Illustration by Pablo Lobato
Illustration: Pablo Lobato

This is what I type under “Relationship History” in the extensive questionnaire I’m filling out for my new dating coach: “People get uncomfortable when I tell them I’m a widow. Probably because I’m divorced. But I wish he were dead.”

Bela Gandhi runs the Smart Dating Academy in Chicago. Services range from a $35 online course to an entire year of in-depth coaching that runs $15,000. I delete my first response because I don’t want Bela to accuse me of using humor as a defense mechanism. It’s that kind of survey. The kind that requires you to reflect on your reflection. And poll your friends about why you’re going to die alone.

My dad responds, “I am reminded of an Oscar Wilde quote: ‘Second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.’ ” (He is not remarried.) My BFF Taylor reads me for filth: “You want a deep relationship but consistently choose the type of man who is categorically incapable of having one.” Two of my friends start their answers with “Oy.”

Well. New year, new me.

In person, Bela is gorgeous and infectiously enthusiastic. She’s wearing the Amazon Coat and carrying a Louis Vuitton Neverfull, and thinks it’s possible for me to be madly in love in under six months. My first problem, Bela tells me, is my attitude. I need to be “psychotically optimistic.” I wonder if Bela herself is psychotic. I wonder if Bela has ever been asked by a man, sans even a perfunctory “how r u,” if she would be willing to wear a diaper.

But Bela assures me that she has transformed literally thousands of people just like me into productive members of coupled society. To teach me about body language, she takes a video of me talking about work. And then takes another, instructing me to smile the entire time. Did the Smart Dating Academy just advise me to smile more? My inner feminist writhes around on the ground like she’s been shot.

One in three marriages begins via the horrors of online dating, so it’s time to examine my Bumble profile. Bela is not impressed by my photos, which feature me with friends, me in a canoe, me dressed (epically) as Lydia Deetz for Halloween. I protest. Don’t I want a guy who’s tickled by Lydia Deetz? Apparently not. Bela points out that if I were selling my house, I would clean up and take great photos, wouldn’t I? She advises more beauty shots, all of me alone, and it feels like I’m supposed to make myself a pretty blank slate for men to project upon.

I want to talk about Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein and the patriarchal systems that prevent men and women from creating new pathways to each other, but Bela keeps me on track. A perfect guy should like me more than I like him. I should not be exclusive until I’ve been on 12 to 20 dates. I should also wait to have sex for two to three months, and now I feel like Miranda gagging on egg whites as Charlotte recites the Rules.

Honestly, I believe every word of Bela’s advice. I believe it works. Still, if you need me, I’ll be at home with my cat, waiting for Liam Hemsworth to slide into my DMs. I hear he’s single.