My cubicle is next to that of Amy Cook, the RFT's personal-ads coordinator, who likes to call herself the "Love Broker."
"I've definitely got a more realistic view of romance since I've been doing this job," says Amy, who's been at the job nearly two years. "I tell people at ad-writing workshops that they may be looking for a Tom Cruise, but they're not likely to get a Tom Cruise unless they're a Nicolette Sheridan or a Cindy Crawford. And even if they did get a guy like that, who's to say that he would fulfill them?
"I tell people that they should talk to the person on the phone a couple of times and get a feel for whether they really like the person. That way, when they meet, if the person doesn't look quite like they had hoped, they have a better chance of getting past that."
Amy's on a roll.
"Sometimes you might not think somebody is that attractive at first, but then you get to know them better and you say, 'Hey, he's really cute.' And it goes the other way, too. You might think somebody is really good-looking, but after you get to know them, they may not seem as attractive."
We get to talking about different types of romance.
"Are you talking about the difference between cheesy romance and true romance?" Amy asks.
What's cheesy romance, Amy?
"It's where everything is all planned out, like the candlelight dinner and the wine and the roses," she says.
I'll call that ritualistic romance.
Amy prefers spontaneous romance, such as the scene in the movie Arthur, where filthy-rich Dudley Moore is in his limousine with Liza Minnelli and hands her a rose he had stolen from the table in the restaurant where they'd had dinner.
"He tells her that all his life people have taken care of him, but that if she would ever get sick, he would take care of her," Amy says. "It's the kind of scenario where he seizes the moment. That's romantic."
Amy says she also likes the sort of everyday moment in which you might be walking in the park with your partner, see the way the sun hits his or her hair, and have it suddenly strike you how beautiful your partner is.
That kind of romance is seeing the extraordinary in the object of your affections, even in the most ordinary of moments.
Of course, there's also manipulative romance.
Amy says: "It's funny that Valentine's Day and Mardi Gras are coming at the same time. There's the kind of romance at a Mardi Gras event where a person would say whatever they think the other person wants to hear to get them into bed. Then the next morning it's Valentine's Day, and you roll over in bed with a hangover and look over and ask yourself, 'Who am I with?'"
That sort of romance doesn't appeal to the Love Broker.
"A guy called and asked what sort of people place personal ads," Amy says. "He wanted to know if they were freaks. I asked him, 'Do you consider yourself a freak? You probably consider yourself a fine, upstanding person, and probably most of the people who place the ads feel the same way about themselves.'"
In fact, there are folks who have ended up getting married after meeting through the personal ads.
"Lots of people are just tired of trying to meet people at the bars," Amy says. "And if you're not into sports or another hobby, where are you going to meet people besides at work?
"People hardly know their neighbors anymore. And they're afraid of getting to know strangers. When you walk past somebody on the street, you just put your head down."
One thing that galls Amy is when people talk big but don't back it up with action.
"You'll hear people say they'll swim the deepest ocean or climb the highest mountain for somebody else, but when it comes around to asking them to do something simple like change the baby's diaper, they'll say, 'It's not my turn.'"
Amy remains optimistic about romance, though.
"Oh, yeah," she smiles. "I think people more and more are wanting to go out as couples. Romance is definitely on the up-and-up."
-- Michael Kunz