Seventh wheel

Reporter chews on Dinner 4 Six

Shawn Ramsey, the owner of Dinner 4 Six, has invited me—a married, somewhat cynical journalist—to come along with six singles for a tasty meal and potential spark-watching at Nash’s restaurant. But the guests don’t know it yet. As they arrive for dinner at Nash’s with five strangers, we’ll ask them if I can crash their party.

The first to arrive is a smiling, friendly looking business owner who’s driven about an hour for tonight’s opportunity. He’s been to a few dinners and is hopeful he’ll meet his match—or at least get out of the house for a while.

Next to arrive is a nicely dressed woman who warns us she isn’t feeling well and may have to duck out. She just didn’t want to stand anyone up.

There’s a 43-year-old manufacturer, physically fit with a well-groomed moustache, who grew up in Chico. He’s tried Internet dating with some success but likes the idea of being able to mingle in person.

Another participant is a sporty, well-put-together mother who works in health care.

Rounding out the female side of our dinner table is a classy schoolteacher of 35.

One man is late, and Ramsey decides we’ll start without him.

They’re all OK with my staying, as long as I don’t use their names. Ramsey seats us boy-girl, boy-girl and leaves us to our own devices.

It’s more than a little awkward, and at first I worry we may be a bunch of horribly mismatched dating duds. Soon, though, the business owner makes a valiant and successful effort to get the conversation ball rolling.

But it’s curtain call for the woman who wasn’t feeling well, and she makes her apologies and exits. The rest of the table eyes her skeptically, not sure if they buy the “It’s not you, it’s me” routine.

But as soon as she leaves, the missing third man arrives.

Things get off to an awkward start, but that could be partially due to my presence. Everyone’s already OK with the premise that they are being set up, and any scoping out that’s going on across the table is being conducted discreetly.

They start with the typical questions ("What’s your job?” and “What are your hobbies?") and eventually segue into, “So, do you have any kids?” A few find that they have friends in common. Two work out in the same gym; one coached another’s kid in sports.

The late guy finally breaks the ice and redeems himself by getting the evening’s first laugh—albeit a weak one—as he rejects Nash’s catch of the day with a cleverly timed “don’t want it.”

Tonight, all the guests are from their mid-'30s to early ‘40s, which isn’t representative of the Chico Dinner 4 Six group as a whole. Ramsey has been working on getting more younger members, but there’s something about the Chico dating scene, or maybe just the baby-boomer thing, that has resulted in the club’s being heavy on the over-50 set.

That’s a bit of a problem. At the last dinner she went to, says the schoolteacher, “the guy sitting next to me was my dad’s age.” Two agree that of the six or seven dinners they’ve attended, about half have generated a one-on-one date.

Ramsey says she has a list of interested 20- and 30-somethings, and when she gets enough of them she’ll start arranging more events for those age groups.

This ends up being the topic that gets everyone at the table to open up, and the conversation becomes lighter and less strained as they discuss the scant opportunities available for Chico singles. There’s the depressing, college-student-saturated bar scene, not enough singles nights and other obstacles.

Most of their friends are married ("It’s not like I can call them and say, ‘Do you want to go out?’ They’re beyond that stage,” laments the schoolteacher), two of the women work in female-dominated professions, and two of the men work in jobs where they’re not circulating with potential dates.

The schoolteacher is bothered that people assume that, since she hasn’t settled down by 35, she doesn’t want to. She was in a long-term relationship, but, she says, making a long story short in a way that makes everyone at the table nod in agreement, “He had issues.”

“Don’t we all,” laughs the business owner.

A long pause ensues as we internally contemplate our individual “issues,” during which “Electric Avenue” plays in the background.

The next venture into conversation—a job-related query—seems slightly forced: “So, when you make the so-and-so, you actually put the whatzit with the gizmo?” Eating salad over strains of “I Shot the Sheriff” and interviewing potential dates seems alternately intriguing and surreal.

I’m trying really hard to be a fly on the wall, not directing the conversation in any way and participating as little as possible. It’s tough, though. I’m pretty enamored with myself (like the man said, we all have issues), and since I’m not lookin', my perspective is research, not romance. In a spicy twist, however, I seem to have a lot in common with the woman to my left and wish I could invite her to lunch or something.

By the end of the evening, people are talking more naturally, sharing anecdotes from their lives. We try to ponder the statistical probability that of a group of three men and three women, two will be attracted to one another. They ask me, the researcher, to figure out the math and put it in the story.

Tonight, to my eye, no one seems to be “clicking” while gazing over lemon chicken at their soul mate.

Maybe next time.

Separate checks, please.

It’s not you, it’s me—or us.