Looking for Your Valentine

Vol. 9, No. 6
Feb. 8-14, 2001
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Here are two ways to meet new people – and one to score.
By Christopher Heagy

At 17, after a devastating breakup with my high school sweetheart, I learned a lesson that would carry me through the next decade. In Singles, Cameron Crowe's 1991 movie about the intertwined lives of Seattle 20-somethings, Steve talks about his father leaving home:

"My dad left home when I was eight. You know what he said to me? He said, 'Steve have fun. Stay single.' I was eight."

Sitting alone in a darkened movie theater in the spring of 1991, I chuckled. The line stuck in my head. Yes, single. Single forever. Single is good.

Time rolled on and the years flew by. Girlfriends came and went and sometimes came again. But through the years, even when I was dating, I held onto the single mentality.

In college, I broke up with a girl who really had a hold on me. A professor asked me why, if I felt so strongly about her, I broke up with her.

I responded, "She didn't fit into my life plan."

Who thinks things like that? I did.

That girl is getting married to someone else this summer. Every now and then I wonder what might have been. We'd probably be divorced by now.

2000, the year of the wedding, passed me by. I went to seven weddings last year of 14 people rejecting the single lifestyle.

Oh sure, some, like my buddies Keith, Shawn and Pete, I expected. They had been dating the same woman for so long they all were just dead men walking, slowly marking time until they bit the bullet.

Others were like my former neighbor, Peggy, who took another chance later in life.

But the one that blindsided me was my college buddy, Ed. While visiting in 1999, he told me he had met this really cool chick. I met her a few times, but I never thought much of it. Last February - about Valentine's Day - he called my house.

"Heags, I'm getting married in October," Ed said, talking through a smile.

"Is she pregnant?" is all I could think to say.

No, she wasn't and it didn't matter because Ed was on his way down the aisle. For the first time, this wedding thing slapped me in the face. Ed was like me, like my friends Dan and Silas. We all thought we were so young and marriage so final. I never expected Ed to go down so soon. His fall started me thinking about my stay-single philosophy.

I'm 26. Maybe it's time to change my lifestyle. Since college, I've had a tough time meeting women. They aren't as accessible, aren't as available. I work at a restaurant, and bars are little help. It's tough to find a doctor at the plumber's convention.

Here I am stuck in the middle by myself. Another Saturday night and I ain't got nobody. I need help. Where can I turn?

The Death of Dating

Were matters of the heart ever simple? I don't know, but they sure were handled differently 200 years ago. Then you were sitting in the parlor, right under mom and dad's watchful eye, listening to your sweetheart play a jingle on the piano. Now we've reached the point where we sit at the computer and type in wished-for qualities in potential mates. It's a brave new world. How did it happen?

Way back when, when most of us lived on farms, courtship, dating and match-making took place in front of the family. Parents had more control over the social lives of their c

But factories were built, train tracks were laid and Americans left the green pastures of the family farm for the concrete jungles of the cities.

In the cities, old ways of courtship died. Lack of space, absent parents, new economic freedom: All pushed courtship out of the family parlor and into the bright city nights.

While industrialization was changing where and how Americans lived, another force was growing. Newspapers, magazines and then radio, movies and television were spreading social doings across the land.

Americans could hardly help read or hear about what people throughout the country were doing and thinking. Upcoming generations learned from reading and listening how men and women should behave and where they should date.

Throughout the 20th century, these forces pushed men and women around. They pushed us through world wars and peace protests, through depressions and political chaos. They pushed forward women's demands for equal rights, the sexual revolution. They shook up the way we view the world.

As much as customs have evolved, the core issue has never changed. Paging through Cosmopolitan, Vogue, Esquire and GQ, you can't miss it. Walking through a book store section on dating and relationships, you're bombarded with information on how to find, date and keep a mate. Half of all marriages might end in divorce, but how to find and marry the love of our life drives our culture.

21st Century Dating

Where are we today? How do we find our mates? How do we date?

Dating in America has become a process of "getting together" according to Ravi Dhindsa, professor of sociology at Anne Arundel Community College

"We started to see this form of interaction in the late '70s," says Dhindsa, "and it has continued throughout the '80s and '90s. It is a process of congregating in small groups, of meeting through social networking and slowly breaking off from the group."

