Love Sick

She's using a bullhorn. The woman is not smiling, and she's got that sucker in a serious death grip. "OK everyone, we're going to get started," she barks.
The panic starts to settle in my stomach " this petite bulldog of a chick is supposed to be the bearer of my salvation"

I'm sitting on an oversized ottoman, my station inside the tiny upstairs bar of the Velvet Dog, waiting for my first date of the night; 15 more will follow at rapid pace, courtesy of Progressive Dating. I will maintain a sparkly, outgoing persona, radiating friendliness and general goodwill no matter who sits down in the folding chair across from me over the next hour and a half. Not even when Crazy Kneeler (yes, all names have been changed to reflect their true personalities) slithers out of his seat and onto his knees, un-casually brushes my leg and tries to seduce me with thoughts of Merlot and, as I recall, a fondness for cats, will I allow a freaked-out sliver of the inner me to carve a chink in my dating armor. After all, I brought this on myself.
At 26, I'm single, but no party animal. I got that out of my system during college.

I do not want to go out. At all. I want to stay home, watch movies, cook, make tea, practice yoga, read, sew and bake. How great am I" Come on guys, I make a mean banana bread!
Lately, though, I've come to terms with the fact that staying in may not be the most ideal way to meet a guy.

Everyone's got a theory. Golden retrievers hold the key, according to my good friend, the SMILF (Look: She's a cute Single Mom). Smilf and her sister have a hypothesis: The only good man is a golden retriever. Until we stop killing ourselves over the bad-ass losers we've always salivated/shed tears over, she proclaims, we'll never be truly happy " as far as one can define happiness as a comfortably sprawling home in Hudson, a couple kids sporting the latest from babyGap and a real golden retriever just to remind us of the irony of our situation.

My love life is, to say the least, stalled. The last interesting and attractive guy I met was more enthusiastic about the new speakers he was buying over a weeklong period of talks with a seller on eBay and the prospect of renting sleeping space in his hypothetical downtown apartment just so he could afford the rent. Beautiful! Oh, sure, he liked me just fine, but I couldn't hold a candle to the rest of his varied pursuits: sports, drinking and sports, sports, sports.
I met Prof. Sporty during a happy hour on West Sixth Street. Shaved head, piercing eyes (swoon), really good jeans.

He may have been a little out of my league, at least in terms of looks. I have my moments of hottieness, but this guy was Diesel " the brand, not the fuel " to the core.
And he was funny. The banter was so refreshing! I began to remember what flirting could be at its very best.

Of course, sooner than later it petered out. In a moment of drunken vulnerability, I confessed that I liked him, and I didn't see what would be so goddamn terrible about him liking me back.

I grieved loudly and enjoyed my sorrow immensely; Smilf and I discoursed for weeks. Our main theme: We're not going to meet the men of our dreams at the bar. Prof. Sporty was great, but he was out at the bar because he enjoys the bar scene. This is the opposite of being tied down in coupledom.

I look for men in all the wrong places, when I'm looking at all. I know, I know " you're not supposed to look for love, it'll find you when you least expect it. But what about the other school of thought" Melina Gerosa Bellows, in the December issue of Glamour " they've got all the answers, right" " relates advice she received from writer Nora Ephron. "You have to work at meeting men as hard as you work at your job. Go out every night, even if you're tired," Ephron told her. So for two months, I did. Ditching yoga, dinner at a respectable hour and my rock-solid curfew, I attended 20 events actively looking for a man, went on 21 dates (including the 16 speed dates) and, during a couple different weeks, put on my happy face and a cute skirt every single night.

Insert deep sigh here. My nonchalant tap on the one-month membership buy-me-now button on the screen immediately conjured the gray feeling in my stomach that was to become a common denominator of my two-month adventure.

