Dominique Ramsey for HuffPost

3 Black Matchmakers Demystify Their Roles In The Dating Experience

This age-old dating profession has reemerged as an efficient alternative to swipe-based, burnout-prone dating apps.

by Patrice Peck
Published Feb. 22, 2024

Matchmakers are having a moment. From hit reality series like Netflix’s “Indian Matchmaking” and “Jewish Matchmaking” to the post-pandemic uptick in matchmaking services, this age-old dating profession has reemerged as an efficient, albeit lesser-known alternative, to swipe-based, burnout-prone dating apps.

And just as a Black person might feel more understood and comfortable with a Black therapist or doctor (given the persistent anti-Black biases and discrimination among health professionals), some Black singles are opting for a Black matchmaker to avoid explaining sociocultural issues and experiences or feeling fearful of being invalidated, judged and misunderstood.

To help demystify this practice and shed light on the experiences of Black matchmakers and their Black clients, HuffPost recently held a virtual roundtable discussion with Shaneeka McCray, Amari Ice and Daphney Poyser. The professionals shared their thoughts on the concept of Black love, the pros and cons of online dating and apps, and the importance of self-awareness, self-accountability and personal growth while seeking and sustaining love.

Meet Your Matchmakers

Shaneeka McCray

Shaneeka McCray is the founder of the dating service Helpmeet Club. Not only does McCray help elite professional singles find love, but she also assists in meaningful transformations in their lives. McCray, a certified matchmaker and “law of attraction” coach, serves clients of all ages, primarily those in their 30s and older, throughout the United States.

Shaneeka McCray
Courtesy Shaneeka McCray
Shaneeka McCray

Amari Ice

A matchmaker, gay love coach, hypnotherapist and bestselling author, Amari Ice helps singles and couples master their romantic magic by developing their dating skills, healing subconscious patterns of self-sabotage and enhancing their romantic magnetism so that love becomes inevitable. According to the Global Love Institute, he’s the first Black, gay, certified matchmaker in the entire love industry.

Amari Ice
Corey Fletcher
Amari Ice

Daphney Poyser

In 2020, after her own failed attempts to find a local inclusive matchmaking service, certified matchmaker and dating and relationship coach Daphney Poyser launched Fern Connections. The LGBTQIA-plus and ally inclusive matchmaking, coaching, date planning and events company provides services for individuals across the U.S.

Daphney Poyser
Alex Martin
Daphney Poyser

Are there any myths, misconceptions, misinformation about matchmakers on which you’d like to set the record straight?

Daphney Poyser: People think that all matchmakers cost a lot of money, and that’s not necessarily true. There are different price ranges, and there are more affordable matchmakers out there for people.

Amari Ice: What most people misunderstand is assuming that all matchmakers are also dating coaches, which isn’t true. It’s not the same skill set. Some people have both. I happen to be both a certified matchmaker and a certified dating coach, but not all matchmakers can help you develop your dating skills or stop doing the things you do to sabotage yourself.

So if somebody’s struggling in the relationship department and they think they need a matchmaker, the first question to ask is, “What is my real issue? Am I just not meeting people at all, or do I keep running into the same wall when I meet people?” Because if there’s a wall, if there’s an obstacle that you keep encountering, that might require coaching. But if you are a great relationship partner who doesn’t usually have issues connecting with people and doesn’t necessarily have the time to meet people or are in a new city and just want to meet a new pool of people, matchmakers are great for introducing you to great people. Just not necessarily if you are getting in your own way.

Shaneeka McCray: Also, people need to clearly understand that matchmaking is not an arranged marriage and arranged love. They think that we are just going to pluck ’em out of singleness and put them into a relationship. We are introductions, taking information from both of you guys and, for me, intuitively making a connection that feels good.

What do you think of Black love as a concept?

Shaneeka McCray: Love is a spirit, and you need to be in the spirit and energy of love in terms of giving and receiving love, because the loveless never find love. You need to identify what love looks like to you because it does look really different for different people.

Amari Ice: The core of Black love is really about the representation of models of possibility. Often as Black people, especially in America, because of the way that media works, we don’t often get to see ourselves. A lot of our relationship expectations are based on our wider cultural relationship mythology. If you don’t necessarily see yourself in that mythology, it’s hard to position your identity within the context of having a healthy, happy, lasting relationship when you don’t see that pictured in your everyday experience.

