On a misty late morning in September, Patti Stanger, namesake star of the popular Bravo reality program ''The Millionaire Matchmaker,'' was standing in her Marina del Rey, Calif., office -- a raw industrial space with red-painted walls and matching red chairs shaped like lips -- preparing to douse one of her clients in the cold water of her now-notorious realism.
''Today we're going to do an internal makeover on a girl,'' Ms. Stanger said. ''She can't seem to get from A to B, and she always listens to my advice and doesn't do it,'' Ms. Stanger continued about the refractory client, a woman in her late-30s who pays for dating advice as part of Ms. Stanger's real-life, brick-and-mortar matchmaking business, the Millionaire's Club, on which the show is based.
''Today's going to be tough love with her,'' Ms. Stanger said. ''She needs to straighten her hair, for one. She can't get arrested with her rat's nest.''
The client arrived, dressed in flared jeans and brown wedge shoes, and projecting a '70s vibe. After a testy exchange about her hair -- ''Is it working for you, the curly hair?'' Ms. Stanger queried -- the woman said her romantic life was ''abysmal.'' Ms. Stanger dug in.
''What are you doing to attract men?'' she asked. ''Are you smiling?''
''I always smile!''
''O.K., so where are you meeting guys?''
She told Ms. Stanger she met a man at a restaurant and went out with him three times, until she got ''bored.'' Ms. Stanger pounced. ''What do you expect, people to entertain you like a puppet show?''
The woman confessed that she ultimately wasn't attracted to the guy because he was ''meek.'' Ms. Stanger charged on, advising, ''Don't judge it till you kiss it,'' and ordering the woman not to come back ''until you find someone you're sexually attracted to.''
''That's going to be a long time,'' the woman told her.
''Oh my god!'' Ms. Stanger, 49, hollered. ''Let's just be soooo negative!''
This abrasive-to-the-point-of-abusive style of matchmaking has made Ms. Stanger famous, and her show, whose fourth season had its debut last week, a hit. ''I can't tell you the amount of times I watch the show, and my jaw is on the floor,'' said Andy Cohen, Bravo's senior vice president for original programming and development. ''I can't believe what comes out of her mouth.''
In the Darwinian universe of Patti Stanger, anyone in search of a partner should simply follow her guidelines. Women must enhance their appearance by whatever means necessary: religiously caring for their skin (''I don't care if you're tired -- do you want a husband or not?''), or growing out and straightening their hair (''Men like long, flowing locks. They just do'').
Men, for their part, need to remember that a woman must be wooed. ''I don't care if you have to take me to Olive Garden,'' she said, ''you've got to take out the c.c. you know?'' In other words, the credit card. And no sex without an ''exclusive, committed, monogamous relationship.''
Isn't this all a bit old-fashioned, even reactionary? ''I consider it realistic,'' said Ms. Stanger, who comes from three generations of matchmaking women. ''We are programmed, since the beginning of time, to be this way. You ain't gonna change the DNA just because it's a new generation, a new millennium, whatever.''
But Ms. Stanger does not advise women to be retiring, delicate orchids. Instead, she recommends staring at men, striking up conversations, and always, always returning calls. ''The 4:1 rule: every four times he takes you out, do something nice for him,'' she posted on Twitter. Her traditionalism is, at times, paradoxically progressive: ''Do not ever ask for anything of monetary value. He is your potential soul mate, not your bank.''
There are few pleasures so guilty as witnessing Ms. Stanger compress her theories of dating into pungent epigrams. ''They want Madonna in the bedroom, Martha Stewart in the kitchen and Mary Poppins in the nursery,'' she says of the men who seek her help. ''Did the flagpole raise on anyone?'' she asked Jeff, a software developer. She often puts this notion far more crudely: ''The penis does the picking.''
Indeed, she acknowledges the importance of chemistry, but she also pushes clients toward potential partners who are age-appropriate and accomplished. To a gay client who admitted that his sole criteria is ''good-looking'' and ''in shape,'' she replied: ''But looks fade, and dumb is forever,'' an aphorism that has been celebrated all over the Internet.
A SELF-MADE career woman originally from Short Hills, N.J., who began in the garment business and worked a series of one-off jobs -- as a psychic on a phone network, a coupon-insert saleswoman and a director of marketing for the dating service ''Great Expectations'' -- before founding the Millionaire's Club in 2000, Ms. Stanger has never married. She announced her recent breakup, from Andy Friedman, a real estate executive and her boyfriend of more than six years, via Twitter in August. His reluctance to have children was the publicly stated reason for the split, but Ms. Stanger said that money was also an issue: ''I don't want to financially take care of a man. He was ready to retire and I make way more money than him. And I wasn't ready for that. I was ready to build an empire with someone.''
Ms. Stanger claims that the Millionaire's Club has a 99 per cent success rate. On the show, she doesn't come close to that number, no doubt because smooth sailing does not make for juicy television.
But Ms. Stanger is right even when the pairing is wrong; she always knows when a client has chosen against his or her best interests. The show reminds regular folks that seemingly privileged people are, despite their wealth or beauty, flawed human beings who often reject each other on trifling grounds and are unable to translate their hopes into realities.
New York Times News Service