Millionaire Matchmaker Patti Stanger loves essentialist gender roles and hates redheads. In the past I've accused her of not knowing shit about love. And yet despite all this, I've now come to love her.
First, several caveats: Patti Stanger seems to believe wholeheartedly that the success of a relationship depends on the man providing for the woman financially (it's not clear how she feels about gay relationships, though she has begun featuring them on her show). She says "successful men don't date up" and, cautioning Emily Gould about her pauper-dating ways, "you're gonna think, what a loser, why am I paying for all the meals, you're gonna resent him, you're gonna close your legs." She has rigid ideas about attractiveness, which often include spray-tanning. She criticizes women, sometimes nastily, for their weight, their clothes, their hair, and even their facial expressions. She once called a red-haired would-be millionaire-dater an "ugly firecrotch bitch." All these would be decent reasons to hate someone, and before I'd ever watched her show, I did.
But just like the romantic comedy heroine who sees the heart of gold behind her suitor's asshole exterior, I've come to love Stanger. Don't get me wrong, I still think she's kind of an asshole. Her show is unabashedly materialistic, and when one young woman got engaged after a single date to a man who could provide her with the "standard of living" she was accustomed to, I cringed inside (shockingly, they're no longer together). But there's something incredibly comforting, if ultimately illusory, about Stanger's message: she makes life seem simple.
In an interview today with the Wall Street Journal's Elizabeth Garone, Stanger explains that matchmaking is about "having the eye, knowing who belongs with who." The corollary: such a complex and mutable thing as "who belongs with who" is knowable. And on her show, Stanger acts like she knows not only this, but also what each millionaire needs to do to ready himself for a woman who will actually make him happy. This guy needs relationship therapy. That one needs to confront his ageism. One needs a fun-loving woman who will draw him out, another needs a strong one to call him on his shit. Sometimes she seems sadistic — why does she "tempt" men with women she thinks are wrong for them? — but often she's spot-on, as when a woman picked to stand up to millionaire Justin's immature bullshit spectacularly did.
Of course, much of the show is probably engineered for the cameras, and it's anyone's guess whether Stanger's millionaires really emerge from her various mandated therapies as changed men. But all reality shows are really fantasies, and Stanger's fantasy is way more appealing than the far more common genre Jessica calls "People With No Discernible Talent Causing Drama." With her quick, confident pronouncements, she's offering far more than the oft-made promise that there's someone out their for everyone. To walk with Patti is to believe that it's possible to discern a person's deepest personal problems, correct them, and make that person happy, all with just intuition, optimism, and some wacky-haired assistants.
Last year I said that "reading about Stanger's 'myriad weirdnesses' reinforced the firmest conviction I have about love and relationships - that no one really knows shit about them." I still believe that — and I still find Stanger's whole approach to love, tied up as it is with money and looks, kind of creepy. But I now believe that what Millionaire Matchmaker is really selling is the illusion of an orderly universe — and especially in times of disorder, it's a pretty tempting offer.
Image via Bravo.
Related: The Cattiest Matchmaker