Romance & The â€˜Burbs
Looking for Love in Lots of New Places
By Deborah A. Wilburn
What is it like to date in a bedroom community like Westchester? If you’re a single, have you ever wondered how others are faring when it comes to meeting and romancing the opposite sex? If you’re married, have you ever wondered how the other half lives?
Here, for your amusement or alarm, depending on which side of the fence you fall on, is a completely unscientific look at what is going on between eligible men and women between the ages of 25 and 50 who are looking for an attachment in the land of the attached.
Before embarking on such an investigation, however, it’s helpful to know how large the dating pool actually is. According to U.S. Census 2000 figures (the most recent available), 190,118 women and 172,628 men between the ages of 25 and 50 live in Westchester. Of those, 68,906 (36 percent) are women who have never married or are divorced or separated, compared to 60,766 men (35 percent) who fall within the same category. The men have a slight edge, at least as far as the numbers are concerned.
To research this piece, we visited a selection of clubs, lounges, gyms and coffee shops in Westchester in search of the truth: How gratifying is it to date in the ’burbs? Are potential partners able to meet each other with relative ease? Is there a whole lot of fun going on out there? In talking to singles, a few patterns emerged, and there was one point on which nearly everyone agreed…
There Aren’t Enough
Both men and women agree that there is a dearth of choices where singles can mingle in Westchester, which is why many head to Manhattan or Connecticut. When asked where they do go in the county, women mentioned lounges and restaurants like Trotters and Mulino’s of Westchester in White Plains, Harry’s of Hartsdale and the Rye Grill and Bar and Frankie & Johnnie’s Steakhouse, both in Rye. In fact, a few women cited steakhouses as a good place to meet in general. “I like to enjoy myself when I go out, whether I meet someone or not,” says Ellen Mancuso, 36, who co-owns a makeup studio in Mt. Kisco. “And I like to get my wine in a glass.”
Most everyone agreed that dance clubs like Chrome and The Thirsty Turtle are primarily for twentysomethings who are looking for a good time more than a soul mate. During a happy-hour drink with co-workers at The Turtle, Rob*, 26, a manager at a mortgage bank in White Plains, says: “I was here last Friday night and met four girls.” Rob’s friends concur that he has no trouble meeting the ladies. “He’s a player,” says one of his buddies.
“You need something to intrigue them with,” says the “player,” a self-proclaimed good dancer with a steady and persistent gaze. “I make eye contact and take it from there.” “There” could include a trip to the parking lot for a sexy encounter. “I was talking to a woman, and, after five minutes, she had my hand on her butt,” he says. The two repaired to her Jetta to consummate their new friendship before returning to the dance floor. When not partying at The Turtle, Rob and his buddies hit places like Asylum or 46 Grand in the city. The bars on Mamaroneck Avenue in White Plains, such as Black Bear Saloon, are other popular twenty- and thirtysomething hangouts.
Rob, a 34-year-old attorney who works in White Plains, tends to hit the city when he really wants to meet someone but doesn’t mind kicking back for an after-work drink at the 100-foot bar at Vintage Restaurant & Bar, a fairly new lounge located a couple of doors from Trotters.
Sports bars, such as Rory Dolan’s on McLean Avenue in Yonkers, were mentioned by a couple of women as good places to check out the guys and the big game on TV. “Rory Dolan’s has a beautiful bar and a good mix of ages,” says Patty, 42, an attorney and divorced mother of two who lives in Pelham. Sharon, a 38-year-old teacher who lives and works in Yonkers, says she went to the Sports Page Pub in White Plains with a girlfriend during the World Series. “We chatted with some guys and I gave my number to one. We went out on a couple of dates, but it fizzled. Still, it’s hard to find places where you can mix and mingle.”
Michael, a 50-year-old hand-tool retailer in Port Chester, wishes there were a place where an “older” crowd (age 35 and up) could dance. “The possibility of dancing makes it easier to meet, more so than sitting in a bar,” he says. “Also there’s still the stigma of a bar and the fact that a lot of women don’t want to go there.”
