New single woman looks for a real-world connection
“Nonfat, no-foam latte!” the barista called out to a crowd awaiting its caffeine fix.
I had come to this java joint not for the chocolate-covered macaroons, not for the frosted bread pudding muffins, nor even for the espresso. I had come in the hopes of finding love.
There was a time when I could stand in line at Starbucks or the bank, strike up a conversation and get asked for my phone number. So finding myself single again, I put on a snug dress and headed to a coffeehouse picked with Yelp.
Upon entering, however, I found most people sitting at tables entranced by the glow off their laptops. In line, people smiled down into cellphones, amused by their own witty text-a-tête.
After ordering, I strategically positioned myself amid a few men sitting alone.
“Hi. Janet? Didn’t recognize you from your profile picture,” one man said as a woman walked up to him.
Another guy avidly worked the track pad on his computer. I angled my chair to make myself available for chitchat, but I realized he was logged on to Match.com and scrolling through prospective dates’ photos.
A June study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that more than one-third of new marriages in the U.S. start online. But I was nostalgic for the notion of love at first sight, not first click.
I decided to meet a married girlfriend for cocktails at a hipster bar in Culver City to bemoan my hardships of singlehood. Because she was already wearing a ring, I hoped she’d fall into the role of wing-woman during happy hour. She had what I wanted: not just the love and adoration of a doting husband but also the traditional boy-meets-girl story. They hadn’t met on Match or eHarmony, JDate or Christian Mingle. It was rare.
If I was going to take this real-world route, my friend warned me it was harder these days to catch a man’s eye. She advised me to look my best. Make eye contact. Smile, of course. And when the occasion arises, flirt, woman. Flirt!
As I set out on my mission, however, I realized it was difficult to deliver the suggestive smile when people don’t look up at one another anymore. They don’t greet each other with a friendly hello or nod as they pass on the sidewalk.
So many of our rituals are gone. I used to spend hours perusing bookstores, where I’d browse spines or maybe chat about an intriguing cover with a fellow shopper. Now, how do you meet the man who frequents Amazon or reads a Nook?
Banking, renting movies and taking classes — they’re all lost to the convenience of the online world. I, like many Angelenos, telecommute from home and have had to say goodbye to yet another way dates could once be born.
After trying to meet men while volunteering, wine tasting, speaking at Toastmasters, taking dance lessons and attending book clubs, I was desperate. One night I went to Ralphs equipped with a strategy a married male friend said was sure to work.
“In the produce section, pick up a cucumber,” he said. “Walk up to a cute guy and ask him, ‘Is this a cucumber or a zucchini?’”
It seemed silly and dangerously flirtatious, and I was game. But the guy I approached simply grabbed the vegetable, rubbed its waxy surface and handed it back. “Cucumber, obviously,” he said before walking off.
The way we put out signals is key. Are other people no longer wired to receive mine? If I bat my eyelashes, do they think I’ve just been staring at a screen too long? Am I trying to engage in a game of courtship people no longer play?
We can log online and with great efficiency have a coffee date by the afternoon, but doesn’t that bypass how attraction occurs? The butterflies in the stomach, the jittery way he makes you feel when he walks up? The smell of his cologne as he leans in and asks for your number? Can online winks and virtual flirts hold that same wonder, if I struggle to keep my Facebook status updated and can’t remember to Instagram pictures of my food before I eat it?
Two years into my quest for a real-world chance encounter with love, I gave up. How long was I supposed to present cucumbers to strangers at Ralphs in the hopes of meeting Mr. Right?
I decided I had been holding too tight to this notion of a run-in with “the one.” Who am I to say from where love should come? I posted a profile on Match.
Standing outside my home, I can hear the telephone wires buzz overhead. I can imagine my profile traveling as electrical currents over those lines. The cables have attracted tennis shoes, dangling by their laces; a blackbird, perched in a darkening sky; and me, a lonely wooer, waiting for my mate.
Tammy Delatorre is a writer and hopeful romantic in Los Angeles.
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