There’s also the work of Black love: doing the work on yourself to prepare yourself for that love. If we think of love as something we fall into or out of, we often make it the other person’s responsibility to make us fall into it. And if it doesn’t go well, it’s also their fault. But in reality, if we aren’t already practicing love, it’s hard to sustain it because we don’t necessarily have the skills to do so. So allowing one’s self to practice Black love with our Black selves kind of gives us that template for how to have healthy relationships with others because our identity is really the template for every relationship we manifest. Black love starts with the love of self, and not because you have to love yourself before you can love somebody else. It’s that loving yourself gives you the language to be able to understand how to create and sustain love with someone else.

Daphney Poyser: Black love to me is the person who loves the Black person. The other person doesn’t necessarily have to be Black, but if you love me for who I am as a Black woman, then that to me is a part of Black love. It’s not just about us looking the same and growing up the same and having the same cultural Blackness or backgrounds. It is about who loves that Black person the best in a way to where they feel accepted in that love.

What’s a major common thread you’ve noticed, if any, throughout your work with Black clients? What about your clients with identities typically overlooked in the mainstream love and romance industry, like Black trans folks, polyamorous folks and people with mental and physical disabilities?

Amari Ice: So I think the biggest thread that I’ve noticed is really around the belief that love is this fairy-tale experience that’s supposed to randomly find us if it’s in the cards. But love is much more like a video game, and the number one reason anybody is single is because they’re trying to have a Level 25 relationship with Level 3 dating skills. The biggest thread I’ve noticed is that most people tend to come to me for matchmaking, but what they really need is to develop those skills. It goes back to the representations of relationships and whether we saw and were taught how to have healthy relationships growing up. If we weren’t, we have to take responsibility and give ourselves those skills by investing in them.

And I primarily work with gay singles, so one of the threads that I notice in that population is that when you grow up in a family or in a culture that doesn’t accept you as you are, you internalize the belief that you’re not good enough to be loved. If you don’t have that core belief that you are lovable just as you are, it adds another obstacle to accepting love, even if it is right there in front of you. So I do a lot of work with my clients around developing that self-acceptance that eroded during childhood and adolescence when we start coming into ourselves and really understanding who we are as LGBTQ-plus people.

Shaneeka McCray: We have to pay attention to what’s showing up in front of us as matchmakers. This is something I don’t think that I wanted to articulate publicly, but I’ve recently been starting to question the results of the war on drugs. I find that Generation X and early millennials — the age group of my typical clients — are the ones who are struggling in dating. And if we go back to that time, especially in my hometown of New York City, parents were incarcerated, parents were addicted, children were in care, and they’re expecting us now to love on each other healthily. It’s impossible.

Honestly, even if one person wasn’t within that lifestyle, it doesn’t mean that you’re not going to encounter someone in college or elsewhere who didn’t have that upbringing. So you’re merging it. And we’re not even acknowledging why our particular generation is struggling in dating. We have to get to the root of it. We didn’t come from loving households. We were on survival mode. And so what are we doing now? We have a rebellious group of men, more so than women, in that age range who don’t believe in marriage. They don’t believe in commitment. And so that’s kind of concerning for me, but it’s something you don’t want to highlight because we already have so many different stigmas attached to our Black community. But it is something, in my opinion, that is very worth looking at.

Daphney Poyser: One of the things that I’ve noticed is that Black men who are closer to 50, they’ll say to me, “I won’t date anyone who’s HIV-positive and undetectable.” My first question is why. And a lot of it just has to do with history, but we’re not there anymore. So I work with a lot of people here in the Dallas area when it comes to educating our Black men on HIV. It’s part of my role that I’ve taken on as a matchmaker and a dating coach and a relationship coach in this community. I want them to understand that we’re not back in the day; we’re doing something new. Things are different, and it’s OK to love another Black man even if he’s HIV-positive and undetectable. But the other thing that I want to make clear is this is not just a gay man’s issue. Women can have HIV and be undetectable, too. We preach PrEP for everybody if you are sexually active. It doesn’t matter who you are.

Dating apps are pretty controversial. Some people have found their happily ever after on these platforms while others would like to sue these companies for emotional distress. What are your thoughts on dating apps, particularly for Black users, and how do you advise or guide your clients on navigating them?

Shaneeka McCray: I love dating apps. That’s really where we’re getting a lot of success, for our women in particular. There is a science to online dating, and if you are not aware of the science, then you will have negative experiences. However, the truth is it doesn’t matter where you meet your person in that case, right? Because even those horrible people you meet on apps, you attracted them and brought them into your life, and so you’d better have a conversation with yourself as to why you did that.

