Where, oh, where, do the singles hang out?

0828 Feat1If you are single, over 35 and living in Ventura County, you probably feel as though you are the only unmarried person in the world. After all, much of the county is a bedroom community designed for families. It is chockablock with large houses, soccer fields, churches and family restaurants. Where can you possibly meet other single people your own age? Bars? Beaches? Fix-ups? Work? The gym? Do you even want to revisit those uncomfortable dating days? Well,

if you don’t want to be alone forever, you must find your courage, tweak your confidence and dive in. You might even have some fun.

One popular place to begin your search is online. Yes, you may not even have considered such an apparently desperate move back in the days before you got married. But being single and in your 40s can present problems you never even imagined when you were 25 years old. So head for your computer and hang on for some unexpected experiences. Remember, you are older and infinitely wiser now. Your people skills are at their peak. You are ready to begin this vaguely familiar adventure.

Women seem to prefer meeting someone online initially and using the medium as a screening tool. After all, you can maintain distance and remain anonymous.

Lee from Ojai, 52, is in the health and fitness business. She said her ex-husband broke off the marriage, leaving her feeling old and scared. “Then I realized I could check out the Internet,” Lee said. “It was like a catalog of men.” So Lee took the leap. Her first encounter was less than wonderful.

“Wound up, he was married and he was a liar,” Lee said. “Everything he said was a big, fat lie. But that was my first experience.” Even when Lee received an e-mail from this guy’s wife, Lee soldiered on, looking for a better class of human.

“I’ve met some really nice men that were legit,” Lee said. “I’m just holding out until I find the right one.”
Charlotte of Ventura is 40-ish and is currently in a steady relationship. But her active dating days were not all that long ago. “I’ve always been opposed to Internet dating,” Charlotte said. “But I think I would narrow people down through the internet and then go out for coffee. It is very short — you are in and out of there. But you’ve got to make sure you buy your own coffee and don’t leave it near them.” Charlotte has not yet reached the blissful stage of trusting men.

“My poor daughter is going on 16, and I have yet to let her go out alone on a date,” Charlotte said.

Women seem to use the Internet more often than do men. A random search of a popular all-purpose Web site, Craigslist, turned up some interesting clues about singles in Ventura County. On a given day, there were 35 entries for “Women Seeking Men.” That same day, the “Men Seeking Women” page had only three listings.

One of those listings was from a man in his 50s who specified that he wanted “an intelligent woman.” He went on to describe his ideal mate. “Must know the meaning of the following words: Slovakia, Quark, Miro, Buddha, Altruism, Tantra, Dickens, Child-Rearing, and GDP.” There were other qualifications, but you get the idea. This ad stood out among those looking just for sex.

Not all bars are the same

So, if not online, where do singles meet? It seems that everyone has a strong opinion about meeting people at a bar. Most refuse to even entertain the idea. But one man has found a neighborhood bar that he uses as a comfortable base from which he can meet a woman or two.

Bill, 49, lives in Oxnard and works as a computer specialist. He has lived in the area for less than two years. “I still kind of feel like I’m a Chicagoan here in Southern California,” Bill said.

Like many relatively new transplants from the Midwest, Bill is living near the beach and loves it, still basking in the vacation-like feeling of being near the ocean.

Bill has also become a regular at a local bar called The Shores. He said it takes some getting used to. “I took a buddy from back East over to the bar,” Bill said, “and he said it was like ‘Twin Peaks.’ ”

Bill said the first two new people that he met when he first moved to Oxnard were a former roller derby queen in her 60s and her friend, a former Navy engineer in her 80s. That quirky friendliness sold Bill on the bar as a meeting place.

But most reactions to the idea of joining the bar scene were along the lines of what Charlotte said: “I hate the whole bar scene and I would not do it.” Or Jay of Ventura, late 40s, who works in the legal arena. “I’ve never dated a woman from a bar or that type of venue,” Jay said. However, Jay did admit to dating a woman he met on a crowded, stuck elevator.

