Love by Committee
At 6:49 p.m., president Carrie Hooks bangs a toy-size wooden gavel on the table. “Order,” the 28-year-old marketing manager calls.
Fellow board members Jenny Chalk and Cami Thompson jump to attention. As president, Hooks runs an orderly, dictatorial boardroom, frowning heavily on distractions. An important life-changing mission is at stake: finding Cami a soul mate — preferably a music lover with kind, loving, husband-y qualities.
It is not an easy task, that they know. Especially when Cami, the subject of their mission, is a stubborn, Pabst-loving 28-year-old with an MBA and predilection for narcissistic, tattooed, mean, unemployed indie rockers.
Thus the members of the Board of Love have committed themselves fully to their project. They hold monthly meetings, perform field studies, sponsor singles events and dissect Cami’s love life on a public online forum where friends and outsiders can comment. Recently, they’ve even considered filing for nonprofit status.
After taking attendance, Hooks asks about unfinished business from the last meeting. Turning her hawkish brown eyes to Cami, she asks: “Any new developments with the non-boyfriend?”
Cami, an edgy, brown-haired hipster with a heart-shaped face, pauses, fiddling with a cocktail napkin.
“We’re still friendy-friends,” she says, somewhat shamefully. “Still hanging out nearly every day.” Board members Jenny and Carrie exchange disapproving looks.
Hooks homes in on the central issue.
“Any mention of the girlfriend?” she asks pointedly.
Cami shakes her head no. The board sighs. There are mixed feelings about the non-boyfriend boyfriend. On the positive side, non-boyfriend obviously really likes Cami — a trait that normally turns Cami off. Also, the board finds him funny, engaging and sweet. But on the negative side, Cami has discovered (by stalking him on MySpace) that he has a girlfriend — which, generally speaking, tends to make him not good husband material.
“Will you ever confront him on this?” Carrie persists.
Cami pauses for a moment, considering.
“Maybe a couple of years down the line,” she says.
“You mean when he’s married with kids?” Carrie asks, her eyebrows raised into parenthetical tents.
Cami takes another second to ponder this.
“Yes,” she says. “Maybe then.”
The board sighs then takes a short break for dinner.
“Sometimes I wonder how much good we’re actually doing here,” 28-year-old secretary Jenny Chalk admits.
Notes from the Board of Love’s 12/18/08 meeting, featuring guest speakers Mark and Mariella Szczepanik (now celebrating their one-year wedding anniversary, which never would’ve occurred had Mariella not made the initial call asking Mark out):
Generally speaking, there are a few reasons why a guy — though interested in a girl — might not ask her out.
- He might be intimidated/frightened.
- He might think every date leads to marriage.
- He’s slow at asking.
- He’s not picking up your signals.
Why you should ask a guy out:
- It’s empowering.
- It sends a clear message.
- It makes a guy feel like a stud.
- It works.
- If he turns you down, he was a tool anyway.
A middle-aged career woman sat on Diane Sawyer’s couch, complaining to author and advertising executive Donny Deutsch about her many dating failures. Showing little sympathy, Deutsch turned his steely blue eyes on the woman and gave this life-changing advice: If you really want to get married, you need to treat your love life like your professional life.
Deutsch said the woman needed a group of friends to hold her accountable for her dating decisions and to advise her on all romantic matters. She needed, quite literally, her own Board of Love.
To Cami, Deutsch’s words seemed hand-delivered from God.That’s it! she thought. That’s what I’ve been missing this whole time! I need my own Board of Love!
To outsiders, Cami’s choice of advisers might seem less than ideal. Neither Cami, Carrie nor Jenny have ever been in a relationship lasting more than six months. And each board member has her own issues.
Jenny, a fun-loving office manager and budding fiction writer, had been called out for her pickiness, rejecting guys because they were “boring” or “not my type.” Carrie, despite dating a lot, never seemed to find the right guy. Ever.
Nonetheless, Cami reasoned, “Who else besides my best friends could I make devote half their [free] time to the sole purpose of finding me love?”
