Anyone who remains unacquainted with the media's relentless fascination with the Single Woman can be brought up to speed quickly with the mention of a few titles. Why There Are No Good Men Left. "The Bachelorette." "Ally McBeal." Bridget Jones's Diary. The Rules. The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing.
And those are just from the past decade. The lonely-hearts line stretches back all the way from Looking for Mr. Goodbar to That Girl! to Cosmo creator Helen Gurley Brown's opus on the subject, Sex and the Single Girl, the first work to flip the spotlight on She Who Cannot Get Her Man. Brown's mandate for man-seekers was brief: smell good, let him talk, stick around. Now, in 2003, Baltimore native Liz H. Kelly has given us the corporatized update: Smart Man Hunting, a book bursting with enough acronyms, bulleted lists, and clichés to make a human resources executive swoon.
"If you are a single 30+ woman seeking Mr. Right," Kelly writes, "it is an excellent century to start a smarter man hunt using new millennium dating opportunities, hunter strategies, ABC codes, and interview techniques to produce higher-quality results."
Married at 30 and divorced at 35, Kelly, a former corporate trainer at T. Rowe Price, Sprint PCS, and Iridium, decided to use her Johns Hopkins master's degree and customer-service skills to lift the sagging corners of her dating life. (Baltimore men will be glad to hear that she had no problem finding high-quality studs in Charm City — the men started to suck after she moved to Los Angeles.)
"Like everyone, I'd moved out to L.A. to join the Internet gold rush," Kelly says by phone with a laugh, referring to her work with three dot.bombs. "And I discovered that it's really hard to date in L.A."
Her goal, clearly enough, was to find quality men who were ready for commitment. But how was her method different from all those other how-toers on finding Mr. Right?
"This book talks about how to boost your numbers, ego, and odds," Kelly says. "There are a lot of other books out there that talk about how to meet men, but I don't think there are any that can deliver the way this one does."
With spinsters becoming big business (see "Joe Millionaire"), it's natural that dating gurus would eventually adopt the methods and language of the boardroom. (The planetary metaphors of Mars and Venus are so '90s.) Kelly takes Brown's conniving career girl and gives her the chops of a corporate headhunter. In her own manhunt, Kelly even combined the two. "Manhunts are very similar to job hunts," Kelly writes. "When I found myself unemployed in January 2002, I decided to conduct parallel searches for a MAN and a JOB."
These last two, upon further inspection, do not prove to be acronyms, but Kelly's just getting started. As she takes us on a turn through "Millennial Dating Options" — online dating services, speed-dating, and professional matchmakers — we are treated to enough CAPS to put an OCEAN to shame.
According to Kelly, as a SMART (too long to get into) manhunter, you start with KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) questions, bantering lightly while you perform your CCT (Chemistry Connection Test). If he passes, you move on to the ERT (Emotional Readiness Test), then into ABC codes: the 26 conveniently alphabetized "types" of men Kelly has assembled for your convenience. If the guy's a BA (Bachelor Available), one moves onward into the LIFE (again, too lengthy to get into) match game, trusting one's GUT (Genuine, Understanding, Trustworthy) instincts to see if Mr. Right Across the Table could turn into Mr. Right.
Kelly stresses that man-hunters cannot neglect the aforementioned codes, even blaming her divorce on her failure to realize that her BA (Bachelor Available) turned out to be a QP (Questionnaire Perfectionist) whose list of demands — monthly camping, Sunday cleaning — proved untenable. Unsurprisingly, these alphabetical strictures often strain the man codes past credulity: Though all females will recognize HGG (Hello Goodbye Guy) and MBA (Married but Available), I confess I have never come across ZZ (Zodiac Zealot) or FE (Fitness Enthusiast). (A California thing?) Similarly, DGI (Dysfunctional Guy With Issues) seems a faint mirror of LS (Lost Soul), while RR (Relentless Renter), JJ (Justifying Juggler), and VV (Vacillating Vortex) surely have more in common than their alliterative qualities.
