Sacramento Dating Game
With a trio of stories—looking at a singles convention, speed dating and following a woman on the town—SN&R examines modern romance in Sacramento. No one said it would be easy.
Plan of attack
The game starts with mastering dating strategy at a convention
The middle-aged professionals gathered for the Northern California Singles Convention have resorted to the “Everything I Need to Know, I Learned in Junior High” approach to mingling. The men, starched and uncomfortable in sports coats and ties, lean against the back wall of the ballroom at the Red Lion Inn. They sip cocktails, swap odds on game six of the Kings-Lakers showdown currently in progress and generally ignore the women in the room.
The women, on the other hand, sit upright in rows of chairs on the dance floor and expectantly face an unattended mike stand. They have dressed with care; lips glossed, hair sprayed and polite smiles hovering on their lips. Some hold notebooks on their laps, pens at the ready. None seems nonchalant about the mission of the evening.
The juvenile separation of genders notwithstanding, this gathering bears a distinct difference from the middle-school mixers of old. In junior high, love was effortless. Crushes were mutual or else harbored secretly. Young lovers were asked to dance or went home crying, only to wake in the morning with a different beloved in mind. Feelings, and the torrid but temporary bonds that followed, just “happened.”
A singles convention, however, is about planning and focus. Wary of cupid’s careless aim, the attendees have paid $20 to learn specific strategies for attracting a mate and, for one night, to test these strategies in a dating pool of others as determined as they.
Enter Rich Gosse, “The Sultan of Singledom.” An uninformed observer would be hard-pressed to identify The Sultan in this crowd. No flowing robes or jeweled crown mark his status. Modestly dressed in gray slacks, a button-down shirt and striped tie, he sports a large moustache reminiscent of a young Captain Kangaroo, and a gold wedding band. Though the ring seems ironic, given his title, it lends an air of authenticity to his advice. His ideas must be effective, because he has met his goal and found a mate.
Gosse heads American Singles, a nonprofit organization that publishes Possibilities—a newsprint quarterly devoted to dating events and advice, punctuated by ads for singles cruises and mail-order brides. For 24 years, he’s traveled the world throwing singles parties prefaced by lectures like “A Good Man is Easy to Find.”
Tonight is no different. The bar is open and the DJ is in position behind her turntables. When Gosse steps up to the mike, the men silence their playoff predictions. The women grip their pens tightly; after all, this man could deliver the insight that attracts a soul mate. This could be the night that romance blooms. Or, as some cynical expressions in the audience already suggest, this could be another wasted evening—and not just any evening, but the biggest night in Sacramento sports history to date.
“How many of you have met five people here tonight?” Gosse asks. Hands are raised. “Five people of the opposite sex,” he amends. Some hands go down and one bitter female voice yells out, “Are there any men here?”
Gosse laughs and introduces the vendors in the lobby who offer dating services, personal ads and books with titles like You Can Hurry Love. One by one, they come forward to pitch their wares to the audience.
Coni Lehr from It’s a Date! mentions that her clients are currently on a speed date and watching the Kings game at Zigato’s. A collective groan rises as a hundred single Sacramentans realize they didn’t have to choose between televised sports history and the search for true love. The disappointed crowd threatens to turn ugly until a woman in the audience holds up a small television and informs everyone that the Kings are ahead. A cheer goes up and Gosse regains control of the mike.
“You’re very lucky in Sacramento,” Gosse asserts. “There’s a lot going on for singles. Tons of activities every week.” He holds up a copy of the Bee’s Ticket section and scans the pages. “Let’s see … ‘Bridge for singles!’ ” he reads triumphantly. “Anyone here play bridge?” Met with a sea of blank stares, he puts down Ticket and moves on to his lecture. Tonight’s topic: “The Real Rules of the Dating Game,” which is his answer to Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider’s dating bible The Rules.
Contrary to the advice offered in The Rules, Gosse encourages women to abandon the “play hard to get” strategy and initiate contact with every single man they find attractive. “The average guy out there is scared to death of rejection. … All you need to know about men—this one lesson is worth the $20—is that they’re chicken.” The women laugh, while the men stare blankly into their cocktails. “There’s always a surplus of single men who are too chicken to ask a woman on a date. If you understand that, you’ll have no problem meeting a man.”
