In December 2007, Aynne Valencia was playing with a dreidel at a holiday party in SOMA. Then 35, she had been single for more than two years and was hoping to meet somebody worthwhile. So when a man wearing a Santa hat and resembling John Lennon approached, she was excited.
"We started talking about dreidels, and he knew what all the symbols meant," says Valencia, a graphic design director. "I thought he was so cute and so smart."
Although the man smelled a little funny, the two spent the whole night talking. Eventually, she stole his Santa hat and put it on her own head, and they started making out. The next morning, the Santa hat rested on her bedroom floor.
For the next two weeks, it seemed the guy always wanted to sleep over at Valencia's place in Hayes Valley, which she initially didn't think was unusual. But as time passed, she started to suspect that her new love interest was intentionally keeping her out of his home.
It turned out he didn't have one. She was dating a homeless man.
He didn't sleep on the street or think he was a bird or anything, she explains. He would crash at the youth hostel where he worked part-time if a bed was available. Other times he would sleep on random people's couches. It reminded Valencia of the lyrics of the well-known Smiths song: "Driving in your car/I never, never want to go home/Because I haven't got one/Anymore."
The hobo boyfriend thing certainly wasn't ideal for Valencia, but she liked the guy. He had a careless authenticity she admired, and she was willing to give it a shot.
"I continued to see him a couple more times," she says. "Then he dumped me."
Although Valencia has yet to meet anyone else who has been seduced and then dumped by a homeless man, the whole ordeal strikes her as "very San Francisco."
What she means is that being a single, straight woman in this city can be an exercise in frustration and humiliation. All around the city, successful single women complain about not being able to find quality partners.
Although there's no hard data to prove it, anecdotal evidence abounds.
One possible explanation is that in San Francisco, men who aren't gay, married, or damaged by a previous owner are decidedly cagey when it comes to dating and relationships. "Men are more timid here to ask women out," says Emily Morse, a local radio show host who regularly discusses sex and relationships. "They also seem to think dating just isn't cool."
Since being dumped by the homeless guy, Valencia's dating life hasn't seen much improvement. Until recently, she had been keeping a stable of what she calls "Velveeta boyfriends" — guys she can hang around with, have dinner with, and even go on vacations with, but for one reason or another, they're just friends. Not the real thing. She is willing to try almost anything to change her luck.
Enter Jeremy Bonney, aka Soul. He's not a potential boyfriend, but a wily, 26-year-old British-Indian man who has made a career as a PUA (the commonly known abbreviation for a pickup artist), helping men to meet and date women. He was recently named the number eight PUA in the world by online magazine TSB, and had flown to San Francisco the week before Valentine's Day to coach a men's workshop titled "Day Game." It's what it sounds like: a set of strategies to help men pick up women in a daytime setting. After developing those strategies by trial and error and teaching them for two years, Soul says he could basically run the workshop in his sleep. Now he's ready to try something more challenging that could expand his client base to include the other 50 percent of humanity: "Girl Game."
Soul doesn't exactly have a curriculum developed, but he agreed to take Valencia and four other women out on a recent Wednesday for an experimental workshop. There would, of course, be challenges.
It was dubious that the tactics used by PUAs, many of which rely on aggressive pursuit, would simply transcend gender roles. That meant Soul would have to formulate different techniques for hitting on men, something with which he had no personal experience. Going in, he also had no idea what it was like to be a single woman in San Francisco.
"I've never had as much trouble finding people to date as I have here," a woman wrote. It was the first response to an SF Weekly tweet calling for women fed up with the dating scene in San Francisco and willing to subject themselves to a pickup artist's workshop. "I moved to the city after a nasty breakup, expecting to casually date people," she continued. "I couldn't even get laid at first."
Plenty of other responses zoomed in, many including pointed complaints about male-female relations. "I've never seen so much dating down in my life," a woman wrote, referring to how many couples she knows that seem to include a smart, attractive woman and an average, barely tolerable guy.
An e-mail from Jennifer Pattee arrived just minutes after the tweet went out. The blond, 38-year-old boot camp instructor isn't about to settle for just anybody. Based on how she says men often react to her when she travels elsewhere, she believes that at least part of the problem lies with San Francisco.
If Pattee still hasn't found a boyfriend by the end of this year, she intends to go on what she calls a "man tour" of the world, visiting all the places she knows lots of attractive men reside. "The fishing villages of Norway. Colorado. Alaska. Done and done," she says. "Whatever it takes."
Valencia has also had better luck in cities like Paris and Chicago, where she says men are forward about what they want. "They'll buy you drinks and talk to you," she says. "They act like they're interested, and it's so refreshing."
In San Francisco, though, women have to deal with a lot of ambiguity. "We don't even know what it is," Valencia said of some men she has encountered around the city. "Is it gay? Is it straight? Is it a friend? Is it a foe? Is it looking for a job? Is it looking for a place to crash?"