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The other women were mulling around the bar, marveling over how a novice had held down three men at once. There weren't really many options for them. A shaggy-haired creep here. A seemingly foreign guy there.
Finally, Walters and her roommate, who had come as backup, decided that the attractive men at the back, gay or not, were the most worthy of an approach. They walked up, introduced themselves, and had a friendly 10-minute conversation about the wonder that is Tila Tequila. At one point, Starlight wandered up to see for himself whether these guys were gay. He still wasn't convinced.
"He's jammin' the clam," Stevenson joked, using the female version of "cockblock."
Upon his return, Starlight conceded. "It definitely would have worked if they were straight," he said brightly.
Maybe it was because we were out on a Wednesday. Maybe we had chosen the wrong bar. But that particular scenario — having just a couple of attractive men to fight over, finding out they're gay, then hitting on them anyway — seemed a perfect representation of what it's like for a single woman in San Francisco.
Standing by herself, Valencia didn't feel much like sarging any men. It's just not something she does. She didn't believe that any of the methods Soul and his sidekicks were explaining were relevant to her or the kind of men she was normally interested in.
"I don't think they're very helpful," she said. "I think they could use us coaching them. ... These guys are what, 23?" She was doubtful that someone with so little life experience could explain much to a woman about how to handle a man. She had been married before. "It sucked, you know," she said. "It was just the wrong guy."
Valencia said her mother has a theory about men. "A good guy is like a good bra," she used to say. "He should uplift and make you look beautiful. He should fit really well. He should flatter you and never poke you in the wrong place or make you uncomfortable."
Hearing this, Stevenson took out a pad and pen, and for the first and only time that evening, she wrote down the advice.
Whatever the women thought of Soul, by the end of the night he had come to understand San Francisco from their perspective. "There weren't that many good-looking or interesting dudes," he said.
For their part, some of the women didn't make things easy on him, either. They weren't as receptive to instruction as he would have liked, but he said he could understand why. They hadn't paid $1,500 or flown across the world for his class like the men who typically soak up Soul's wisdom in reverent silence. The women, on the other hand, seemed to take pleasure in contradicting him.
Soul also noticed that women have different areas of need. They are naturally more social, he says, and they know how to have conversations. He recognizes now that with women, the focus should be on selecting, filtering, and "learning to get the coolest guy in the room."
"Also, women need a bit more coaching on the date management," he said. That could require weekly or monthly meet-ups for a dissection of dating possibilities, rather than just a single session on approaches. He admitted that an experienced woman would probably make an ideal coach of such a class, and that he would be on the lookout for talent.
All that said, the night's coaching session did involve some degree of success. After leaving the Hemlock, the group wandered into Rye, a candlelit, upscale lounge where plenty of men were drinking and cavorting. Within minutes, it seemed every woman had used a functional line to score a talking partner.
Lin, aglow with the knowledge that she had hit on men for the first time, confidently spoke with several more. Pattee later e-mailed the group to say that she had successfully sarged two guys, one of whom asked to hang out again.
There were also promising scenarios that ended with disappointment. Stevenson met a man at Rye, and they ended up talking for the rest of the night. He took her number, but never called.
The coaches eventually forced Valencia to approach a long-haired man she was drawn to. She said hello, and quickly decided he wasn't her type. "He didn't have to say much," she explained. On a bit of a roll, she then introduced herself to another guy, whom she spoke with for a good half-hour. He asked for her number and e-mail address, and even wrote her a few days later, but she said the e-mail felt noncommittal and nonactionable. She got the feeling he might be looking for a work connection.
"Here in San Francisco, people are so unclear about what they want," she says. "I never got back to him."
The results from the informal experiment were almost perfectly aligned with what single women say about San Francisco. In some cases, the women had no real interest. In others, the men failed to follow up, or did so in unacceptable ways. "Failure to launch" is what Valencia calls it. There was, however, one gratifying exception.