To some of the singles who were interviewed, the world is the stage for meeting other people. It doesn’t matter where you are; if you are open to striking up a conversation with an attractive stranger, then you are taking the first step toward dating. More often than not, grocery stores were mentioned — Ralph’s and particularly Trader Joe’s. (Check out the frozen edamame section.) Jay said he met his current girlfriend after stopping for gas in Ventura and then spying a gallery opening down the street. “I figured, what better way to get free wine and cheese,” Jay said. “I was just kind of cruising.” Jay has been with his girlfriend for about three years, but offered his wisdom from many years of dating.

0828 Feature2The list

Everyone who is single had a list of necessary qualities for their perfect mate, or the list could be things that would stop them cold. Either way, the list was quickly a part of the conversation.

Lee closely sticks to her list. She said she wanted someone who was mature and responsible. “You know how men go through their mid-life?” Lee said. “Like little spoiled brats? That’s not what I’m looking for.” Lee added that she was seeking a man who is kind to others, respectful, financially happy with his income, happy in his work, playful, romantic, takes good care of himself, enjoys adventure and travel, can also enjoy a quiet night at home, is good-natured and even-tempered, and is not possessive and jealous.

Male mid-life appears to be something that single women are avoiding like a Friday afternoon traffic jam. Nancy is in her early 50s, lives in Newbury Park, and works in both real estate and law. After 20 years of marriage, Nancy again is living the single life. “Would I go out with a man in his mid-40s? Are you kidding?” Nancy said. “For their mid-life crisis, no. They could have small children. No.”

Nancy also has a list. “The perfect man is someone who likes to go to plays and dinner. He’d have to have the money for it,” she said. “Likes to travel, doesn’t have an ex-wife or kids at home. And who isn’t a jerk. Or looking for a 20-something, because they are trying to redo their youth. I don’t know that they’re out there.”

Charlotte, the lawyer, had a few no-nos on her list, too. “I would never date someone from work, even if I liked him, especially an attorney,” Charlotte said. “It’s such a stressful job and, unfortunately, people who are attorneys aren’t always the most honest people. (hearty laugh) Yeah, they could be deceiving.”

Charlotte’s list also specified that low-income guys need not apply. “The man would have to be a professional worker; they would have to make decent money,” Charlotte said. “Men of my generation want somebody to take care of them. I’m looking for somebody that puts their kids first because I put my kid first.”

Jay’s list was not quite like the others. It was more of an image of the perfect life together. “Quite honestly, ever since I was young, I have always wanted to be married and have children and come back to the house and have a great home,” Jay said. “You have a wonderful wife and a mate and a mother. You juggle parenting duties, but you remember that she was initially your soul mate, you don’t forget that.”

Jay’s life has not turned out quite like his dream. “I had married (his ex) in my mid-40s, and she already had grown children,” Jay said. “She was more into buying Prada than Pampers.”

When good dates go bad

Meeting people and dating brings with it a certain degree of risk — usually not the serious risk of danger, but the opportunity for truly strange and bewildering experiences.

The level of discomfort can be in the red zone.

Lee has not been single for very long and was still testing the waters. She was enthusiastic about meeting new men and embraced the experience. “To be quite honest, I’m not in a hurry,” Lee said. “I enjoy dating and I enjoy men a lot.

I really miss having a man in my life.”

Even Lee’s positive attitude has not completely shielded her from the truly incompatible. “One person I met, he was really petite and tiny, and I’m a really athletic girl,” Lee said. “He was very, should I say, granola? And I’m not that way at all. I enjoyed his company, but, no way. I got this e-mail when I got home, ‘When are we getting married?’ I had to write back to say I wasn’t interested.”

Lee has been through a few of these less-than-ideal situations. “This one poor man, I must have made him really nervous. In a half an hour he downed three beers,” Lee said. “Then he got crude and weird. I thought he was disgusting, and he thought he was funny. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.”

