Ryan Onstad tried to woo me with candy-coated popcorn, delivered to my desk with a copy of his book.
But it was the cover that softened my heart -- the Lincoln man’s face superimposed on the body of a dashing 19th century lover, a swooning damsel in his arms.
It made me laugh.
It made me want to read “Not Quite Love,” the confessional “real life romantic dramedy” Onstad wrote after he lost his job and decided to turn his attention to recounting his failed attempts at finding love.
He figured he had the time, after all.
He figured he had the stories, too, shared with his friends around campfires and on social media over many years of being unlucky-in-love.
And yeah, he said, he also figured he might be the only 35-year-old virgin left on the planet.
“The only reason I wrote the book is to encourage people," he said last week, a deep-voiced man who manages to sound both amazingly confident and completely self-deprecating at the same time. “I wanted to help people with their own singleness and not feel bad about that.”
So a year ago, he sat down at his computer, wedging in writing between filling out job applications and taking on gigs as a handyman.
He’s got a steady job in sales now; and he’s working hard to promote his book -- not for the money, but for the message, he says -- persistent in the same way I imagine he might have been on a date.
He started a website, with smiling fans holding up copies, and an author’s blurb: Besides writing, Ryan also is a musician, avid concert goer and film fanatic. In his spare time, he volunteers in the community as well as at his church and has gone on several missions trips ...
He promoted it on Facebook.
He called me once and then again and followed up with the surprise book delivery, sweetened with Colby Ridge and a two-page letter: “I’m writing to make a fan of you.”
I confess: It worked.
I became a bit smitten with his funny-sad stories about terrible dates. Like the first coffee shop meeting with “Brooke,” who showed up nearly two hours late: “Fat Ryan gets to spend time with a cute girl -- let’s keep thinking positive.”
And the courtship with “Jamie Green,” whose family believed Vladimir Putin was the secret savior of the world, that HIV could be cured by herbal supplements and that the Illuminati was out to get us: “Also they called Mr. Green ‘Father’ a lot. Of course, that is his title ... but on the side of the tracks I grew up on I called my father, ‘dad.’”
And I was definitely curious about a guy insistent on remaining celibate until marriage, who would admit to his first kiss at 34, write a nine-page love letter to a woman a month after the relationship ended (buying five different pens to find just the right ink) and try to talk another woman out of an abortion after she got pregnant with an ex-boyfriend’s baby while she was dating HIM.
Oh, and spend $2,000 on flowers -- and more dough on chocolates and concert tickets and dinners -- for women who always seemed to put an end to things with daggers like: I’m not attracted to you. I don’t have feelings for you. I’m going back to my old boyfriend.
And I did start to wonder: Stalker? Personality disorder? What?
“He’s just a hopeless romantic,” says longtime friend Kristin Sukraw. “It’s just him. There’s something refreshing about the fact he is who he is.”
Sukraw appears as “Melissa” in the book, a confidante and dating adviser and, in real life, a trained mental health counselor, who has seen Onstad through his ill-fated loves.
“I’ve served as his soundboard,” she says. “Ryan is one of the most teachable people I’ve ever met.”
He tends to fall fast, so they’ve worked on that. He tends to give unsolicited advice, so they’ve worked on that.
“He is seriously going to be -- when it’s the right girl -- the most amazing husband.”
Nat Crawford agrees. Now a pastor at First Free Church, Crawford met the author when they were both teenagers in a Christian youth group, fans of movies and video games.
“I’m praying he will find the right person who will embrace him for who he is.”
Which is: Generous and open and kind and authentic.
And the stories are true, the pastor says, because he’s in some of them. (Which sort of worried him before he read the book.)
“Not Quite Love” came out in late October. It has a three-star rating on Goodreads and a four-and-a-half-star average on Amazon, based on eight reviews including this one: “Readers be warned: this is a religious and self indulgent book about why a poor ‘nice guy’ can’t find a girl to love him.”
That hurt, Onstad said.
But then there are reviews like this one: “A great read about the search for someone that ultimately leads to discovering that all you really need to do is be yourself.”
And this: “Really have a sense of who the author is, and, Ladies, he is still single at the end of book!”
Single at the end of the book; and single at the end of our interview Friday.
He’d been in a relationship of sorts since winter, Onstad said. He even met the woman’s parents last week.
“They loved me,” he says. “But she said she couldn’t develop feelings for me.”