The Professional: Love lessons for singles from the big screen

Dating adviser Liz H. Kelly
Dating adviser Liz H. Kelly (Courtesy Of Liz H. Kelly - Courtesy Of Liz H. Kelly)
By Kathleen Hom
Sunday, February 28, 2010

Don't list "Scarface" as your favorite movie on your online dating profile, relationship expert and Baltimore native Liz H. Kelly warns her male clients. You want to list specific movies or books that interest you, she explains, but you don't want to scare off your date.

Kelly, 42 and now living in Santa Monica, Calif., has offered dating advice with a Hollywood twist for almost a decade, relaying common sense and honest opinions through movie examples.

A former Paramount Pictures ad campaign director, Kelly started marketing herself as a dating coach in 2001. However, the matchmaking seed was sowed decades before. In high school, friends often asked her for relationship advice. In 1994, after taking a John Hopkins University graduate course and dealing with her own dissolving marriage, she felt ready to try something new.

Kelly wanted to help others capture the "genuine unconditional love that seems rare these days." As a dating coach, she helps clients make over their Internet dating profiles, reviews communication skills, offers one-time crisis consultation and helps clients develop a long-term action plan for dating with deadlines and weekly updates. For such services, Kelly charges $125 per hour for a single consultation to $425 for a five-hour package deal.

She was partially inspired to go into this field by her family. "My parents and grandparents have been together forever. They're great role models," she says. Her paternal grandfather loves to retell the story of how he proposed to Kelly's grandmother, and her parents have been happily married for more than 40 years.

In 2002, a few years after her divorce, Kelly delved into research for her first book, "Smart Man Hunting," attempting to figure out what makes a great love. She tried speed dating, matchmaking, online dating and other avenues, going on four to seven dates a week to find Mr. Right. From these experiences, she homed in on markers of a potential mate and began to relate such traits to film characters.

Kelly developed "man codes," 26 categories to help daters decipher what type of men they're seeing or what type of man they are. There's the overachiever obsessor, such as Richard Gere's character in "Pretty Woman," who's primarily concerned about climbing the corporate ladder and approaches dating like filling in a spreadsheet of ideal qualities. Then there's Jude Law's character in 2004's "Closer," or what Kelly calls the Internet psycho, a person who meets mates online and then plays with them, refusing to meet or call, using only e-mail or text messages. With such codes, daters can pick out positive and negative traits and decide whether they should dump, can tolerate or might sincerely connect with that person.

Kelly also has developed a list of movies with worthwhile love lessons, such as "Pride and Prejudice," starring Keira Knightley. It has good and bad love signs, she says, such as having sincere intentions vs. being a gold digger. Kelly's also a fan of "(500) Days of Summer" because it's about a guy's struggle. Sixty percent of her clients are male, and they're just as insecure as women when it comes to relationships, she says.

Why movies? These movie plots and characters "maybe aren't real, but it's a script to make you think," Kelly explains. Movies can tug at heartstrings and are relatable. "I don't think there's anything such as a perfect relationship in a perfect world," she says. "There's bumps in the road, and the most important part is to handle those bumps as best you can. And you see that in movies and in real life." Explaining the dating mess through movies makes it easier for her clients to digest dating profiles and habits, Kelly adds.

Has Kelly's advice worked for her own love life? She hasn't settled down yet but was close to getting engaged last year. She broke off that relationship because "it didn't feel right." No matter what, she says, it's important to be true to yourself and pay attention to any red flags.

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