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Women Learn to Flirt as Dating Class Navigates Choppy Seas

<i> Tracey Kaplan is a Times staff writer</i>

One recent Friday night, while Happy Hour was winding down and the dateless were tuning in Love Connection, 10 women looking for Mr. Right were flirting--with each other.

Jennifer fastens her hot blue orbs on Kathy, who first looks down shyly and giggles. But then, admonished by dating instructor and therapist Elaine Rosenson, Kathy sweeps her coal-black eyes up off the carpet and fires a sizzling look back at Jennifer.

These women are spending three hours and $45 apiece to attend “Meeting Mr. Right: Good Women, Good Men, Good Choices,” a Learning Tree University class in Chatsworth.

One door down, in Room 7, a group of 10 single men are studying “10 Successful Strategies for Meeting Women.” But the two groups never meet because the men’s class adjourns half an hour earlier than the women’s.

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“They’re probably all old men anyway,” says Beth, a 54-year-old blond widow from Long Beach who, like the other women in the class, asked that her real name not be used.

But the guys in Room 7 are nearly handsome enough to appear in a C&R; Clothiers ad, a quick look next door shows. And the women in Rosenson’s class are also attractive, from the Chinese cousins with shiny black hair to the two bankers in expensive suits with perfectly matching accessories.

Then why are they in class instead of out on dates or married?

Because the unwritten rules governing relations between the sexes have changed, and everybody is a little confused. Mr. Right used to be the doctor your mother urged you to marry, but now women can become doctors too. He used to be rich, but now women have a better chance than before of attaining economic success. He used to want children, but now he has to be willing to help change diapers and do the laundry.

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And flirting used to mean acting silly, or even a little dumb, but today’s women are afraid they won’t be taken seriously if they let down their guard.

So, while the men in Room 7 try to figure out “new expectations women have of single men,” according to the school’s catalogue, the women in Room 4 examine those expectations and get a little pep talk at the same time.

Jennifer, a pretty blonde, can’t seem to find anyone who interests her.

Greta, 47, whose Swedish accent and facial bone structure resemble Ingrid Bergman’s, has a boyfriend, but says he just wants to come over and eat her home-cooked meals. She and her husband were married for 16 years, but he was also Mr. Wrong, she says.

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Kathy, a 34-year-old banker with an upturned nose and auburn hair, says she is too shy to flirt, but desperately wants children.

As they mill around the center of the room, pretending to be at a cocktail party, Rosenson urges them to “look an interesting man in the eye longer than you’re comfortable. Increase your exposure so a man doesn’t have to work as hard.”

Hardly revolutionary advice. Women have been casting come-hither looks since they had eyelashes to bat. But these women seem to need and appreciate the practice.

“Where do you find him? Everywhere,” says Rosenson, who met her second husband at a psychology conference. “At the gas station, a sailing club--anywhere. We’re all magnetic fields, and when we feel positive and attractive, people are attracted to us.”

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Rosenson also urges the class to draw up a shopping list of desired qualities in a man. “What are your non-negotiable requirements in a mate?” she asks. “Remember them so you don’t get sidetracked by the wrong man.

“For me, it’s having my point of view heard, even if he doesn’t agree.”

“Ambitiousness and financial security,” Greta calls out. “My boyfriend and my ex just sit on their butts.”

Opposites attract, Rosenson says. Qualities like that often represent “disowned parts of yourself that you need to own.”

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Once you realize what you want, keep asserting yourself and see how he fits in, Rosenson says. “Those little things that rag at you usually come back and end a relationship,” she says.

Most of all, be willing to experiment and make mistakes, she says.

“You need to be able to tolerate a certain amount of loss or you’ll never try anything,” she says. “When things don’t work out, just learn to say ‘whoops’ to yourself like it’s no big deal.”


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