Moving on, Gosse runs through tips for asking someone out and then into first-date etiquette. “You must never, ever volunteer anything negative about yourself on a first date or I guarantee there will not be a second date,” he warns the audience. “Single people are very judgmental on a first date. You are competing with their fantasy partner.” His list of taboo revelations includes any previous relationship infidelities and being in recovery for drug addiction.
A man raises his hand and asks when one should make such disclosures.
A wall-leaner in the back shouts, “Never! Never!”
Gosse smoothly replies, “After you hear those magic words, ‘I love you.’ Once a person is in love with you, they’re addicted to you like a smoker to nicotine, like a heroin addict to smack. They can’t break it off without suffering horrendous pain and people don’t want to suffer, so they’ll stay with you.”
Some women gasp. Many in the audience scowl or shake their heads in disbelief, but only one man challenges this advice. “Isn’t that a mind game?” he asks.
Gosse’s answer is flippant. “Dating is a game. I’m giving you the rules. If you don’t want to play by the rules, you might as well stay home because nobody is going to want you. People actually think, ‘I can be me and meet someone wonderful.’ Well, that’d be nice, if we could be our sickening selves and meet someone wonderful. But the truth will set you free … of all your dates.”
The audience is divided between those who are laughing and those who are scowling. Gosse wraps up the lecture and turns the night over to the DJ. The lights go down, the music comes up and the entire convention races to the bar for a dose of liquid courage.
The singles get their cocktails and settle into tables on the periphery of the dance floor. Alison Carey and Linda Coker, two professional-looking single moms, sit together watching the DJ’s lights oscillate across the empty floor. This is their first singles event. Carey explains they’ve traveled from Davis because, “Davis is a college town and we’re not exactly college-aged.” Though they hope to meet people tonight, they’re reluctant to get out and mingle. “It’s hard to put yourself out there and get rejected,” Carey says.
“Maybe after I have a few more of these,” Coker laughs, holding up her cocktail.
Martin Lomeli, a 36-year-old man dressed entirely in black, hovers at the edge of the dance floor with drink in hand. Recently divorced and new to the Sacramento area, Lomeli “just started looking into these kind of events because I’m very lonely. My ex-wife wants me to find someone so I won’t bug her.” Lomeli pulls out his wedding ring, which he wears on a gold chain tucked under his shirt. “I would take her back,” he says. “I would do anything. I’ll always love her.”
Bristling at the suggestion that it may be too soon for him to start dating, Lomeli insists he is ready. “I want the excitement of someone new, of looking forward to what we’re going to do next.”
The room is thick with hesitancy. Few attendees seem as positive as Reno resident Helaine Greenberg, who takes a Zen-like approach to being single. “If it’s meant to be, it will happen,” she says about her odds of meeting someone. “In the meantime, I’m exploring the singles scene so when I get reconnected, I won’t feel I’ve missed anything.”
The line at the bar has dissipated, but the dance floor remains vacant. Ever the party host, Gosse whispers something to the DJ and invites everyone to join him for “the greatest dance song of all time.”
No one moves, so he takes Linda Coker by the hand and leads her onto the floor. More couples follow suit until nearly everyone is up. Soon enough, the crowd realizes partners aren’t necessary for the “YMCA.” Everyone laughs and throws their arms into the familiar disco letters. Gosse has wisely utilized the ageless powers of the Village People. The dance floor is occupied for the rest of the night.
Hours pass. People dance and sit alone and strike up conversations and dance again. Except for one couple so involved in their slow dance they don’t notice that the ballad has changed to Billy Idol’s “White Wedding,” most seem as single as when they arrived. Though the elements of a party are in place—alcohol, music, dim lighting—the gathering maintains an undercurrent of lonely resignation.
Joseph Finkleman, a smiling man in a heart-dotted necktie, explains this phenomenon. “Everyone at singles parties is trying not to be single. They’re all hoping this is the last one of these events they’ll ever have to go to.”
In the end, the strategies of the dating experts only stretch so far. “You’re ostensibly here to get a date, but dating really isn’t the point,” Finkleman concludes. “The point is to fall in love, and I’ve never seen a convention for that.”
by Becca Costello
Modern Dating Distilled
Speed dating offers 10 quick chances to find love, and to explore how we choose would-be mates.
