[Metroactive Features]

[ Features Index | Metro | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

Where the Guys Are

[whitespace] Illustration
Illustration by Jerry McLaughlin

Silicon Valley has an abundance of young, single men with good jobs. And they all have something in common: a desire for the right girl who is nowhere to be found.

By Michael Learmonth

MARVIN RAAB AND I ARRIVE at his favorite chow spot, a New York-style pizzeria called Vito's on the corner of Reed Avenue and Lawrence Expressway in Sunnyvale. Journey's "Send Her My Love" plays mournfully over the sound system. Behind the counter hangs a signed picture of Barry Manilow. There's only one other customer in the place on a Wednesday night and one of the employees has taken to shooting hoops in the game room.

Born and raised in Queens, Marvin feels at home here. When he orders pizza, he lets fly with a good bit more New Yorkese than he otherwise might. "Just extra saw-ahs and extra cheese," he tells the order-taker. We sit down at a sticky booth and soon the pie arrives, a runny mess of yellow, red and white. Marvin says if I wait a minute it will "coagulate," but he dives right in and, with a practiced motion, grabs a crust, lifts it, folds it and bites off the end before it can drip off and scald his hand.

At 35, he is a true exile in guyville. His story, like so many others', is that of a man with the skills and cunning to make quite a good living in Silicon Valley. Indeed Marvin pulls close to six figures as a LAN consultant, basically working 20 to 30 hours a week. But for all the ease with which Marvin can acquire the financial trappings of middle-class life in Silicon Valley, there is one thing that eludes him in this place of vast material and intellectual wealth. Marvin dreams of finding a woman to eat pizza with and perhaps to marry, but finds that women who will have him are in drastically short supply here.

"At what point do you stop buying lottery tickets?" he shrugs. "When I was in my 20s I would go out so much--I organized singles events on Valentine's Day--but I don't do it anymore. It just doesn't work."

What sets Marvin apart from the legions of his technically skilled, romantically deprived brethren is that he has tried and suffered quite a bit of rejection looking for that winning ticket. Marvin has been innovative, even courageous. He once printed up a bumper sticker for his Toyota Corolla that said "Not All The Good Ones Are Taken." Then, when he was stuck in traffic on 101, he started holding up a sign with his cell-phone number inviting traffic-bound women to call.

"People would wave and laugh and wish me luck," he says.

Then there was the time he saw a woman walking alone on Castro Street in Mountain View on Valentine's Day.

"I see I'm not the only one alone on Valentine's Day," he said.

"No, you've got that right," she responded.

Sounded promising, but when he tried to close the deal and asked her to dinner, he got a polite "No thanks."

Marvin has even roped three telemarketers into dates after chatting them up on the phone.

"One was physically unattractive," he says. "One woman told me she was 26 when she was 21. One was beautiful, but not interested in me."

MARVIN IS THE KIND of guy Silicon Valley loves. Employers find new Marvins just out of college; they poach them from other companies or lure them from other states in the U.S. and even from around the globe. Once the guys get here, they are paid handsomely, they have gourmet cooks prepare their meals, and they're allowed to dress like schleps. And it's a great life, for a while. But then the loneliness sets in. And something happens when all these engineers go out and try to find a date at ground zero of the Guy Glut.

"I'm moving back to Dublin," says Norman Mather, 29, as he digs into a really big fried fish on the bar of the Britannia Arms in Cupertino with his buddy, also 29. The crowd at the British pub is a little more male and geek-heavy tonight, given the theme: Trivia Night. Indeed, the place is full of men, and the blonde ponytail of Becky the server is the most notable specimen of womanhood in the place. And boy, is she noticed.

Norman's pal, a clean-cut programmer, says he would like, just once, to have an experience here like he had in Austin.

"I was in a bar and a woman walked up to get an ashtray," he reminisces. "I handed it to her, we had three or four drinks and she asked, 'Do you want to go hiking?' "

Imagine, an actual date request delivered by a female.

Norman quickly corrects himself. Actually, he has heard one in Silicon Valley. One time a woman came up to him at Molly McGee's in Mountain View and, by way of greeting, said, "So, do you want to make out?"

Norman, a ruddy-faced college grad who fixes up houses at present, took a second to appraise this unorthodox approach. But before he could reply seriously ("I knew she was joking," he claims), the girl admitted she was on a dare, that all her friends had to do it and that she had chosen him because of his Hilfiger jeans.

The bitter lesson Norman took from the experience: "Get a fucking hobby. And if there's no women, get another. You're not going to meet women in the bar, and if you do it's going to be because of your designer jeans."

THE FACT THAT SAN JOSE, self-proclaimed capital of Silicon Valley, is a single woman's treasure trove was quantified by Mademoiselle magazine in 1995. That year, San Jose ranked third in the fashion publication's Man-O-Meter ranking of big U.S. cities, just behind San Diego and Los Angeles. That is, San Jose had 114 twentysomething men for every 100 women in their 20s. And for the woman who promised mom she'd marry a programmer, Mademoiselle ranked San Jose as the No. 1 place in the nation to cast bait.