But dating apps are amazing because mostly everyone is on there. It’s really one of the best ways to identify that a person is single and looking for another single person, and it’s your job to really qualify them. The onus is on you in terms of your safety and compatibility. But again, once you go through all the things that we’ve spoken about in terms of the coaching and knowing yourself — your requirements, your standards, what to say yes to, what to say no to — you can kind of navigate dating apps from a safer place, emotionally and physically.

Amari Ice: Dating apps are just like any other tool. Let’s think of a butter knife. You can use a butter knife to spread peanut butter on a piece of bread, to unlock a door or to poke an eye out. So it’s not the tool that’s the issue, rather your use of and dexterity with the tool.

Like Shaneeka said, using dating apps is a science, and a lot of people tend to get frustrated, not realizing that they haven’t practiced utilizing the tool. They’re just kind of getting on, putting some words on the profile, throwing up some photos, doing a little swipe, if applicable, and then claiming it isn’t working for them, not realizing that it’s not going to work unless you become a competent user of the tool itself. And every app is different. What works on certain apps is not going to work as well on other apps.

We tend to invest so much money, time and energy in developing our professional skills, but if we look at how much time, energy and money we invest in developing our relationship skills, it’s often no contest. There’s no wonder why we tend to have much more successful careers than we do relationships. You have to take responsibility for yourself because nobody’s coming to save you. Take personal responsibility for understanding how these apps work and how relationships work if you actually want success in these areas.

Most of the time, I find that my clients have this misperception that you’re just supposed to meet somebody and kind of figure it out as you go. And that can be pretty successful if you already have the understanding of how to make a relationship work. But if you don’t, you have to do some studying.

Daphney Poyser: I have a love-hate relationship with dating apps. Still, they can be effective. I literally walk my clients through how to use them, helping them choose and eliminate people, because these apps can wear you down. I also tell my clients if they’re going to use dating apps, pay for the preferences. Don’t use the free apps. Then you’ll be able to do things like hide your profile when you get tired of folks. It can be frustrating, especially if you’re a person of color, if you’re a person of a certain age, if you are a Black woman with curves. That’s why I said I have a love-hate relationship. I recommend Hinge, Bumble, and a few others, depending on where you are and how old you are. I believe you can find love by any means necessary, so keep your options open — dating apps included.

Amari Ice: And if I can add to that, matchmakers are essentially dating apps but in real life. The dating app is going to help you meet people, not run the relationship for you. So whether it’s through a matchmaker, through a dating app, through other means, you have to understand what the process is. The benefit of working with a matchmaker is that they’re doing all that vetting for you. They’re doing all the “swiping” on your behalf and checking into people’s backgrounds, etc., to make sure that person is actually relationship-ready and compatible based on what the client says they want. So the other question to ask ourselves is, “How much time do I have available for this? And do I want to DIY the process?” Because if so, try dating apps. But if you want a simplified experience meeting great people, that’s where matchmakers come into play.

In past years, certain dating apps released data that showed Black women and Asian men to be the least desired users on their platforms based on engagement with their profiles and other internal metrics. And a wave of news reports on the seemingly perpetually single, unmarried Black woman seemed to confirm this so-called crisis. Have any of your Black clients come to you with difficulties meeting another Black person, whether online or offline?

Amari Ice: We also have to be aware of the way data works. People might be swiping more often or less often on certain communities, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any swipes. And it doesn’t mean that people aren’t meeting a similar amount of people as they would in the wild. Dating apps are not for everybody, but lots of people of every race, of every size, of every culture, of everything are finding love on a dating app. It is not impossible; it’s just understanding what your goal is, what that outcome is that you really want, and which app and which methods are going to help you get there. And whatever method you choose, you must become a competent user of that method. So there’s a whole lot of different things going on.

And I’m not saying that there isn’t bias. We know racism, sexism and biases exist, but that’s not because of the app. The app is just magnifying what we are already experiencing in real life in certain ways. And so that goes back to our cultural mythology around relationships, our personal understanding, and our expectations, skills and abilities. And if we don’t know how to operate in the world, we’re always going to feel like we’re victims of our experience rather than its creators. We have to take that responsibility in order to create the lives we want to see for ourselves.

Shaneeka McCray: As a law of attraction coach, I don’t deal with any reality. I don’t deal with statistics. Our results often come from our self-concept. So I can tell you that I have put all kinds of people on dating apps, and we still get the same results, data or no data. I’ve even used dating apps on a personal level and gotten consistent, effective results each time, no matter the app. And they’re Black men. They’re Black doctors, Black attorneys, Black entrepreneurs. So screw the data, to be honest. You are going to get what you think. You’re going to get what you believe. So you need to start really scanning your thoughts, making connections as to why you’re getting what you’re getting in your dating life, and removing any limiting thoughts.