So many women, so little time. Whoever first said that probably didn’t have this scene in mind, but he could have.
I was among 10 men who sat at small tables at Zigato’s Bar & Grille, our backs turned to 10 women. We were all 25 to 35 years old and looking for love, or at least someone to date. My life was already complicated enough, so I planned to be choosy, looking for connections of souls within the allotted time.
Behind me, Tami was all smiles and sass, so we cheated a little and began to banter as I scanned the anxious room. I cracked wise about this and that in my usual too-loud voice, trying to establish myself as a little more fun and lively than the well-dressed group of male suitors. This was, after all, a competition of sorts.
Finally, a small bell jingled us to turn around and to start getting to know the woman directly opposite, learning as much as we could over the next eight minutes. My first adventure in speed dating had begun.
It’s a Date!, which bills itself as “Sacramento’s premier speed dating service,” was created last summer and soon taken over by Granite Bay resident Coni Lehr. She’s involved the company in other singles events—from a bachelor/bachelorette auction to a singles cruise—but speed dating is her main squeeze.
“Everything, except the original speed dating idea, I created to give people options, because it’s hard to meet people these days,” Lehr said.
The concept originated with a rabbi in Los Angeles who wanted to help good Jewish boys and girls find one another. After he wrote a book on the idea, it caught fire and spread to cities across the country, customized by the different entrepreneurs like Lehr.
In speed dating, participants are given a card with the names of the 10 people they’ll speed date that night, with two boxes after the name: yes and no. After each date, you check one of the boxes and move on. Those who check “yes” for each other are “matches,” and the next day Lehr gives each the other’s phone number to pursue longer-form dating on their own.
Participants here pay $35 for date night, although Lehr sometimes has to offer discounted rates to get enough men or women in different age groups to meet the opposite gender’s demand. Women ages 25 to 40 often get discounts, as do men over the age of 40.
Kristen was one who had to be lured back for a second date night with a call and discount, but it didn’t take too much prompting. She had fun last time, even if none of her matches amounted to much. She was cute, blond and young (actually just 24 years old, “but don’t tell Coni”), and we chatted over drinks and appetizers in the bar before the main event, along with Steve II (I was Steve I and there was also a Steve III, by a strange quirk of nomenclature).
This was also the second date night for Steve II, who wore a black shirt and slacks and a colorful tie. As with Kristen, his two matches hadn’t been fruitful: he couldn’t regain the date night chemistry during phone calls with one, so they didn’t go out again; the other never returned his calls.
Steve II was in pest control, Kristen served subpoenas, and both were nice, low-key people, not at all the desperate souls I half-expected. We chatted comfortably as we sipped our drinks, ate meatballs and taquitos, read the rules and procedures and signed our contracts.
Participants are not allowed to ask or disclose their last names, where they work or live, or anything else that might allow them to be identified and/or stalked. It was an understandable requirement, and one that made it easy for me to disguise from my dates the fact that I was there to write a story.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m a single guy who is into dating. In fact, I was even doing a little juggling of relationships at the time, trying to find a woman who would stir my body, mind and soul. So I came to speed dating with an open mind and heart, a little skeptical of overtly “singles” scenes, but definitely ready to warmly welcome Ms. Right, or even Ms. Right Now.
With the bell, we were off and dating. Tami was bubbly and fun, a 30-year-old divorcee and mother of one who was into outdoor activities and was making the very best of an event she was dragged to by her friend Amber. I’m a single parent as well, so we talked about the dating world, told some funny stories and laughed, and just when the conversation hit its first lull, the bell rang the end of our eight-minute date. Great timing!
I looked at my card, looked at Tami, and pondered whether she was a “yes” or a “no.” Physically, she wasn’t really my type, but after such a great conversation and connection, I couldn’t really check “no” without feeling shallow.
Thus began an evening of introspection over why it is we rule potential mates in and out, considerations that speed dating highlights during an eight-minute conversation then distills down into this moment, this “yes” or “no” choice. You weigh looks, personality, goals, intelligence, sense of humor, charm, kismet and everything else that goes into attraction and then check a box.
I decided that I couldn’t do it just yet and determined to wait until after the last date to make my selections. Besides, the meter was running and Tanya was waiting.
