In a dating world that is increasingly turning toward websites like Match.com and eHarmony.com, Austin-based He’s For Me is going old school as the South’s first offline gay matchmaking service.
The efforts of founder Tammy Shaklee, H4M came about from her own experiences with matchmaking and wanting to give that opportunity to gay professionals.
“I had lived in Austin for two years and I was frustrated with the dating scene,” Shaklee says. “I signed up for It’s Just Lunch, and that’s where I met my husband after two years and 30 dates. I found out that one of my girlfriends was marrying her boyfriend who she had met on It’s Just Lunch, too.”
When Shaklee told a gay friend of their mutual friend, he mentioned that there weren’t any matchmaking options for gay men in Austin.
“He told me ‘I’m so jealous. If they had it for gay men, I’d be your first client.’” she says. “I started looking around and found that there were some things in New York or California that were starting to expand to cater to gay men, but there wasn’t anything exclusively for them.”
Shaklee, who has worked as a broadcast journalist, a political director and was a CEO of a Texas chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, set out on more than three months of one-on-one interviews with gay professionals in Austin to fine tune how a matchmaking service would best serve the community.
“I can only think like a gay man to a certain degree,” Shaklee says. “At some point you have to talk to the experts about what they’re looking for in a service, as well as trends and habits. We found that older professional men don’t want to put their photos out there or have to check-in everywhere.”
H4M takes the offline approach seriously. Their office isn’t listed and potential clients must go through a phone interview before they’re invited to a personal sit down at the office. H4M even asks clients not to mention that they’re using the service to others.
H4M takes the offline approach seriously. Their office isn’t listed. . .H4M even asks clients not to mention that they’re using the service to others.
“It’s completely discrete,” she says, “because you’re hiring a person to work for you for a year on your personal life. You have to be truly serious about wanting a long-term relationship. That’s what we focus on.”
Most of H4M’s clients are in the 30 to 60 year old range, though Shaklee has found that 20-somethings are also becoming more interested. She says that a lot of it has to do with how the offline aspect of it works.
“I think it’s intrigue,” she says. “Straight couples all know someone that used it, but professional gay men often don’t. Their online experiences have left them soured because of how shallow it can be. The photo [on a profile] can be an instantaneous qualifier or disqualifier.”
For H4M, members are never shown a picture of their date. Instead, a matchmaker will vaguely describe their physical attributes over the phone, but will focus on their interests, behaviors and three to five things they have in common.
“What they look like is probably the least discussed topic,” Shaklee says. “What I oftentimes say is that these are the reasons that I want you to meet him. We’re in the business of quality introductions.”
To keep things relaxed enough, first dates are always for lunch or after-work drinks. Neither guy is told the last name or profession of the other. That’s up to them to share if they want. From there, they can pursue a second date if feedback was good from both and then after that second date, they’re on their own.
There are even rules for after the first date. Clients are asked not to seek out their dates on Facebook or LinkedIn and that if they want to talk, a phone call is the best way. Text messages are not allowed.
“I’m very protective of the process,” Shaklee says. “It worked for me and my husband and others, so we tell clients to let the process work for you.”
H4M is not cheap, though. After all it caters to an exclusive clientele on a personal level. $3,500 will get you 12 months or 12 first dates of matchmaking, but their upper level, $6,000 option gives more personal time, as well as access to coaching, hair stylists and wardrobe makeovers.
“It’s really pretty traditional. There’s an introduction, courtship and dating and it’s about finding a mutual chemistry.” - Tammy Shaklee
Since opening last summer, H4M has built a strong client list in Austin and they are planning to expand to Houston and Dallas by March at the latest. Austin provided particular geographic issues because it does not feature a centralized or specific gayborhood. With Houston and Dallas, Shaklee says they will hopefully set offices near the Montrose and Oak Lawn gayborhoods, but also plan to help those that might reside outside traditional spots.“Some of our clients have been in relationships for a long time,” Shaklee says, “and that can mean you’re behind the times sometimes. They’re seeking their vibrancy back.”
“You don’t have to live around Montrose to be a member,” Shaklee says. “A lot of people move for corporate Texas, and it makes sense for quality of life and professionally, but there aren’t a lot of other gay people around. Maybe you live in Katy and you’ll come in for a match or meet halfway.”
Shaklee also says that there is talk of matching people from different cities with one another.
“In opening in Dallas and Houston, I’m finding that some of my members are interested in meeting men from other cities,” she says. “People visit Austin all the time for work, or they might have family in Houston that they go back to see over the holidays and maybe we can get you a date in that window.”
H4M hopes to expand beyond Texas, but growth in the state is important before it happens. Shaklee says that H4M is all about a private, exclusive experience that focuses on quality.
“It’s really pretty traditional,” she says. “There’s an introduction, courtship and dating and it’s about finding a mutual chemistry.”