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ROBIN ABCARIAN

Meet a Dating Service That Doesn't Have a One-Track Mind

September 08, 1993|Robin Abcarian

Imagine her dilemma: Marlene Toni, an attractive, intelligent, long-divorced 48-year-old woman would really like to get married again. But she has a problem, the kind of problem that, at first glance, seems merely unfortunate, but upon closer inspection is actually a type of relationship repellent.

Toni has a heart disorder that prevents her from engaging in certain physical activities--mowing the lawn, mopping the floor, riding a bike . . . and that special kind of workout for two that keeps poets, florists and candy makers in business.

Oh, why be coy?

Toni can't make whoopie.

She didn't discover this traumatizing fact until after her divorce 11 years ago. (Makes sense, doesn't it? How many moribund marriages are known for the quality of their nooky?) Anyway, Toni fell in love, and when she and her beau began to manifest their affection in the usual way, her heart started to race uncontrollably. This might be taken for infatuation in some quarters, but for Toni, it was awful. Her pounding heart gave her a severe headache and she had trouble breathing comfortably.

The old "it's not you honey, it's me," explanation didn't go over too well.

"You cannot explain that you can't have sex to the other party," Toni says. "They don't want to believe it because they are in love with you."

Perhaps, thought Toni, she should revise her idea of the ideal mate. Maybe an older man would do the trick, metaphorically speaking.

The plan was ill conceived.

"It turns out that older men still have their fantasies," she said, "and when they make themselves available for dating, they still have that in mind."

Reluctantly, Marlene Toni stopped dating altogether.

And then, a few months ago, she allowed herself to feel hope.

A friend told her about a most unusual matchmaking service, something called the Tempkin Group.

The Tempkin Group, based in Northbrook, Ill., is a matchmaking service for people who can't or won't have sex.

It was started this spring by soft-spoken sociologist Lloyd Oehlke, a 52-year-old twice-married community college professor with four grown children and, he says, a normal sex drive.

Oehlke teaches a popular class called "Marriage and the Family" at Rock Valley College in Rockford, Ill. (He takes an inclusive view of his subject; last week's guest speakers were a lesbian couple who had a baby by artificial insemination.)

For some students, the class functions as a kind of confessional. In the late '70s, a couple of Oehlke's students were Vietnam vets who confided that because of wounds suffered in the war, they were unable to have sex. How, they wondered, should they approach women? Or should they bother?

As it happened, Oehlke also knew a few women students who, for reasons ranging from cancer to incest, were not interested in sexual relationships.

His informal matchmaking efforts evolved into the Tempkin Group, which opened for business in April. Oehlke sent out a press release intended for the Chicago-area media. It was picked up by a wire service and drew a surprisingly large response.

Within days, Oehlke had received inquiries from England, Japan and Canada. And because no blip on the American cultural radar goes unnoticed by the talk shows, he also got calls from Geraldo and Oprah.

"I don't want to go on 'Geraldo,' " said Oehlke. "I think it would just overwhelm us. Also, I think it might scare the people we are trying to attract if it is made into a joke or the object of sniggering."

Still, even without the talkmeisters, Oehlke has received inquiries from 300 people looking for love without sex, and has processed 20 of their applications so far. He charges $500.

"I didn't think we would strike such a chord," he said.

"Every letter is so unique. One fellow was raised by a religiously fanatic mother and from the time he was 3, he would have to put creosote on his fingers every time he urinated. It burned and she wanted to teach him the evils of sex. He says he has been to therapists and psychiatrists and no way can he have an erection without pain."

Obviously, most of the people who have approached Oehlke for help finding a mate are not anxious for publicity. In this sex-crazed culture, where the scandals have been lining up like cold fronts in winter, who but a monastic willingly admits to celibacy? (Marlene Toni allowed her name to be published, she said, because she doesn't know anyone here.

On one radio talk show, a psychiatrist told Oehlke his clients were "sick" and needed help, not a dating service.

Considering the deep American ambivalence about sex, a hostile response from some quarters is predictable. After all, as Oehlke puts it, "In a sense, we are attacking the very cornerstone of marriage.

"Some people ask, 'Are you against sex?' But we are not. Sex can be beautiful, but it can be violent, boring, whatever. Sex is communication. And we are coming to the point that what is communicated in the act is more important that the act itself."

In the meantime, Toni continues to hope. After all, she said, plenty of her married women friends, if given their druthers, would live without sex. There must be a compatible guy out there who feels the same way.

All she needs to do is find him.

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