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Short version: Three decades ago, Jill Kelleher decided to become a matchmaker after recognizing the industry lacked a human touch. Using a blend of intuition and carefully tailored preferences, she founded Kelleher International to help elite and discerning singles meet partners with whom they were compatible. Today, Kelleher International caters to a host of distinguished, successful clients who may not have the time to devote to their romantic lives. Jill also teaches clients to open their minds to potential matches who may not check every one of their boxes — because perfect partners can sometimes emerge in unexpected places.
Jill Kelleher didn’t grow up dreaming of becoming a matchmaker. In the 1980s, she was a model and photographer who was hired to take pictures of San Francisco singles looking for love. She’d photograph clients to put in a file, but noticed there was never anyone actually making the matches.
Jill recalls one instance when she stepped in to pair a woman with a man she remembered from the files.
“They used to have videos and photos. A girl came in, and I said, ‘I know who would work for you,’” she said. “It turned out the man I’d chosen was her ex-husband. He had been exactly what she said she was looking for, but, as I got to know her, I saw they had outgrown each other.”
Jill aimed to remedy the lack of personal attention in dating services by creating the matchmaking firm Kelleher International along with her daughter, Amber Kelleher-Andrews, who serves as the company’s CEO. Over its three decades of operation, Kelleher International has adapted to the dating expectations and practices of the modern era.
One thing has stayed the same, however: The more open a person is to dating different types of people, the more likely that person is to find love.
“If someone likes blondes, I’ll say, ‘Let’s try a brunette.’ If someone is attracted to tall women, I advise them to try someone shorter. The more open a person is, the more likely they’ll have success,” she said. “A lot of times, you’ll see a person marrying someone who didn’t match their initial preferences. When we get to know our clients, and they trust us, we can maneuver those preferences a little bit.”
In her 30 years as a matchmaker, Jill has created some excellent pairings — many that the individuals in the match never saw coming.
“We had a woman from France who had a Ph.D. and was an attractive blonde. She had never dated people from other cultures,” she said. “We introduced her to a guy who was tall, good-looking, and fun. I told her about him, and she said, ‘I’ve never dated someone who’s Asian.’”
But Jill convinced the French woman to take a chance. She did, and her willingness to experiment paid off.
“She married him, and they had a successful relationship,” she said. “If daters are more open to trying new things, they develop more as people. Dating is all about getting to know people and figuring out what works best for them.”
Kelleher International caters to clients who have had considerable success in their lives, and that success, in turn, often makes them quite selective when it comes to dating.
“The majority of our clients are looking for a significant other, and they’re very picky,” Jill said. “These people have everything going for them, so they can find people that are fun to go out with and date.”
But, for one reason or another, these elite clients have struggled to find partners. Jill said that some of the strategies her high-flying clients use in their professions are not as effective in their romantic lives.
“If people are successful at their companies, sometimes they need coaching,” she said. “They treat dating like their job. They think it’s just going to happen. They’re so used to having success in their lives, but relationships are a little bit different.”
Contemporary dating methods compound this difficulty because they are often fraught with mixed signals. They aren’t like the dating strategies Jill remembers.
“In my age group, we met people at the bars. No one meets that way anymore,” she said. “There were always new guys coming in for the women to meet, or a charity event, or a party. There were singles parties in San Francisco where 2,000 people would meet. That’s not happening anymore.”
Instead, online dating can be nerve-wracking in its lack of transparency. Daters don’t know anything about how much competition exists on any given site, but Kelleher International clients trust Jill and her team to find dates without them having to compete.
Another difficulty daters face is the ambiguity that comes after the first meeting — did the date go well? Kelleher International provides feedback after every date — one of the service’s biggest draws.
“We’re the fly on the wall. The guy will say, ‘I’m not sure if she’s interested in me.’ And, because we have her feedback, we can say, ‘Yes, we think she is.’ Dating is so difficult because people don’t know where they stand. We help them know where they stand,” Jill said.
Jill and her team of Kelleher International matchmakers use different strategies to bring couples together. However, the firm’s overarching strategy uses a blend of art and science.
“You get to know your clients when they sign up, and then someone walks in, and you think, ‘That’s perfect.’ Sometimes, you just know who works with who.”
“One client might go on 20 dates while another might go on eight. We don’t want people dating a lot of people for dating’s sake. If they like somebody, they might say, ‘I don’t want any new dates. I want to see how this one turns out.’” — Jill Kelleher, Founder of Kelleher International
Kelleher International doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all approach, and strategies vary based on client needs. Some clients like to date with more frequency while others could be much more selective.
“One client might go on 20 dates while another might go on eight. We don’t want people dating a lot of people for dating’s sake. If they like somebody, they might say, ‘I don’t want any new dates. I want to see how this one turns out,’” Jill said.
In addition to creating pairings, Kelleher International also offers coaching for individuals who may have trouble building relationships. According to Jill, sometimes coaching is necessary when clients have deeper issues that can keep them from connecting with the right people.
“Some have a past where they are scared of having a relationship that works. For example, if someone has a father who is very distant, it’s comfortable to have a partner who is distant,” she said.
Jill has created so many successful partnerships and marriages that, at this point in her career, she can often tell if a pairing will work out early on.
“If someone tells me that they spent five hours on a great date, I think, ‘That’s probably going to be an engagement,’” she said. “If they have brunch the day after a date, I think, ‘That’s a nice match.’”
But not every happy couple has a love-at-first-sight date. Sometimes solid partnerships require a little more time and patience. Jill said first dates can flop because both people are excited or highly attracted to each other. So it is often important to give people another chance.
That approach is part of why Kelleher International has such a strong success rate for creating couples.
“Marriage happens for a lot of our clients. If you stick with the program, listen to counseling, and take the coaching, it’s probably going to happen for you,” she said.
Still, despite the number of marriages Kelleher International has facilitated, the firm’s matchmakers never tire of discovering that a couple they paired has tied the knot.
“Whenever a couple gets married, we get our wings, as they say,” Jill said. “Every time you marry someone, you get an added wing. Pretty soon I’ll be flying around. Our matchmakers are so good. Whenever somebody gets married, there’s a whole page of emails, saying, ‘Isn’t this so great?’”