Wait, so are you doing events now or what? Nope, those events almost did me in. Hooking your friends up is hard to do; hooking 300 strangers up, some looking for the perfect one and others looking for the perfect drink, is damn near impossible. Oh, the secret lives of single people in Portland. There were plenty of good ones. And plenty that were charmingly odd. Some walked in, puffed and proud. Others slunk around, staying away from photos or any proof of their singlehood. A majority were so thankful for anything, ANYTHING, other than the dreaded online.
We had this crazy notion of providing a high quality experience so I put in place qualified staff, a beautiful office and events galore. But the realities of Maine frugality (which I appreciate) and the nonsensical spending habits of Americans (which confuses me: $100 for a phone, easy, but never for your love life) made it clear that we, and specifically my dwindling bank account, couldn’t survive the events business.
Despite that eye-opening experience, Local Flames is still here, a year and a half after we begun. I made a quick business decision to put the events on hold and focus on what was actually working: The workshops and my expertise. I love creating space for people to tell their real stories, to get down to the nitty-gritty, to talk about the real deal. He Said/She Said discussions on what men and women really want, workshops on how your childhood is still impacting your relationships, relating to people one-on-one, lending my decades of research experience and perspective from my real-life debacles in my writing… these things resonated with people and will continue. So this is the deal.
- Yes, we offer workshops.
- Yes, we offer relationship coaching.
- Yes, we offer divorce consultation.
- Yes, the blog will continue to offer relationship advice.
- No, we don’t offer matchmaking (but here is someone who does!)
- No, we don’t sponsor events (sign up for our newsletter to find out who is doing events)
In October 2012, I thought it was high time to address what had gone wrong in my life. My second divorce was declared complete. It was initially fun to look around and blame other people or parents for my issues but really, in the end, I, softly, acknowledged that the convoluted trajectory of my life had arisen directly from me and my actions. I embarked upon a journey of writing, meditating and yoga. I whipped my body and soul into shape with a 40 day program at Portland Power Yoga. I scribbled unending, incomplete, angry sentences in small notebooks with deceivingly serene covers. I wrestled my brain into ceasing the replay of nasty pre-divorce scrimmages and forced it to hear my breath, filling my body, fully, for perhaps the first time.
From the silence, a radically simply idea arose: if we were to evaporate tomorrow, all that would truly matter are the connections and love we have with others. There are so many ways in which we have lost connections to others in our technology dominated world. We all feel loneliness, especially those of us who are single. Local Flames was my way of creating a place where people could form connections with others and feel a part of something. It was to be a place where people knew your name, where you could take the time to heal from that last relationship, and where you could avoid getting back together with that guy just because you didn’t have anyone to go to Port City with you on Friday.
Early on, I brainstormed that what was really needed was divorce coaching, especially for men. But I blew past that notion in my exuberance to a full blown organization providing events (!), coaching (!) and matchmaking (!). Now I have come back full circle to the divorce consultation, somewhere between a therapist and lawyer, someone who knows how things really works, understands the psychology of people, understands how to protect children during times of upheaval, can apply the research on effective communication and negotiation and can truly empathize with what people are going through.
Tell me more about why the events stopped.
Hiking, cycling, running, yoga, cooking, painting, game nights, concerts and kayaking were our mainstays between June and October when 120 events were planned and executed. Lots of things were running smoothly. Good press was at our back, the people were coming (even the men!) and almost all of the events were actually working, some even producing various couplings. Over 300 people had signed up for membership and there were more men at many of the events as we headed into fall. There was one major problem though: We were running too hot. It was costing a ton more to run each event than each event (or portion of the membership fee) was bringing in. Think staff time to set it up, advertise it, recruit people, make sure both men and women of similar ages were attending and staff to run the event. Think consulting time to produce convincing branding, copy and blogs. Think basic business overhead.
While people craved more events (and begged for them once we stopped), they didn’t want to pay for the events. There are so many groupons and coupons and free meet up groups in the world today, that even when presented with well-run events with professional event leaders, people balked at paying even small amounts to participate. While people regularly pay $50 for a dinner and $150 for their cable bill, most were not in favor of paying $79 for a monthly membership getting access to 20 monthly events.
As the sole financer of the operation, this was all slowly draining my savings. I was experiencing enormous and debilitating stress. My belief in family friendly policies (full benefits!) and deserving pay for dedicated employees was bringing me to the brink. I was unable to lift my arm for much of July and August, due to the pain of a herniated cervical disc, caused, not by injury as all 4 doctors I consulted with assumed, but strictly from untenable and unsustainable levels of stress. Decisiveness came, at the end of October, as I made the call to stop events (and the outflow of money). Relief was instant.
Tell me more about what’s up with Local Flames now.
Local Flames activities are focused on the genesis of my original brainstorm, supporting people to make connections with themselves and others to develop healthy relationships.
1. We offer workshops.
Each month we focus on fun, engaging ways of understanding ourselves better and meeting others in similar positions. Topics facilitated by professional trainers range from light and fun (“Art of the First Date”) to deep and thoughtful (“How love and divorce affect your brain”).
2. I offer divorce consultation.
Divorce lawyers, mediators and therapists have begun referring their clients to me. I am working with clients on whether to step into divorce, how to make children feel safe as a divorces progresses, how to start meeting people in a safe way, how to step parent or support a step parent in your home, how to file papers to ensure reliable child support, and how to negotiate a healthy relationship with your ex. I am getting trained as a mediator and will soon be able to offer that service as well.
3. I offer relationship coaching
My workshops get people wondering about themselves. They make people want to know more. My most recent client wants to figure out how to get past the three month mark in his relationship. That I get, and can help with. Similar to location, location, location in real estate, in relationships, is it patterns, patterns, patterns.
4. My blog will continue
This is my favorite thing to do. I love writing. I have this brain that observes and captures images and thoughts. I love learning new things and sharing them with others in my own way. Read all my latest blogs on single people.
5. We are promoting events sponsored by local businesses and groups for singles.
Through the newsletter that reaches over 800, people are being connected to local businesses that are hosting events and to local meet-up groups that are coordinating singles parties. At present, Local Flames is not sponsoring their own events.
Thank you! Thank you for reading my story, the story of Local Flames. And thank you to those of you who are part of and will continue to be part of the Local Flames experience. I am happy to be coming into 2015 having met so many tremendous single Mainers and continuing to work with them in meaningful ways. We are evolving in ways that I hope will contribute to what really matters: love, connection and community in Maine.
p.s. And, no, there is no particular reason for the blue bus. I just like the blue bus.
Authored by Erin Oldham, Ph.D.
Erin is a researcher, relationship & divorce coach, and mediator. Erin works with people as they navigate getting into, sustaining and getting out of relationships. She also works with people as they negotiate divorce and the post-divorce world. Erin has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has been researching child wellbeing and the formation of healthy relationships among children and adults for 20 years. She is approachable, pragmatic, empathic and effective. She facilitates intriguing, engaging workshops on these topics as well. Contact her now at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-200-3970. More information here. localflamesmaine.com