkese, by the way) who just longs for a nice dentist, or a lawyer perhaps, a well-manicured lawn and a job in the family business. But I look again at her stiletto heels and giant Fendi bags, her implants and Botox and think, she loves being the one we love to hate. She seems to enjoy the public persona of Patti Stanger, the raunchy diva who spews expletives out of collagen-injected lips. She left LawnGuyLind for Hollywood in more ways than one.
Of course, raunchy divas make for better television, so that’s all we’ll ever see. But still I wonder where she’ll be when her shelf life expires. Her advice is still solid; and she still has that matchmaker skill set to fall back on. Will the quiet suburban life still beckon her back?