Sound the Trumpets - let the games begin!
by Viia Beaumanis
First time author Jennifer Bawden-a fashion designer whose clothes have appeared on such celebrities as Celine Dion, Mariah Carey and Ivana Trump-pens the most recent contribution to the perennial series of man-hunting manuals. Marketed as a sort of anti-Rules manifesto, Get A Life, Then Get A Man: A Single Woman's Guide (Plume) encourages women to define themselves as "unique" individuals, while urging them to be more candid and dynamic in their pursuit of men.
Bawden proposes that women draw up a list of goals, such as "take scuba lessons," "run a marathon," "learn Spanish"-thus, rendering themselves both lively and engaging, whilst cleverly creating copious new opportunities to meet men. After "transforming" yourself into a fascinating, multifaceted creature, you're ready to market yourself with the assistance of her plentiful dating tips.
Insisting that even the most banal opening line will do ("Wow, it's hot in here!" "Where did you get those great boots?" "We're settling a bet; what's your opinion of.?"), Bawden's assumption is that, if you handle yourself in a seemly fashion, men will be pleased-flattered even-to make your acquaintance. She discourages women from too quickly inquiring what men do for a living, which can be perceived as materialistic, or accepting drinks from men who they're not interested in, as this obliges one to invest at least 15 minutes of conversation. (That makes a woman's social rate about $20 an hour at $6/drink. Suddenly, shooters seem like a great idea.) Bawden also counsels against complaining, whining, gossiping, cynicism, smoking in proximity to non-smokers or dressing in an overtly sexual manner. All of which have me marveling that I've ever convinced anyone to date me- a smoking, scandal-mongering cynic in four-inch stilettos who finds asking people what they do "during the day" a convenient conversational starting point.
I select four women to volunteer their flirting services in exchange for free cocktails at chic downtown Toronto bars. As my deadline precludes the possibility of having complete rigorous 10-week self-improvement plans that would enable them to arrive outfitted with certificates from Le Courdon Bleu and black belts in karate, I chose women ranging in age from 28-31 who are naturally confident and interesting:
Paola is a divorced, single woman in public relations who is attracted to confident, kind men with good manners. She professes a marked aversion to "insecure men and non-smoking control freaks."
Lorraine, the owner of a successful dog-grooming business, describes herself as "religiously single" and is fond of men with strong personalities and high sex-drives.
Cristy-Jane is a bartender who depicts her past relationships as "passionate and volatile." She names intelligence, a sense of humor and empathy as desirable qualities in a man.
Eloisa is an actor who claims a history of dating "charming psychopaths" and an affection for witty, romantic, nonpossessive men with "an edge" who "don't mistake kindness for weakness."
Our first destination is Canoe Restaurant & Bar, a smart, downtown boite known for its lively after-work bar scene and the strong likelihood that the men who spend time here are apt to be over 25 and gainfully employed. Cristy-Jane, who arrives wearing a simple sleeveless black dress and sandals, says that she is inclined to feel more reticent around men she is attracted to. Although she applauds women who confidently launch into conversation, she doesn't, as a rule, exercise such an enthusiastic tactic herself. Lorraine, likewise, prefers a more "come hither" attitude to approaching men. In sharp contrast, Paola and Eloisa, both quintessentially outgoing, have no difficulty with the idea of being proactive-an affinity quickly realized as Paola waves over a group of gentlemen standing at the bar, while Eloisa straightens her pale-blue pencil skirt, strolls over to a pair of men sitting near the window and proceeds to comment on the sweeping 54th-floor view. Before long, Cristy-Jane is receiving cocktails from Paola's fleet of new friends, both women happily putting in their obligatory 15 minutes of conversation. Eloisa's opening remarks about the boats dotting the harbour lead to a discussion about sailing. Paola, in lieu of making career-related inquiries, brings up such neutral topics as travel, restaurants, and film. Cristy-Jane finds that, as most people enjoy talking about themselves, asking men simple questions about themselves, such as where they live, leads to more interesting topics.
When quizzed on their feelings about women taking the lead socially, one gainfully employed guy, Richard, informs us that there is still some stigma about seeming "easy" and worse, that when a woman comes up to a man, "you know you're in." Apparently, Richard has confused coming up to a man with coming on to a man. On the contrary, his friend Fraser declares female assertiveness "a great idea" that should be "fully encouraged," remarking that, as long as the woman "isn't drunk, hanging off you or insinuating that you take her home immediately," he would have no reason to speculate about her character. Ultimately, even Richard admits it has a lot to do with the subtlety of the woman's advance. The discrepancey of their perspectives, however, represents the, er, broad range of opinion regarding women who employ a bolder style and, in Richard's case, indicative of the antiquated sensibility that restrains many women from actively creating their romantic futures.