The first official Board of Love meeting was August 2007 at Panini’s in Coventry. The meeting began with Cami complaining about the lack of quality guys in her life. In turn, Jenny and Carrie posited that this could be a direct result of Cami only bothering to talk to nonquality guys. Then everyone ordered beers.
The session, the board realized later, was not that different from any of their other drunken Thursday night outings to Panini’s. They reasoned that if they were to have any shot at success, they’d have to start making these meetings more like, well, board meetings — with notes and Robert’s Rules of Order.
Their first step: coming up with a business card to hand out to potential suitors and friends. “You can’t be a real business without a business card,” Carrie pointed out. At the bottom of the card they printed their slogan, “We’re always in session.” That is, at least until Cami finds a soul mate.
The trio then voted on an office location: Panini’s on Coventry. They registered an official e-mail address (email@example.com) where all board correspondence would be sent. They elected Jenny the official record keeper, assigned with the task of keeping minutes.
That done, the board proceeded to the task of actually finding Cami true love. They issued monthly field assignments to Cami — outings designed to put her in contact with quality men. They even appointed wingmen and wingwomen to accompany Cami on her hunts.
The board forced Cami to loiter for at least 30 minutes in the cracker aisle of Marc’s supermarket. (Grocery stores, they reasoned, are good places to meet guys with disposable incomes. And Cami really likes cheese crackers.) She had to read and report on Greg Behrendt and Amiira Ruotola-Behrendt’s book, It’s Called a Breakup Because It’s Broken. She also had to take a wingwoman with her to the next Grog Shop concert she attended, to critique her approach.
The advice seemed rational and reasoned. The only problem was it didn’t work.
Despite the board’s best efforts, Cami continued to attract narcissistic losers — a guy who was more interested in his Porsches than in Cami and a flaky musician who kept canceling dates. Worse yet, Cami didn’t seem to see any of the guys’ flaws, even when the board pointed them out, sometimes bluntly.
Like Porsche Guy. Cami met her future love interest at Flannery’s on Prospect Avenue. The Indians had just lost (another) game, and Cami and the other BOL members realized the only thing that could salvage the night was beer. Porsche Guy was standing at the bar when the girls walked in.
“Immediately, I knew he was a jerk,” Jenny says. To Carrie and Jenny, he looked like an overprivileged frat boy — sneering at the bartender, talking condescendingly to the servers and working the room like he owned it. Carrie and Jenny immediately dubbed him “Flannery A-hole” (actual nickname censored).
Cami, however, decided she was in love. She excused herself and clandestinely slipped Porsche Guy her business card. “I like confidence in a guy,” she explains.
The Board of Love was not happy. But they tried, for Cami’s benefit, to look for positives. “Every date is something to be celebrated,” Carrie explained, unconvincingly. And Porsche guy did e-mail Cami the very next day, Jenny pointed out.
But unfortunately, he lived up to his nickname. After one date, he suddenly became what the board terms a “We William type,” always saying, “We’ll do this, we’ll do that,” then rarely following up. The rare times Porsche Guy did show up, he spent the time sweet-talking Cami. “I really, really love hanging out with you,” he murmured to her one night a month later.
“This guy is so sweet!” Cami told the board. The next day, Porsche Guy sent Cami a short e-mail: “This isn’t going to work.”
The board was not particularly surprised. “We’d been hoping for that for quite a bit,” Jenny said. “It was time to move on.”
But for the next eight months, Cami didn’t advance much more than a few inches.
The board was stumped. Then one day last August, Carrie asked to bring her friend Adam Shaw to a meeting. The board had never had a male guest. They ruled that if Shaw wanted to attend, he’d have to present a speech to the group.
So Shaw, a brooding James Dean type with a long history of serious girlfriends, decided to discuss “The Importance of Whistling in the Mating Culture.” For instance, to attract a female, the male orangutan emits a chain of roars so loud he can be heard more than a mile away.
The speech was entertaining, if not particularly applicable to human love. But it led to an important epiphany. “We suddenly realized we might not have the market cornered on love,” Jenny says.
