From fertility spells to dating gurus, British women are spending billions chasing their dreams. Fabulous meets the women hooked on hope
By Sophie Tweedale
Monica Millares’ heart raced as she stared at the website on her screen. It promised her all she’d ever wanted: Mr Right. All she had to do was whip out her credit card and pay £4,500. It was money she didn’t have, but she was sure the dating class she was signing up for would get her the man of her dreams. And that was much more important.
Monica is one of thousands of women in the UK hooked on Britain’s “hope industry” – from dating services, said to be worth more than £1billion a year, to the unregulated alternative fertility industry, worth over £2million a year, and the therapy sectors and psychic world both worth £40million.
These sectors have created a generation of female “hope addicts” – women hungrily seeking out the latest gurus, courses, pills and potions in a bid to fulfil their dreams or to help them get through a life crisis.
Monica, 29, a yoga teacher from Putney in London, has spent nearly £7,000 trying to find a man, but is still on her own. She became hooked on dating courses last Christmas.
“I’d been single for five years and it was getting me down,” she says. “All my friends had boyfriends so I couldn’t understand where I was going wrong.
“I was intelligent, pretty, sociable and had a good job, but every guy I met would lose interest within half an hour. I had no idea why.”
After unsuccessful attempts at speed dating and internet dating sites, she contacted dating coach Matthew Hussey whom she read about online.
“He told me to come along to one of his courses, and I absolutely loved it. I was among a small group of women and we learnt where to go to meet the right guys, all about what goes on in a man’s mind, how to attract them and how to keep them interested. It was so much fun.”
Searching for love
Her first course, the day-long “The Secrets of Attraction” cost just £20. She then went on two further weekend “goal-setting” courses which set her back a further £700.
“They made me feel in control of my life for the first time in years. I got addicted to the surge of confidence it gave me.
“After attending the weekend courses I actually met 42 men! I just started talking to guys everywhere and they would ask me for my number.
“I did have fun going on the dates, but unfortunately none of them lasted very long and I was back to square one after a few months.
“But I still believed in the course. After all, it was the reason I got the dates in the first place. I just thought I needed more training and guidance to turn dates into an actual relationship.”
In July, she went on a £4,500 five-day dating retreat in Florida through the same website. She says: “It promised to cover all areas that could transform my love life, from health to hobbies.
“Afterwards I did think, ‘What have I done? I can’t afford this’. But I just put it all on my credit card and forgot about it.
“It was great, we stayed in a lovely hotel and had lots of great workshops on dating, how to meet the right man and some work on ourselves as individuals. It was like an educational holiday really. And although I’m still single, I am 100 per cent sure that the things I am learning will eventually help me find a guy and form a strong, lasting relationship.”
She’s so sure, in fact, that she has already booked her next course – a £500 four-day event at London’s Excel Centre with motivational speaker Tony Robbins.
Unfortunately, Professor Craig Jackson, head of psychology at Birmingham City University, does not share Monica’s enthusiasm. He believes that so-called “hope gurus” can be dangerously addictive.
“What seeking out gurus on the internet does is take us back to being children again. It’s a widespread ‘infantilisation’ of society where we look for a ‘parent figure’ in the child-like hope they will make everything right again. When people are desperate they will try anything.”
That desperation was highlighted in a survey by Netmums in 2010, in which 100,000 women admitted to turning to fertility “gurus” in their quest to get pregnant.
The alternative fertility industry is big business, offering everything from special fertility clairvoyants to £30 fertility charms and £60 spells. And yet, the Netmums survey found 85 per cent of women who bought these treatments never got pregnant, while one in 10 believe they have been taken advantage of at a vulnerable time in their lives.
One of these women is Emma Campbell, a 40-year-old administrator from south London. She spent £4,000 over four years trying to get pregnant using alternative treatments, before turning to IVF.
“Having conceived my son, Jake, now nine, so easily, I didn’t think there’d be a problem getting pregnant again. Jake was two when we started trying for another baby, but when it didn’t happen right away, I obsessively began searching for anything that might help.
“It started with acupuncture and reflexology, costing up to £70 a session. I would go every week if I could afford it.