Population numbers for Santa Clara County show a slight disparity overall, 51 percent male to 49 percent female. Where it becomes dramatic is in the prime dating years. In 1997 there were an estimated 40,641 more men than women in the county between the ages of 20 and 44. Never-married men outnumber never-married women in every ZIP code in Silicon Valley. The guy supply is thickest in Stanford 94305, with a scant 73 women per 100 men, and in Milpitas 95035, with 88 women for every 100 men.

Dr. William F. Fitzgerald, the Santa Clara psychologist known as the "Sex Doc," says the seeds of Silicon Valley's guy glut are planted in the very first 15 minutes of life. In researching the sexes at the University of Chicago in the '70s, the doc noted that the difference between the way boys and girls are treated begins in the delivery room. Hospital attendants handle newborn boys more roughly than girls.

The differing treatment of the sexes continues and intensifies when school starts, where girls are taught they are better at language and art than at math and science. In 1992 the landmark study How Schools Shortchange Girls, done by the American Association of University Women, documented the math and science gap in achievement between girls and boys. In 1996 only 17 percent of students taking AP computer science in high school were girls. The result? Only 10 percent of engineers in the workforce are women.

Another factor exacerbating the guy glut is that the area has always imported a significant part of its skilled labor force.

"The first migrants in response to labor needs tend to be single males," says David Asquith, a San Jose State associate professor of sociology. "Where economic booms are going on, this is typical. The same is true where high tech has moved to the Southwest, or in the Midwest, where you have meat-packing plants."

Meat-packing plants.

While demographics are changing--more women have careers and are able to relocate for economic opportunity--men still generally compose the first wave of transplants.

The European immigration to the U.S. in the 19th century was predominantly male, as was migration to California for the economic opportunity called the Gold Rush--and as has been, to a great extent, the migration to Silicon Valley.

DR. JAMA CLARK IS a sex therapist who specializes in, to put it bluntly, helping engineers get laid. Actually, she helps men working in high tech find relationships by coaching them on the finer points of working a room, approaching women at bars or parties, and otherwise harnessing the caveman inside to compete on a base biological level for what is a scarce human resource in Silicon Valley.

The doctor keeps office hours two days a week at SocialNet, a venture-funded online introduction service in Mountain View. When I arrive, a Social Net publicist lets me into a conference room, where I take a seat and wait for the doctor. We had spoken several times on the phone already, and she had mentioned once, in passing, that she was "pretty" and that even though she's a shade over 40, she "can still attract men."

When she enters the room, I don't doubt it. She's wearing a fuzzy mauve suit with a fairly saucy skirt and jacket with a plunging V neckline. The jacket has buttons, but I can't figure out what's holding it together at the top. An unseen pin? A hidden snap? Velcro? She sits down, and soon after we begin to talk she starts playing with one of her heart-shaped clip-on earrings. It falls off twice and once hits the floor. Dr. Clark's mastery of these subtle, attention-grabbing details is perhaps fitting for someone who has spent the last decade studying male-female attraction. She wrote a book to demystify the subject for even her least romantically able clients, What the HELL Do Women Really Want?

'I'M VERY DIRECT," she says. "If they're fragile, I'll start slower. I look at their wardrobe, I take them shopping, I role-play with them, I have them shave their beards, get new glasses. I try to get them in the image that more women will find attractive."

For men accustomed to being evaluated on their intellects, this superficial critique can be jarring.

"Real bright men don't like thinking they don't know what to do," Clark says. "And they want to hear that they're fine just the way they are and that someday they'll find the right woman. I believe you can work on your personality and your appearance that will make it most likely to catch fish."

Some character traits common to engineers get them ahead in the cubicle but prove to be liabilities in the singles bar.

"Men who are engineers are often very practical," Clark explains. This is why some take offense at the notion that they could be viewed, perhaps while innocently sipping a beer at Gordon Biersch, in this biological-mercenary sort of way.

"This is not politically correct," Clark says. "I'm not saying this is the way it should be, but this is the way it is."

Often, Clark says, they react to her instructions with the stubborn "Why can't she accept me the way I am?"

The truth is, there are some women who are not turned off at the sight of Birkenstocks, a scruffy beard and sloppy clothes. Indeed some women love those things. Dr. Clark calls them the "exceptional few," and while Clark doesn't rule out the possibility that one of her clients would run into such a woman, she doesn't want them to wager their entire love lives on it.

According to Clark, one of the single biggest turnoffs to women, aside from initial appearance, is passive men. Passivity is hard to quantify and describe, so she demonstrates, leaving and entering the conference room first as a passive man, then as an aggressive one.