Which was how the BOL speaker series began. During the next few months, the board brought a parade of lecturers (mostly friends), who gave speeches on topics ranging from “The One Night Stand: Pros and Cons,” to “How to Date in ’08.” To get approval to lecture, speakers needed to submit talking points in advance.
Generally, the board members felt these meetings resulted in new insights. The only true failure was the presentation “Why You Marry Before You’re 30: A Book Report.”
Apparently, the speaker had read some study that claimed single women over 30 were more likely to die alone, surrounded by 40 cats than to marry. “Clearly, the speaker did not consider his demographic when he chose that topic,” 28-year-old Jenny says. Afterward, the board took an impromptu vote, unanimously deciding to disregard the speaker’s message because he obviously had no idea what he was talking about. Everyone felt much better after that.
Though it’s hard to believe, sometimes people — even close friends — are not thinking about you and your singleness every minute of every day. That’s why you need a way to ensure that your singleness is always in the forefront of their mind, whether they are running an errand or running at the gym. You need to give them an incentive to find you a husband. My solution: a $1,000 finder’s fee, a monetary award given to the person who introduces me to the man I end up marrying.
October 2007, the board decided that one major impediment to Cami’s dating success was a lack of public exposure. So to drum up publicity for their cause (and meet more men), Cami, Jenny and Carrie dressed up as Board of Love members for Halloween. Their attire consisted of white-collared shirts, tight black pencil skirts and fishnet stockings. They also bought fake plastic eyeglasses to “scrutinize potential mates at a moment’s notice” and carried feather pens and Etch-A-Sketch “Blackberrys” to conduct official BOL communication.
The group paraded down West Sixth Street, slipping BOL cards under the windshields of expensive cars. When people asked about their getups, they explained that they were the Board of Love — and they were not in costume. Some people thought the idea was great. Others — mostly the drunkards —were simply confused by the whole thing.
The board got lots of numbers that night — but none from men deemed “dateable.” The bouncer at Silk was really interested, Cami says, “but he commented about having a crotch rocket, so [we decided] he wasn’t the best BOL potential.”
Halloween was just the beginning of their publicity campaign. The board soon decided to post meeting minutes on MySpace. Anyone who became a BOL friend could check out pictures of Cami, read her bio and peruse the montly meeting minutes.
“My mother was a little bit worried about stalkers when I told her,” Cami admits. “But I assured her there were no bad people on MySpace.”
Within a year, the Board of Love accumulated more than 65 MySpace friends, most of whom regularly perused and often commented on the minutes. Many readers were encouraging, though a few took Cami to task on her dating philosophies.
“A first date is a chance to get to know somebody, not try out restaurants that you are too cheap to take yourself to,” one disapproving reader wrote in response to a meeting about preferred first-date restaurant locations.
The group’s celebrity was spreading. At Cleveland parties, guests cornered Cami, peppering her with questions about her search. When Cami visited her friend Andy in Florida, she didn’t need to introduce herself to his friends — they were already avid readers of her site. And Renee, a bartender at the Map Room on West Ninth, was so impressed with the board that she named a shot in their honor, called the BOL, made of Chambord and vodka.
The only definite conclusion: You shouldn’t tell a prospective boyfriend on the second date that minutes are circulating online analyzing his conversational abilities. All other quandaries were tabled for ongoing discussion.
Frustrated with their lack of progress on the Cami lovefront, the board traded in on its burgeoning fame. Last February, they sponsored an Indie Rock Trivia Singles Night at the Beachland Ballroom. They used BOL readers to help recruit for the event and plastered posters around the Grog Shop and in Tremont coffee shops.
Cami wasn’t sure if it was the promotions or the co-sponsorship with Pabst Blue Ribbon, but the trivia night attracted more than 50 Clevelanders. And to her delight, many of the guys were music-loving snobs with the physiques of fifth-grade girls. Unfortunately, despite the board’s best efforts, Cami did not find love at the event.
But a few other attendees, including 25-year-old Clare Mitchell, did.
