Pat Ruhlman is sure the right man for her is out there. Somewhere. It's just a matter of keeping her oar in the water and--once in a while--paddling like crazy.
Bars, health clubs and workplaces are not her style. So in the last 10 years since her divorce, she's tried everything else: Parents Without Partners, the video matching service Great Expectations, a singles group at the Crystal Cathedral, relationship courses at the Man-Woman Institute in Huntington Beach, blind dates arranged by friends. But Ruhlman, 55, says she was looking for love in all the wrong places.
Now, she thinks she's found the right place: the classifieds.
Recently, Ruhlman raised some eyebrows with a first-person article in the Orange County Bar Bulletin, the journal of the Orange County Bar Assn., offering what sounded like a commercial for the personals. "Not only are classified ads private, confidential and cheap," she told attorney readers, "but they work! "
Not a Joke
Although it was the April Fools edition of the Bulletin, she was not joking. Ruhlman, a law school graduate and director of Volunteers in Parole (a volunteer organization of the State Bar of California, the California Youth Authority and the Orange County Bar Assn. matching attorney-sponsors with recent parolees), said she's received 60 responses in the last five years with such ads as: "This ad is paid for by my ex-husband who will describe me as slim, sensual and a wonderful companion. He will be lying. I am better than that. . . . "
And: "A very together lady, attractive and dynamic, 5' 2" juris doctor, 50, has overcome all life's adversities except not meeting you. . . ."
"Answer this ad or I'll blow up your car . . . " was one she composed but didn't place.
Some friends--thinking advertising for dates is unsafe, degrading, foolish or embarrassing--have reacted with "Pat, how could you?" But she said others, including more than one Orange County judge, have asked her for more details. Professionals in the public eye, like judges, she explained, cannot afford to look desperate or on the prowl. "Say you're a (single) minister. You can't look like a barracuda waiting to snag someone."
Over the last five years, the so-called respectable publications have been accepting a growing number of what used to be called lonely hearts ads from attorneys, physicians and other professionals, classified ad managers say.
Advanced Degrees, a Los Angeles-based singles organization for men and women with master's degrees and above, recently surveyed members on whether they wanted the group to start a newsletter with personal ads. "The response was unbelievable. Fifty percent said 'yes.' I thought it would be zero," the organization's manager said. Ads such as "Attorney, 46, divorced, likes tennis and dining out" started to pour in two days after forms were mailed out, he said. "They must have mailed them back that night."
Many doctors, lawyers or professors don't have the time or inclination to socialize, he said. "Even people with all these degrees, very successful professionals, when it comes to meeting people face-to-face in a social organization are as scared as the next one . . . maybe more so," he said. Writing personal ads, he surmised, is a less-threatening way to "let people know what you're about."
"I've seen a tremendous shift in the dating process away from the bars and into this," said a spokesman for Los Angeles magazine's classified department, which five years ago started a classified section called Matchmaker, Matchmaker. Some writers are still nervous, she said. "One lady called, the phones were going crazy and I had to put her on hold. When I got back to her, she said, 'Please take it quick before I change my mind.' She said she was attractive, in her mid 30s and an attorney. That's not really atypical."
Singles have become sophisticated about choosing a publication that might reach a specific type of person, she said.
In Los Angeles magazine, which claims 64% of its Southern California readers are executives and professionals, some typical ads begin: "Good-looking, successful, Beverly Hills Psychologist (Ph.D.) . . . " "Very handsome, athletic eye/plastic surgeon . . . " and "Good catch! 33, physician, handsome, athletic and sensitive . . . " "Uncommonly Pretty Journalist" starts a personal ad in the New York City-based Columbia Journalism Review.
Some publications use codes such as SWF, meaning single white female, or DJM, divorced Jewish male.
Some--like the L.A. Weekly--allow ads offering uninhibited diversions for heterosexuals as well as homosexuals; the Orange County Register "Personals" section allows the suggestive ("ATTR curious W/M seeks yng cpl or F for safe fun or ???") and publishes phone numbers; while ads in the Los Angeles Times' year-old "Common Interests" section suggest genteel evenings of dining and theater going, use only box numbers and may be refused for bad taste.