“Then it was Chinese herbs. I’d spend hours boiling up foul-smelling concoctions; I often didn’t even know what was in them. I was spending £200 every few months on supplies.”
Emma then stumbled upon a website offering to solve all her problems. She says: “Through the site I booked fertility acupuncture sessions that were supposed to boost my fertility, but I still didn’t fall pregnant.
“The time and money I was spending looking for treatments also caused rows with my partner Tom*. He couldn’t understand how desperate I was feeling, I guess he never really believed in them as much as me.
After a visit to another baby expert in July 2008, which cost £300 and involved visualising herself cradling a baby in her arms, Emma did actually fall pregnant, but sadly miscarried that September.
“I was at my wits’ end, I felt so depressed, it was like being on a rollercoaster of hope and disappointment.”
Emma decided enough was enough and that it was time to give conventional medicine a chance.
“I wasn’t eligible for free NHS fertility treatment because I already had Jake, so I hadn’t explored that option. But with the help of my mum, I raised £3,000 to pay for one round of IVF privately. I ended up getting pregnant the first month.”
Her triplets, Louis, Theo and Ella were born in December 2009. “I knew I was having triplets from the first scan and felt elated, if a little bit worried about coping. But after the years I’d spent wishing for a baby, I felt blessed to be pregnant again.
“Sadly Tom and I split up a year later, but I still feel lucky to have my babies.
“I suppose I do wish I’d gone down that route first now, but I really thought alternative treatments would work. And when you’re in that state of mind you really will try anything that promises you a baby. And I’m sure they do work for some women, but they didn’t work for me.”
Perhaps surprisingly, some experts agree with Emma about the potential benefits of alternative therapies.
Psychologist Dr Kate Sparks says: “Letting a ‘professional’ deal with a problem can have a positive effect on an individual.
“You may start to relax about the whole issue and this can lead to a desired result. This is seen in the phenomenon of women on IVF waiting lists who get pregnant before they’ve even started treatment because they mentally relax and the body can just get on with it. The act of putting our trust and hope in gurus or alternative treatments means we are essentially giving over responsibility in our life for whatever the issue is. This transference of responsibility can be a huge burden off of our minds.” Monica, for one, would agree.
‘I spent £8,000 on psychics’
Nadine Walker, 40, a PA, lives in Welwyn Garden City, Herts, with her partner Ian McCawley, 37, a PR executive, and their one-year-old daughter, Kitty. She says: “It was breaking up with my long-term boyfriend that triggered my addiction to psychics. While I’d always had an interest, and had consulted them since the age of 20 about whether I’d get married and have children, after I split with Pete* in 2009, I started calling psychic phonelines day and night. I was heartbroken and desperate to know if our seven-year relationship was really over. Sometimes I was paying £50 for half an hour on the phone to a psychic. I’d lose track of time and, just like that, I’d blown £100.
I just couldn’t seem to give it up and I didn’t care about the consequences – I just wanted some hope. I managed to rack up a £4,000 credit card debt within six months.
A lot of the time I think they told me what I wanted to hear – that I’d meet someone, that I’d have a child and so on. One even told me I’d win the National Lottery – I didn’t – and it was at moments like this that I wondered what I was doing, but it didn’t stop me because each phone call gave me some hope.
I also sought out local psychics for face-to-face readings, often costing £60 an hour. Over the last three years I’ve spent more than £3,000 on them alone. But they became like friends, and they always gave me the positivity about my life I craved.
In 2010, six months after Pete left me, I met my current partner, Ian, and my addiction did start to calm down.
I still phoned the psychics once a week for the first few months, though, wanting to know whether he was The One. I was addicted to the voice of reassurance on the other end. I didn’t tell Ian about it as it was my secret and I didn’t want him to judge me for it. But because I had found happiness I stopped getting the irresistible urge to pick up the phone at all hours.
No one knew about my obsession, not even my parents, and the only friend I did tell thought I was mad to be spending that much. When my daughter, Kitty, was born in July 2011, I finally felt fulfilled and able to quit psychics once and for all.
Looking back now, I think of the money I have spent as a waste, but for me it was like counselling, and I know that without it I wouldn’t have coped with the emotional pain of the break-up. Some of them did tell me I’d meet The One and have a baby. And they were right!”
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