Daphney Poyser: Yeah, I applaud you for that. The two of you hit on really good points. Whether you’re on a dating app or in real life, we can’t allow society to dictate to us what our outcome is going to be. Because — I’ll just be very transparent — I had a conversation last year with one of my matchmaking organizations where someone claimed that no one’s interested in or wants to date Black women. And I’m like, “Excuse me?” And their excuse was, “Well, according to the data…” Well, we as a community keep allowing folks to dictate to us based on some data that we don’t even know where it came from and how they gathered this data, right? I’m not letting some data that someone got from somewhere determine who I’m going to be with.

Another layer of that for me, to Amari’s point, is looking at our methods. It’s not just about being a Black woman or being an Asian man; a lot of people have these issues. What are you saying on this dating app? Do we need to update some of your photos? People will say to me, “Oh, I can’t find anybody.” I tell them, “Give me a couple of weeks,” then revamp their dating profiles, write an effective bio, add some current photos, and I’m able to find them people very quickly.

Don’t let people tell you that you’re not good enough because you’re trans or that nobody wants you because you’re a Black man or of a certain age. In the queer community, people will come to me and say, “I’m 35. I’m an old gay.” I’m like, “Really? You’re 35. You’re not old.” And there’s a whole bunch of people over 35 who are still looking for love. So a matchmaker’s work sometimes involves mindset shifts, changing someone’s perception and beliefs on dating and relationships.

Amari Ice: I think a punchline here is that there’s general data and then there’s your data. Your data determines your outcomes, not everybody else’s. All three of us have been sharing how we help clients with their specific situations create the life that they desire and deserve. And so we’re looking at your history, we’re looking at your intentions, your goals, your methods to come up with a strategy that’s going to help find you the relationship that you want rather than using other people’s experience. Don’t compare yourself to other people because they’re on a different journey. If you’re going to compare yourself to anyone, compare yourself to yourself. That is what’s important here. The general data is just going to give us things to be aware of in this particular environment, but it is not ever going to dictate our individual experience.

Let’s end on a hopeful note. Do you have an all-time favorite client success story?

Shaneeka McCray: So, in addition to being a certified law of attraction coach, I’m also prophetic. I intuitively move through life and business. I use my [energy and vibration] cards. This one particular client was such a great student who really took in everything I said and ended up getting job promotions. So we started the dating process, and I remember doing her card spread, and there was a guy that we were focused on that I connected her with. As I was doing the reading, I kept wanting to call that guy by a different name. And so I said to her, “Who is so and so?” She goes, “Oh, that’s just another guy I connected with, whatever.” I said, “Well, I know I gave you the whole reading on the other guy, but this is who I really meant it for.” Well, the person that I named ended up being the person she ended up being with, and they’re on course to getting married now. I love all my clients, but that has to be one of my favorites.

Amari Ice: When I first started my company, I worked with a particular client for about six months. An attractive, successful lawyer in his mid-30s who had just bought his first home. He had never had a successful relationship. Nothing ever stuck. So we worked together to develop his dating skills and address patterns of self-sabotage. And literally less than a month after we finished that process, he met his partner, who he’s with now. They’ve been together going on six years now, and on their fifth anniversary last year, they got engaged. They’re getting married this April. That’s one of my favorite stories, but it’s not atypical. This is what most of the stories are like with my clients. They develop those skills. They find love. Happily ever after is not something that just happens. It’s something that you create, and it starts with creating it within yourself. And that is what this client did.

Daphney Poyser: I had a straight client in her early 40s who had been working with a very popular matchmaker in D.C. but felt that they couldn’t help her. So I actually collaborated with another matchmaker, and together we found her a match. They dated for a year, long distance, but ultimately he didn’t want to commit. So when she came back to me to meet someone else, I told her to think differently this time. I know you’ve always only dated Black men and based your idea of love on your parents’ relationship. Open your mind.

This is when we used Hinge and Bumble. She came to me with four guys: three were Black and one was white. And so, after running a background check, we did a process of elimination and got down to two guys. One was Black, one was white. Then we started talking about them, and I noticed how her energy became much more positive and excited when she talked about the white guy. This man was everything that she was looking for, on paper and in person. He just wasn’t Black. So I said, “This is your person.” And that was over a year ago. Today they’re talking about moving forward with all the things that she wanted when she first came to me, like having children. This relationship to me is what I strive for in my business. I always tell people to stretch themselves, allow yourself to be open. Don’t let past limitations, restrictions or requirements keep you from finding your love.

These conversations have been edited for length and clarity.