How Dating Services Can Help You After Your Divorce

"Beep, beep, beep. This is a test. This is a test of the emergency loneliness system. This is only a test. Had this been an actual emergency, you would have been informed that I'm an attractive six-foot, 170-pound single male professional.... But this is only a test. To avoid further interruptions, respond immediately to box 1234. We now return you to your regularly scheduled messages. Beep, beep, beep."

That was the first voice message left for me in a "mailbox" of a large telephone dating service. Several hours later, my brief ad joined the thousands of others vying for the attention of "that special someone" on the other end of a phone, somewhere in this big lonely city. By the next day, I'd received about 30 responses: women (and even two men!) who had found my ad -- or perhaps just my voice -- interesting, and had recorded a reply in my mailbox. I was on my way -- leaping right into the deep end of the dating scene after 10 years of monogamy.

Now, two years later, I look back on those early days with some surprise at my good fortune. While I've heard from several others of "blind dates from hell," my own experience was quite the opposite. I honestly never met a woman I didn't like. All were attractive (some more than others), intelligent (ditto), and all were pleasant company -- even if only for a drink or a lunch at a first and only meeting.

In short, I met quite a few interesting people; gained confidence that others found me interesting too; learned a lot; dated three women who are still good friends of mine (plus one who's not); had fun; and yes, eventually found "that special someone." Since you're reading about divorce, I'll go out on a limb and suppose that you're one of the two-million North Americans who are about to have their first date in several years. I want you to know that, while you may be scared and uncertain about dating, it can be truly fun.

Before you begin your search for a companion, however, you need to seriously consider whether you're fully ready for dating. It's too easy to plunge headlong into dating after a far-too-brief period of remorse/grieving/contemplation/anger/ guilt regarding your failed marriage. You may feel that starting to date again immediately will ease your pain. I'm here to tell you firsthand that it won't. And it's simply not fair to yourself -- or to those whom you date -- to go at this too quickly. You should be looking for someone to complement your life, not to save it.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled article about traditional dating services--from telephone personals to matchmakers. Click here to start playing the dating game:



The Basics about Traditional Dating Services

There are lots of ways to meet a mate, and it seems that there are more ways being invented all the time. Along with the traditional routes -- like meeting at social functions, at work or university, or being "set up" by a friend or family member -- today there's an ever-expanding potpourri of low-, medium-, and high-tech "meeting places." Flip through the classified section of any newspaper and you'll find dozens of companies, old and new, offering to help you meet your soulmate.

If you're currently a lonely soul, you're not alone; there seems to be an epidemic of singledom these days. In today's hectic and insular society, the traditional ways to meet people just aren't working for many of us. Try to meet at a bar, and you can't shout over the music. Try to meet at the office, and you may be charged with sexual harassment. And when was the last time that a setup by a close friend really worked? (Have you spoken to that friend since?) You might meet someone at a volunteer organization, a church group, or a sports/activity club -- if the group isn't same-sex, of widely divergent ages, or mostly marrieds.

However, along with thousands of others, I found it more promising and frankly more convenient to use one of the more modern approaches. Strictly speaking, introduction services are not at all modern; matchmaking has been going on since time began. But with ever-cheaper computer hardware for voice response units and gigabytes of disk space, and a touch-tone phone in almost every house, the "telephone personals" have really taken off. This is good news and bad news. The good news is that as the costs to the service providers drop, competition ensures that they offer good value for your money. The bad news is that as the costs drop, almost anyone can set up their own telephone personal service; some may be "mom and pop" operations run out of a modem-heated basement somewhere. Along with the plethora of telephone services, there are also video introduction services, personal "matchmaking" services, arranged singles dances or gourmet cooking, singles cruises, classified ads, and an explosion of Internet-based services.

Using introduction services has lost the stigma of desperation that it may once have had. As this article proves, I certainly don't have any problem with people knowing that I used a telephone service. I'll frequently recommend it to friends. Most importantly, as my new-found love proves, it can work.

If you're ready to meet someone special, you'll find the following suggestions of great interest. When creating your ad, start by examining how some others managed (or failed miserably) to promote themselves; emulate -- in your own words of course -- an ad that caught your eye or ear. Don't be afraid to sell yourself fully, but don't tell lies. Remember to exercise proper caution when you start dating again; you are responsible for your own safety. Choose the method that suits you best, and with diligence, perseverance, and plain hard work, you really can find the one. Good luck!

This article does not offer information on online dating. But you can check out our online dating mecca if you are curious about Web services.

Personal Ads in Newspapers

Newspapers offer a variety of ways to place a "personal" or "companion" ad. When comparing services, you should consider the circulation of the publication, as well as its likely readership.

Pros: It's free to list your small printed ad, with a unique box number. A nice feature of some is the availability of a 900 number, making it easy for out-of-towners to respond to your ad.