Favourably, of the gentlemen encountered at the next stop on our tour-the bustling outdoor patio at Jump Cafe & Bar-all respond eagerly to our breezy attempts at fraternization, where, by the way we discover how fruitful it can be to eavesdrop on conversations nearby. Lorraine abandons her com-hither attitude and introduces herself to a handsome, well-built gentleman she overhears saying is a trainer. After telling him she is a long-distance runner, they have a lengthy conversation about training, during which she give him her phone number. (He called her a week later and they are now dating.) Manwhile, Eloisa spots a long male, waylays him with a simple "Hello, my name is Eloisa," followed by the rudimentary "Come here often?" This random encounter evolves into a 20-minute conversation before she returns witha grin and his business card. Most auspiciously, when questioned about their preferences, each man states that "a confident woman is a turn-on," that "it all comes down to individual personality," that "men who are threatened are insecure" and, most tellingly, that a woman approaching a man "happens so rarely, it's extreamely flattering." Most surprisingly is that, of our admittedly limited control group, men 30 and older appear to have a more relaxed outlook to assertive women, while those in their 20s are more likely to adhere to conventional notions of demure femininity. It seems that the mature men, perhaps as a result of a wider range of romantic experience, are more open-minded and egalitarian - their chief concern being who a woman is, rather than how they meet her.
At 11, having exhausted both my expense account and my lovely assistant's, we quit our duties and head off to meet friends at a downtown nightclub, happy to enjoy our cocktails while not compelled to enterprisingly mingle in the name of proactive flirtation. Eloise, however, missed punch-out and is still hurtling herself through a series of fresh suitors by, well, walking right up and introducing herself. By midnight, she is juggling three beaus, having her photo taken for Ocean Drive's next social pages and, evidently, selling out the next five performances of a lay that she's in (the sptly named Perfect Stragers). Eloisa ingratiates herself to so many enthusiastic gentlmen that, when it comes time to leave, she is forced to slink out the back door. Which is perhaps slightly more pandemonium than even Ms. Bawden had in mind, yet, nevertheless, confirms the theory that, with a little aplomb and vivacity, a girl can vastly expand her social horizons - or, at the very least, get her photo in the gossip column.
GOLD DIGGER (sidebar)
Calgary-born Jennifer Bawden, author of Get A Life, Then Get A Man: A Single Girl's Guide (Plume), shoots straight from the lip on how to chap up the hombres "If you sit and wait, you are never going to meet Prince Charming, because it's the shotgun players out there hitting on every girl, waiting for one to say 'yes,' who are going to hit on you."
"If finding a guy is like finding a needle in a haystack, then go to the needle factory. Men outnumber the women by 5-1 on every ski slope. There are also incredible guys in the financial districts at six o'clock on Thursday nights. Thursday's a big night out; you're going to find hundreds of guys finishing their week, very happy for some great female company."
"Stand at the edge. Look and decide who you want to meet and only have eye contact with a guy who you've decided is your type. Meeting him, you close the deal; you get his card, then you're out there, meeting new guys."
"You do not want to move quickly through the room. If you move quickly, you've walked through the room in three seconds. Don't miss the stuff in the corners, because the nice guys-the guys who aren't on the make, the guys who are just out for drinks with their friends-they're often sitting in the corners."
"Women need to spend a lot more time watching others rather than just bumping into anybody-just because you've bumped into them and they start talking to you [doesn't mean] that's who you [should] focus on and date."
"If you're walking through a crowed bar and you're getting pushed and shoved, watch for the flow. You don't want to go against the flow. Wait for everyone to pass, then join the end."
"There's a fine line between throwing yourself at a man and chasing him like a hungry animal, and just being a fun, interesting person."
"There's no entrance. There is no 'Look, here I am.' You don't want to wear a dress that's too low, you don't' want to be showing too much cleavage. You don't want to look like a bimbo."
"When they want to meet women, men go out as a group of commandos. When a man meets a girl he likes, his wingman steps up and immediately talks to her friends to help his buddy spend time with the girl. The grenade guy is the guy who's willing to sacrifice himself to talk to the girl he's not interested in so the wingman and the head gunner can go in on the prey."
"My girlfriends and I have what we call the 'safety pin.' My friend comes up and asks, 'Do you have a safety pin?' If I say, 'no,' that means I'm fine. If 'yes,' then I need to get out of this conversation right now."
"Exit strategies. It's important to remember that the guy might be happy to get out of the conversation. In business, you should put your hand out and say, 'Hey, Stan, it was really nice to meet you.' You want to be straightforward, you want to be confident and you want to say goodbye."