A large tree log sits next to the waters of the Singapore Strait between Labrador Nature Reserve and Sentosa Island.
On this “love log”, as prolific Singaporean matchmaker Anisa Hassan calls it, her high-net-worth clients pour their hearts out to her amid nature and the gentle lapping of waves against the shore.
The neighbourhood is also home to Marina at Keppel Bay, where some of her clients’ yachts are parked, as well as luxury condominium Reflections at Keppel Bay.
But deep pockets or not, when it comes to matters of the heart, emotions are universal.
“Many tears have been spilt here,” says Ms Anisa, the founder of luxury matchmaking service Date High Flyers (DHF).
Thanks to her, more than 1,000 couples have got married in her 16 years in the matchmaking business.
The former journalist, who is in her 40s and has been married for 22 years, with two kids aged 16 and 19, is an early mover in the industry.
She ran the Singapore franchise of American dating platform It’s Just Lunch from 2004 to 2017, which focuses on setting up first dates.
“All we had at the time was the Government’s SDU (Social Development Unit), which encouraged marriage among graduates,” she says.
SDU is now known as the Social Development Network.
She adds: “But something like It’s Just Lunch worked for busy professionals, who did not like the Government goading them to settle down.”
She met her 49-year-old husband, who runs a business consultancy, in junior college.
With DHF, which she set up in end-2017, she focuses on “highnet- worth individuals with committed relationships and marriage in mind”.
Four in 10 of her clients – either divorced or widowed – are into their second or third marriages. One in four of the matches that results in marriage are inter-ethnic ones.
Last year saw the highest number of couples who divorced or annulled their marriages in Singapore in at least 20 years, according to data recently released by the Department of Statistics. The median age at first marriage for men rose from 29.8 years in 2009 to 30.4 years, and from 27.5 years to 28.8 years for women.
As Singaporeans spend more time getting an education and building their careers, more are marrying at a later age, sociologists and counsellors say.
Ms Anisa’s client base of 900 is international – 60 per cent are locals. The younger ones, aged between 25 and 35, become her clients after their parents approach her, and are predominantly from the South Asian community, where matchmaking and arranged marriages are still common practices.
DHF’s service comprises two categories: “luxe” and the more premium “black label”.
The latter is limited to 50 clients – usually men in their 40s to 60s – whom Ms Anisa personally sees to.
She likens it to a “specialised service, versus going to the general practitioner” – she works with and talks to clients regularly before she “gives her diagnosis”.
She is supported by two consultants, who help her with the matches, and two coordinators, who help set up dates or send flowers and sometimes even a limousine to pick up dates.
“Some clients tend to go the distance because money is no object, and they see it as a nicety,” she says.
She works on a retainer basis, typically ranging from six months to a year, and prices vary from $1,000 to $5,500 a month.
It depends on how far she has to reach into her global network to hunt for a match.
Previous searches have included a Filipino Chinese woman and a Pakistani groom who fit the requirements of an upper-class family here.
The comparisons with elite Indian matchmaker Sima Taparia, the star of Netflix’s hit reality series Indian Matchmaking – which has become somewhat of a cultural phenomenon and sparked global interest in the world of matchmaking – are inevitable.
Like Taparia, who jets between the United States and India playing Cupid to young Indians, Ms Anisa gets flown to Qatar, Australia and other countries to meet potential clients and their families in their homes.
“Especially with South Asian clients, they like to introduce you to the family. It’s also a chance to get to know what these highly-charged individuals do when they’re not working,” she says.
But unlike the infamous, sometimes caustic Taparia, who will take on clients she does not like, Ms Anisa believes in managing the expectations of her clients from the start, so they can pursue an “equal partnership based on values”.
“I must also like them, so I can advocate for them,” she adds.
She does not feel threatened by the growth of dating apps, which has eaten into the traditional matchmaking pie and which many of her clients are also using.
Be it Tinder, Bumble or Hinge, she feels her service is “not competing with, but complementing” them.
In fact, she even helps her clients optimise their profiles on these apps, “to make sure they are getting good mileage and better hits”.