Cons: Anyone wanting to respond to your ad must either pay to call a 976 or 900 number to leave a voice message in your box, or alternately write to the service, including your box number and a "handling fee" for forwarding to you; these charges may limit the number of responses you'll receive. Most also charge you to pick up your messages from your mailbox, again using a pay-per-minute call.

This article does not offer information on online dating. But you can check out our online dating mecca if you are curious about Web services.

Telephone Personals

If you're male, you might take note that most Telephone Personal services (see next section) allow women to respond to men free. A female friend admitted to me that she'd recently read an interesting male ad in the printed personals, "but when I realized it was going to cost me to respond, I thought 'to heck with it'." Also, if a woman were to respond to your ad here, would she leave her phone number? It would be safer for her to get her own box number, and leave that with you; and then you would leave her your phone number; at which point she'd have to pay again to pick up that message.

Virtually unknown a decade ago, this form of chatting with and optionally meeting a potential mate has grown exponentially over the past several years, with new companies seeming to enter the fray every month. When you call in, an automated voice prompts you through a series of choices to route you to a specific part of the overall system. It may seem daunting at first, but eventually the codes become second nature.

One thing in common with all "self-promoting" services is that they rely on the person writing or recording his or her ad to basically tell the truth about themselves. Of course, not everyone does; there are "little exaggerations" like adding an inch or two to their height or subtracting a dozen pounds from their weight, or outright lies like saying they're single when in fact they have a wife and kids at home.

The service providers (and their lawyers) make it clear that they don't prescreen any of their callers; it's up to you to cut through any deceit before agreeing to meet someone face-to-face. To be safe, pick a public place, such as a restaurant, when meeting someone for the first (or second...) time. Of course, you should never give out your home phone number or address until you're entirely comfortable with the other person.

Most services listed in this section are completely free for women: to record their ad (optional), listen to ads, respond to ads, and to pick up their messages. It's also free for men to record their ad (optional) and listen to ads; however, men pay for responding to ads and for picking up their messages. The payment is in the form of minutes debited from a block-of-time purchase set up at the beginning of your (male) membership. When your time runs out, you either purchase more time, or end your membership. No credit is given for unused time.

Since there can be several thousands of ads to browse, most companies assign categories to their ads. On the Telepersonals system, for example, you would first select an age group, then what you're looking for in a relationship, and then the basic personality of the person you're hoping to meet.

Pros: Most are free for women. Very convenient. And it's a great advantage to hear the person's voice: you can often tell quite a bit about someone's education, intelligence, and social skills by their grammar, the inflection in their voice, and how well they enunciate "ain't," eh?

Cons: Can get expensive for men -- particularly for out-of-towners who have to pay long-distance charges as well. Possibly addicting; know when you've had enough.

This article does not offer information on online dating. But you can check out our online dating mecca if you are curious about Web services.

Matchmaking

Perhaps none of the above "do it yourself" approaches seems right for you, and you'd like some professional help in finding Mr. Right. Matchmaking or introduction services will typically ask new members to fill in a detailed questionnaire about themselves, their likes and dislikes, and what kind of person they're looking for as their ideal mate. Most will perform an in-depth personal interview with each member.

You'll work with a company consultant who will attempt to find close matches for your personality profile -- which includes your attitude, your emotional maturity, and social skills -- and provide you with detailed information and phone numbers of appropriate matches. Both parties are notified, so that either can initiate the first phone call. After the phone call and possibly first date, each of the members calls the consultant to provide feedback. Based on the feedback, further referrals may take a slightly different approach.

When an on-going relationship eventually develops between two members, the consultant is notified. No further referrals will be supplied unless the relationship breaks down, at which point the process starts all over again.

Pros: Perfect for people who don't have the time or fortitude to wade through perhaps hundreds of responses and dozens of meetings to find their match.

Cons: The costs of these services can be substantial. You might look at this as an advantage, however: every member is serious about meeting someone; they didn't join just for a casual fling or three. You may not have as many meetings as with the other methods, but one hopes that those you do have are more likely to be the person you're looking for. This should help keep your overall costs down, both in time and money expended.
As these listings illustrate, there are many potential ways for you to meet someone if you're ready. I encourage you to check out the wide range of options -- traditional and modern -- that are available. Apply the same amount of effort and persistence to your search for a mate as you would job-hunting. Keep a notebook. Experiment with different approaches in your advertisement(s). "It's a numbers game," says my friend Debbie, who used a phone service to chat with 60 men, and met with 30 before she found her mate, "and it looks like I've won."

Don't spread yourself too thin, however; you'll need to be awake to recognize your perfect match when he or she enters your life. Above all, relax and enjoy yourself. Dating may seem very different this time around, but it's still good fun, and can be rewarding.

This article does not offer information on online dating. But you can check out our online dating mecca if you are curious about Web services.

Greg Reid, a computer nerd and divorced father of three, found happiness, love, and a complementary computer nerd (he's IBM; she's Apple) through the personals.

Divorce Magazine provides advice and support for those coping with separation, divorce, and remarriage. For more tips and stories, visit www.DivorceMagazine.com.

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