Sal Moricco, agrees that bars aren’t the best place to meet the opposite sex—and he’s a part-time bartender at The Thirsty Turtle! “I meet girls here—just not the right ones,” he says the 32 year old. Time is also a problem. “It’s especially hard to date when you work on the weekend.”
Letting Life Happen
Men more than women talked about meeting the opposite sex whenever and wherever, perhaps because men still tend to be the aggressors when it comes to making that first move. “If I see an attractive woman, I’ll just go up to her,” says Rob, the attorney at Vintage. He also mentioned his synagogue as a place for “scoping out” the opposite sex.
Tom, 38, a divorced father of an eight-year-old and a service consultant with a car dealership, also stays open to opportunity wherever it presents itself. “I’ve met women at the deli, at work, at the gym,” he says. “I really don’t have trouble meeting women.” He says his friends marvel at how he does it. “Just be friendly,” he advises. Also, he says, “I don’t act like an animal. I just let things happen.”
Easier said than done, according to 31-year-old George, an insurance agent with preppy good looks. “I find it very difficult to meet women because I’m very shy. I need a co-pilot!” He says that he met his last two girlfriends at work and through friends.
Familiarity does seem to help. More than one person interviewed mentioned that running into the same person over and over, for example in a shared apartment building or at the local dry cleaner, could lead to a potential love connection. Lisa, 32, an administrator with a venture capital firm who lives in Mamaroneck, says this is how she met her current boyfriend. “We kept seeing each other—at a bar, at the Central Square CafÃ© in Scarsdale, when out shopping. After the third time, we started talking and realized we knew some of the same people.”
While meeting in such a natural way has its appeal, it probably does not happen as often as many people would like. “There just aren’t that many situations in daily life where you have the opportunity to meet people you’d like to date,” says Joanna Strauss, CSW, a relationships therapist in Hastings-on-Hudson.
One way to increase the chance of mixing in a “natural” way is to pursue a hobby or interest that you’re passionate about. That’s how Kim Piccioli, 29, a merchandising manager for Nine West in White Plains, met her boyfriend, Tae Ho Song, 30. “Six years ago, I joined a Tae Kwon Do school in Bedford Hills,” says Piccioli. “When the school closed four years ago, my friends and I all moved to BM Kim’s Tae-Kwon-Do in White Plains.” Song taught some of Piccioli’s classes. The couple were friends for two years before they started dating; they became engaged last Thanksgiving. “It helped that I knew something about the sport when we started going out,” she says. “We already had something substantive in common.” Piccioli says she didn’t take the martial arts classes as part of a guy-hunting mission. “I did it for the exercise and to learn something new. It’s just a bonus that I met the man I’ll share my life with.” Evidently, there’s more than side kicks in the air at BM Kim’s Tae-Kwon-Do. Piccioli notes that the school has so far resulted in three marriages and three other couples who are “seriously dating.”
The Lure of the Internet
Most of the people interviewed for this story had at least tried online dating, with Match.com and Jdate.com being cited as the two most frequently used services. While meeting people in cyberspace has its advantages, it also has its limitations. “Computer dating gives people a chance to be pro-active,” says therapist Strauss. “Both men and women can instigate an approach.”
On the other hand, it is very hard to predict whether there will be chemistry when two people actually meet, no matter how compatible they may have seemed online. “You should primarily use the computer as a screening device,” advises Strauss. “Screen out the people you definitely don’t want to meet. But after that, forget the questionnaire approach. Be broad-minded and open to new people.”
There are other limitations as well, particularly when people aren’t as honest as they should be when presenting themselves. “I tried online dating once,” says 31-year-old Scott, downing a beer before Monday Night Football at the Sports Page Pub. “I thought the woman I was about to meet was single, but she ended up being married with two kids,” he says. “Her husband was in jail. Let’s just say I did her a service that night.”
