What keeps life interesting is the frisson of the unexpected, the you-can’t-make-this-up quality that sometimes stops us in our tracks.
If you were to imagine a gay matchmaker, it’s a pretty safe bet your mind would conjure up an older gay man in the heart of the West Village. The chances of you imagining this 52-year-old straight, blond, farmer’s daughter and former beauty pageant contestant from Middle America would be next to nothing.
That’s what makes Tammy Shaklee’s story and her business so intriguing.
Tammy’s father was a wheat farmer in Oklahoma and she spent much of her childhood farming with her dad and enjoying the simple pleasures of small-town life. By working part-time in a secretarial pool and through scholarships from pageants, public speaking and leadership competitions, Tammy paid for her college education at Oklahoma State University.
Tammy’s life in her new home in Texas, followed a fairly traditional arc for a beautiful, articulate woman: television news, state politics, marriage. “When I married, I left politics to follow my passion for mentoring and began a career in nonprofit management, while agreeing to launch my husband’s political career,” she says, noting that she moved to the Texas Panhandle to be with him.
Career Pivot After Divorce
But a divorce put a wrench in that story line. After splitting with her husband at the age of 33, Tammy moved back to Austin and became CEO of the local chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. And then she had to take on a step dreaded by most every divorced person: jumping back into the dating pool.
“I was very private about my personal life, so I avoided online dating,” she says. “Instead, I hired a matchmaker to introduce me to a quality and compatible man.”
Bingo! After a tenacious two years working with the matchmaker, she found ‘The One.’ “After marrying the love of my life, I took a career break and worked on my entrepreneurial projects with my husband.”
She admits that at this point she was searching for new purpose in her professional life. “I hired an executive coach to help me identify my encore career,” she says. “I was trying to force my path forward when a wise female mentor said to me,`It will find you.’ ” The mentor was right, but Tammy didn’t think it would happen over a social lunch, when she learned that a successful gay professional could not hire the same service that she and her husband had used to meet. Shocked by the injustice of it all, she was spurred into action.
He’s for Me
“I immediately started research, conducted extensive focus groups, gained my certification in matchmaking and designed a business model,” she says. “I allowed an idea that came over one lunch to open my imagination. I saw that my talents combined with my years of experience could help me to diplomatically design a company to serve the underserved in an industry focused on their future.” At the time, she was only serving gay men and called her business H4M Matchmaking for He’s for Me. Now her business only goes by the acronym since she’s added matchmaking for lesbians, bisexual and transgender singles as well.
Over the past six years, H4M Matchmaking has interviewed and vetted gay singles in 16 countries; currently 2,000 gay singles are working with the company. “In the relationship industry, they call me the ‘Gay and Lesbian Matchmaker’ and I couldn’t be more proud,” she says. “I’ve always believed everyone deserves their person, whatever that looks like to them. I was a straight ally before I knew it was a term. I’m lucky to have found my special someone, and now help others find it as well.”
The market for her company is a specific and narrowly defined niche, she acknowledges: gay singles wanting a monogamous and long-term relationship, often with hopes for a family. “My company provides opportunities for traditional introductions, courting, and dating. It’s not for everyone,” she says. “But it is often life changing for those who’d rather not meet folks in bars, online, or through LGBT advocacy avenues.”
Even though the idea of a matchmaker seems old fashioned in our digital world, Tammy sees great value in brokered relationships. “Social media and technology conditions singles to get a dopamine rush when we see a hot sexy photo, but I believe the societal pendulum is swinging back,” she says. “When two good humans meet in person, attraction and compatibility can grow as they get to know one another.”
No Two Clients Alike
She reports that she has clients in a wide range of ages, socio-economic classes and life circumstances; she has clients who have always been out, and others who have come out in their 50s. “No two clients are alike in any form or fashion,” she says. “Each represents the diversity that is our human spectrum.”
A self-described “prolific dater” when she was single, Tammy had plenty of experience to draw on for dating coaching. “So much of seeking a partner is having an open mind and open heart. I get to foster that daily with my clients,” she says. “I identify what there is to love in each one of my clients. As a former journalist, I love an individual’s unique human-interest story and then I have the privilege of introducing them to someone based on shared qualities and values. I consider my job to be their love agent.” Can you think of a more fun job description?
“I wake up every day and focus on love for a living. My motto is `Lead with Love.’ ”
“While societal evolution continues to embrace equality, I believe each of us has a role to play, whether openly expressing our compassion and acceptance, or sharing with and educating others. Love is love.”
This article was originally published on NextTribe.