steven ivory (2014)

Steven Ivory

*Early one Tuesday evening,   “Angie”  got off from her middle-management job  at City Hall in downtown Los Angeles, went home and  changed from a beige Ann Taylor business ensemble and heels  into  faded  jeans,  tan wedge sneakers  and a black  fitted  hoodie with a rainbow  NORTH FACE logo on the front.

After scarfing down a Lean Cuisine meal and freshening  her make-up,  this mom who just turned  50  was off again,   attending for the first time  a monthly Neighborhood Watch gathering  at  a library a few blocks  from her midtown  home.

Though  she is indeed  concerned about any transgressions in her  neat and quiet little community, her visit to  the meeting was on behalf of an ambitious vigil of another kind:  Angie is  looking for a man.

“To me, going to Neighborhood Watch makes perfect sense,”  she says, laughing   into the phone at the onset of our conversation.

I’ve  known  “Angie”  forever.   Met her through her former husband in the early  ‘70s when he and I majored in radio broadcasting at Los Angeles City College.  I told her I found what she’s doing interesting and asked if I could write about it.

“Only,” she insisted,  if I changed her name and didn’t mention too many  particulars.

“Think about it,” she continues.  “What kind of man goes to Neighborhood Watch but  someone conscientious  about where he lives?  And  he lives nearby.  That’s  a  plus.”

She  didn’t encounter any prospects that evening; the meeting was dominated by couples and uninteresting retirees.   However,  she figures it was worth adhering to the flyer left in her mailbox.  “You never know,” she says.   True.   However,  Angie aims to find out.    In her pursuit of  a romantic relationship,  she is willing to be proactive.

Angie represents that genre of single person who married   early in life and decades later, in their 40s and 50s, now find themselves divorced,  single  and looking  for love  in a world where  many  rules of dating have changed.

“For one thing, today people meet differently,” she says.  “I met my husband in person, not through the Personals—wow, remember newspaper Personals?—or some dating site.  The Internet didn’t exist.  He lived in the neighborhood. Was the third man I ever seriously dated.  We went out for about a year.  My father said I should marry him,  so I did.   During the marriage,  we turned into people who should never have married in the first place.   These days, women stay single longer.  They don’t marry for the reasons I did.”

After divorcing, Angie says more than two years passed before she  felt  ready to date. On the advice of friends, she turned to   the  Net.  After  communicating with seven men,  four of whom she met,   Angie discarded the concept of online dating  altogether.

“It’s a trap, because it’s so convenient,” she scoffs.  “You can answer profiles from your kitchen table.  People misrepresent themselves as who they THINK they are, or how they want to be seen.  I met men whose profiles said they were adventurous or liked to read or  see plays or whatever.  Then you meet  and learn they don’t  like doing any of  that stuff.  The pictures   they post are 20 years old.  Or they’re shirtless in them.   What’s up with that?  My girlfriends lie online about their age, lie about having kids.   I said, ‘I know how to be sociable,  I know how to meet people in real time.  I’m going to do this the old fashioned way.   I’m taking myself out into the public.  Just me.’”

Thing is, the “old fashioned way” holds that a “real” lady doesn’t go out by herself.   “Well, no man is  going to just come knock on your door and say, ‘I’m here.’  The toughest thing is not  meeting men.  The toughest thing is putting yourself  in the POSITION to meet men.  You don’t have to chase them,  but you do have to be where they are. “

Thus, by design, Angie goes lots of places alone–art exhibit openings, free concerts.  At least a couple days during her work week  downtown, she’ll lunch in restaurants  known  for being patronized by  businessmen.

Occasionally, she’ll attend Sunday service at churches to which she’s never been and stick around for   meet and greet receptions. Whenever she leaves home, whether it’s to the supermarket,  the post office or the bank, she tries to look  smart.   “You  don’t know when or where you’re going to meet the love of your life,” she  reasons.  “You have to WORK at this.”

Angie  even  goes  where,  perennially,  few women have  dared venture alone: The Bar.   “Not BAR bars,” she clarifies.  “No–bars inside of  nice restaurants.  That minimizes the riff-raff.”

She has a  technique.  “When I go, I go early, right after work,  before a lot of people get there, so I don’t feel so conspicuous  walking in by myself.     If I go on a weekend, I do the same thing—early, like six.  That way, I’m already there, before the crowd.  I order dinner at the bar—that gives me the reason to be there, instead of just sitting there.”

She  always lets  at least one person  know where she’s going.   “I tip well right after I order my first drink,” she explains, “to make a connection with the bartender.   If [the bartender]  is a woman,  that’s even better.   Show her  you’re not just some barfly,  and  she’ll look after you. “

Not many  of Angie’s friends know of her undertaking. Those who do are encouraging.  For the record, she does go out  with girlfriends and platonic male friends.

However, when she’s out on her man search (“Stop calling it that!”),  she’s alone.  “Any other way changes the dynamic.”   I ask her if  there have been any serious prospects.  “I’ve met some interesting men,” she says, “but no one I’d call a keeper.

“You guys are a trip,” she  continues,  in a tone  that feels reprimanding.  “I never realized how insecure men can be.  If a woman has  a good job, drives a nice car and lives in a nice place–hell, if she has an opinion–depending on who that man is—and I’m talking about  men who appear to have it going on–that can intimidate them.

“On the other hand, if some men don’t think you have enough in terms of things, that can be a problem, too.   I’ve grown so much emotionally that NEITHER of those types appeal to me.”

Angie pauses a moment.   “I hope you don’t write this up to make me look like  some  man eater or a player out here on the prowl,” she pleads.  “I’m not sleeping around.  And I’m not fearless about all this, either.   Sometimes, I get dressed and then get depressed about it all, and just stay home.  I’m just trying to do what I can.

“But I like my own company, and I’m anything but desperate, which is how some men see a woman my age.   In fact, I recently went out with a guy–introduced to me by a friend–who implied just that,  talking to me as if I didn’t have  choices.  To myself, I’m like,  ‘Dear, if you only knew just HOW much you don’t appeal to me.  My ‘alone’ is already good, but it’s downright MAGNIFICENT, compared to being with the likes of you.’”

 Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]