Still, the list is meant to be humorous. Equally but unintentionally humorous is Smart Man Hunting's steadfast reliance on the male point of view. Advice-givers such as a "wise 56-year-old executive," a "39-year-old movie producer," and a "45-year-old CEO" dazzle Kelly with tidbits such as, "Men always give a woman 60 seconds to see if there's chemistry," and, "Life is about updates. You need to constantly update your approach to work, friends, family, and dating." Um — like a virus program? No — more like a deckhand: "Ask yourself whether you would want to get on a boat for a two-month sailing trip to Hawaii with the guy."
Leaving aside the fact that most would suffer a reeking corpse to sail for two months in Hawaii, these men are playing the oldies. "Women have the power to control the world," a "40-year-old male entrepreneur" advises. "They are the ones that determine when to have sex. You need to tell all your girlfriends to go slowly with sex and they will always win."
You don't say. Equally dubious is some of the advice Kelly herself passes on. Sending short, flirty e-mails to suitors throughout the day is a wonderful way to keep in touch — and a wonderful way to get FIRED (Forced Into Re-Evaluating Decision). And though it may be true that it bodes well for your future as a couple when, on a date, the man 1) makes eye contact, 2) leans toward you, 3) smiles often, and 4) dresses nicely, it is important to remember that this is the behavior of sex-seeking (read: all) males everywhere.
As the sheer instruction mounts (in addition to the daunting pile of codes, worksheets, and strategies, Kelly stresses that dating should be time-effective, goal-oriented, and, most gruelingly, "fun") the advice goes from dubious to dimwitted. When she instructs women on how to set up a profile on an online dating service, I am receptive. When she uses a bulleted list (seven points!) for how to set up a lunch date, I must register a formal objection. By the time she's gotten around to telling us about the miraculous advent of cell phones and calling cards, I wonder — is this book for women who have only lived among wolves?
Kelly addresses some of these concerns in her forthcoming book, due out later this spring.
"In the new version I stress being natural, relaxed — don't walk into your first date with a worksheet, etc.," Kelly says. "There's also a lot more about listening — how if you just listen to what men are saying, they'll answer a lot of the questions you have without you even having to ask."
Some examples? "Well, if a guy says he took his mother out to dinner on Valentine's Day, you know he has a good relationship with his mother. But if he says he's going out with his friends for dinner and he wants to meet you later, then he can't be very interested: He doesn't want you to meet his friends."
I say anyone dating a guy who takes his mom out on Valentine's Day gets what she deserves, but Kelly's success isn't easily dismissed. She's already got a couple of marriages to her work's credit, a number of "serious relationships," and will be featured in an upcoming issue of Glamour.
While approaches to finding a man may have changed, it seems men themselves haven't. Judging by Kelly's dating experiences, the men of the book's anecdotes still make up a familiar trifecta: NT, DT, FOS (Not Talkers, Dirty Talkers, Full of Shit). Kelly advises us to massage (conversationally) the first and to ditch the second. But women have always known to draw out a grunter and dump Mr. "Nice tits." It's the third guy — Kelly uses the more demure "Full of Stuff" — who poses the special problem.
And it's this guy who consistently glides under Kelly's radar. By the end of the book, she's still astonished when one FOS drops her with no explanation. "Do you think he disappeared because I said 'No' when he asked me to take a shower with him on the third date?" Kelly asks huffily. Um, yeah.
The final test might be how the creator's methods worked in her own life. Currently, Kelly is dating three "Mr. Right Candidates" ("Let's say no," she replies, when I ask if they know about one another). However, she still hasn't put a ring back on her finger. "Until I hear from one of them, 'I want to be with you and only you,'" she says, "I have to stay open to other men."
It seems that even interrogations that would terrify the most jaded spy ("Why aren't you married?" she advises asking old bachelors) can leave a girl still hoping. But perhaps all this corporate "processing" has outlived its usefulness. In these difficult times, I propose we take a leaf from Dubya and just start bombing men into submission.
TOO (Target of Opportunity) has a nice ring to it — doesn't it, girls?