Late last night I gathered up my courage, as I must each time, and called the 800 number to access the voice messages responding to my personal ad.
Just composing the ad took approximately two psychological years of my life. What me? Do this? No way.
Until three friends met their husbands through the personals and I kept attending weddings in which the couple shamelessly, joyously, gratefully shared the truth. They met through the Washingtonian ads.
I told myself something like this: After all, they're expensive so they must be self-selective, and worth something special. Not just anybody will spend a couple hundred dollars on personal advertising, to catch that someone special -- that needle in a haystack -- for exchanging vows, a blissful honeymoon period, and eventual negotiating the decision on which way the toilet paper should be dispensed ... should the paper unfurl from the top or from the bottom?
"No messages," the recorded voice said without pity or care. "Your mailbox is empty at this time."
Momentarily devastated that in the privacy of my own home, I felt rejected -- unloved, unlovable and hopeless. Then I dialed the number of a friend, rehearsing the funny anecdote I was going to share with him. I told him the story, and he disappointed me by sighing sadly instead of laughing.
You take your heart and soul into your mind and mouth and put words to who you are and what you want. Say it in a way that is both true and inviting. Write it well. Not too much, not too little. Decide about whether the correspondence should take place by phone or writing a letter. Does anybody do that anymore? Write a letter? Send a photo?
It's almost as embarrassing to ask for a photo as to send one to someone else. Who wants to be seen? Who wants to be judged on looks? As an architect said to me the other day on the phone as he told me he would rather not send a photo: "I compare it to seeing a site for a building project for the first time. It's never what you thought it would be, nor does it look like you thought it would look, no matter how many drawings or pictures you've seen of it." I thought this quite profound and accepted his correspondence without the picture. At least to start with.
But imagine waiting for several days before accessing the private mail box number and special code (which in my case is double-0-seven and should bring nothing but spectacular, unexpected, dashing, seat-of-the-pants good luck) and finding nothing. Empty. Nothing. No voice. No James Bond. No person, period. No imaginary person. Just nothing.
It's risky making the call. It's risky placing the ad. It's gutsy getting out there. I can't help but draw an analogy to going to a therapist. You gotta be strong and up for tolerating not knowing much in order to do it at all. It takes courage to make that first call and courage to walk in the door. There may be pain ahead. You know you've got it -- pain, that is -- but still it takes courage to know it, recognize it, and do something about it.
That happens when the discomfort gets too high. Eating too much, eating too little, crying too much, feeling too little, not wanting to get out of bed, withdrawing from friends, getting help, slowly coming back to the feeling of recognizing yourself as you were before you started all this. Stabilizing your life, getting satisfaction from your own endeavors enough to want to reach out again and hopefully be more successful this time. Though if not, you get stronger on the downside each time and the wait time for feeling better tends to get shorter.
So I asked myself, how come no messages? I either wrote the ad so well that I've weeded out a lot of men, which is good. Or I wrote it so poorly that nobody wants to know anything about me. What now? What next?
Patience. Perspective. Courage. Another go. Doing my life. It's a very good life. And just take my heart into my mind and mouth and do it again! Remembering that.
Ruth Neubauer, is a writer and a psychotherapist in private practice in Denver, Colorado.
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