Getting together is different from traditional dating with its more formal structure, phone calls and planned events. Getting together develops spontaneously, through contact and social interaction. Groups hang out. Men and women meet through friends. They see each other through the same social group. Every now and then, two will break away and build something more serious.

This getting together is both the means and the end. It gives marriageable women and men opportunity to learn about each other, much as traditional dating did. "Intimacy," explains Dhindsa, "and sense of commitment to each other develops as the couple gets to know each other's values and behaviors."

On the other hand, getting together removes much of the pressure to marry. Equality drives this kind of relationship, and the economic expense of dating is split between the man and the woman.

Which makes dating not such a big deal.

"In getting together, people see the 'front stage' and 'back stage' behavior of their partner, the formal and informal," Dhindsa explains. Thus we're now in the age of casual Fridays and informal dating.

But what happens in our transient society when the social networks fail to get you together? Where do you turn when work or school or church doesn't turn up eligibles and your network of friends is spread throughout the country, connected by e-mail?

"When partners can't be found through social networks," says Dhindsa, "another trend in dating is going through marriage market intermediaries."

Welcome to Microdates of Annapolis

Bay Weekly general manager Alex Knoll - who got married in 1997 - sensed my dilemma. By waiting until his early 30s to marry, Knoll understands what single guys like me go through as friend after friend dives into marital bliss.

With this in mind, Knoll pulled me into his office.

"Chris," Knoll said. "I heard about this new dating thing on National Public Radio and I've heard of a company offering something similar here in Annapolis. I'm a little surprised something so cutting-edge made it here so quickly. Why don't you see if you can get a story about it?"

Knoll painted a general picture of the company, Microdates of Annapolis, and its concept of a series of timed mini-dates over a quick evening. It sounded like a good idea. Besides, I thought, a few quick dates: how great is that? I can meet a couple chicks, knock back a couple beers and be back home in time to watch The Sopranos.

Knoll had the concept right, but there's a bit more to it.

The Internet powers Microdates of Annapolis. You sign up at www.mdannap.com. On the site, you answer a few general questions about yourself - age, religious preference, marital history - and the type of person you're looking for.

You also establish an anonymous identity you'll use at get-togethers and for future contact with the people you meet through Microdates of Annapolis. When you establish your identity, you also get a message box at the site. Later, once you actually microdate, contact continues through these message boxes, and personal information - such as real names and phone numbers - is exchanged only when both parties agree.

When enough people with similar requirements have signed up on the website, a microdate is planned.

The microdate brings together 16 to 20 people, half of them men and half women, at a prearranged time and place. The coordinator arranges identity cards at eight two-top tables. You sit down at your card and meet your first "date."

"After seven minutes, the coordinator says 'one minute' and then you have time to make your closing arguments," explains Ed White, promotions manager for Microdates of Annapolis.

When eight minutes are up, the women stay where they are while all the men play musical chairs. Bam, you're on to your second date.

I've got some money 'cause I just got paid, so I signed up, calling myself chrish21. Yeah, don't ask me why. I answered the questions about who I was and who I was looking for. I thought I was on the fast track.

I kept checking my e-mail and my message box at the Microdates of Annapolis site, but nothing about an event came.

Me and eight women in a room, there had to be some intrigue somewhere. As Valentine's Day approached, I started to fret. I saw my chance for dating bliss slipping through my fingers. The next wave in dating was rolling by - without me.

As my worry grew, Ed White explained that microdating was just a matter of time.

"We started in November," White says. "We really didn't expect to get things going until after the holidays, when people start thinking about personal issues again."

Microdates of Annapolis has yet to run their first gathering.

White says they'll need about 200 people before they run their first event. They're over halfway there, but men outnumber women 58 to 30. Ages range from 23 to 65, concentrating from the early 30s through mid-40s. When the service is up and running, each get-together will cost each date about $35.

The idea of microdating has spread from Seattle to San Francisco to Philadelphia to Washington and Annapolis. But Microdates of Annapolis is not a franchise. Like Knoll, White and his partner and wife Robin are Bay area locals who heard about microdating on NPR. Personal experience and difficult dating in the past hooked the couple on the idea.

