Not too long ago, I received an e-mail from a “relationship coach” I’ll call Steve, asking me to write a cover blurb for his new self-help book. Having achieved a modicum of fame — or notoriety, depending on your perspective — as the founder of a relatively successful dating service, Steve was looking to pass his wisdom on to the masses. Specifically, he wanted to share his insights with the “happily single,” or those of us who don’t believe we need to be in a relationship in order to feel fulfilled.
One might wonder why a writer would be looking to pitch a dating book to the happily single, but, sadly, it made perfect sense to me. Steve is what I like to call a Stealth Dating Guru.
Stealth Dating Gurus are people who come from the other side of the singles spectrum — the operator of a matchmaking service or online dating site, a relationship book author or a dating-advice columnist. Promoting themselves as the newly enlightened champions of single people’s empowerment, they have branched out from their traditional one-two-three strategy of 1) making single people feel bad about not being married, in order to 2) sell them a self-help program that will in turn 3) make them feel even worse than they did before they started.
Now, with chipper “if ya can’t beat ’em, make a buck off ’em” optimism, the Stealth Dating Gurus have invaded our world, publishing articles, infiltrating singles events and spamming online discussion boards and chat rooms while pitching the same old product wrapped up in a shiny new package. “Single is fabulous!” they proclaim today, as if they haven’t spent years and advanced careers trying to convince us otherwise. “It’s OK to be alone,” they add, while conveniently omitting the insidious qualifier that exposes their true agenda: the dreaded “… for now.”
The Stealth Dating Gurus have piggybacked onto the “happily single” movement by advancing the notion that you can’t possibly be happily single unless you’re also happily dating. They’re still trying to sell you their books and CDs and dating services, but now they tell us we need these things in order to have an active, healthy social life. It’s not about marriage, they insist. Today, it’s all about “self-awareness” and “personal growth.”
Eventually, though, every Stealth Dating Guru will implode under the strain of his or her own inconsistency. Case in point: One well-known dating coach, a practitioner of John Gray’s highly dubious “Mars, Venus” school of relationship management, devoted an entire page of his website to celebrating National Unmarried and Single Americans Week — and then proceeded to fill the page with links to articles advising singles on how to write good personal ads, urging them to explore why life was passing them by and detailing what one should and should not do on a first date.
They can’t help themselves, really. To them, the very word single is like a hundred-dollar bill flapping in the breeze, and with our numbers now at 100 million and counting, they simply can’t resist trying to grab onto the lucrative singles market with both hands. The problem is, for all their talk about choice and self-acceptance, they don’t really believe their new spiel. That’s because, for the Stealth Dating Guru, “happily single” isn’t a valid lifestyle in and of itself — it’s simply a way to make the best of an unfortunate situation until Mr. or Ms. Right comes along. Or, as one iVillage columnist puts it, “The happier you are with yourself, the more open you will be when the Right One comes along.”
Oh, and just to make sure you don’t blow it when you do stumble across that soul mate, here’s everything you likely did wrong in all your other relationships and how to fix yourself — all for the low, low price of $19.95. Plus shipping and handling.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with leaving oneself open to a relationship with the right person. And there is certainly merit to the notion that you won’t find that right person until you are secure in your own life and identity. But it becomes problematic when some so-called expert comes along and tries to turn that notion inside out by urging you to be happy about being single so you can … hurry up and not be single anymore? Are we really supposed to buy that?
One of the greatest things about being part of this growing community of committed singulars is the ability to meet and interact with like-minded singles without the ever-present “romance” agenda lurking in the background. What a concept — getting to know another person with no end game (read: relationship) in mind! To me, that’s what living “happily single” is all about: having the freedom to enjoy life fully in the here and now, rather than as a barely tolerable way station on the path to bigger and better things.
That’s why I’m particularly annoyed whenever a Stealth Dating Guru reaches out to me for an endorsement, often with a kind of nudge-nudge, wink-wink “we’re all in the same game, after all” familiarity that is as infuriating as it is insulting. After all, I’m not just a Singular writer — I’m a member of my own target demographic.
So for all you Stealth Gurus out there looking for words of support from this singular, I advise you to look elsewhere. On the other hand, if you’re reading this, you probably won’t be asking me in the first place now, will you?
BIO: Leslie Talbot is the author of Singular Existence — Because It’s Better to Be Alone Than to Wish You Were, inspired by her popular website www.singularexistence.com. She has discussed singles’ issues on numerous regional and national radio and television talk shows and has been featured in The Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today and The Arizona Republic. She resides in Boston.
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