The news is alarming. Five minutes prior to the start of a speed-dating program called “Drawn to You” at the El Segundo Museum of Art, organizer Chelsea Hogan confides that no men have RSVP’d. It is a January evening, Friday the 13th — a nightmare dating scenario.
Eight women mill about the museum lobby, carefully dressed and nervously snacking on a cheese and veggie platter laid out beside bottles of Champagne and wine. Speakers in the gallery rock low strains of a romantic playlist including “True” by the 1980s new wave band Spandau Ballet, and fragrant perfume drifts through the air.
The clock ticks 10 minutes past 6:30 p.m. as the awkward truth of the situation dawns on the women. A few men walk past the picture window on Main Street, but none turns and enters. Hogan, now sure that no surprise attendees are in store, finally breaks the ice by gathering the women together and stating the obvious.
“I’m sorry. I’d be really disappointed if I were you,” she says, adding that it would be great if everyone wanted to continue anyway. The point of the night, after all, is to meet people and make art.
To everyone’s credit, no one leaves. After a bit of embarrassed laughter, the mood lightens up. The plan was to have the guests sit at a long table and draw one another’s portraits. Each portrait would take about eight minutes before people switched partners.
It was a great idea, in theory. So why had no men shown up?
I find out if someone is who he says he is. One guy said he was from Brazil, so I started to speak Portuguese and he was like, ‘Oh no, I don’t speak Brazilian’
All the men, the women joke, are across the street at Rock & Brews. With rows of massive TV screens, more than 100 craft beers and a rock-themed beer garden, the restaurant is a bit of a macho magnet. The women are here because they are hoping to avoid another night at the bar. (“So college!” one laments.) They are also tired of dating apps like Tinder and OkCupid.
“I find out if someone is who he says he is,” says Leah Solomon, 58, of her interactions on Tinder. “One guy said he was from Brazil, so I started to speak Portuguese and he was like, ‘Oh no, I don’t speak Brazilian.’”
Solomon is tall, busty and blond with a youthful voice and demeanor. She has two sons, one 18 and one 20. She was married for 21 years, but the marriage broke up about 10 years ago and she has been pretty much single ever since. She left her husband because she fell in love with another man who turned out to be a great Peter Pan. When she reflects on the end of her marriage she sometimes thinks, “Wow, I must’ve been out of my mind. I didn’t realize that the men out there aren’t good men — those are staying in their marriages.”
Solomon is a performance artist, but she says she doesn’t meet a lot of single men in art circles.
“I think they’re just there to buy art,” she says.
As she finishes her thought, a distinguished-looking man walks into the museum. He is probably in his mid-50s, but more important, he is well coifed, as if, maybe, he is here for a dating event. He appears taken off guard by the abundance of women at tables drawing each other, and he turns to look at the art on the wall, as if that is what he’s here for on a Friday night past 8 p.m.
“There’s a guy!” Solomon says, perking up and speaking a bit too loudly. She signals with an exaggerated arm wave to Hogan, and then addresses the man from her spot at the table.
“Are you here to draw?” she asks.
He turns and blinks his eyes like a fawn in high beams.
She tries again, speaking slowly this time, “Would you like to draw?”
The man pauses, gathering his wits about him like a protective blanket. He becomes incredibly gracious and debonair as he turns to exit the museum.
“Oh no, no,” he says, bowing ever so slightly. “But thank you so much.”
Solomon turns back to the women, shrugging.
“I tried,” she says, adding: “He was very polite.”
Meanwhile, at another long table, women have been instructed to cut out quotes from printouts provided for that purpose. They are told to paste those quotes to the pictures they have drawn of one another. The idea is to create an “analog” dating profile that one could, in theory, upload to a digital dating app. (This thought comes from another of the museum’s event coordinators, Joan Mace, in a bit of quick thinking intended to switch up the mission of the evening.)
Kerry Wieder, a slender actress with striking features and close-cropped hair, has snipped out “Syntax errors” and placed it above her head on her picture. The quotes provided come from the Nobel laureates who are the subject of the exhibit that has been on display at the museum.
Titled “Brain,” the exhibit features 396 black-and-white photos of Nobel Prize winners taken by Peter Badge over 16 years in locations all over the world. Ironically, Wieder notes, most of the photos are of men.
They surround the women on all four sides. They look very important and unavailable.
“It’s kind of like looking at a poster for a Scorsese movie,” Wieder says, “5,000 men and one abused woman. I watch movies and I count the number of women, because our stories don’t matter.”
The men who thought of coming to this event and decided against it (if they exist) are missing out. This is a sharp, funny group of ladies. The kind of women you imagine you might bump into at an art gallery.
Katie Neal, a petite blond, found the event through a popular South Bay events website. She says she does a lot of community and charity work, and she keeps her fingers crossed that she might meet someone that way. She speculates that no men showed up because women are more willing to put themselves out there than men are.
“Women might be prone to come to something more thoughtful,” she says.
Jaray Watkins, whose smile and laugh light up the room, found out about the event from the same website as Neal.
“Honestly, this is very out of my comfort zone,” she says, adding that at first she was disappointed when no men showed up, but that her disappointment soon gave way to relief. “Will they like me or not like me? Will anybody want to take my number? All these things go through your head when you’re single.”
With the pressure off, the women simply enjoy themselves. There is Champagne and laughter, and quite a few creative pictures are completed.
Later that evening, after the Times reporter has left the event, Solomon texts her an update. It’s a picture of a young man with a shiny brown beard and thick black-framed glasses.
“Look who showed up,” she writes. “28-year-old Brandon A. Then he invited another friend and we had drinks at Sausal.”
She’s referring to a restaurant down the street that left coupons next to the cheese plate that night.
“Single and ready to mingle?” the coupons asked in neat green type. “Come get your drink on … Good for 1 Rancho Margarita. Friday, January 13, only.”