Our chemistry was instantaneous, and not just because Tanya was a massage therapist, although that didn’t hurt. She didn’t have the classic good looks of a couple of other women in the room, but she seemed somehow exotic and sensual in her appearance, how she carried herself and the languorous way she spoke, like it was thoughts rather than words that rolled off her tongue.
She was once married for two years until she realized the passion wasn’t there, that he was more friend than lover, and they parted amicably and easily because there were no kids involved. Now, she just wants to have fun and experience life, believing that there’s much we can learn from the series of people we date and know, rather than clinging to the notion that there’s one specific someone for everyone. She was speaking my language and we were still locked hard into our conversation when the bell rang way too soon.
Tanya was a definite “yes.”
My next couple of dates were with women I already knew I wouldn’t choose, for that most superficial of reasons: looks. They were probably women I wouldn’t have even sparked up a conversation with in a bar or other singles settings, but I found myself truly enjoying the interaction.
Tiffany was yet another divorcee, a Placerville native who spends her free time at the track watching sprint cars, and who just got her 4-year-old son into competitive dirt bike racing. Sarah was a free-spirited soul with a pierced nostril who had just moved here and wanted to make some local friends.
Next came Camille, with dark curly hair and beautiful features, although her eyes seemed very close together. It’s strange little details like that you notice and consider when you have just eight minutes to size up whether this is a mate for you. She’s 28 and works for a credit union. It was her first time doing any of this single setup stuff, and she was nervous beforehand, but warmed to the idea and said she was impressed with how talkative and friendly everyone seemed to be. She exuded a light-hearted warmth and acceptance that sent me into the break with good feelings about the evening’s interactions.
Still sizing up my choices during this eight-minute break, I asked Lehr how many “yes” marks people usually give. She said men checked five or six, and for women, usually around four or fewer.
I pondered the significance of this gender discrepancy until Tanya walked up beside me to say hello, placed a hand on my back and began gently massaging my shoulder blade as we talked. After a moment, she stopped my mini-massage and explained with a coy smile that being so tactile was a byproduct of her job.
She was still my only definite “yes,” and I was now pretty sure that I’d make her list as well.
Act Two began with Amber, a good-looking blond accountant, 32, who has done a few of these single scene activities before, including Internet dating and another speed dating excursion, although she didn’t have any significant follow-up dates. We talked a little about Tami—her friend and my first speed date—who Amber said is definitely the more social and outgoing of the pair.
Amber wants it all: the tall, handsome, together, responsible, loving guy with the good job and cool car, the stuff of romance novels. I found myself subtly mocking her for some reason, but I’m not sure if she noticed. Talking to her, I realized there was something slightly askew about her mouth when she talked, although most guys would agree she was the best-looking woman in the room.
Amber was followed by the largest woman in the room; she was lively and good-hearted and had a list of questions to ponder that she’d gathered from the stacks placed on each table as icebreakers. I hadn’t used them until now, but had fun answering questions like, “Would you rather be rich or sexy?” and, “What’s your favorite time of the day?”
The familiar Kristen came next, someone cute and young who I figured early on would make my list. I learned that she was an aspiring actress who had never acted, but had only had her headshots done. And that her favorite authors were John Grisham, Tom Clancy and Stephen King. When the bell rang, I felt a bit of pride that I’d be passing over the young hottie because she seemed to lack the intellectual depth I was looking for. It’s hard not to be a little superficial with such short dates, so I reinforced my self-image where I could.
By then, I was weary and had a hard time generating the requisite interest or enthusiasm for talking to Nicole and Nancy, but I did my best. Then the room adjourned and left me sitting at my table, looking at the page-full of notes I’d taken, something that surprised my last few dates.
As I said, out in the real world, I was already playing the field and had my hands full, so I decided to keep my choices limited to just a few. Tanya was yes. And so was Camille. I could just stop there, but then I thought about the off chance that neither would select me, and I’d have to write in this story that I’m the big loser nobody liked.
Besides, just two selections would seem a little arrogant, so despite not feeling a great connection with her, I picked Amber, mostly for her looks. If my personal time wasn’t so limited, Tami probably would have made the list, too, because I could see myself having fun with her, although probably just as a friend.