I received more than 1,600 views during my two-week stint on the dating site. Wading through e-mails from the resident prowlers, I eventually found a cute black-and-white photo of a curly-haired fellow with a soft smile. Awww! Curly and I met for lunch. From our initial encounter (I was flitting around the corner where I thought we were meeting, he, very shyly, walked a block down to pick me up) through our lunch and right on till the awkward drop-off, it was clear we were neither cut from the same cloth nor even meant to hold a conversation. He was nervous; everything I said made him more uncomfortable. His jumpiness made me overcompensate. I talked a blue streak. He gave me funny looks. The food sucked. Game over. take two

I could only bear to give it one more chance, so I took a risk with Steelers Fan, a down-to-earth guy with a great body. Who turned out to be very Catholic.

Catholic is OK. I have faced men who don't wear deodorant, who are vocal about their allegiance to their mothers, who are devout anarchists. Catholicism has nothing on them. But when Steelers Fan paused before our Mexican fiesta to cross himself and pray, I had to grip the sides of my chair to keep from bolting. Wait on it, man!

Pandemomium III: Addicted to Love

After the disappointing turnout on, I was looking forward to the Pandemonium party. My co-worker assured me there would be good looking, intellectually stimulating men in abundance.

Hot tamales, what a party. Ranging across a half-acre of Cleveland Public Theatre property and comprising more than a dozen mini-venues, Pandemonium offered Smilf and I a great opportunity to mingle and meet. So of course, we hung out at the food tables.

Hopping from one tastefully catered table to the next, we saw patron-of-the-arts types, scenesters filing away names to drop at the watercooler the following day and those artists people like to call "innovators" when they're not sure what, exactly, they're trying to pull off.

Then, glowing in the warm sheen of an orange streetlight, we discovered the Argonauts.
Lined up on folding chairs in various stages of drunkenness, the Argonaut boys slouched effortlessly into our hearts. Far too young and hip for me and Smilf, we nevertheless stationed ourselves within easy glancing range and contemplated how they ended up at the party.

They were there to rock. We caught the tail-end of their set in the old church on the CPT grounds, super loud and incongruous even for the hodgepodge Pandemonium scene. Afterward, we found the drummer, hottest of all the Argonaut chickadees, stumbling incoherently around in the brush outside the church. We had a delightfully obscure conversation with him, watched him throw up and reflected on our own lost youth. God, if only I were 18.

CMA@CIA with Cool Cleveland

Back in the real world, I scanned the party pages for events in my own age range. Billed as "Fast Forward: Party at the Speed of Light," my introduction to Cool Cleveland events moved in slow motion. I was dying to meet some artsy hipsters, the intellectual crowd, maybe some people with a little offbeat fashion sense. At the very least, someone with whom I could hold a stimulating tête-à-tête.

Instead, I got a moderately interesting lecture from international transgenic artist Eduardo Kac and a chip on my shoulder from all the Speed of Lighters who noisily exited the auditorium throughout his talk; apparently they felt the evening wasn't moving forward fast enough.
I don't like ditchers. The rest of the night I kept worrying that any guy I approached would be one of the malfeasants and their rudeness would rub off on me.

Mystery Barhopping Bus Tour

The Mystery Barhop e-mail gathered dust in my inbox for weeks " the idea of a bus tour with a bunch of strangers was more than I could bear. I had no idea what to expect. (It was still early on in my get-a-date-quick scheme, and I was still a little naïve.) But there could be cute guys, right"

I bounced into House of Cues wearing a sparkly white top (I hoped the virginal look would score me bonus points) and a moderately upbeat attitude. Walking alone into a bar is tough!
Right away my two male non-dates for the evening scooped me up and got me settled. Everyone looked 100 percent at ease. Was I really the only one who thought this was a kooky way to spend a Saturday"

The transportation only increased my incredulity " three school buses, gussied up on the outside with some black paint and to varying degrees on the inside. We headed for one bus and found a mini dance club: black lights, built-in couches sweeping around the edges and, as far as I could tell, some frat guys already tapping the keg in the back and tossing out Jell-O shots. Later in the evening, I stepped onto another bus and found poor partiers sitting on the typical squishy pleather seats.

