Dilettante 42: Singles night

In dilettante by summerburkes

In the past years since I wrote this column about a singles’ meet-and-greet night in the Bay Area, computer life has turned dating into another avenue for addiction, at least for some.

Date or don’t date whoever you want but let’s all agree that positive interaction on social media causes dopamine to flood the system, and that intermittent variable rewards are the basic patterning for addiction.

Meaning, it’s good sometimes and bad sometimes, and it’s there sometimes and not there sometimes, and that’s how you get hooked. And with the advent of the World Wide Web, you can do this to yourself over and over and over.

Pushing and swiping those buttons creates a superhighway for the dopamine-challenged to contort themselves, and for those with preoccupied attachment and dismissive-avoidant attachment to find each other, so that the latter can torture groups of the former until everyone’s an emotionally imbalanced mess.

Or at least that’s what I’ve observed casually from outside the fray. Mainly my poor attitude toward online dating is about distrusting Facebook (and therefore Instagram and Tinder) entirely.

But don’t take my word for it; there’s Psychology Today’s article that says ”Tinder hijacks the brain’s system of reward learning to keep individuals hooked.” One study found that Tinder users have lower self-esteem than non-users.

Yes, the good side is having access to a larger pool of single people. It’s a revolutionary development in dating — as long as one can control oneself, behave ethically, and avoid ghosting because that’s terrible.

This refinery29.com article gets to the heart of the matter: Adrenaline. Online dating feels like a video game, and maybe that takes away some humanity in the equation somewhere.

Maybe that’s why barn dances used to be the thing to do and should be again. Seems to me you’d want to catch a whiff of someone’s pheromones, and check if they have shark eyes, and see who their friends are before giving them access to your life and information. But maybe I’m old-fashioned.

Scroll down to read “Fool for love,” originally published in the SF Bay Guardian on April 14, 1999.

This is the 41st piece in my “twenty years ago this week” project; Dilettante’s first installment is here.


summer burkes dilettante logo sf bay guardian 1997-2001_resized

Fool for love: The Bay Area singles scene is not as desperate or toupee-heavy as one might think.

by Summer Burkes, 04.14.99


While waiting for a handsome companion to return with another round of beers in a tropically themed restaurant last weekend, I passed the time by taunting some fish in a dirty aquarium. Within moments a lecherous, stumbling, dejected-looking older man who had been ogling the both of us for most of the night approached me. “Nice fish. Zat yer boyfriend?” he slurred, and then stiffened, blurting: “I’m interested in a dirty S&M threesome.”

Uh, no thanks.

As someone loathe to marry, I wonder if moments like this one are what I have to look forward to in the dating world. Do large segments of the population – those who set themselves up for failure by first insisting that humans are naturally monogamous creatures – have to rely on the confidence alcohol inspires, the gullibility of the young, the hidden perversions of the straight-laced, or the anonymity of personal ads just to get laid?

Are cold-footed divorcés and single parents who may need help in this area given no option but to lay themselves on the “singles scene” chopping block? Are many otherwise-confident and “normal” adults reduced to an emotional shambles in the face of the prospect of growing old alone?

San Rafael’s Rich Gosse, founder of the American Singles organization, currently has the unmarried professional market cornered. He organizes a number of singles events in the Bay Area and acts as an all-purpose dating guru, complete with books, inspirational tapes, and countless appearances in the mainstream media. American Singles boasts more than 230,000 members in 96 countries, and its Web site receives about a million hits a day.

To celebrate the premier issue of his new baby Possibilities, the “Bay Area’s first singles’ magazine,” Gosse threw a special shindig this past weekend at the tony Mark Hopkins Hotel. (“Would you subscribe to a singles magazine?” my housemate asks me earlier that afternoon. “That’s like banking on 12 months of loneliness.”) It was neither as desperate nor as toupee-heavy as one might expect.

Hesitating at the entrance of the Snob Hill hotel, my companion and I check for salacious wallflowers and Walter Mittys. But the crowd is surprisingly full of confident, attractive, older professionals. By the name-tag and registration stand ($20 a ticket), where Gosse is gregariously interacting with the attendees, our own Bay Guardian has set up shop and is giving away free personal ads.

Since my gorgeous friend (a single, self-professed freak magnet who resembles a petulant Barbie) has only accompanied me under duress, in exchange for a Slayer ticket, we hide near the table with our own kind. I repeatedly address my friend as “chum,” amusing myself with the double entendre.

Inside, the festooned dance hall resembles a prom for adults. Awkward couples dance to Burger King disco and Motown hits, eyes roam, and there’s a palpable air of slightly humiliated cheer. The beady-eyed-letch count is low, but the mustache, hair spray, gold pin, and sequin quotient is high. It is, indeed, a room full of “normal” people.

“Ladies’ choice,” the DJ croons, a techno song blares, and hopeful acquaintances pair up. A cute, 50-ish mad-scientist type with Don King hair and suspenders ignores the thumping bass, suavely swinging his elated partner, old-school style. (“He is sooo laid,” my friend whispers.)

Elsewhere on the floor, a preoccupied couple slow-dances Saturday Night Fever style. The patronizing sympathy I thought I might have gives way to patronizing reassurance about my spinster future.

The Bay Guardian‘s Personals-table host is a veteran of the scene. “Some of these people are total babes…I just want to say, ‘You don’t need to pay for this!'” he gushes.

As if on cue, a woman walks by in three shades of magenta, hair ratted to the sky, with her waist cinched by a jewel-encrusted belt that she must have stolen from Aladdin. He qualifies, “Well, there are fashion-challenged people everywhere.” True.

A New Age ponytailer in an ethnic vest lurks around Petulant Barbie like a hungry dingo. A stout, beer-gutted cowboy roams round in circles, disguising his fear with bravado and appearing totally unapproachable. Aside from a few exceptions, the stereotypical notion of men as predators and women as rivals doesn’t apply here.

As the DJ widens his repertoire to include country and funk, ties are loosened, walls come down, and conversation grows well lubed with alcohol. The dance floor is a maze of chattering couples. Mad Scientist trots by and out the hotel door with a different hot tamale on his arm. Even New Age Ponytail has a dance partner.

Out at the Personals stand, an attractive professor type sits down almost gloomily to fill out her spiel. “Help me out here – what should I write?” she says. “Do men want intelligence, attractiveness, or someone who’s interesting?”

“Honey, write who you are,” offers Personals Guy. “Something that makes you you.”

She scratches out a blander self-description and writes “Picasso scholar.” Hell yes – a far cry from fireside chats and long walks on the beach.

“It’s hard having to do this all over again. Wish me luck,” she says, walking tentatively into the fray.

Luck? Well, Picasso Scholar, here’s a quote from the inaugural issue of Possibilities, page 10: “Studies show that ever-single women are healthier, happier, and less lonely and more financially secure in retirement…. [They] command higher salaries and are more likely to reach the top of the corporate ladder.”

But hey – if you’re interested in a warm body who’ll always be available for back rubs and is willing to share their ice cream sandwich even when he/she prefers not to, talk to Rich Gosse. If, on the other hand, you’re interested in a clichéd three-person sexual act with a self-loathing, timid, potentially violent drunk, have I got a guy for you …



This is the 42nd entry in my “twenty years ago this week” project from when I was a nightlife columnist at the Bay Guardian, once the country’s largest family-owned weekly newspaper. These “Dilettante” clips, compiled on my portfolio page, create a serial portrait of San Francisco culture at the turn of the century (1997-2001).

Follow Summer Burkes on Twitter