I Paid Someone $15,000 To Help Me Find The Right Man

Does anyone know how to successfully date? How do we know if the valuable, vulnerable time we spend putting our best self out there will lead to a committed relationship?

In the wake of 20 years of being involved with the wrong men, I found myself at age 40 with two divorces and a defeatist outlook on dating. After failing for so long, I was tempted to call off the search.

Throughout my career, I’ve been a successful corporate marketing executive, navigating highly complex global organizations while building new departments and enterprise-wide capabilities.

I was a leader and mentor. I spoke on panels and took the stage at industry events. I was taught to tackle an objective with a specific strategy, backed by a budget. Perhaps this logical, solutions-oriented approach steered me to my eventual (enormous) dating investment.

But as I climbed to corporate success, my personal life was a conventional catastrophe. I married my first husband at 29 and completely missed many flagrant red flags. The second time, it was worse.

Deconstructing the life I built with my second husband helped me realize I was the one who got it all wrong. Reckoning with my own inherent anxiety about romantic relationships wasn’t pretty.

After each time down the aisle, I regretted it almost instantly. My destructive pattern was to recklessly look the other way and commit quickly so I could get off the dating app merry-go-round.

I should have known better than to ever marry either one of my ex-husbands. I didn’t want to risk potentially marrying another person so intrinsically wrong for me, yet I knew I wanted to share my life with someone.

That’s when I met Bela. This beautiful, middle-aged woman, partial to bold silk blouses and bejewelled earrings and known to some as “the fairy godmother of dating,” listened intently to my story. I knew she had coached people who tended to fall too hard, too fast for the wrong person, and I hoped she would help me too.

During our first call in early 2021, she highlighted her rules for clients. First, I should turn off all dating app notifications, lest I allow a “hey gorgeous” text to interrupt my day. According to Bela, dating should be a complement to my already full life.

She told me I was only to check the apps for 15 minutes in the morning and 15 in the evening, reply to promising messages and move on. She also said I should date multiple men simultaneously without a commitment to any single one for at least three months.

I had qualms about her rules. In the past, I was lucky if I had one match every month, so how would I suddenly pull in droves of suitors? Dating multiple men also seemed precisely counter to the commitment I wanted so badly.

Before I signed up to work with Bela, she said she wanted me to clearly understand that she was a dating coach and not a matchmaker. She would help me create online profiles, take professional pictures, and even log into the apps with me to view profiles and respond to potential matches. In essence, she would not be on the hook to find me a partner.

Instead, she would teach me to look for the right ones. When she told me she had a zero per cent divorce rate after being in business for more than 12 years, I was shocked. I wondered how many clients she had had because that statistic seemed preposterous. Still, I was hopeful.

Then Bela told me she charged $15,000 a year for coaching. I laughed out loud. I had been laid off from my prestigious marketing job during Covid and wasn’t given a severance package. I used every free dollar to support myself and start my own consulting business.

In early 2021, I didn’t have that money readily available to throw at a dating coach — a profession I didn’t even know existed days prior. Knowing my payments to her didn’t guarantee I’d end up in love made me even more anxious.

Though Bela didn’t promise I’d find the right match, she did assure me that I would come out of the experience knowing myself well enough to eventually be ready to pick someone who would bring out the best version of me. I didn’t tell anyone I was considering hiring her because I was afraid of the reactions. I worried I’d hear everything from pity (oh, you poor thing, you need help so badly!) to horror (this woman is scamming you!) to disgust (if you have that much money, you ought to donate to a worthy cause instead).

But, I pulled together the money because, in theory, finally knowing myself seemed like the best possible outcome at that time. Each time I made my two lump-sum payments, I had to remind myself this was an investment in self-worth.

During our first paid session Bela had me sign a dating contract with myself, in which I agreed to follow her rules and refuse to settle. She made me read it aloud. I had to unlearn the subtle assumption I think many heterosexual, middle-aged women like me make that dating apps are filled with undesirables — shirtless bathroom selfies and DM-ed dick pics. Bela convinced me that it’s only “slim pickings out there” if I saw it as such.

Then, Bela slapped me with the “a-ha!” insight that quelled any lingering doubts about hiring her. “You used your ex-husbands as much as they used you,” she told me. She explained that my projection of what I thought life was supposed to look like sabotaged each relationship from the onset. She was right. Each time I thought I created the perfect marriage, I was actually in ignorant bliss. The Fairy Godmother, ironically, was the one who helped me let go of the fairy tale.

I knew about “red flags” but often minimized them. Bela also taught me about “pink flags” — something that’s not quite a deal breaker though worth keeping an eye on, such as gambling. Does it take the form of a monthly poker game with his friends or is he waiting for the first and the fifteenth of the month to load his DraftKings account?