A year and a half later, Mitchell, a religious BOL reader, is still dating her trivia partner, Jay Ketchaver. “I guess you can say we have BOL to thank,” Mitchell says with a laugh. Mitchell, however, doesn’t incorporate any advice from the newsletters into her own dating life. “It’s just fun to read,” she says.
The BOL members, for their part, insist they are happy with the outcomes of that night. “Though Cami didn’t find her soul mate, we did meet some interesting people,” Carrie says. “And we’re really happy for the couples that did meet. BOL supports all happy love stories.”
Answer: All these women have learned the advantages of lowering their standards. Look around you. People generally choose to date others who are on the same social, professional and attractiveness “rung” as themselves. But how often does that relationship crash and burn?
Now think of the advantages of dating someone beneath you on the social ladder. These guys, knowing how lucky they are to get you, will work extra hard to keep your interest. They will spend more money on you, lavish you with more attention and be that much more grateful for your presence than any guy in the same social rung ever would.
Convinced? Here’s a five-step plan on how to go about lowering your standards.
1. Judge the potential date’s ladder rung using the “initial meeting male standard assessment test,” which grades guys based on their looks, intelligence and financial resources.
2. Focus on the potential mate’s good qualities. The more good qualities you find in the guy, the less important his attractiveness becomes.
3. Embrace your newfound lowered-standards dating status. Do not go out with a potential mate only to start looking for a more attractive model. This will cause the process to fail miserably.
4. Imbibe heavily. This makes step 3 easier. It also helps lower inhibitions.
5. Enjoy yourself.
In April, Cami, defying all odds, had found a kind, funny, music-loving, board-approved guy she adored. And the guy, in turn, adored Cami.
R. Kelly, as they dubbed him — mostly because it was his name — was a drummer in a local band Cami’s friend Alicia liked. In April, Alicia dragged Cami to their concert at the Beachland. Cami liked the band’s folk-western sound and the drummer’s boyish, toothy smile. Afterward, the girls met the band for drinks. Cami and R. Kelly started talking and didn’t stop for nearly a month.
“There was an immediate ease between the two of us,” says Cami. “No awkward pauses or stilted conversations.”
Everything about the relationship felt different — most notably, the exclusion of the board’s input during the relationship’s early stages.
“Things moved at warp speed,” Cami says. “Within a week, we were basically engaged. I introduced him to my parents, and my brother grilled him for, like, an hour about what his intentions were with me. ... He passed.”
R. Kelly was just as effusive. At his 30th birthday party, he rarely let go of Cami’s hand, proudly shepherding her around to meet his friends, parents and sister. Then he suggested the ultimate 21st-century sign of commitment: He offered to change his Facebook status to “in a relationship.”
Belatedly, the board held an emergency meeting and declared the pair an appropriate match. “[R. Kelly] was so good for Cami,” says Jenny. “Just the right amount of goofiness and seriousness.”
The two had even road-tripped to Louisville together. “I knew it was love when they showed up at the Kentucky Derby wearing matching tie-dyed T-shirts with their names airbrushed on it,” Jenny says.
“It was so amazing,” adds Carrie. “They were like these two puzzle pieces that found each other.”
Best of all, Cami was happy. She morphed into one of those annoying protagonists in an ’80s chick flick, smiling constantly and droning on about fate. All this was due to the counsel of the board, she claimed. “Rather than just floundering through relationships, the board kept me organized,” she says. “They made me analyze what I was doing and gave me direction.”
Jenny concurs. “I think Cami does have good taste deep down, but she’s easily distracted by other things,” she says.
Things were going so well between Cami and R. Kelly that the board spent one whole meeting contemplating a change in the group’s mission.
“We thought that we might dedicate our time to finding Jenny love,” Carrie says, “or bring in an intern or take applications from other Clevelanders.”
Sadly, the talks never came to fruition.
A month after R. Kelly and Cami declared their mutual love for each other, R. Kelly initiated a conversation.
“How do you think this is going?” he asked one day.
“Really, really good,” Cami replied happily.
“Really?” R. Kelly replied. “See, I was thinking maybe we should try just being friends.”
The very next day, BOL was back in session.
12:00 AM EST
July 16, 2009