On the bare-bones bus, I met Fred. Fat Fred. Fat, divorced, screw-it-I'm-going-to-Brazil Fred. Unfortunately, myriad issues aside, I'm not looking to move to Brazil anytime soon. It's also possible Fat Fred didn't like me anyway, but just talked to me because he saw me doggedly getting on and off buses alone and drinking heavily. My non-date male friends were busy hitting on the many women in attendance. Besides sweet Fat Fred, the men on the bus tour consisted of married guys, guys in striped blue dress shirts who always seemed to be in the middle of tapping a keg and a couple oddballs who just weren't my type.

I might sound picky. But in my defense, I hung out with a lot of frat guys in college, and I don't think it's my fault if I'm biased against guys who are them, who look like them or who have ever followed a successful keg tapping with an invitation to the gun show.
Maybe these events were starting to wear on me.

25 Under 35 Awards Ceremony

I put on my "I'm not really a gold digger" outfit and strutted into the Key Club at the Marriott. Well, first I strutted in, then I walked around lost for 10 minutes, on my own and then with a few other lost under-35'ers (the guys were shorter than me; not going there ever again).
And there, in the middle of that serious and noteworthy event, I fell in love.
With the buffet table.

Clearly, someone was tapping their inner genius on this one. The spread was the divine creation of an indulgent tailgater: potato chips, mini fried chicken dumplings, fat little pretzels, all the stuff you don't get to eat unless someone else pays for it and dresses it up on a fancy hors d'oeuvre table.

My strategy was to plant myself there and let the men come to me. And come they did " almost all of my co-workers at the event had a kind word for me as I stuffed my face with Ruffles. The rest of the suits maintained a respectful distance, so after the ceremony when most of the small talk seemed to focus on politics, I tuned out and left for home. I was beginning to think that I just couldn't put in the kind of effort supposedly required for catching that elusive man.

Passport Project: Avant-Garde Jazz Performance

Ahh, jazz. Timeless, sexy, hard to appreciate in a 50-degree room. Here, I figured, would be guys with substance. I love those wannabe-esoteric guys who profess a love for jazz. I could see myself as a professor's wife someday.

My friend and I traveled to the East Side for "The Animated Adventures of Knox," an "emotional portrait of sound and image." Inside the chilly Passport Project building (they're a not-for-profit, so heating a jazz performance is probably not highest on their list) the mood was warm and the crowd was the most diverse I've seen at any event in Cleveland since I moved here.

Of course, I had eyes only for the men in the crowd. There was Army Coat, sporting lustrous dark hair to the middle of his back and the facial geometry of those old naked Greek statues (facial geometry). There was the youngish kid who bounced along to the music during the performance, clearly wanting to break into a little accompanying scat "bah-da-be-bop-de-dop." Meanwhile, I tried to gauge the rest of the audience, because I was just not getting this whole thing. I don't have the language to talk to these guys about jazz, I realized with horror midway through the evening. My normally super-charged engine of inanity, which allows me to start up a ridiculous conversation with almost anyone, had completely disappeared.

After the music and media interplay was complete, we mingled for a short time, but it was one of those parties where everybody already had a conversation buddy. So we slunk out into the bitterly cold wind of an East Side night.

Scrooge's Night Out Party at the Galleria

My co-worker met someone. Now they're dating. Great!

The party was packed, but a high percentage of the crowd wore safe (re: boring) outfits from Express. The men were in solid buttondowns and black pants, the women in sparkly tops and " black pants. I think I still had my work clothes on.

A few of my female co-workers and I prowled for the rare good-looking guy not surrounded by a bunch of fellow prowlers. We found a relatively harmless-looking threesome and I went for the kill.

"Excuse me," I said, tapping one on the shoulder, "are you the lead singer of the band"" Yes, ladies and gentlemen, women can have terrible pickup lines too.