Of course, some people do find love on the Internet. Janet, 28, scouts film locations for a production company in the city. She recently ended a six-year relationship and started dating again by being set up through friends. She also tried Craig’s List (www.craigslist.org), a free Web site where one can find anything from a date to an Italian tutor. “After 9/11, I wanted to date a fireman or a cop,” she says. “These guys just loomed so large in our minds after the bombing.”
Janet posted an ad “and got 300 responses, mostly from security guards and EMT guys.” But John, a bona fide New York City police officer, also answered. A three-month courtship via phone and e-mail finally ended in a first date. “We had been getting to know each other, so once we met I felt I’d known him for years.” Evidently John fulfilled her fantasy of the big, virile, protective blue-collar guy. “He’s definitely not the metrosexual I’m used to dating,” she says, “but he has other qualities I admire.” While Janet typically doesn’t hop into bed on first dates (“Most guys want to, but, for me, most of these dates feel like job interviews”), John was different. “There was a lot of sexual tension when we met,” she recalls. “We went out to dinner and then back to my apartment. Let’s just say it didn’t take long for things to progress.”
Joe, 36, of Yonkers, says his experiences with online dating have run the gamut, from satisfying to bizarre. “I’d be in a video chat, and the woman would come onscreen naked. All I expected to see was her smiling face. Another asked if I was into bestiality. Then there was a woman who volunteered to be my f*** buddy. Some guys might like it, but it’s not what I was looking for.” Fortunately, the story has a happy ending. “I met someone on loveaccess.com a few months ago, and she’s moving in at the end of July.”
Online dating can clearly be hit or miss, but there is one aspect of the for-pay dating sites that is very popular, particularly with women. Match.com and other services offer some version of Speed Matching (www.speedmatching.com), where men and women in the same age range meet at a local lounge or cafÃ©. The women sit, the men rotate every three minutes, and, if there is a mutual interest, they can get together. Gina, 33, a never-married attorney in White Plains, says she went to one of these events in Tuckahoe and had a couple of dates as a result. But other women bemoaned the fact that the women’s allotment of tickets sells out quickly.
Whatever drawbacks exist online, it remains a popular option. “We have 12 million members, and New York City is our largest market,” says Trish McDermott, vice president of Romance at Match.com, perhaps giving hope to Westchester singles anxious to meet their mate.
He Says/She Says
In spite of the difficulties of meeting, the picture unfortunately doesn’t turn rosy as soon as a connection is made. Before delving more deeply, let it be said that there are certainly men and women in their twenties, thirties and forties who do want to settle down into a relationship that could lead to marriage. What this reporter’s investigation turned up, however, is (surprise!) a preponderance of men who like going out with their buddies and seeing women “whenever,” and women who would very much like to meet their love match and settle down.
“The typical guy pretends he’s looking for a relationship, but he really just wants to play,” says Gina, the White Plains attorney. In addition, “there are a lot of divorced guys in Westchester. They can be bitter with a lot of baggage. I’d rather find someone like myself, who has never been married.”
Sharon, the 38-year-old teacher in Yonkers, has a different story to tell. “I think many men are looking for younger women. A 38-year-old guy wants someone 28. Maybe they go for younger women because they feel women their own age are too independent, or it makes them feel younger.”
According to Rich, 49, an importer in White Plains, this is wishful thinking. “The fact is that good-looking, fit women in their twenties are at their prime and can be sexy without much effort. This may not be who the guy wants to settle down with, but it’s definitely who he’s immediately attracted to.”
James, 44, a divorced dad who works for the federal government, agrees with that assessment. “Friends my age are going out with 23 year olds, but they get a lot of headaches. My buddies are talking the Beach Boys and she’s talking Eminem.” James himself says he is too busy with work and raising his son to date. But he doesn’t envy his pals. “Typically they go out for a couple of weeks, spend a lot of money, and that’s it.”
