Night Moves: North Bay romance is trickier than it looks.
Down and dirty on the North Bay singles scene
By M. V. Wood
It’s closing in on midnight on a chilly Saturday evening in Santa Rosa, and frosty air spills in through the nightclub’s patio doors. A woman wearing a skimpy top hugs herself and shivers. Sensing opportunity, a young man in a bulky black jacket gallantly steps forward.
“Here, this will warm you up,” he says, nudging his beer bottle toward her.
She hesitates a moment–just long enough for him to catch sight of another woman, a slim brunette. Her tight blouse has plenty to cling to, and she too is obviously chilled. Without another word, Black Jacket Man retrieves his beer and runs off to spread the warmth elsewhere.
Welcome to the Cantina After Dark, where singles come to search for a lasting relationship, or at least a relationship to last the night. Located on Santa Rosa’s Fourth Street, this nightclub above a Mexican restaurant is loud, colorful, and crowded. And, for a while at least, anyone can find a sense of togetherness as the thumping dance music reverberates through each body like a single heartbeat.
But the view from the patio tells a lonelier tale. It’s Saturday night, and the main street of the biggest town in the North Bay is almost deserted. No one is strolling around. No one is milling through the bookstores or mingling at the cafes. Most businesses have been closed for hours now.
Welcome to Green Acres, that quintessential quiet town where couples move to settle down, raise kids, and die.
This side of the bay isn’t an easy place to be single. Black Jacket Man would surely agree with that as he continues to wander about, offering his beer. “Here, this will warm you up,” he starts again.
Is there a better way to meet a match in the North Bay? Sure there is, says Rich Gosse, a relationship expert based in Marin. But you have to be smart. You have to have a plan.
The following morning, around the time the folks from the Cantina are thinking of maybe getting out of bed, about 15 students are already seated in a classroom at Santa Rosa Junior College, ready to take notes. Ranging in age from their 20s to their 70s, they’ve paid $45 a pop to take this class.
Gosse will spend the next seven hours teaching them his 10-step technique to finding a loving relationship within the next six months.
“There are people out there who are so desperate, who hate being single so much, that they’re willing to lower their standards,” Gosse tells his class. “We have a word for people like that. That word is ‘married.’
“It’s easy to get married. I don’t care how disgusting of a human being you are, there is someone out there who wants to marry you. But marrying just anyone so that you won’t be alone isn’t the point, is it? And that’s why you’re here today. It’s because you have standards.”
Gosse is one part teacher, one part showman, and two parts businessman as he works the crowd.
His students don’t appear to be a bunch of losers whom he’s trying to placate with a load of babble about how enlightened and discerning they are. Instead, they look surprisingly normal.
They take turns introducing themselves and sharing stories of how their previous relationships began. An elegant, middle-aged woman from Sonoma relates the tale of an airplane ride that ended in romance. When the plane landed, the pilot stepped out of the cockpit to say “goodbye” to the passengers. As she walked by, he said “hello” and followed her off the plane. The two began dating.
So what’s she doing in a class like this?
“I figured I’m very organized and methodical and goal-oriented in business and just about everything else I do,” she explains. “But when it comes to relationships, I just leave everything to chance. And I’ve decided that isn’t the best way to go about things.
“I’ve been divorced for many years, and I like being single,” she continues. “But I would like to meet a couple of nice men to go out with. And I figured this class would help me come up with a game plan to find the right men.”
Gosse is the man with that plan. The author of eight books on the subject of being single, he started off his career as a Catholic schoolteacher in Tiburon. “I was single, and all the women I was meeting were either married or nuns, so I had to figure something out,” he says.
His quest for a date motivated him to create singles groups, which then led to starting a variety of businesses and giving lectures and writing books. Gosse is also chairman of American Singles, an organization that sponsors events throughout the world and he serves as publisher of the organization’s free magazine, Possibilities, available throughout the Bay Area.
Gosse says he’s distilled his 26 years of experience down to 10 safe and simple rules anyone can follow to find a lasting relationship.
Romantics may not be much inspired by some of his techniques.
For example, there’s Rule No. 6: Eliminate the Competition.
“Go out and do something your sex hates to do and the opposite sex loves to do,” he tells his students. “That way, you’ll be surrounded by the other sex, and there’s no competition.”
If you’re a woman, go to a sporting event. If you’re a man, visit that ultimate female hunting ground: the local shopping mall.
Or, if looking for a woman with traditional values, go to a church. “There’s no competition at a church,” Gosse says. “The only other men there are the young ones whose mothers make them go, or the married ones whose wives make them go. But there are plenty of single women who attend church.”
And try out all the different houses of worship. “The religion doesn’t matter,” he adds.
Later, as the class lunches together at Adel’s on College Avenue, a few students question Gosse about the ethics of posing as a churchgoer in order to pick up women. “You should never lie to meet someone, or you’ll destroy their trust,” he says. “But it’s perfectly OK to be honest and say, ‘I’m an atheist, but I’m really horny.'”
As far as eliminating the competition and meeting loads of singles, Gosse heralds personal ads as the “easiest and most efficient” method of doing so.
For men, Gosse says, “there are two magic words you should place in your ad if at all possible.” The magic words? “Successful” and “professional.” The top three words a woman should put in an ad are “young,” “slim,” and “attractive.”
