We call them The Pushers—women who are pushing themselves in new directions and toward new passions. We hope that through their inspiration in this regular feature, they’ll push you to take a leap of your own—or maybe just a small first step.
Tammy Shaklee spent much of her childhood farming with her dad in his Oklahoma wheat fields and enjoying the simple pleasures of small-town life. A hard worker, Tammy paid for her education at Oklahoma State University by working part-time in a secretarial pool and through scholarships from pageants, public speaking, and leadership competitions. Those leadership qualities would come in handy years later when she broke ground by launching her own business, H4M Matchmaking, that was completely devoted to putting men together for marriage. She’s now expanded her service to include lesbians. So how did a straight woman create this field? Read on.
What was your career out of college and how did you progress in that field?
When I learned a successful gay professional in my community could not hire the same service that my husband and I used, I was shocked.
With a degree in radio TV and film, I was a TV reporter for a year and anchored a show called Late Night with Tammy Shaklee. I moved to Texas to report news and my first interview was with a freshman Republican state senator, who then recruited me to be his district director even after I informed him I was a registered Democrat. I was 23 at the time.
For years, I was not only the youngest in the room, but often the only female. Like in news, I asked objective questions, gathered facts, and learned both sides of the issues needed for decision-making. I then got married, left politics to begin a career in nonprofit management, while agreeing to launch my husband’s political career. After a divorce, and with no kids, I became CEO of the Make-A-Wish Foundation chapter in Austin. Granting wishes to seriously ill children was such fulfilling work.
I had public careers in news, politics, and philanthropy, but because I was private about my personal life, I avoided online dating. Instead, I hired a matchmaker to introduce me to a quality and compatible man. After marrying the love of my life, I took a career break and worked on my entrepreneurial husband’s projects until my new purpose found me.
How did you end up starting your matchmaking business for gay men and become the gay matchmaker? Was there anything in your background that indicated this was the path for you?
When I learned a successful gay professional in my community could not hire the same service that my husband and I used to meet, I was shocked. As a straight ally, I immediately started research, conducted extensive focus groups, gained my certification in matchmaking, and designed a business model to launch first a men’s and then a women’s company to match only same-sex singles. As H4M Matchmaking celebrates its fifth anniversary, we proudly serve gay singles across the country and have interviewed singles in 16 countries. In the relationship industry, they call me the “Gay Matchmaker,” and I couldn’t be more proud. I’ve always believed everyone deserves their person, whatever that looks like to them. I was a straight ally before I knew it was a term.
What kind of qualities does a matchmaker need?
I’ve always believed everyone deserves their person, whatever that looks like to them. I was a straight ally before I knew it was a term.
I don’t believe we are to go through life’s milestones or even life alone. I’m lucky to have found my special someone and to now help others find love as well. When I was single, I was a prolific dater, and now I do dating coaching. So much of seeking a partner is having an open mind and open heart. I get to foster that daily with my clients. I identify what there is to love in each one of my clients, and I consider my job to be their love agent. I find the best in them and highlight that for others. While societal evolution continues to embrace equality, I believe each of us has a role to play. Whether that is openly expressing our compassion and acceptance or sharing with and educating others. Love is love.
How has your business grown since you started it? How do you quantify your business’s success?
Since I’m married to an actuary, I thought business proformas would clearly project its potential. But as my husband put it, “You are creating something that compares to nothing else.” It’s a specific and narrowly defined niche—gay singles wanting a monogamous and long-term relationship, often with hopes for a family. My company provides opportunities for traditional introductions, courting, and dating. It’s not for everyone. But it is often life changing for those who’d rather not meet folks in bars or online.
I had designed a matchmaking service for singles ages 30 to 60, but the reality is clients range from 23 years old to 75, representing a variety of ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, careers, religious upbringings, and education levels. I have clients who have always been out and those who are coming out in their 50s. No two clients are alike in any form or fashion. Each represents the diversity that is our human spectrum.
What do you love about your job?
I wake up every day and focus on love for a living.
I wake up every day and focus on love for a living. My motto is “Lead with Love.” When talking to clients, I encourage them by reminding them, “He (or she) is looking for you too. I promise. And they are also frustrated being single.” Social media and technology condition singles to get a dopamine rush when they see a hot sexy photo, but I believe the societal pendulum is swinging back. When two good humans meet in person, attraction and compatibility can grow as they get to know each other. As a former journalist, I love discovering a person’s unique human-interest story. I find what’s loveable about them, and then I have the privilege of introducing them to someone based on shared qualities and values.
Where do you see your business going from here?
I was trying to find my encore career when a wise female mentor said to me, “It will find you.”
I’m open to continuing to organically grow and serve. Ultimately, I would love for H4M Matchmaking to serve as the ultimate source for all gay singles, coast to coast, seeking a long-term relationship. We now have nearly 2,000 quality gay singles working with H4M Matchmaking. They have been vetted, are serious about love, and are ready for a relationship.
What advice do you have for women who might want to take on a new career at midlife?
After satisfying careers in news, politics, and philanthropy, I hired an executive coach to help me identify my encore career. I was trying to force my path forward when a wise female mentor said to me, “It will find you.” So I persevered, but with patience. And she was right.
Just as I now coach singles to have an open mind and open heart in finding love, I allowed an idea that developed over one lunch to open my imagination. I saw that my talents combined with my years of experience could help me design a company to serve the underserved in an industry focused on their future. My advice would first be to assess what makes you thrive. I learned I am driven by service and success and not as much by wealth. I missed the daily fulfillment of granting wishes and helping people. I then designed a way that I can do it for the rest of my life.