Paige Parker and Christian Carter are my new best friends. They e-mail me every day, mainly about boys. Specifically, problems with boys. Boys who don't call and boys who can't commit and boys who withdraw emotionally when the going gets tough. Boys who just want sex and boys who don't want sex and boys who say they adore you, offer to take you away for the weekend and then turn out to be two-timing slop buckets.
Paige and Christian know all my "issues," and tell me they're caused by low self-esteem, a fear of abandonment and an inability to treat myself the way I wish others would treat me. They say all I need to do is learn how to become the confident, independent bombshell I was born to be, and communicate with men in a language they understand (which is not, apparently, standard English). I'm not sure how they know all this, but they do. Which is weird since I've never even met them. All I did, actually, was log onto their websites.
Okay, the truth is Paige Parker and Christian Carter are not my friends. They might not even be real people. For all I know, they could be the same person. Or a dozen people. They could be an 11-year-old in a basement in Sausalito.
What they are - and this is for certain - is part of a trend of mysterious online dating gurus who are fast unfurling their viral marketing tendrils and excreting a new kind of snake oil to (who else?) the sad, lonely and desperate. And, as of last week, me.
After checking out Paige Parker's site DatingWithoutDrama.com, downloading Christian Carter's cringe-inducingly named e-book How To Catch Him and Keep Him, and receiving daily e-mails with subject headings such as "Why men leave after the 'Honeymoon' is over" and "What your feelings are telling him," I came to the conclusion that their advice wasn't so bad. Silly, yes. Worthless, possibly. But good entertainment when you're waiting for the streetcar.
That's the genius of it, after all. A savvy, professional gal like me wouldn't go out and buy this kind of pathetic self-help - but skimming a free e-mail on "the top 10 Love mistakes women make with men" while waiting for your friend to show up at the restaurant, now where's the harm in that?
Things got weird, however, when I decided, quite innocently, to contact these alliteratively named experts to find out a bit more about them. Neither of the websites lists any credentials, contact address or biographical information. This creeps me out. Don't I deserve to know a few things about the "friends" who are e-mailing me about my personal life every single day?
After much back-and-forth with auto-reply functions, I managed to get in contact with Brad Lensing, a man who says he works with Christian Carter. His response to my interview request was blunt: "Thank you for your interest in Christian's e-book. Christian currently does not do any interviews, but most likely will be in the future. Sorry that we cannot be of more help for your current article." When I e-mailed back requesting sales numbers, dates, or even a short bio, I was greeted with radio silence.
Paige Parker was only slightly more forthcoming. While she declined a phone interview on the grounds that she was "just about to travel" (um, it's called a cellphone), she was happy to engage in an e-mail correspondence. We chatted a lot about her philosophy, but when it came to the details of her personal and professional life she was circumspect. Asked what her rough sales and website hit numbers are, she said she "connects with and helps tens of thousands of women from every corner of the world." As far as her own relationship history is concerned, Parker chirped: "After several years of experiencing dating drama of my own, I created 'Dating Without Drama' and became its very first success story! Today, I am happily married to the man of my dreams."
Which is funny since I've overcome all my insecurities and am planning a holiday with Ryan Gosling. Only he doesn't know it. Which makes it sort of not the truth. But whatever.
Speaking of the truth (and there seems to be a lack of the hard kind when it comes to Paige Parker and Christian Carter), I am not the only one who feels that dating gurus have a responsibility to come clean to their readers about who and what they are - even if it involves a bunch of twentysomething website technicians in a suburban office space in suburban California. (I'm just speculating here.)
Lisa Daily, a real-life Florida-based dating expert and the author of Stop Getting Dumped, says there is good reason to be wary of the Christian Carters and Paige Parkers of this world.
"Whenever you take advice, you have to look at the source," she explains. "When you're talking about a person who is not willing to make themselves known, you have to wonder, 'Why not? What have they got to hide?' "
Daily is particularly fed up with Parker, who bought a misleading ad on Google: Type "Lisa Daily" into the search engine and a link to Parker's website appears as a sponsored link, misdirecting readers to the competition. It's a marketing strategy that Daily sees as unethical. But what more would you expect from a mysterious online dating guru?
"Lying is rampant in online dating and now maybe it's getting rampant on online dating experts," Daily says. "People should be careful what they believe."