"Both my wife Robin and I were on the second go-round," says White. "It was difficult to find each other." The couple liked the idea of creating what White calls "a fun way to meet new people."

"I think it's a good, safe place to meet a bunch of people at the same time," explains White, who's a former police officer and Florida state lobbyist. "You don't have to go on date after date searching for the right person. In one night you can meet eight different possibilities."

Now I'm just waiting for my chance.

Welcome to the World Wide Web of Dating

So I was still in the same predicament, all dressed up with nowhere to go. I wasn't quite ready to answer the mail-away ads for a Ukrainian wife in the back of Esquire, but I needed some new ideas. This is the 21st century, so once again I headed to the computer.

I hopped on Yahoo and typed in dating. I was checking out some book titles, when at the top of the page the answer flashed before my eyes. The banner ad screamed MatchingMachine.com. I hit the mouse and was on my way to true love - or something like that.

Since MatchingMachine.com's start in September, over 10,000 people have registered and fed information into the company's Collection of Unique People's Information Database - that's their CUPID. How cute.

Does it work? MatchingMachine's Rocky Ahmann told me that the principal owner of the site, John Jackson, met and married a woman through a similar site. Hence Jackson's interest in the project.

That's not all. "We've got an e-mail from one couple so far that made a connection on the site and have been dating for awhile," Ahmann also said.

In starting MatchingMachine, Ahmann says the goal was to attract women:

"We found that more men than women tend to use these sites. The game plan was to get the females aboard first. Then we figured the males would follow."

I figured this was the place to be. I went to the site and picked a user name. I thought of everything from the sublime to the ridiculous before settling on "cooldrink," which is a bit of both. As with Microdates of Annapolis, my user name establishes an anonymous identity. Browsers never see my address, phone number or real name. But I guess I've just blown my cover.

Then, to create my profile, I filled out my questionnaire, answering the 50-plus multiple-choice and short written questions. The questions hit on everything from physical characteristics - height, weight, eye and hair color - to marital status, car, income, education level, drinking and smoking habits - even political leanings and punctuality.

When describing my sense of humor, I was torn between "duh, I'm sarcastic, dummy" and "my wit is sharper than a prison shank." I went with the sharp wit, but after reading this you might disagree.

From their list, I picked five activities that I enjoy.

I could have described myself as adventurous, considerate or a great listener. But anyone I'd dated before probably wouldn't agree. So I went for cool and calm and intellectual. Hey, don't laugh.

Instead of selecting a favorite food (Italian, Mexican, American) I just checked the box 'I'll eat anything.'

Hmmm, what am I looking for: friendship, pen pal, committed relationship. Whoa, let's not move too fast. I checked casual dating. One step at a time.

The profile ends with questions about my strengths and what gets on my nerves, my favorite movie characters and my dreams and goals. At 26, am I too old to dream?

When all was done, I was ready to be found.

I'm a lazy dater, and I worried that with profiles coming in from all over the country and the world, that my perfect match would turn up in Kalamazoo. But the site lets you limit the search for potential matches to within 50, 20 or even 10 miles of your house.

MatchingMachine.com's profile and search service is in a free trial period. Billing is supposed to start in late spring, when the service should cost about $15 dollars a month.

I did one search. There were a couple of candidates, but it was too much to build the profile and pursue in one day. My profile got a couple of hits, but there were no messages in my box.

So once again, here I sit. Oh, I wish I had someone to talk to. I'm in an awful way.

The Internet's a Scary Place

Maybe I'm not in an awful way. Maybe I'm just taking the wrong approach. Browsing the Internet, I discovered how to score.

When you do a dating search you find the wildest things. At www.advancedmacking.com, host Anthony Berger sells the solutions to ending all your lonely old nights. For $29.99 for the on-line version, $44.95 for the book mailed to your house and $64.95 for audio tape or CD, you, too, can "Discover the newest, fastest and cheapest way to seduce women while talking to them, and how to bring them back to your pad. We call it the advanced macking manual."

According to Berger, "macking" is the ability to pick up women. His course is "advanced" not in difficulty but in simplicity. It takes only 40 minutes to read the 24-chapter manual.

