By Carey Toane
Oh joy, Valentine’s Day has come and gone. Gag. Yet another example of a stupid holiday to remind poor single saps that they are indeed singe. Which is fine, except for the fact that being single means no presents — of any sort. Well, not anymore goddammit. Stand up! You deserve teddy bears and cheap candy just like everyone else! So toss that tub of Ben and Jerry’s and follow me to the wonderful world of, oh yes, the personals.
Now don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not suggesting that you’re desperate or ugly or some sort of psycho stalker; in fact, the majority of people who use dating services (NOT to be confused with escort services) are perfectly normal. Maybe you’re too busy to date, or you’re tired of hitting the bars and meeting Mr. or Ms. One Night Stand, or just sick of your Great Aunt Phyllis setting you up with teenagers from her church. If any or all of the above apply to you, the personals could be just the thing.
All right then. Stigmas aside, there are a few general tips you need to know before you start giving out your credit card umber to freaky, gum-snapping service reps name Cherise. Fest of all, check out all your options before you choose a particular service. The Yellow Pages’ “Dating and Introduction Bureaus” section gets rather general, listing everything from Phone-O-Gram Telephone Dates (for those late night phone sex quickies?) to The Catholic Connection for Singles, the Single Professionals Network, the Jewish Singles Registry and the Oriental Introduction Service. (Some of the numbers were disconnected, a sure sigh of poor business management or temporary scams.)
“Unfortunately, this is an unregulated industry and it is filled with sleazy people,” said Peter Crocker, author of Consumer’s Guide to Dating and Introduction Services in Ontario. Be wary of services that won’t quote prices over the phone, or push you to visit their offices in person. You could be in for a massive sales pitch and a huge bill for your trouble.
Crocker suggests a few questions to ask any agency before you join:
What are their screening procedures? Who runs the company, and what are their qualifications? What is the total cost, if any, and what does that cost include? Basically, be on your guard and go with your gut instinct. If you think a company is shady, scream “NOOOO!” into the phone and hang up right away.
Depending on how much you’re willing to spend, costs can run from pennies to hundreds of dollars. Crocker, who has worked as a therapist for thirty years, charges $800 for his service, which includes an in-depth assessment of your physical and mental health history, criminal record, drug and alcohol use or abuse, professional history, personal goals, desire, information ad nauseam before you can even look at any possible matches. Obviously, only those serious about finding a life partner need apply. “If somebody wants of find their net victim, the bars are full of them,” said Crocker. Sheesh. He’s pretty serious about this love stuff.
Since I’m just a poor journalism student who has no wedding plans in her near future, I chose something a little less pricey. Free, actually. You ono in the back of NOW Magazine, behind the she-male ads, they have those telepersonals, which all the listings that read “I like long walks on the beach blah blah blah? Usually they have two or three companies that buy a full page each, but they all work basically the same way. (One ad for “Manline” caught my eye until I realized it was a no-girls-allowed sort of thing. Damn.) So after arbitrarily choosing one, I held my breath and dialled the number. After 20 minutes of voice mail menus, I was in. I had been categorized by sex (female), age (20), and general location (downtown), as well as the type of relationship I was looking for (casual, not intimate). The perky recorded phone lady game me a mailbox number and a confidential passcode. Now all I had to do was a little shameless self promotion, and I’d be good to go.
Recording the message was the part that made mer nervous. The “helpful hints” the perky lady gave me — “Do you want to be the more desired caller on the system?” — made me wonder what exactly I was getting into. “A mixture of sincerity, charm and a little bit of mystery can be a great aphrodisiac.” So basically, if I wanted to get stone sex, I had to give some. Whatever. I wrote out my little message under a fake name, embellishing wildly on the physical description part, and put in a very tall order for any possible dream men to fill. After no less than three botched attempts, I was finally satisfied with the sound of my message and my dippy voice, so I hung up and waited for them to come to me.
Within 24 hours, I felt like the prom queen. My box was filled with messages form guys with a thing for “slim, busty blondes.” Most of them simply introduced themselves and left their mailbox number so I could listen to their personal descriptions and make the next move. Some went a little further, leaving their home phone numbers, excessive compliments, promises of wild extravagant dates, even a trip to Vancouver! At first I was intimidated, then flatted to the point of intoxication. It’s easy to understand why some people spend tons of money and time on dating services — they’re as addictive as slot machines. Maybe I was just charmed, but after a while I started feel like an asshole for using these guys as guinea pigs. A couple of them were flat out bizarre (Gord the nude waiter??), but the majority seemed like truly kind, sincere humans. Go figure.
Let me set a disclaimer here. If you’re serious about meeting somebody, you have to be honest, or you’re wasting your time and setting yourself (and other people) up for disappointment. My message was purely for research purposes; I exaggerated in an attempt to entice as many respondents as possible to get an accurate cross section of who’s out there. But it demonstrates just how easy it is to lie, and I know I’m not the only liar in the world. Crocker has some suggestions for protecting yourself from dangerous frauds like me. Never put your last name, phone number or address on your recording. In my brief experience, phone service etiquette dictates that interested men will reply and give their real world digits for women to do with as they please. It’s kind of sexist, but it’s also safer. If you do eventually decide to meet someone, do it in a public place and tell a friend when and where you’ll be. Never lend a “new friend” any more than five bucks and remember to have fun.
I don’t think I’ll be returning any calls any time soon, because I have a feeling most of my suitors are expecting Claudia Schiffer, and I’m no supermodel. But as for the rest of you, happy hunting, and may your future be filled with chocolate and roses. If not, come over to my place and I’ll dig out that Ben and Jerry’s.