Are Psychics the New Dating Gurus?

Could modern-day fortune tellers be the saviors of single women — of just purveyors of false hope?

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After a year of radio silence, my friend Beth had got back in touch with some good news: There was a man. My friends and I finally understood her distance over the previous months: As many of us had embarked on the road to marriage and motherhood, Beth had been stagnant. But after a long period filled with heartbreak, divorce, and living alone, there was now a promising guy in her life. She could finally put her jealousy to rest and resume girls' nights out.

"His name is Richard, and he's a lawyer," she said excitedly. "He's been married before but doesn't have children. He's handsome, successful, and clever, and he's going to adore me."

Going to?

"I'm due to meet him next summer," she said. "We'll get married shortly after, have two healthy children immediately, and then move to a beautiful home in the country." As we raised our eyebrows, the usually sensible 35-year-old admitted, "That's what my psychic said, and I believe her."

I'm not surprised by this confession. A recent Pew Research study found that women are twice as likely than men to visit psychics. And my single friends — normally intelligent, worldly women who would otherwise scoff at the idea of a psychic — have started to find it impossible to live with the uncertainty of their lives. Some find themselves needing assurance that everything will turn out OK — if they just keep holding out hope. Once assured Prince Charming will magically appear next summer (it's always next summer, it seems), the women lose their desperation and relax with a calm expectation of good things to come. The manhunt stops getting them down because they've been guaranteed the happy ending. And they leave the psychic feeling fabulous, without the needy, scared look in their eyes that has hindered their love lives for so long.

There's something irresistibly indulgent about visiting a psychic: They talk about you. For as long as you keep paying them, that is. It's the ultimate ego-rub, almost like paying for psychotherapy without the drama, hard truths, and confrontations. No wonder so many women can't resist.

"The main reason single women go to psychics is that they want to believe in something greater than themselves and their choices," says psychiatrist and relationship counselor Dr. Brian Beckham. "Many women feel that psychics offer insight into a life that may not be going the way they planned. Some women need to know that the choices they made thus far are validated by the promise that Mr. Right is just around the corner."

Aileen Sheehan, 37, a New York — based writer, is one such hopeful woman. "I went for a reading because I wanted to know that my life decisions were leading me to love."

Unsurprisingly, Sheehan got the news she wanted. "Assuming I learn what I need to learn in the interim, my soul mate will come into my life in the next six months or so. We'll have a long and happy marriage and two or three children." How did this make her feel? "Relaxed and very content."

Stephanie Lindsay, 40, a floral designer from Louisville, Kentucky, is a bit more cynical, and took her recent future-plotting trip to a fortune teller with a spoonful of salt. "I've been to reputable psychics just for fun in the past, and nothing substantial came true. I've given birth to a son who likes science, but that's it. One psychic's romantic predictions were overwhelmingly positive — that I'd meet a man with an amazing sense of humor and we'd embark on a passionate relationship within a few months." So, everything is sorted out then? "It would be great if it all came true — and I have relaxed since seeing her — but let's see," says Lindsay.

It's smarter to look to practical places, not the stars, for hope. "Women need to understand that their lives are their own," says Beckham. "The most important insight doesn't come from those willing to tell you only for a fee, but from the people who know you the best and care about you the most. Psychics, in fact, halt the journey of self-discovery needed in order to have a healthy romantic relationship."

So are psychics the real deal or do they prey on desperate single women? I'll let you know how many wedding invitations I receive next summer.