Summer mating rituals

How do Sacramento singles really behave? The folks who get paid to observe tell more than we want to know.

Photo By Larry Dalton

Love seems the swiftest, but it is the slowest of all growths. No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century. —Mark Twain

Love, hopeless infatuation, drunken flirting—we have all been there. Nothing in the world is more humiliating, irritating or hilarious. It’s a sure bet that everyone from the Dalai Lama to J. Lo has experienced some degree of embarrassment while trying to impress someone they found attractive. From the offering of dandelions to your first childhood crush to a drunken plea in adulthood, it happens to all of us.

And whether you know it or not, there is always a witness: The bartenders, fitness trainers, teachers and your friendly barista all are flies on the wall, witnesses to countless embarrassing attempts at romance.

“There was one fellow who, every week, read different love poems to the same female poet, who was a lesbian,” said Carrie Joyner, who has spent four years behind an espresso machine at Luna’s Cafe & Juice Bar during its poetry open mics. “It was really awkward every week when he went up there. Madly in love, and he had no hope.”

Joyner, who is a senior at California State University, Sacramento, sees relationships come and go at Luna’s. “I have seen a whole relationship from beginning to end,” said Joyner. “That was an interesting experience. From the first moment that they met all the way through to the fresh hate at the end of it all.”

Harlow’s on J Street is one of the swankest nightspots in Sacramento. It also has a reputation as a pickup joint. Bartender Erik Ahola has seen conquests and catastrophically embarrassing performances during his eight months as bar manager.

“Guys have one too many and try to be wingmen to help each other out, acting like idiots,” said Ahola. “Girls are a little more obvious here, it seems. They don’t seem to play hard-to-get much. I see a lot more girls being the ones leading the charge vs. guys. But a lot of times, guys go over the top, and it’s pretty funny to see their drunken efforts.”

A never-ending parade of drunken males and their notions of how to impress women spins past Ahola and his team of bartenders and wait staff. He described the most embarrassing scene that he witnessed. “Two guys with workout T-shirts,” said Ahola, “ordered a few quick drinks from me. Right before the music starts, I hear one of them say, ‘I’m going in.’ They both strike poses. One on each side [of a table of women] and try to have each other’s back to try to hook up for the night. It was pretty hysterical. The girls didn’t want anything to do with it. It took [the musclemen] about 45 minutes to realize that. Things like that, when it always crashes and burns, are kind of amusing.”

Being a bartender at a popular club makes some men an easy target of female seduction. “One of the funniest things,” said Ahola, “my friend Dave who bartends here has a dry sense of humor. There’s this girl who comes in all the time, and he proceeds to serve her way too much. She tries to give him her tip in her mouth. It’s pretty funny. She leans over and tries to give it to him. He doesn’t want anything to do with it, and one time, she took it out of her mouth, and there was a saliva trail that hit when she threw it at him. The bill stuck to his shirt. We part like the Red Sea when she comes in.”

Ahola has some important advice to would-be suitors: “Over-tip your bartender on the first date; it looks really good to impress the girl. And don’t try too hard. When you over-try, you just embarrass yourself. Just let it go, be yourself and see what happens.”

It is hard out there, and one way to know the dos and don’ts of dating is to ask an expert. Joey Garcia has been writing an advice column for the lonely and spiritually deficient for seven years. Her column, “Ask Joey,” appears weekly in SN&R.

“Confusing infatuation or attraction with love at first sight is a big mistake,” said Garcia. “People are physical first, so they are more focused on appearance rather than getting to know that person. Even though there may be a strong and healthy physical attraction to the other person, you still have to have the basis of a friendship—good communication skills, a shared interest, a shared belief system—and most people don’t take the time to establish that.”

Garcia believes one of the biggest problems for single people these days is the embedded fantasy of love at first sight as seen in Disney films. “What you don’t realize is that love songs are infatuation songs,” said Garcia. “In the Disney movies, the two skunks see each other, and then they fall in love and kiss, or the prince and princess ride into the sunset and live happily ever after. The part that is confusing for people is that we think that happily ever after is this incredible fantasy of the perfect life together. But happily ever after really means that we go from being this fantasy to being ordinary and having to deal with the ordinary aspects of life.”

Professor Georgine Hodgkinson teaches communication classes at Cosumnes River College. The California State University, Sacramento, graduate sees a new danger on the dating front. “More and more relationships seem to be created over the Internet,” said Hodgkinson. “I think that students are sometimes too willing to give personal information that way. I have read numerous horror stories about people who have put themselves in danger because they were so swept away by the intensity of the relationship in its initial stages that they were not being very smart.”

Ever wonder how not-so-good-looking people end up with a beautiful date? Sometimes it’s money and prestige, as with the Maloof brothers, but Hodgkinson destroys the myth that people go out with the cutest guy or girl they can find. “In reality,” explained Hodgkinson, “people are much more likely to try to pair themselves with somebody who they think is as approximately attractive as they are.”

So, ugly people go out with ugly people?

“How attractive you see yourself and how attractive that you think you are plays a role in the kind of people that you make an attempt to date,” said Hodgkinson.

Physical appearance is as important to catching a date as a come-on line. Many physical-fitness centers resemble nightclubs, with women wearing special workout makeup that is waterproof and sporting fashionable workout clothes.

“The gym is actually a good place to meet someone with similar interests,” said Pam Spencer, a Sacramento-based fitness trainer, certified nutritionist and lifestyle coach. “If it is important to you to be with someone who does work out, then I guess it is a pretty good place.”

The California State University, Chico, graduate with a degree in physiology has observed many rituals at the gym. “I notice more flirting on the part of males more than females. I think that females do it in a more indirect way, maybe by how they dress to go to the gym. The shorts and shirt match, hair is nice and the makeup—like wearing cute workout clothes vs. when people are married or they come in the morning to work out. They don’t know when an opportunity will come along, so they want to look their best.”

While women running on treadmills demonstrate their stamina, the guys grunt and groan loudly, lifting weights to attest to their strength. “Men will sometimes lift heavier weights than what they should when there is someone around that they are trying to impress,” said Spencer. “'Look how heavy and hard this is!’”

Singles often complain that Sacramento is a tough town to find love, that everyone is too busy trying to have no-strings-attached sex as though the world were going to end tomorrow.

“The dating scene here, I think, is extremely difficult,” added Joey Garcia, herself a single woman. “I know so many wonderful women who are single who live really full lives and are happy but have not met the right man.”