But with the lofty goal of matchmaking “one million marriages”, Ms Anisa has also entered the digital space with her own app, Joompa, which caters specifically to Muslim singles in South-east Asia.
The app, which soft-launched in Malaysia late last year, has more than 15,000 downloads there.
Subscription costs $9.95 to $60.
Here, launch plans were thwarted by Covid-19, but she hopes to get it off the ground by the end of the year.
Acknowledging that DHF’s high fees make it too inaccessible to many, she says the app is more “mass market friendly”.
“I’ve put my expertise and knowledge on the app, so you still get the Anisa touch,” she adds.
Nice date but no match
In my line of work, I am usually the one putting people on the spot with sometimes deeply personal questions.
But the tables were turned on me earlier this week as I sat in a 45-minute Zoom consultation with Date High Flyers (DHF) founder and full-time love guru Anisa Hassan. The call was a follow-up to a dating profile I filled up on her website.
For the more premium “black label” tier of her matchmaking service, Ms Anisa susses out the clients herself, usually in person, so she can “personally vouch for them”, like a professional “wingwoman”, as she trawls her database for the right match.
I am all of 31 and in my dating prime, but – my grandparents will be horrified to read this – I am not actively looking for a life partner. I am of the mindset that if it happens, it happens and I don’t want to force it.
Though I have met a few gems on dating apps – who unfortunately did not stay in Singapore long enough for anything long term to develop – the apps have not worked out great for me.
I have also been “catfished” – the guy shows up and looks nothing like his profile picture – so I thought I would put my faith in a matchmaker to hopefully change my fortunes.
Unlike a dating profile on apps like Bumble or Tinder, the one requested by DHF is far more comprehensive. I had to fill in fields such as relationship goals (friendship, companionship or marriage?), height, weight, body type, diet and drinking habits.
There was also a bit where I had to select keywords to describe myself (loyal, family-oriented, straightforward, etc) and an entire page dedicated to what I want in my ideal date (age range, ethnicity, education level, ideal personality traits).
I must admit I was uncharacteristically nervous during my call with Ms Anisa.
Am I saying the right things? Is it too early to discuss non-negotiables and relationship deal breakers? Is my Star Wars Imperial star destroyer Zoom background sufficiently conveying how much of a nerd I am? Can I change my mind?
Fresh off covering the General Election, I imagine this must be what thorough background checks for political candidates is like. I was also asked about my family and relationship background.
Questions like “Is there anything about you that you’d like to share that’s not immediately obvious?” and “What was the reason your last relationship didn’t work out?” made me feel like I was in a therapy session.
The answers required some level of soul searching that I was not quite prepared to do on a Monday morning.
However, Ms Anisa was never invasive.
I get that she was merely finding ways to understand my needs and parameters better, so she could find me the best match.
After all, I gave her only two days to find me a date, so I could meet this article’s deadline.
A day after our consult, she had three choices for me, including two Indian men – one local, “dapper” and close to my age. But he had got into a relationship recently. The other, a 45-year-old permanent resident, is a bit too far out of my comfortable age range.
She sent over the profile of the third, a 30-something cultured-sounding Caucasian.
Her associate set a date up for me on Wednesday at an Italian restaurant after I said “yes” to his biodata – just like what they do in Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking.
Our phone numbers were sent to each other the day before to minimise interaction and so as not to “spoil the mystery of discovering who this person is”, as Ms Anisa put it.
How did the date go?Well, on paper, we seem like a good fit, but if I meet someone and his energy does not sit right with me, it is probably not going to go beyond the first date.
That’s what happened – the conversation flowed, but we were just not on the same wavelength. And oh, it did not help that he was late by 15 minutes.
DHF’s job was not done though. I had to give a post-date debrief the next day, where I was asked how long the date went and what I liked and didn’t.
As Ms Anisa told me before the date, it does not always work out on the first try. So I went into it eyes wide open – albeit with a sliver of hope that the match might work out.
I’m just glad she did not tell me to “compromise”, “be flexible” or “adjust”, as elite Indian matchmaker Sima Taparia advises her female clients in the Netflix show.
But there is one thing I agree with the always-quotable Taparia: “Ultimately, my efforts are meaningless if the stars are not aligned.”
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