“I know that’s completely politically incorrect,” Gosse says, “but it’s true.”
How young is young? “The magic number is 40,” he continues. “If you’re a woman over 40, don’t tell another living soul. You can tell your cat, you can tell your dog, but not one person.”
According to Gosse, the favorite lie women tell in ads is about their age. And the favorite lie men tell is about their height. “Only 10 percent of the U.S. population is over six foot,” he says. “But judging from personal ads, you’d think we were living in the land of giants.”
Tonight, Uncle Patty’s Bar and Grill in Sonoma is the land of giants. There’s a car parked outside with a license plate frame that reads, “Proud to Be Tall.” The car and the plate belong to Judy Hirsch, who was nicknamed the Jolly Green Giant in school. Hirsch, 5’11”, and her husband, Bob, 6’5″, are the founders of the Redwood Empire chapter of the Tall Club.
Inside the bar, the group is eating dinner and socializing a bit. These folks look pretty average sitting down. But when they stand, heads turn. The club has two requirements for membership: You must be at least 21 years old. And you must be tall. For men, the minimum height is 6’2″, and for women it’s 5’10”.
Although some members are married, the national organization is predominately a singles club where the tall can meet their own kind. Membership is particularly helpful for single women looking for a man they can look up to, says Hirsch, who met her husband while the two were members of the San Francisco chapter of the Tall Club.
“Many tall women aren’t comfortable dating shorter men,” she explains. “You know, they go out dancing, and the man’s head is right between her breasts. Things like that. It’s tough.”
The Tall Club is just one of a bewildering array of local groups that, although not formally singles clubs, do serve the function of bringing romantically inclined people together.
Singles who have outgrown the bar scene tend to gravitate toward these types of gatherings. Athletic clubs such as the Santa Rosa Cycling Club and the Winers, the local chapter of the international running group the Hash House Harriers (self-described as a drinking club with a running problem), have good word of mouth as being prime places for singles to meet.
The Sierra Club is a perennial favorite. The San Francisco Bay chapter includes the group Sierra Singles, which organizes about 50 events each month for singles, many of them in the North Bay. There are also two subgroups within the Sierra Singles: the Solo Sierrans, for those 45 and older, and the Gay and Lesbian Sierrans.
Single parents, whether divorced, separated, widowed, or never married, can also turn to the Redwood Empire chapter of the Parents without Partners organization.
Although the North Bay has many organizations aimed at singles, Gosse says they are not evenly distributed.
“Marin County has the most activities,” he says. “Napa is the graveyard for singles groups. The people in Napa who want to join a group go to Sonoma County.
“And then in Sonoma County, the single women are always complaining how the local men are a bunch of chicken farmers,” Gosse continues. “They say that if they want to meet a quality man, they have to go to Marin or Napa–‘quality’ meaning a white-collar professional.”
“The number one thing women are looking for in a man is that he’s a good provider,” he adds. “Oh sure, when a girl is young, she doesn’t care about money. She cares about looks. And that cute guy working at McDonald’s is just great. But when she gets a little older and is ready to settle down, all of the sudden, looks slip to number two and money rises to the top.”
It’s hard to say how much money and looks really have to do with it. Or age. Or height. Or even a game plan at all. But Gosse seems to be on to something when he talks about eliminating the competition.
Time, of course, is the greatest eliminator of all. Robert Olsten of Santa Rosa didn’t attend Gosse’s lecture. He didn’t need to. Olsten has discovered the main secret to being besieged with the attentions of innumerable single women.
At 79, Olsten has slipped into the golden years. Countless women in his age group have outlived their partners and are now competing for new companions from the ever dwindling supply of widowers.
For example, during the lunch at Adel’s, one of Gosse’s students tells about widowed life in the Sonoma County retirement community of Oakmont (or Croakmont, as some of the younger folks call it). As soon as a female resident is buried, “all the widows in the neighborhood start lining up at the husband’s door bringing over casseroles” and trying to hook up with him, she says.
Olsten says he has never experienced anything that extreme. “But it’s true there are more ladies than men my age, so, yes, it does becomes easier to meet them,” adds Olsten, who’s been single for a quarter of a century. Following the death of his wife of 42 years, he eventually joined a widow and widowers support group through his church.
“In the group, there’s now 12 women and one man–me. And at the last potluck, I was the only man at a table full of women. One of my friends called us ‘Bob and his harem,'” he says with a chuckle.
Dressed in a pair of Dockers and a crisp shirt, Olsten looks and acts a good 20 years younger than his age. He’s spent the morning delivering food for charity and walking his dog a couple of miles in Howarth Park.
“I’ve learned that as long as you keep busy doing the things you love to do, you end up meeting people you like spending time with,” he says.
But he’s quick to point out that he does have “one special lady friend” who’s a few years his senior.
“We have a fantastic time together,” he says with a smile. “A while back, we went to Bodega Head and flew a kite, and it was wonderful. I felt like a kid. And when I came back home, I was still flying. That feeling you have when there’s someone special–that feeling is still there no matter how old you get.
“It’s just the way people are. We always want to have the companionship of that special someone.”
From the February 28-March 6, 2002 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.