The next day, I found out that both Tanya and Camille had matched up with me, but not Amber. I couldn’t help but feel rejected by the one that I’d barely accepted myself, yet I found a little consolation for my ego when Lehr shared with me that four others had checked “yes” for me (something shared only because I was writing a story).
A few days later I called both my matches. Camille never did call me back, and Tanya and I had a few stutter-starts before we eventually met for lunch and hit it off again, finding many common interests, making plans for another date and embracing in a deep, firm goodbye hug.
But life is complicated and strange when you try to date more than one person these days. I cancelled our date at the last minute (because of another woman, although I pleaded to “feeling under the weather”), then Tanya evened the score by doing the same for our next date, her excuse of tending to a depressed friend falling apart when I ran into her and a date at a bar.
Ah, modern romance. Finding matches is tough enough, but sustaining them can be even more dicey. Fast or slow, dating can be a delicate dance that’s not for the faint of heart.
by Steven T. Jones
Trolling For Mr. Right
Hoping to spice up her dating game and land the big one, Pepper goes dancing at a swingers bar.
Pool balls smacking in the background. Corona bottles sitting half empty on the bar. Dance music blaring. Both sexes pumping and grinding against each other’s bodies.
It looks all too recognizable to Pepper Ochoa, a single 40-something black female. She says it is near impossible to find a good, single man in Sacramento in a place like this—yet, Pepper is nowhere near giving up.
It’s Saturday night as Pepper surveys the familiar scene at Trino’s, a bar out east of downtown Sacramento, a bar known for its, shall we say, friendly atmosphere. It’s known as a swingers hangout—people hook and unhook a little quicker here. Trino’s’ reputation is fairly wild for Sacramento, a place where one can get with one or more persons for the night, a club where married people can go and find a third party to complete their sexual fantasies. Also, Trino’s provides a wide array of people to choose from, a selection of women seeking women and men seeking men—a melting pot of sexual freedom. A pot, perhaps, in need of a little Pepper on this night.
Despite the club’s reputation, she said she is not looking for a one-night stand of unbridled sexual bliss. She is more interested in finding the elusive long-term, meaningful relationship. For Pepper, this club is one of the few in Sacramento that has a combination of people in various age groups; she feels most clubs in Sacramento cater mostly to the 20- to 30-something crowd.
Dancing provocatively on the dance floor, singing karaoke and collecting numbers for possible future dates is what Pepper finds attractive about this club.
“I feel sexy at Trino’s,” says Pepper. And some other club-goers will agree.
As she sits down on the cushy bar seat and orders a soda water, she tries to cover her knees with her tight, black dress that, just barely, contains her womanly curves.
Pepper is twice divorced, is employed by the state of California and works part-time at getting lucky. She hasn’t had too much luck in meeting quality men here to date; yet, on this Saturday night she thinks her luck will change. It’s a hopeful attitude, but men looking for a long-term relationship probably aren’t at Trino’s.
She takes a sip and discreetly turns her head toward the sweaty men and women hopping around on the dance floor. Pepper’s eyes, which are perfectly covered in brown metallic eye shadow, perk up as she focuses on a target: a man she would like to get to know.
“I think it is time for some Pepper to spice up the dance floor,” she says as if offering encouragement to herself.
She flips her hair to one side, gets off the bar stool and gets right in the middle of the dance floor. On one side of the floor, men are kissing men, and on the other, women are kissing women. Pepper is right in the middle, shaking booty from side to side and navigating herself closer to the man she spotted earlier.
With a stream of perspiration dripping off her face, Pepper comes back to her bar seat, but now a 40-something dark male with wavy brown hair is holding her hand. It appears that her mission is accomplished. But, of course, the pickup scene is not always what it seems, or what Pepper wants.
Sitting at the bar, sharing a glass of water with Pepper, the obviously confident male reaches over and is trying to kiss her.
Pepper’s eyes lose their spark and her earlier smiling face turns to a frown. She leans back to get out of her bar seat, and tells her dance partner that she just wanted to talk.
Getting up from her seat, Pepper rolls her eyes in disgust and stumbles across an empty beer container and Kit Kat wrappers. She nestles herself into a new seat, leans over the bar, tilts her head and says she really just wants a male companion.
For some reason, Pepper says, over the past couple of years, the men she’s ended up dating are from four categories: married, with children, and want a one-night stand; single, with child-support payments, and want a one-night stand; mamma’s boys, who want a one-night stand and someone to do their laundry; and men who are gay and do not know it, who also want a one-night stand.
