I don't know how to read tarot cards. I don't even know the names of the cards. But despite the fact that I didn't even own a deck of cards, I worked as an online tarot card reader during my freshmen year at college.
I was 18 years old, going to school full-time, and living with five other girls. Oh, and I was broke. But because of a recent medical operation, I was always completely exhausted, which made it difficult to hold down a regular job.
I'd tried selling makeup and skincare products from one of those scammy multi-level marketing companies, but I accepted a couple of bad checks and ended up with a negative bank balance and a large collection of tiny lipstick samples. So I needed a new gig. Something that would work around my college schedule, but still give me plenty of time to rest when I was having a bad health day.
I searched the Internet for ideas and eventually came across a forum for women who worked as psychics and tarot card readers. At first, I just skimmed the posts out of curiosity. I was the type of person who rolled her eyes when people played Ouija or talked about their magazine horoscopes, so this wasn't exactly the ideal gig for me.
Or was it?
The more I read, the more I realized some of these people didn't actually believe in psychic phenomena. One woman explained that she just thought of tarot reading as a type of counseling. She didn't believe the cards held any superpower, but sometimes they helped people see their problems in a new light. Interesting. I'd volunteered as a peer counselor before, so maybe this was right up my alley.
I discovered that many of these women didn't even own real decks of tarot cards. Instead, they used a computer program that would pull up random cards and give them a summary of what the cards meant. Some of the women read tarot cards over the phone, while others used a chat application. The ones who worked over the phone would loudly shuffle a regular deck of playing cards to give the illusion that they were reading from an actual deck.
So I could make my own hours, work from the comfort of my apartment, and there was no need to invest in any start-up costs? It was sounding more and more like this really might be my ideal gig.
Since I was inexperienced and didn't really know how to read cards, I thought it would be easiest to start with the chat. That way, I'd have a little more time to cover my mistakes.
It was actually really easy at first. People would ask a questions about whether they'd marry their love this year or whether their girlfriend was really the one -– the questions were almost always about love interests –- and then the computer program would give me an idea about what to say, and I just kept running with it until they told me they were finished. I got paid more the longer they stayed on with me, so I tried to keep the conversation going. Then, they'd rate me and be on their way. Next person.
It was fun, it was easy, and people seemed to enjoy it –- most of my ratings were five stars!
No matter what the cards said, I tried to keep things light and positive. But then one day a guy started to talk to me about his love interest, and it quickly became obvious the woman wasn't interested in him at all. I tried to encourage him to move on, but he kept pushing: “She told me to never contact her again, what does she mean by that? Tell me what I can say to get her to go out with me. She said she isn't interested in me and never will be.”
I tried to tell him in the nicest way possible that the cards were telling him to leave her the hell alone, but that didn't go over well.
“I have to be with her. I can't take no for an answer. Tell me what I need to do.”
“Well, sir,” I typed, “I see the sun card here, and it suggests that if you move on, you will find fulfillment in the future. I know she seems like the most important thing in your life right now, but you need to let her go, if you want to meet the person you are really supposed to be with.”
“No. There is no other person. She has to be with me.”
I let the program choose another card, hoping for some ideas on what to type. An angelic looking woman holding a couple of golden cups popped onto the screen. “I now see the temperance card. This card shows that you are going through a really rough time, but things will get better.”
“How? How will I get her to date me?”
“Well, I don't think that's necessarily what the card is suggesting.”
After about half an hour of this back-and-forth, I finally just told him to give her a little space.
“And then we can be together?”
“Sure, maybe things will work out if you give her some breathing room.”
Another five-star rating, but looking at those stars made me feel like scum. This guy probably needed therapy –- real therapy -- not some teenage girl with a computerized deck of tarot cards. And I was more than a little worried that I may have even encouraged him to stalk some poor girl who was trying to make it clear that she wanted to be left alone. I signed off for the night and tried to forget about our conversation.
The next day, things were back to normal. People asked questions about things like which of their crushes had the most potential and what day would be the best to meet someone. But then, he came back on.
“Please tell me how to get with her.”
I didn't even start the tarot program. “Sir, didn't we talk about this last night? Just try to give her some space and move on with your life a bit. If things are meant to work out, they will.”
“I can't move on. I need to know what the cards say today. How can I get her to love me?”
The conversation that day went back-and-forth similar to the conversation the night before. I tried to explain to him that the cards said he couldn't make someone fall in love with him, but like the night before, he wasn't taking no for an answer. I finally gave up and gave him a half-assed message of semi-encouragement.
Things went on like this for several nights. Signing on was no longer enjoyable. Even the light questions stressed me out. What if the other people actually believed in this stuff, and I gave them some crappy advice that screwed up their life? I started to obsess over every interaction.
Technically, this guy was good business. He would have stayed on with me as long as I kept it going, but I kept getting a sick feeling in stomach anytime I saw he had signed on to talk to me. I was enabling this guy.
Finally, I broke down: “Look, man. I'm really sorry about this girl. Seriously. But these cards aren't going to give you any magical answers. You can't force some girl to like you, and if she's telling you to leave you the hell alone, then you really should just do that.”
“Fuck you. I'm going to talk to someone with a better rating.”
He ended up giving me my first crappy rating, but it didn't really matter because I soon quit. It seemed like a lot of people just wanted to have some light-hearted fun, but others clung to what those cards said as some kind of absolute truth from a higher power –- and I just couldn't deal with that.