Even younger men accuse some women of being gold diggers. “We live in an area of affluence, and women are not in touch with reality,” says 30-year-old Claudio, a professional golfer. “Women will say the classic textbook stuff of wanting sincerity and all that. But what they really want is a very good-looking guy with the right job, the right car, and the right apartment.” Claudio’s advice to such women? “Stop looking for a reason to reject someone. And if you’re not meeting men, look inside yourself. What have you done to deserve such a great guy? Maybe you’re shooting too high.”
Ouch. Of course, women can sling the arrows right back, and, surprisingly, some men agree with women’s complaints that most men are mainly looking for a good time. Vincent, 30, is a criminal attorney who lives and works in White Plains. “I’m very secure not being in a relationship,” he says. “I don’t want to have to say where I’m going and what I’m doing all the time.”
His 31-year-old friend Scott agrees. In fact, women looking to settle down frighten him. “When you go out with a woman and she says all her friends are engaged and starts pushing marriage and having kids, I run.” This isn’t to say that Vincent and Scott don’t enjoy the company of a woman on a warm spring night. They just don’t want to sign on any dotted lines to get it. And that’s what can be so frustrating to women. “I’m sorry, but I don’t sleep with anyone who isn’t my boyfriend,” says Alicia, a 30-year-old, pretty, blonde personal trainer and actress who lives in Harrison.
How soon sex happens is obviously a question of individual taste. According to a Passion Poll on Cosmopolitan.com, nearly 9 percent of 46,336 women surveyed said they would have sex on the first date. By the second or third date, however, slightly more than 21 percent said they were game. A full third of respondents said they’d have to be dating for a few weeks, while a little more than 36 percent said they’d have to be dating a few months.
Michael, the hand tool retailer, says he is in no hurry to rush sex, though “it definitely happens by the third date.” Some women can’t wait that long. “Two out of ten times I have sex on the first date,” Michael says, “but it’s the woman initiating it.” He recalls the time he took a woman to dinner and, as he sat next to her, suddenly felt her hand rubbing the inside of his thigh. He got the message.
Otto Vondrak, 26, a graphics designer who lives in Harrison, also says it depends on the woman. “A lot of flirting can go on, but I don’t expect sex on the first date—not when I’m looking for a serious relationship.”
Sex and the Single Parent
How do divorced parents fare in the dating game? The Westchester chapter of Parents without Partners is quite active, offering a slew of monthly activities for parents with and without their children. Rita Moran, 41, a nuclear medicine technologist in Eastchester and the mother of two girls, 12 and 15, met her beau at one of the group’s dances. “It’s not easy dating in Westchester,” she says. “But Parents Without Partners holds events in people’s homes—we can even bring our children, which makes it easier. I joined the organization to meet friends, and I did—and also this new guy.”
But that’s not where Moran and her guy initially made contact. “He was a patient of mine,” she says. “I gave him a stress test. I remember thinking â€˜Gee, he’s handsome.’” Evidently the attraction was mutual. He called and asked Moran out, but she wouldn’t go because he was a patient. After his tests were finished, he showed up at the dance. “I always wondered how he knew I’d be there,” she says, thinking he may have asked around at her office. “I’m glad he came!”
Unfortunately things don’t always progress so smoothly for single parents. First, there are babysitter issues. Some singles said they don’t want to be away from their kids in the evening after they’ve worked all day. Those with older kids worry about leaving them alone at night. Others are too pooped to party. Says James, who works for the government, “You see single mothers and most of them are exhausted. What they really want is a cup of coffee or they’ll doze off.”
While the impulse may be to offer these searching singles a word or two of advice, probably little can be said that most dating adults don’t already know. Except, perhaps, to reflect on the words of an optimist such as 43-year-old Larry, a divorced social worker and father of one son in Hartsdale. Even though Larry finds little time to date between work and parenting responsibilities, “I think there’s somebody out there for me,” he says. “It’s like what Tom Hanks said in Castaway. It’s just a matter of seeing what the tide brings in today.”
Deborah A. Wilburn is a White Plains, New York-based freelance writer.