Weird dates are not the exclusive domain of single women. Men get their fair share. Bill said the trait that most matters to him in a date is the ability to hold a conversation. That, he said, should have been the first sign that trouble was ahead.

“I went out with this woman who was not a very good conversationalist,” Bill said. “She turned out to be just plain dense, not the sharpest tool in the shed. I’m not expecting a rocket scientist; I’m talking about a normal person who interacts socially.”

Bill said he took the date to her house, and she asked him to come in. Her 18-year-old son was out for the evening. She wanted more than just coffee, although Bill said he was not interested. “And then, sure enough, she takes off her top and in walks her son. It was kind of weird and embarrassing. She was crazy. She would call me all the time and show up at places where I would go. It didn’t stop for a month.”

Bill had another story about inexplicable behavior by a date. He said he had been seeing a woman for about a month and, on paper, it looked promising. Then they spent the day at a lake and bickered the entire time. “At the end of the day, we went back to her place,” Bill said. “I knew it was a bad sign when she got into bed with her swimming suit on. The next day she had a laundry list of things she didn’t like about me. I’d say it was one of the two worst experiences.”

Bill had one more disconcerting encounter, only it was with a woman he had never dated. “We met each other at the bar and we talked. She’s married, but she calls me all the time,” Bill said. She got Bill’s number through a mutual friend and sent lots of text messages. “There are some weird chicks out there, I’m telling you.”

You’re how old?

There is a widespread belief that women in their 40s and 50s are not all that concerned about the age of the men they date. But it is assumed that men of the same age only want to have a 20-something cutie hanging on their arm.

However, that actually depends on the individual person.

Lee said she had been asked out by a few men who were noticeably younger than she. Despite the fact that her ex-husband was eight years younger, Lee said she was not interested in the young dudes. “I’m looking for somebody between 48 and 58,” Lee said. “That’s my range. Men that I’ve talked to who are in their 60s, they remind me too much of my dad. And they are very controlling, too, and I don’t like to be controlled.”

Nancy has peeked at the singles ads. “Men in their 50s or 60s say they are open to anyone who is 25 to 45,” Nancy said. “None of them want their age group. They don’t want to get old.”

But Bill has a very different approach to age. “These days, particularly, it’s hard to tell what a person’s age is,” he said. “If I can’t tell, then I’m not concerned about it. If I sense they are in my age range, then I’m more comfortable. I think a trait of somebody in their 20s is they are a little smart-alecky. They take the liberty of making fun of you right away, quicker than somebody that’s closer to my age who is used to being cordial, getting to know each other before whipping out the insults.”

The power struggle

The issue of financial independence was one of huge importance to women. Charlotte said she was not the least bit interested in a man who could not support himself. “I already have a child. I’m supporting me and her ,and I’m not going to take on the added responsibility of supporting somebody else,” Charlotte said. “I’ve met several women who don’t work and their husbands provide for them, and that’s great. But I want to feel like I have equal power in a relationship.”

Nancy had similar thoughts. “I think so many women aren’t interested in dating because they don’t want to take care of a man,” she said. “The whole idea of dating is to find someone to get married. The reason why men get married and women don’t need to, is to be taken care of.”

Lee also took on the issue of power and control. “I have gotten the feeling from a few men that they want to be taken care of, mostly older men,” Lee said. “I let them know right away that I’m not going to be your momma or a housekeeper.”

So, after listening to this very unscientific survey of the local singles scene, it appears that the big picture for people re-entering the dating world is that each person’s approach to dating is as unique as each person’s individual experiences and personality. The clichés about men and women and what each wants from the other are sometimes true. But more often, the prejudices perpetuated by those outside the dating world seem to fade away when real people are meeting other people. There often is mutual sensitivity, a need to be wanted, and a desire for human contact, however imperfect it all may be.

Ventura County is filled with opportunities to meet other people; you just have to keep your eyes open and be nice to those you encounter. So next time you head out to the grocery store, check the mirror. You never know.