Boca Raton woman launches matchmaking and dating business… with a few twists

The dating world has morphed from happy-hour hellos, blind dates and speed dating to websites and lightning-fast apps like Tinder and Bumble that allow you to navigate a world of strangers from your phone.

The novelty of it all has often let to a time-sucking frustration, a skepticism because of so many scams and, ultimately, to dating burnout. And so some singles are turning to the century-old practice of matchmaking.

Boca Raton-based matchmaker Cheryl Maida, CEO and founder of The Black Tie Club, has recently taken a new approach to what appears on the profiles on her members-only website.

Dating is a numbers game, but age doesn’t have to be in the equation, and that’s why she’s eliminated the ages of the suitors. The ages are still in the system, so when a user filters search results for a specific age range, 40-50, for example, only people in that range will appear, but the specific age won’t be disclosed.

“People are so hung up on the number and it is preventing people from really meeting each other,” she says. “I meet a lot of people who are divorcees who haven’t been on a date in 20 years. I have people who are widowers who haven’t gone on a date in 35 years. I have 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and a few 81-year-old clients. I am not the matchmaker that cuts off at an age limit. You deserve to live and enjoy being with someone.”

According to Statista’s Digital Market Insights, Americans make up nearly 22 percent of online daters worldwide. They predict online dating providers to reach 441 million active users globally by the end of the year.

West Palm Beach professional Jay Zeager, 54, says Maida’s decision to keep age secretive is “a smart move.” A 37-year-old woman on a dating app recently questioned him if the age on his profile is accurate, which caught him off guard. The age has become a concrete wall for some people.

Matchmaking eliminates the dating app scams that are running rampant

Many online daters are falling for scams, according to a survey of 5,000 Americans conducted by cybersecurity company NordVPN. Forty-five percent of respondents said dating apps don’t do enough to verify the identities of people who create profiles.

Falling for someone who isn’t the age they claim to be is just one of them. People are actually getting scammed out of thousands of dollars through catfishing, getting sent unsolicited indecent photos and unknowingly interacting with a bot.

“(Our clients) love the security and comfort of knowing we screen and vet everybody,” Maida says of The Black Tie Club’s process of verifying all male clients’ and female suitors’ identities. They run background checks in the state of Florida before admitting anyone into the exclusive club of successful professionals.

By joining The Black Tie Club, members know exactly what their money is going toward. The hands-on, white glove, concierge service has several membership tiers. To work one-on-one with a matchmaker, have guaranteed dates, and receive feedback, the starting rate is $3,000.

A less costly VIP membership offers access to their app with a private database of vetted and screened singles, costing $100 for one month, $500 for six months (includes one guaranteed introduction), and $999 for 12 months (includes three guaranteed introductions). Men who are on the six-month or one-year plans have the option to pause their membership if they begin dating someone exclusively or will be out of town and unavailable to date for a span of time.

Matchmakers take the algorithm out of dating. Based on the client’s preferences, they actively recruit single women who match that description and curate a list of qualified women to present to the client. A real human being with emotions, not a computer, is hand-picking people who they think will hit it off with clients.

How the first date works in The Black Tie Club

Once the two parties view one another’s profiles and agree to go out, The Black Tie Club arranges their first date for them. Maida has found that by taking control of scheduling the first date, it happens faster and is less likely to be canceled. This also helps keep everyone safe because Maida knows where they are and who they are with.

On the first date, the couple is welcome to exchange contact information if they choose and plan a second date on their own. Because they don’t speak before the first date, it’s crucial to meet up in a place where you can have a conversation to get to know one another.

“I really feel like the hour, hour and a half is all you need,” she says. “A little taste of the personality is all you need. I notice when you do a steakhouse or a very long first date, it’s not as successful usually.”

For first dates, Maida recommends choosing a location that offers something visual to talk about and people watching. Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, East Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach, and Mizner Park in Boca Raton are great spots because after having a drink or meal, you can walk around or sit on a bench to continue bonding.

“I don’t like to do dinner on a first date because then if you don’t connect, you’re stuck having dinner,” Zeager says. “I don’t like to do coffee for a first date because coffee feels like a meeting. I usually like to meet for a drink and then if we feel like there’s a connection, you can go eat. My feeling is always if they order a second drink, they’re interested in you. If they don’t, then they’re not.”

After the date, both parties report back to The Black Tie Club to provide feedback about what went well and what can be improved upon. Daters don’t have to worry about getting ghosted. Maida or a member of her matchmaking team always share the constructive feedback with the opposite party.

Plenty of singles are in the Sunshine State

Maida says people used to come to matchmakers because they were 100-percent focused on finding someone to marry. In 2023, that is no longer the case. She’s found that fewer women in their 30s want kids or feel the need to get married.

However, Maida admits clients seem to have more confidence in her as a matchmaker because of her personal marital status. She met her first husband when they were camp counselors at the age of 19. They were married for 24 years and have three sons who they continue to co-parent — ages 16, 19, and 22. Maida has been married to her second husband for three years and with him for seven.

Florida is a popular state for singles where more than half of the Sunshine State is solo, according to the U.S. News & World Report’s Best Places Rankings for 2021-2022. Of the list of 25 cities, eight are in the Sunshine State —Orlando, Sarasota, Pensacola, Jacksonville, Tampa, Daytona Beach, Tallahassee and Lakeland.

Zeager, whose dating life belongs in a sitcom or rom-com, is still looking for his plus-one. He’s not opposed to working with a matchmaker, although he never has, to find a wife or steady girlfriend.

“I do meet plenty of people, but I’m obviously not doing something right because I’m still single and I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my dating life. It’s easy to find somebody that you’re attracted to. It is not easy to find somebody that you can sit down and have a very good, stimulating conversation with over and over and over and over,” he confesses. “I like the stability of marriage. I don’t know if it’s ever going to happen. I’ve resigned myself that it probably never will and I’m OK with that.”