Kevin Barry Moedt, 29, isn’t asking for the moon. He just wants a nice guy to build a life — and, on a quiet night in, Lego sets — with.
Although he’s used dating apps, he says they can be “depressing,” between receiving unsolicited nudes and getting blocked out of nowhere.
“I am a hopeless romantic,” he said in a phone interview. “Actually, I’ve started saying hopeful romantic. It’s a little more optimistic. I’ve been a hopeful romantic my whole life.”
But New York City — where it can feel like everyone always has an eye out for something newer, shinier and more convenient — isn’t always kind to romantics.
It doesn’t help that the most popular meetup app for gay men, Grindr, can tell you how close the next guy is — down to the foot.
“As the crow flies, I’m 13, 14 miles from Brooklyn,” said Moedt, who owns a home in Highlands, New Jersey. “I’m close, but they have 20 men who are 300 feet away.”
“I would talk to someone who wouldn’t travel from Hell’s Kitchen to SoHo because they called that long distance,” he said.
These unique challenges led Moedt to ManMate, a New York City-based matchmaking service for gay men, by gay men.
While high-end matchmaking services have been operating in the city for decades, ManMate’s insider expertise makes it especially appealing to clients who feel misunderstood by gay and straight communities alike. And since the pandemic, people are especially hungry for in-person connection, according to Nick Flatto, ManMate’s owner since 2020.
Flatto, who goes by the name “Nick Bradford” professionally, began working with the company in 2015. “There was always a question of, ‘will we be as needed if dating is this immediate, if it’s this free?’” he said in an interview. “What I’m finding is, we’re needed more than ever.”
ManMate started before Bradford, 35, was born. In 1985, Grant Wheaton, an actor working the daytime soap opera circuit, teamed up with friends to hand out 10,000 brochures with questionnaires at the New York City Pride March. Wheaton then ran the matchmaking service out of his apartment in the Manhattan Plaza housing complex on West 43rd Street.
A more personal approach
To combat an impersonal culture, ManMate and its team of three matchmakers — who are all gay men — prioritizes personalization. ManMate’s current questionnaire covers everything from your height and weight to your “best physical feature below the neck” and your ideal man’s income bracket.
Respondents likely needn’t worry too much about that last factor, though. Personalized matchmaking doesn’t come cheap. Bradford says ManMate, whose packages start around $1,000, is on the more affordable end.
Their clients are gay men who are between the ages of 24 and 75, live in the tristate area and work predominantly in white-collar jobs, according to Bradford.
ManMate’s cheapest package gets you three “guaranteed introductions” — contact information for three potentially compatible guys — and an additional year on their database. That means that if one of your matches isn’t Mr. Right, you could still be paired up with another client in the future, at no extra cost.
Raheej Choudhary, a 29-year-old psychiatric physician assistant in Brooklyn, signed up for three guaranteed introductions in January.
He said he appreciated how specific clients could be about their preferences — even naming details like drug use or religious beliefs — but added that ManMate’s “total blind date” approach was what really drew him in.
“I feel like gay people tend to be a lot more cruel to one another than straight people, and I think a lot of gay men in particular are very visually driven creatures,” Choudhary explained.
He has a defined jaw and well-groomed, arched eyebrows.
“I think sometimes men don’t read me as a potential mate as much as maybe competition,” he said.
Clients aren’t given pictures of each other and are told not to look each other up on social media. ManMate also encourages clients to connect for the first time via phone call and to avoid sex on the first date. This approach is meant to offset the more superficial immediacy of dating and hookup apps.
Bradford says ManMate has matched thousands of clients. As clients move through the system, Bradford and his team remain available for guidance and feedback. He recently had to mediate a spat between two clients where one felt slighted by the other conducting their first phone call from his car.
“Our clients will call or email us with questions, with updates, and we’re there for them,” Bradford said. “There’s so much nerves and vulnerability and fear with dating.”
From coming out to going out
Depending who you ask, gay men’s reputation for non-monogamy could be due to biology, belief or both. Vibrant sexuality has always been a feature of gay culture, and multiple studies show that queer people are generally more accepting of polyamory.
When he took over, Bradford added a question about monogamy preferences to ManMate’s questionnaire to reflect that growing acceptance.
At the same time, Bradford, who will marry his partner of eight years in June, thinks some gay men may be internalizing long-held cultural beliefs that gay men can’t live long, happy, partnered lives. He says the book “The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man’s World” by Alan Downs is “required reading” at ManMate.
The book, which was written in 2005 and updated in 2012, is aimed at gay men struggling to reconcile their feelings of shame with legal and social progress for same-sex couples.
“The shared traumas and joys of our upbringings influence our community,” Bradford said. “We had to come out, and most people don’t have to.”
That insider knowledge is one of ManMate’s greatest selling points. Bradford said a caller recently told him that a consultation with a different, more popular online matchmaking service “felt like girls trying to introduce me to their gay best friend.”
“I was like, ‘well, welcome to your gay matchmaker!’” Bradford recalled. “Because we just get it. We know the needs of our community, we know what we go through to get here.”
Moedt, the hopeful romantic, tried a rival gay matchmaking service before ManMate that he said felt too “corporate.” He said he preferred Bradford’s approach.
“It was almost like this modern answer to what a matchmaker should be,” Moedt said. “It was a younger, dynamic group of people. It was more like a friend talking to a friend.”
Moedt joined ManMate in January 2023 and said he’s met great guys as a result. But, most importantly, he said the process has made him better at dating.
Moedt said he met someone through the app Hinge in January by using “similar practices” to those encouraged by ManMate.
“And he actually came to New Jersey to have a date with me this weekend,” he said.