*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]