And I learned about “beige flags,” which are the little, annoying things that aren’t deal-breakers but will be the issues you’ll likely fight about down the road. For example, he’s messy and you’re compulsively neat. She also told me to look for “green flags” that indicated a man had qualities that would enhance my life.

Bela famously forbids her clients from becoming intimate for at least three months. I was allowed to kiss my dates, but we couldn’t go any further than that. I was skeptical of this rule, but realized quickly this proved an impeccable mechanism to weed out unwanted matches. If they couldn’t wait, I didn’t want to date them.

The most profound exercise Bela had me complete was making an exhaustive list of the qualities I wanted in a partner. I spouted 30-40 predictable characteristics including “tall,” “smart,” “kind,” “loving” and “successful.”

Then she asked me to then think of three people in my life who make me feel amazing. That was easy: my dad, my niece and one of my best friends. Bela asked me to describe how I feel when I’m with them and I told her, “I feel like I’m the very best version of myself like I can do anything as if I am such a special person to each of them.”

“Throw out your first list,” Bela replied. “That’s what everyone says they want, but this second list, this is now what you’re looking for.” I was shocked. It was such a simple concept, but until that moment, it was an approach I had never thought to use. I thought I was looking for a debonair beau who’d pose perfectly next to me on my holiday card. What I really wanted was someone who could elevate me, heart and soul. Before Bela, I tiptoed into my first dates. She instructed me to walk in tall with a confident smile and a no-pressure attitude.

“Your only job on a first date is to enjoy yourself!” she advised me. “Keep it to an hour and a half of light conversation — nothing serious. All you need to decide after a first date is whether you’ll go on a second.”

I couldn’t believe how many matches poured in from the apps thanks to my new well-crafted profile filled with professional photos. I had never felt confident enough to approach the most attractive man in the room but now I found myself having captivating conversations with ideal men.

I tracked my success from launching myself on the apps to the three-month mark and discovered I’d been on a phone, video, or real-life date with 14 eligible men. Even better, I’d still be proud to invite them out and introduce (most of them) to a friend. I couldn’t think of more than one man I dated before Bela that I’d be proud to stand beside, let alone fix up with someone I liked.

The coaching completely changed my life. I was the perfect test case for this dating experiment: a woman ready to make some big changes who was also willing to throw a lot of money at a problem. I was at a point in my life where a high-risk, unconventional solution didn’t scare me as much as not taking the leap of faith, and I’m so glad I did.

However, even though Bela fundamentally shifted my outlook on dating — and myself — this approach isn’t right for everyone. Many people don’t have this kind of money to devote to a dating coach and lots of people aren’t looking for a long-term monogamous relationship (if you’re using the apps for short-term fun, get it!). There are also some great resources online for smarter ways to find eligible matches and date better that might be useful if you’re as miserable as I was and don’t want to spend as much as I did.

My work with Bela launched me on the apps in the summer of 2021, and soon after I met Jason. After making it through Bela’s required waiting period, we became exclusive, and a year and a half later, we moved in together. He not only makes me feel like the best version of myself, but he is also tall, smart, kind, loving and successful, too. Jason has none of the red flags I previously encountered and minimized. We aren’t engaged — we’re not on a prescribed timeline — but I do know this: If we get married it will be because we both want to build something together and not for any other reason.

Beyond the contentment I’ve found with Jason, I also feel an immutable confidence that didn’t exist before I met Bela. Working with her helped me realize that investing in myself paid dividends in so many parts of my life — not just my romantic relationship. I applied what I’ve learned and harnessed my empowered energy to create a successful marketing consultancy in the wake of my corporate standstill. I also now know it’s useful to look for “flags” in work partnerships, friendships, and even organizations I encounter. Most recently, I declined a piece of business after spotting signs that this company wouldn’t be a good fit, and I recognized “green flags” in a new friend.

Before Bela, I saw my divorces as scarlet letters that branded me as a broken failure. Now, I have empathy and love for myself at every stage in my life — even the headstrong girl who fell fast for the wrong men. I know myself so well that should I ever need to launch dating apps again, I won’t struggle as I once did, and that courage and determination course through every other part of my life.

Bela helped me build a fool-proof toolkit filled with confidence, self-awareness, and a little of that impossible-to-define quality we’re all looking for on the other side of almost any interaction.

I told Jason about my fairy godmother. He still can’t wrap his head around the concept or the cost. He said that if he saw me on the street or in a restaurant, he would have asked me out. It’s lovely to hear that, but I still don’t regret spending $15,000 to truly get to know myself. It’s my version of happily better after.

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