While my friend flirted with the lead singer impersonator, I spent a satisfying 15 minutes learning about fascism from his buddy, a Tim Robbins look-alike: quirky glasses, floppy hair and a scarf looped around his neck that apparently advertised his favorite soccer team, who unfortunately are supported to some degree by fascists. You learn something new every day!

Floppy made me realize something else: As much as I'm looking for that sensitive, intellectual professor type, face-to-face they're not that appealing.

Blind Date, Johnny's Little Bar

The rush of parties and evenings out had made me clinical. Staving off the growing desire to self-medicate, I exuberantly encouraged my co-worker to set me up on a blind date.
I showed up 20 minutes late and asked my date for a few bucks to pay the parking lot attendant. Yikes! He was great, though. He took my breathless hubbub and cooled it off with a Bombay and tonic, and off we went.

Mr. X, it turned out, had many fine qualities, including the ability to ask questions and look interested in the answer. We spent a comfortable couple of hours together, talking about all those things you talk about on a great first date. He was different from the guys I'd been meeting. He wore dreads, played soccer, spoke softly (and fluently in German) and had gone to the same large, out-of-state school as me.

At midnight I bowed out and we talked about seeing each other again. But it's probably not going to happen, because the next morning I woke up with a cement brick on my head. And I had to go to work. Mr. X, I'm too old for weekday hangovers! He, meanwhile, goes out almost nightly. His nightlife is intertwined with his work life; he needs to see and be seen, make connections, punch buttons on his BlackBerry every quarter hour.

Best Party Ever at The InterContinental Hotel

"This is our night. I can feel it," encouraged my partner in crime. Yeah. Right. The place was full of leering men from 37 to 77 and two male friends of my co-worker who were decently attractive and funny in a lowbrow way, but clearly out for an Axe night: plenty of dirty dancing, scantily clad women and man-talk with lots of bravado.

After getting our picture taken with the two Axe guys " a highlight " the night went downhill: One guy drank himself stupid and the other one started hitting on our friend. We exchanged of-a-certain-age haute couture for goth/punk/angsty kids at Peabody's. I hit on a 21-year-old until that stopped being fun and we cruised over to West Sixth, still hoping that our glammed-up style would help us find somebody, anybody! But to no avail. I ended up grumpy, sober and in bed early.

Progressive Speed Dating, The Velvet Dog

Two days after my evening with bullhorn baby and her slew of potential mates, I almost vomited when I realized that nine speed-daters were about to receive my full name and e-mail address. Then I received my own e-mail from Progressive. My fear turned to annoyance: Only 10 guys yessed me. Out of 16! I was the hit of that party.

Then it struck me: I was going crazy. The man-hunting had to stop. I had reached lower and lower in my mad search. It had gotten out of all proportion to my actual needs and desires.

With my progressive dating chart grasped between my fingers, a desolation pooling in my extremities, I realized that week after week of putting myself out there for men to actively accept or reject was only giving me a desperate aversion to anyone of the opposite sex. I didn't even want to face the guys in my office anymore. The automated soul-searching that occurred after every encounter with men was filling me with angst.

Before I began my quest, I was alone, moderately happy and about five pounds lighter. But as I dutifully went out, mingled, scanned, flashed fake smiles and laughed half-hearted laughs with the intent of giving guys a chance to pique my interest, my soul grew sad. This is no way to meet a man.

So I quit. I'm retiring from the dating scene. Removing my profile from Working out more, going out less. Sure, I'm not going to meet anyone new cooped up in my apartment, but I'm going to try to feel content with what I do have at home, and work on the things that make me happy: sewing, baking, yoga, reading. I've realized that if I can't find the right guy by giving it 100 percent, then the opposite really must be true: I'll never find him when I'm looking.
Friday night, weighing a Japanese movie double feature at the Cleveland Cinematheque against Robert Lockwood Jr. at the Beachland Ballroom or the Tremont Holiday Hop, I opted for Gabriel García Márquez's "Love in the Time of Cholera" at home in bed. How refreshing. 

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