"Let's face it," says ArLynn Presser. "Living alone and going to work and coming home and eating your food and putting money in your IRA makes [single] people wonder: What's it for? Marriage is a decision in which the unit is more important than you."
Thirty-six attractive professional women--teachers, TV personalities, public-relations executives--age 30 and up are sitting at seven round tables in the Latin School cafeteria. Presser gives them the ground rules: No dating for the next 30 days--to cleanse the emotional palette. Absolutely no rings on their fingers. Rings, no matter how innocent, give men the impression you're taken. Or worse, that you require expensive jewelry.
"You're ambitious," Presser tells them. "You leave me no doubt that in the next year or two every one of you will walk down the aisle. Even hopeless women get married. One woman I know was 100 pounds overweight, all gray, and wore really thick glasses. She married a guy seven years younger--a real hunk."
They are told to visualize, think about, chant about, and write things about their future husbands. Things like: "My husband is coming. My husband is handsome. My husband is here."
The class is called "How to Find Your Husband." It costs $30, and it's the most popular course in the Latin School's Live & Learn adult-education fund-raising program, beating out such perennial favorites as "A Tour Through the Deep Tunnel Project" and "How to Write a Romance Novel." One woman doesn't like the course name, however. "Women were skulking around the registration table," she says. "One woman was terrified that someone would call her office and leave a message that the course she registered for on how to find a husband was canceled."
Presser was once a high-powered attorney with a big law firm. Now she's a wife. Sold on the upside of marital bliss, she wants to share her secrets.
She struts around the cafeteria in a beautiful purple suit, courtroom skills in full swing, returning occasionally to an easel in front of the students to turn the pages of an enormous outline she's developed on the right way to go about getting a husband.
Basically Presser thinks the right way is the way women did in the 19th century. She wishes that women's families were more often available and willing to help "sell" their daughters to prospective mates. "Today, women have to clinch the deal themselves," she says. "Your mother won't be around to serve him that piece of pie you baked while you play the piano in the parlor and she tells him how beautifully you play. You are going to have to be yourself and your parents for a little while." Presser refers often to Pride and Prejudice, but clearly her perspective on getting a husband is different from Jane Austen's.
Presser says women need to hit men over the head with their good qualities. Before she married her husband, she says, "I always had him meet me in court. That's where I looked my best. Have men meet you at work--or better yet, at your volunteer position at the children's hospital. You have to show men your achievements and the self-esteem you have to offer. Women always shoot themselves in the foot on this. They figure they'll tell the guy their worst faults, all about their crazy childhoods. They think they're sharing. But they're being judged."
Presser maintains that a technique she calls "mirroring" is a surefire way to get men to love you. "Mirror his clothes, his breathing patterns, the way he's thinking, the way he's feeling, the way he sees the world," she says. "Make sure that after a while he sees the world through you. Learn about him--and he'll be yours."
To expedite the learning process, Presser hands out a list of 50 questions for husband hunters to ask guys. Eight of them have asterisks next to them--questions like "At what age did you first like girls?" and "Did you ever want to be a girl?" and "Where did you go on your first date?" and "Who educated you in sex?" and "What is your idea of an ideal woman?" Presser says the ones with the asterisks are the most important questions and should be answered before you have sex with a man.
Presser says it is imperative to make boyfriends include you in their plans if you want them to become husbands: "For instance, if he says something about buying a condo or going on a trip to climb Mount Everest, make sure there is a role in his plans for you."
One student wonders if she's getting the point. "So let's say he wants to climb Mount Everest," she says. "Does that mean I say 'I guess I'll carry the flag' or 'I guess I'll do the videotaping'?"
Presser assures her she's got the right idea. She also advises acting like the beau's wife in public. "There's power in the assumption that the fact that you're not married is odd. That getting married is simply a detail that's escaped him.
"I told my husband when we were dating and we went on our first trip together to put all the reservations in the names of Mr. and Mrs. Presser. I told him I didn't want anyone thinking I was single, traveling with a man. I knew no one cared. Who would care? The stewardess? The room clerk? But it set a precedent. It said, 'If you go on a trip with me, you better put a ring on my finger.'"
As a last resort in capturing a husband Presser says women may have to rely on "alternative plans," which she is careful to distinguish from phony ultimatums. Unlike phony ultimatums, alternative plans must make sense for your future and be something you would really want to pursue if the guy turns out to be opposed to marrying you.
"This is what you do," Presser advises. "Tell him, 'I think I feel unsettled about my future. And I think I'd like to . . . ' Or 'I love you and want to marry you, but if not, then I'd like to . . . ' Whatever it is you decide you would like to do. Buy a condo. Join the Peace Corps.
"Then give him a time-out. Drop the subject entirely. Then set a termination date if there's no ring on your finger."
According to Presser, this is the time to make a down payment on a condo, fly to California to talk about a possible new job, get an application in for a trip to the South American jungles. "But remember, this is like catching a fish with dynamite," she warns. "You could kill the fish. Tell him he's your first choice, but that it looks as though you're going to have to go with your second choice. The power will shift radically in the relationship. You have to count on the fact that without you, there will be a vacuum in his life. Nature abhors a vacuum. If you've captured his heart enough, he'll pound on the door.
"If nothing happens, go back to the beginning and start again with someone new. It's better to start over again than to spend another five years with a guy who won't commit."
A shy-sounding woman asks Presser in a timid voice if her rules for landing a husband aren't manipulative.
"No," says Presser. "I think of it as taking control of your life."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kathy Richland.