You’d think meeting someone is easier than ever in this age of swiping, but a new startup wants you to pay $2,000 per month to outsource your online dating. And some New Yorkers are actually doing it.
You’ll remember Anthony Recenello, the dating coach who helps men “live like a stud” by teaching them how to approach women with confidence. After we introduced you to him last year, the “wingman for hire” and “real-life Hitch” appeared in outlets like the New York Times and WPIX.
Last week he officially launched a new endeavor, Mervyn Bunter. Named after a valet in a Dorothy L. Sayers novel, it’s a self-described “online-dating concierge.” Here’s how it works, according to Recenello: first, one of Mervyn Bunter’s six female employees helps build your online dating profile. To make sure your profile photo isn’t some sad selfie, Mervyn Bunter might throw a cocktail party for you so you can be professionally photographed among friends (and other MB clients). If your shaggy hair is a potential dealbreaker, a stylist might be called in to give you a trim. Then, after interviewing you to determine what your type is, MB approaches members of sites like eHarmony, Tinder, and OkCupid on your behalf, setting up blind dates with the ones who seem to be a good match for a long-term relationship.
Paying the equivalent of your monthly rent to have anl emissary trawl online dating sites might seem absurd to you. But it seemed worth it to David, one of five clients that have signed up for MB in its first months of operating “underground, word-of-mouth,” per Recenello. (David, who didn’t want his last name to be used, found the service through a friend who was taking Recenello’s $1,000-a-month classes.) As a sales manager who’s also working to launch two start-ups, David rakes in $200,000 a year. So paying the $1,500 per month fee (he got a pre-launch special) is “not a big deal,” he told us. “It’s a few gym memberships.”
And it has apparently paid off. “It’s amazing,” he said. “I feel like a king.”
A month and a half ago, when David broke up with his girlfriend of almost a year, the thought of returning to online dating while working 60 to 70 hours a week was overwhelming. The most off-putting thing was all the back-and-forth before the date. “By the time I got to the date it felt like it was a business meeting,” he said. “There was no surprise, no real connection.”
David claims he was an “above average dater” before using the service, and at the age of 27 he’s been in long-term relationships. But the dates themselves were often a frustrating experience. “I have a lack of things to talk about sometimes and when I do talk I tell some pretty crazy stories and maybe come on too aggressively,” he said.
These days, some of those crazy stories are about his Mervyn Bunter dates. During a month of using the service, he’s had two one-night stands and a couple of repeat dates. There was the “pretty wild” girl named Jesse who let him draw her in the nude and ended up asking him to pleasure himself while she drew him, and there was the photographer named Jen who, after he asked to photograph her naked, invited him to disrobe as well. (Yes, the stories sound similar, but David insists they’re true.)
David describes MB as “dating steroids.” He says the women who’ve agreed to go out with him are considerably more attractive than those he’s dated in the past. Far from being put off that he’s outsourcing online seduction to professionals, they’re intrigued by the service. “Having that third party just elevates the thing and elevates how they feel about me,” he said. “They’ll think I’m something very special, and they all want to talk to me.”
That initial curiosity about the service makes for a good ice-breaker on the first date, and it has given David an ego boost. “I always felt very uncomfortable going to a bar and approaching someone I didn’t know,” he said, “But once I feel like a girl is interested in me I have all the confidence in the world.”
Exotic locations don’t hurt, either. Mervyn Bunter sets up dates that involve fun activities like rock-climbing, depending on the interests of clients and their potential matches. “If they say they’re both Picasso lovers, we set up a Picasso date at the Met,” Recenello said. One of the dates MB set up for David involved horseback riding in Prospect Park.
When I first heard about MB, it seemed like the sort of thing that would creep women out (to be fair, the service is available to anyone, and Recenello claims two of his first five clients are women). But Recenello insists it has had the opposite effect on them: “They’re actually so much more willing to go on a date, and the reason is our clients are vetted by Mervyn Bunter.”
Indeed the service’s clients submit to a “simple background check” (“everyone’s going to pass it,” Recenello admits, “but it’s that next level of safety”) and a preliminary interview to insure that they’re “somebody that is attractive, and not just in terms of looks – somebody that’s also attractive in terms of personality.”
MB concierges spend about 10 hours a week messaging online daters for each client, according to Recenello. They presumably describe the service in the same way its founder does (a “classy directory” of “positive, accomplished New Yorkers”) and it supposedly takes just two or three emails to secure a date. That’s because women who are approached by MB “feel so much more safe,” Recenello claims. “Of course there’s the couple of women that say, ‘Oh, I wouldn’t want to go on a date with someone who isn’t messaging me personally,’ but that’s so few and far between.”
Recenello doesn’t see any stigma in using the service. “It’s basically just saying, ‘There are people that can do this better than me,” Recenello says. “‘Not the relationship, that’s my job – but the actual art of online dating.’ We’re not built with DNA to know how to message people and set up dates.”
Fair enough. But MB’s services extend beyond just breaking the ice. If a client’s wardrobe isn’t cutting it, a personal stylist might take him shopping for new outfits. David was told his beard, which his ex liked, was “a little big and too intimidating.” So he trimmed it.
MB will also coach clients on first date behavior. “We could actually bring in a test date so they can test out having a conversation with a woman or a man, and I’ll be there walking them through,” Recenello said.
It goes without saying that Recenello doesn’t see this as trickery or manipulation. Nor does he believe that hiring the dating equivalent of a personal shopper turns women into a commodity. “The place where it becomes a commodity is when you’re scrolling through a list of people like you’re trying to buy a pair of shoes,” he said.
When we first wrote about Recenello, we noted some unflattering descriptions (“#AddictedToMirrors,” “#TotalF**kingDickhead,” etc.) on Lulu, a site that allows women to review their ex-boyfriends. He hasn’t been one for long-term relationships, but he has now hired and trained a Mervyn Bunter concierge to take over his own online dating. “I’m dating one person using it,” he said. “It’s not a serious relationship yet, just because my last relationship ended two months ago. So, I’m not ready.”