Chicago's Cupid: Dating Coach Bela Gandhi
by meg mathis
Bela Gandhi preps for a client consultation at Allium at the Four Seasons Hotel.
In a city with nearly three million people, it can be daunting to find a suitable date for Valentine’s Day, let alone “the one.” But Smart Dating Academy founder Bela Gandhi is Chicago’s answer to Cupid, and the woman The Huffington Post has deemed “the fairy godmother of dating” is on a mission to make it easier for singles to meet their match. Smart Dating Academy’s newest campaign, Three Foolproof Ways to Find Love in 2013—which Gandhi refers to as “the land-a-man plan” for women—centers on a trifecta of tactics to leverage fruitful dating both on- and offline. Gandhi’s high-caliber clientele (which includes Harpo and Chicago Tribune media executives, notable physicians and surgeons, and University of Chicago and NYU professors) typically aim for a date or two per week, which requires plenty of preparation. “You need to send out three to five e-mails a day to leverage yourself into dates, meet people in everyday life, and leverage your networks to get with good people,” she advises.
Gandhi’s strategic approach can be attributed to her background. She studied finance at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, later handling mergers and acquisitions at Arthur Andersen and leading global sales and research as a vice president at Akzo Nobel before shifting her focus to love. After debuting as Chicago’s Matchmaker in 2009, she rebranded and created Smart Dating Academy to empower her clients as a coach on the sideline. “We’re like personal trainers for people’s love lives,” Gandhi says of her team. “Everyone’s got blind spots. We help them generate better results than they were getting on their own.” She helps clients from her position “in the weeds” with a step-by step process, beginning with basics like personal styling and learning how to start a meaningful conversation with a stranger at Starbucks. Gandhi has also developed a tool to help identify “superconnectors,” who have the power to pair great couples, and she has implemented a 360 Feedback program, in which she corresponds with five different friends of clients to help answer the question, “Why hasn’t your friend met his or her ideal partner?”
“I always say, ‘Successful dating begins and ends in your mind,’” declares Gandhi, who compiles data in reports that she often shares with clients at her regular table at Allium at the Four Seasons Hotel. Gandhi adopted her methodical approach based on her own experience after a series of less-than-stellar boyfriends. After careful analysis, she approached her former classmate and close confidant Andrew Annacone about dating, and suddenly there were sparks. While both were concerned about the possibility of their years-long friendship going sideways, the 22-year-old Gandhi did the math and said, “Look at the probability. If we start dating, we’d probably get married.” Sixteen years of marriage and two children later, the odds are in her favor. Smart Dating Academy, 312-643-1516
photography by david w. johnson