S.F. is teeming with dudes, so why don’t they flirt? Experts say our courtship culture is complicated – but guess what? A digital solution is in our palms
“Did you observe ‘The Bachelor?’ ” my friend texted on a latest Tuesday while I was railing BART.
Actually, I missed it. For the past week, I realized, I had been too busy living “The Bachelorette.”
I’d been bouncing guys and dates in a refreshing tornado of activity that, until recently, had been entirely foreign since I’d re-entered the singles scene almost a year ago.
Sure, this city is teeming with single fellows. Census data demonstrate there are more single dudes than single women under 65 (tho’ in San Francisco that doesn’t necessarily mean single boys who want to meet women). And according to a Facebook examine of its users conducted last fall, San Francisco rates highest among major American cities on the ratio of single fellows to single women. Matchmaking service the Dating Ring has even launched a crowdfunded campaign to send Fresh York’s single women to meet all of San Francisco’s “eligible bachelors.”
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That’s the (ballpark) number of boys who have approached me, a single 30-year-old woman, since I moved here almost two years ago.
At very first, as women do, I internalized the problem (“the glasses are distracting”, “I’m going to the wrong places”). It didn’t help my ego that in January, Marie Claire pinpointed our fair city as one of the top five “fine places for single women.”
After attempting almost comical displays of “approachability” that have to be seen to be believed (trust me), I acknowledged the sobering truth: The courtship culture in San Francisco is not normal. Despite fountains of single fellows, getting a date is a no-man’s land. And it’s undoubtedly not just me.
“I’d forgotten what it was like to be flirted with,” says Kink and Code blogger Emma McGowan, 27, who noticed it during a latest visit to Fresh York. “I can’t get over how reflexively guys flirt in Fresh York.”
Leave behind flirting, it sometimes seems as if guys don’t see gals, period.
“I can’t sit at a bar in Chicago or Fresh York without a man striking up a conversation with me, whereas in San Francisco, guys don’t even look up from their laptops when I walk into a cafe,” says Beth Cook, 34, a local business and life coach. “I feel invisible in San Francisco and attractive whenever I leave.”
No surprise, then, that in that same Facebook probe, San Francisco also ranked dead last in the likelihood of relationship formation, based on the number of Facebook users who switched their status from “single” to “in a relationship” during the period studied last fall.
How did it get this way? Is it possible that single, straight guys in San Francisco are just not interested in meeting women?
So why has the trusty “Hi, how are you?” gone the way of the beeper?
It’s effortless to blame smartphones for substituting the normalcy of spontaneous face-to-face interaction.
“A lot of people are quick to blame tech, but that’s oversimplification,” counters McGowan.
We’ve all heard about Silicon Valley’s epic “Peter Pan syndrome,” in which thousands of youthful workers from around the world prolong their independence while carving out careers, heading west to strike (tech) gold.
“The courtship culture is just much less aggressive here,” acknowledges Colin Hodge, 28, CEO of Down, an app that lets users connect to date or “get down.” He says that many boys might find women in the Bay Area stiffer to treatment, partly because there aren’t as many of us to go around.
Kevin Lewis, an assistant professor of sociology at UC San Diego, blames the Bay Area’s progressive gender norms, with boys less likely to believe they need to make the very first stir. “It’s lighter when you have a script to go after – that is, ‘You’re a man, you have to do the work here,’ ” Lewis says. In debates with his single female friends who waited for guys to make the very first stir, the Bay Area native noted, “Most likely precisely the type of fellow you’re interested in meeting would love to have a certain, attractive woman come up to him and make the very first stir.”
But Mr. Maybe has to be willing to play ball. And in the real world, that just isn’t happening.
To increase my odds of going on a date, I developed a thrillingly distracting Tinder habit. Like the SoMa-based app Down, Tinder is one of a number of digital platforms that permits users to look for love (or eagerness) while standing in line or railing a bus – not sitting in front of a computer.
After a 30-second setup that pulls photos and basic stats from a user’s Facebook profile, users scroll other Tinderites filtered by age, gender and geographic proximity. With each profile, you can see collective friends and interests, browse photos and swipe left for “no,” right for “yes.” When two people say “yes” to each other, the magic happens: You’re given the power to talk.
The premise is ordinary, the practice, revolutionary.
“It’s like being at a cocktail party or a coffee shop,” says Tinder co-founder Justin Mateen of Tinder’s way of mimicking real-life interactions.
Which brings me to Tuesday. For the past week, I’d been evaluating guys on my commute (what’s with all the facial hair?), talking up boys while working out, setting up dates during meetings and bouncing midnight conversations – all on my phone. And, victoriously, I even went on a number of dates – in real life.
I discovered that the old “Hi, how are you?” is alive and well, it was just hiding in my phone. Call it digital courage, where “approaching” a female is as effortless as jamming out a text message and in which there are unlimited (and willing) fish in the sea.
Given all of the above (tech-friendly early adopters, jacked-up courting habits, rejection-shy geeks), it’s no wonder that San Francisco’s residents are flocking to the efficiency of dating digitally. But why it has all but substituted a time-tested mating ritual remains a mystery.
Until we crack the courtship code, one thing’s for sure: While tech isn’t truly the problem, it has certainly provided a solution.
This article has been corrected since it appeared in print editions.