The manual covers what to do before going out, what to do when you enter a bar, how to scope the scene, how to spot the easy targets, how to approach and talk to women and - finally - how to suggest they come home with you.

This manual is not about long-term relationships or improving your life to get a date, but it also promises no "dirty, sneaky, dangerous or illegal tricks to bring a woman back to your pad."

Among the free samples offered, my favorite is "why and how to whisper to women."

When striking up a conversation in a loud bar, you whisper in a woman's ear from a distance of about nine inches. As the conversation develops, you should slowly move closer and closer - if she lets you - until your lips are almost touching her ear.

With advice like this, how can you lose?

Advancedmacking.com offers a 60-day money-back guarantee if you are not satisfied. "We guarantee this manual will help you next time you go out," the site advertises, "regardless of your looks, intellect, race, weight or social skills."

Yes, it does seem like a bold guarantee, but testimonials like those of Dave Cummins nearly convinced me: "Tony, I just have to say that your techniques are awesome: your tips on where to find easy chicks and your method on how to bring them back to the pad are a gem. This book has literally changed my life."

Anthony Burger's advanced macking manual sells for a simple reason: We live in a sex-obsessed country.

We are bombarded with sexual stimuli. On television, the movies, magazines, radio, in our country sex sells. We've created the notion that there is this great party of wild sex out there, and somehow our invitation got lost in the mail. Now, for $29.59 our invitation is delivered.

As We Evolve

In the year of Our Lord 2001, marriage market intermediaries thrive. That says a few things about who we are.

First, we have grown in such a way that most of us are able to meet our physical needs. We are no longer worried about the roof over our heads or the food on our plates. Climbing the hierarchy of needs toward self-actualization, we now have enough to eat - but many of us are still hungry for love.

Second, time zooms onward as we are bombarded by stimuli. We're obsessed with time. There's so much to do and so little time. We don't have the time to search, screen, call, talk and date. We've worked all day. We're tired. We want someone to cut down on the leg work.

Finally - and I'm not the only one - we are confused. We live in a world in flux. Traditional roles transform each day. We aren't who we thought we'd be, and no one else is, either. Technology is pushing us further and further ahead and moving us farther and farther from each other. The social institutions we expected to help us have failed.

These dating services fill a void.

In talking about MatchingMachine.com, Rocky Ahmann hit on what these marriage market intermediaries are: "This is just the next evolution of dating."

I'm Looking for Something

In the past year, I went to seven weddings. Ex-girlfriends got married and engaged. For the first time in my life, I have let the possibility of marriage slip into my head.

Taking that huge step into the unknown, my friends all looked so happy. I think that weddings are like a romantic movie. Everybody is dressed up, everybody is beautiful, the bride and groom look so very happy. It's like the movie's dramatic climax when the man and woman are reunited and their love is sealed.

But unlike a movie, when the screen goes black and the credits roll, your friends wake up husband and wife to go about living an undramatic daily life.

This has always been my problem. I am focused, caring and considerate during dramatic moments. But I have never been able to develop the emotional consistency that sustains a long-term relationship. I get bored.

Since my melodramatic break-up at age 17, many women have passed through my life - some for a few days, some for many months. Many of these women were smart, funny and independent. They treated me better than I could have ever hoped, certainly better than I treated them.

In each case, I pushed them away. Maybe not consciously, but the things I said and did pushed each of them to a point they could not accept. When they would leave, I would be angry or sad or listless, but I always knew I was to blame.

Some might call this fear of commitment. Some might say I just haven't met the right person.

I don't know. I don't believe in the idea of "soul mates," but what if I'm wrong and she's already passed me by? It might sound cold, but every long-term relationship is a choice. Once you make that decision, you can't look back. But what if the grass is always greener?

If marriage is ever to be an option for me, I need to hold an emotional mood longer than six months. To do that, I need to find the reasons for the way I behave.

Until then, no amount of introductions from parents, friends, Internet or dating services will solve my problems.

So another Valentine's Day is on the way and I guess it's got me thinking. To all my friends that have crossed over the threshold this past year, I wish you the best of luck.

To everyone looking, I'll paraphrase the words of Annette Bening in The Grifters: You've got to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your princess.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly