Sherry, the false prophet. So unable to help myself, could I truly be helping others?
Mired in self-doubt, I decided that one way to gain legitimacy was to write a book. Publisher after publisher turned down my proposal for a romance-advice tome. Where were my credentials? My new job at a women's Web site wasn't a suitable substitute for a degree. Undeterred, I wrote a proposal for The Q & A Dating Book, which had me posing questions to "real" experts and choosing the best answers. In an ironic twist, the publisher who finally made an offer (sufficient for a few Frappuccinos) demanded that instead of soliciting advice, I answer the questions myself: Otherwise, my book would seem like an anthology. The "expert" classification was proving impossible to shake.
Journalists at publications from The New York Times to Tango were now routinely calling me for quotes. The better talk shows invited me on, although the topic du jour often had nothing to do with my area of "expertise." (Football widows, anyone?)With book number two, credentials weren't an issue anymore. When I got the prepublication galleys for Love Lessons from Bad Breakups I reread my advice—and concurred! Somewhere along the way, I'd stopped needing to quiz experts and become secure in my own opinions.
Lonely singles contacted me to coach them into successful relationships. Initially hesitant to put up my shingle, I salved my conscience by promising clients not a primer on how to meet a mate in 30 days, but a sincere attempt to cheerlead as we figured out their dating blocks. I used solid techniques (e.g., charting a love history) that clients credited with helping them change their points of view. Rather than trying the techniques myself, I bought a desk placard that read TAKE MY ADVICE, I DON'T USE IT.
While I told my friends I wanted to meet someone, it felt safer to hide behind my persona. Who needed love when I had something larger—the gratitude of those I'd helped find it? But I wasn't immune to desire: After leading a seminar on the dangers of online dating, I fell into a headlong cyber-romance with a man who was happy to commit via computer (in three weeks' time, we exchanged 300 emails), but quickly broke my heart when we met in person.
I emerged from my Kleenex box for a debate with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Michael Jackson's onetime spiritual adviser, on "Honesty in Relationships: How Much Is Too Much?" It soon became evident that the rabbi was casting me as an advocate of falsehoods. "No, no," I protested. "If couples can't be truthful, they can't have anything real."