Love for Life: Andy Annacone and Bela Gandhi

Finding the right person is a lot of work, Bela Gandhi often says to her clients in her business, Smart Dating Academy.

But, oddly enough, her own love story came about easily and naturally.

Bela met her husband, Andy, at Glenbrook South High School. They became friends and  even counseled each other on their respective relationships. They became even closer at University of Illinois, where everyone told them, “You guys are going to get married,” to which they would respond, “No way!” Finally, at graduation, they started thinking about the future. “If we start dating, we’ll probably just end up married,” Bela recalls telling Andy (but no pressure!). After college, they dated for four years—“because we didn’t know enough about each other,” Andy says with a laugh—before marrying in 1997. Fifteen years later, they’re raising two kids: a daughter, Jaden, 7, and a son, Max, 3.

“There’s no one else I would rather spend all my time with,” Bela says. And, with vestiges of their long friendship still present, their relationship revolves around supporting each other. “It’s an other-focused relationship,” Andy says, “we both spend a lot of time and a lot of focus on making the other person really great and successful.”

“And happy,” Bela adds. “After so many years, I can’t imagine a relationship that doesn’t work that way,” Andy responds. Bela says she wouldn’t have been able to start her business without Andy’s support (his stable job in finance didn’t hurt either).

When she started Smart Dating Academy in 2009, Bela, who also has a background in corporate finance, intended to match-make. But then, she realized it would be much more powerful to train people to be their own matchmakers—through online dating, attending events and leveraging their networks. She works with photographers, hair and makeup artists, and writers who help her clients with their online profiles, as well as stylists who help them look their best in person. And she coaches people on their dating behavior.

“People think I’m taking broken people and fixing them,” she says. “That’s not it. It’s about helping people find their blind spots and move past them.”

And Andy observes that Bela has found her calling, years after setting up their best friends from college, who are now married: “There aren’t many people I’ve ever come across for whom what they do is so well-aligned with who they are. This work is a natural outgrowth of who she is.”

Having helped hundreds of people find their mates, Bela can say with great expertise that love is not a fairytale that just happens to people, the way it does in the movies. Although, it did just happen for her.

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