Shopping for romance

Finding love—or at least a fellow Monty Python fan—with a Reno dating service

Micah is my mother in the West. I moved to this side of the country from Washington, D.C., 10 years ago. Moving into a culture so foreign to me left me often feeling lonely. My neighbor Micah and I developed a fast bond over cups of coffee, hours spent at each others’ homes and Micah’s wisdom, which was greater than her 11 years’ seniority let on. She grew to know my desire to find someone, seeing my sadness at having reached the age of 38 still single.

One evening last summer, over wine and cigarettes in her back yard, Micah suggested The People Store.

“Oh, Micah, you’ve got to be kidding. Only desperate people use dating services. Only losers fill that gene pool.”

With the twinkle that always graced her eye when she began to tear down my pre-conceived notions, Micah brought her phone outside, dialed a number and held the phone against my ear. She talked me through the first few prompts.

At home alone, later that night, I was hooked. I shopped for men who intrigued me. I listened to my competition—especially those women in my age range. I attended the company’s dating seminar—conducted on the phone in five-minute segments for more than an hour. I grew excited.

So excited, in fact, that I recorded my message that night. I recorded, listened, re-recorded, listened again … and finally satisfied my desire to introduce myself with words and a voice that reflect my self-image. Energetic and alluring, my voice invited men I didn’t know to call me. Micah had tempted me into a new experience.

So began my journey into dating more men in one month than in the previous five years combined. Of the 12 men with whom I connected, I dated 10 of them in 12 dates over three weeks.White liesBob and I spoke on the phone for over an hour. Because he had recently moved from the Midwest, I related to his desire to connect with others. We noted similarities in professional backgrounds and life interests.

We agreed to meet over coffee several days later. I explained that I would come directly from work dressed in office attire. He explained that he would wear shorts and a tank top, which surprised me.

“Hmm, maybe he wants to show off his muscles,” I thought. “After all, he has worked as a wrestling coach.”

We commenced our date. It was one of the longest hours of my life.

I had thought that placing appearance high on a list of priorities indicated superficiality. But Bob’s inappropriate dress for his body size—and for the occasion—revealed much of his personality. And I then understood that looks do matter to me.

I also understood the importance of a quick, interesting mind and wit. Boredom with Bob’s flat subjects revolving around himself had me screaming inside to leave.

I struggled with when to tell Bob goodbye.

“Bob, I’ve enjoyed spending this time talking with you. I don’t feel we have much in common, so I don’t think we should get together again. I wish you the best in your People Store search.”

Bob demanded to know why.

“Bob, do you really want me to tell you how I’m not attracted to you at all physically, how dismayed I am by your social ineptitude, how boredom has been screaming at me to leave since an hour ago?” I didn’t speak these words, although my mind shouted them.

Instead, I kept repeating how very little we shared in common. For five minutes, it became my mantra. When he finally listened to me, and I left, I felt like I could breathe again.

Some people present challenges to reconciling honesty and kindness. I still ponder which is more important.AbuseRandall scared me.

I’ve been stalked before and have come to recognize stalking behavior. It begins with abuse.

I called Randall in response to numerous positive messages he had left in my voice mailbox. We spoke for about a half-hour, and I knew that we would not progress to a relationship.

“Randall, thanks for your time on the phone. I’m not sure we have enough in common to get together. I wish you the best in finding what you want.” I sputtered it quickly before I would allow myself to take the easy way out and promise more connection than would occur.

Randall surprised me. I had expected a negative response, but he agreed simply and quietly. He wished me well, too.

Too easy. Later that evening, I checked my messages again.

The second message stung with Randall’s venom, more in tone than words.

“You just think you’re so smart, don’t you? Well, let me tell you—we talked for a half-hour, and you had nothing intelligent to say. And my IQ is 82.”

My emotional hackles warned me to override my curiosity and delete his message without listening to the rest. No one needs to tolerate abuse.

Shaken, I proceeded to the next message.

Randall continued his tirade, which I deleted after recognizing his voice in the first few seconds. Then I blocked his customer number so he couldn’t leave any more messages.

For days, I worried that Randall might track me down. I had not taken the precaution to block my number from caller ID before calling anyone. Stalked once, twice scared.

I appreciate Randall for teaching me more lessons about protecting myself.SexGordon spoke with a smoothness that fell like silk on my ears. His voice promised delicious sex. From his introduction and our initial conversations over several weeks, I knew we had nothing in common to engender a relationship. I did think we could have fun.

After weeks of trying to connect, we met at Stateline on the night of the first snow of the season. He was getting off his shift at the casino where he worked. We shared small talk and drinks at a bar, and we agreed to drive to his house. It was what we had been considering for weeks.

I take risks. I do caution everyone who joins a dating service to play the game as safely and intelligently as common sense dictates. For me, my intuition, sense of adventure and desire to connect on some level led me to Gordon’s home that night.

Soon after stepping foot into his bedroom, an inner voice told me to leave. I still believe Gordon is safe and sexy. But I think I had reached a crossroads that night: My desire for a real relationship precluded casual sex.

I tried to explain this to Gordon. To his credit and my gratitude for his generosity, he tried to understand. He walked me to his door and extended the offer to call him if I changed my mind. Some woman will be lucky to fall in love with this sweetheart.Monty PythonOne late night, as I worked my way through dozens of introductions, I neared the end of the introductions in my 30-39 age group.

Terry’s message perked me out of boredom.

“Carol, here’s a man you could have fun with,” my mind chattered, suddenly awake. “He’s intelligent, educated, funny and has an interesting career in music—and music feeds your soul. He even says he enjoys people who ‘shamelessly quote Monty Python in public.’ Leave him a message!”

Within days, Terry and I met over frappes at Deux Gros Nez. After our initial long phone conversation about our favorite Python flicks, he brought to the cafe my favorite as a loan—Life of Brian. Had he brought flowers, Terry would not have impressed me near as much as this thoughtfulness.

For hours, we laughed, shared passions about music and film and teased each other about our college rivalries. For weeks after, we saw each other as time permitted.

Eventually, our dating progressed into friendship. Now we spam each other over e-mail regularly, I attend his music gigs when I can, and I have met one of the kindest, funniest and most talented people in Reno.Shopping for LoveAlthough no love relationship developed out of my six weeks with The People Store, I appreciate the lasting friendship Terry and I developed, all the people I met and the lessons I learned.

Playing the dating game is like job-hunting—from introduction and resume to initial meeting, from judging characteristics and feeling chemistry to the final decision to build a dating or working relationship.

Many say that people lie when using dating services. It’s true that people often exaggerate their good qualities and de-emphasize negative ones, just like on resumes. But I also found a curious honesty that refreshed me throughout my time using The People Store.

All of us were looking for some kind of connection—from casual sex to marriage. Most of us understood that we were playing a numbers game, as with all dating. In this case, however, honesty about dating within that numbers game was clear. Often, first phone conversations dealt with how many people each of us had dated so far and what kind of relationship and person we wanted. Never before had I discussed such topics so openly at the beginning when dating.

Overall, I enjoyed using a dating service. It’s fun to feel popular, to have almost as many dates as you can fit into a schedule, to meet many different kinds of people, to learn about others and yourself.

Let me be your Micah. I’ll be right over with the wine, the cigarettes and the phone.

The names of all the men in this story have been changed to protect their identities.