As Pepper sits back in her new bar seat, taking her straw and swirling it around her water on the rocks, she expresses frustration with the men she has dated since her last divorce two years ago. She said that she now stays away from one-nighters and doesn’t drink alcohol—that is why Pepper thinks she has been single for two years.
“I come here to hang out, sing karaoke and dirty dance, but I’m always hopeful that I will run into Mr. Right,” she says.
Suddenly, remembering the job at hand, Pepper straightens up her posture. She says she used to find good male companions to date at work, but ever since the early ’90s, when women started suing for sexual harassment, men and women began to stop giving each other the eyewinks around the water cooler.
“Maybe it’s not the sexual harassment thing at all; maybe I am just too old, or not rich enough,” says Pepper.
She looks down at the 20-somethings with the firm, saline-enhanced boobs, fake nails and fake tans and complains that all that fakery is what aging men with money are flocking to. Pepper says if a man’s got money, then he will get all the young honeys—that’s because men with money don’t want to be bothered with older, more life-experienced women. Like Pepper.
She brushes back her long, black silky hair out of her face, reaches down into her purse and pulls out a cherry red lipstick, the kind with moisturizer in it. Suddenly, a tall, middle-aged Latino man, with a full head of salt-and-pepper gray hair and gold chains around his neck, asks Pepper to dance.
Hip-swaggering Pepper takes his hand and heads toward the packed floor. There seems to be a number of women out there to compete with, all with big, dyed permed hair and short skirts. Her mocha skin glows beneath the disco lights above while she is having what she calls safe sex on the dance floor.
Pepper is certainly not alone on this night in the quest for companionship. In the middle of the floor, a short, dark male is doing disco moves to “Macho Man” by the Village People. He is a 44-year-old single male, named Willie.
“Willie,” or William Hartgrove, works as a security guard in Stockton and says he is on a woman hunt. Willie says he loves women in all shapes, sizes and colors. He loves being in bed with more than one woman, and he enthusiastically adds that he loves sex and has to have it all the time.
Willie says the dating scene in Sacramento is easy. He claims most women out in the dating scene will sleep with him on the first night they meet. Willie says he cannot get the young ones anymore, but he can go to bed every weekend with a different woman, especially if they are in their late 30s to early 50s. Willie says he just flashes his body around and the older women come flocking to him.
“I just take them home then lose their numbers,” says Willie.
Meanwhile, Pepper is still working it on the floor with the tall, Latino man.
“Come my lady, come, come, my lady, you’re my butterfly, sugar baby,” by Crazy Town, is blaring throughout the club, while a middle-aged man with a receding hairline, wearing high-water white pants, is yelling out the remainder of the song’s lyrics.
Pepper makes her way, alone, off the dance floor and out onto the smoke-filled patio area. She walks through couples who are groping at each other and makes her way over to some mutual friends who are regulars at Trino’s. Standing there, she is laughing and talking about the guy she just danced with.
“Nice body, but too young,” says Pepper.
As things begin to wind down and fewer people are huddled around the bar, Pepper decides it is time to call it a night. She says she wants to go home before things get out of hand with the young guy she was dancing with.
Pepper leaves with a smile on her face—she has two phone numbers for possible first dates and she was able to dance and converse with her friends.
Five days later and Pepper is at the Club 2 Me, a singles bar in East Sacramento that’s typically slow on weeknights but rages on weekends with college students and the 20-something crowd. On this Thursday night, Pepper is at the club to meet Tony, a man she corresponded with over an Internet personals site.
Pepper says that Sacramento might not be the place to be to find a single, unattached male companion. Sitting in the corner of the bar, Pepper admits that in Sacramento there is a stigma attached to being single, and at times it’s embarrassing.
She loves to have people around, to have functions such as evening parties and family gatherings, but being single for Pepper means losing out on many couple-oriented social gatherings.
Pepper is probably looking in all the wrong places, and in the future she intends to change her ways—but for now, the personal ads and clubs such as Trino’s are the only places she knows to go where she can feel wanted, special and alive.
“I am a happy person, and I know that only I can truly make myself happy,” says Pepper.
Tony never shows up.
by Rose Dinelli