The passive man, she mimics, enters a crowded room, shoves hands in pockets, lowers his eyes and makes a beeline for a secure spot. The aggressive man enters the same room and looks around, makes eye contact with someone, smiles, says hello to someone and generally, as the doc says, "holds court."

"Many engineers are passive," Clark says. "Why? Because their stimulus comes from a machine. It comes through the fingers and not through the mouth. Computers are not a verbal skill, and women are verbal."

CLARK SAYS 10 PERCENT of her clients have never had sex, and some of them, she notes, "make a lot of money." One client, a top executive at Boeing, had never had sex with anyone but a prostitute. Another, a 27-year-old engineer at Microsoft, had never been kissed. But most of Clark's clients have far less severe problems.

Until he got divorced, Gilroy resident Doug Meyers (not his real name) had not been affected by the guy glut. He had been married when he arrived in Silicon Valley more than a decade ago to take a job with an electronics manufacturer in Milpitas. Then his marriage broke up, and at age 50 Meyers faced the daunting prospect of trying to find a mate in the heart of the guy glut.

Clark suggested that Meyers update his wardrobe and lose some weight. Since Meyers was passive, Clark recommended he go for some rugged fabrics to complete an ensemble appropriate for harnessing the womanizer inside.

"I bought a $500 leather coat that feels like butter," he says. "You need to wear some denim or leather that makes you look more rugged."

Then she started helping him with his approach. If Meyers spotted a woman he wanted to talk to at a cocktail party, he says he might try the following conversation starter: "Excuse me, is your name Jane? You look like a Jane I know."

If that little ploy goes over well, Meyers might try a compliment, "That's a nice dress you're wearing," then maybe move on to the food, "Boy, you should try the stuffed tomatoes."

At this point, Meyers says, he starts looking for certain physical signals.

"If they start fidgeting with their hair, that's a sign they may be a little uneasy," he says. "You've got them off balance, which isn't a bad thing to do."

And if there's no fidgeting?

"What's the worst that could happen?" he asks. "You really can't be afraid of rejection. The more you try, the better your odds are."

BUT QUITE OFTEN THE odds are discouraging. Dr. Fitzgerald, who hosts a popular website, www.sexdoc.com, says that while engineers can be oblivious to what it takes to find a woman, they are often quite painfully aware that they are uncompetitive in vying for a mate. So they give up quickly and turn to a quick fix: the World Wide Web.

"They have a low tolerance for deferred gratification," Fitzgerald explains. "The shortcut is they go on the Internet, look at pornography and masturbate."

While offering an outlet for some sexual frustration, pornography can lead to unrealistic expectations of the kind of woman one could actually have a relationship with.

"When guys spend hours looking at drop-dead gorgeous women, their concept of what they want is set too high," Fitzgerald says. "They don't have their expectations calibrated realistically and are crushed when the girl next door comes along when she isn't the shape of Playboy."

When Dr. Clark prepares a client to go woman hunting, she tells him to approach it as he would a job and be prepared to go out at least three times a week. Dr. Fitzgerald also tries to put the odds in terms that mean something to the technically minded: "Flirt with 1,000, converse with 100, ask 10 on a date, and ask one for a second date."

THE EASIEST WAY TO get 10 quick dates, of course, is the dating services. But while the services purport to match like-minded people, the matches are often tainted from the beginning.

I meet Bruce Bookman, an earnest 31-year-old software engineer, at Starbucks at the Pavilion in San Jose. Bookman, a cherubic, pleasant-looking man with blonde hair and blue eyes, wears his guy-glut battle scars on his sleeve. Years of dating services and thousands of dollars have left him a little bitter, but lately things have begun to look up. With no help from the dating services, Bookman had met a woman named Rachel at a dinner party. They'd been on four dates and had three more planned.

Until he met his current love interest, he had been on dozens of dates arranged through a variety of services. And while they always started with promising profiles, the actual dates never seemed to measure up. Bookman, who describes himself as "a commitment kind of guy," always felt that the women he got set up with were more in window-shopping mode, sampling him like they might a piece of boxed chocolate, all too willing to take a small bite and set him back in the box. On one date, with a woman he met through Mile High Adventures, Bookman realized why.

As the two were idly chatting, the topic of the agency's fee came up. Bookman said he had poured more than $1,000 into the club's various activities and events. His date replied that she hadn't paid a thing.

"My jaw dropped," Bookman says. "I was angry and perplexed. Why am I putting up money and taking this seriously when the woman is putting up nothing?"

Thus, Bookman was awakened to the harsh reality of dating services in Silicon Valley. Some stoop to offering free memberships to women in order to fill the stables with enough available mares. The result, Bookman believes, is the dating service "commitment gap." Days after our conversation, Bookman called to say his nascent relationship with Rachel had gone sour. On Valentine's Day, she gave him the "Let's Just Be Friends" speech, which Bookman claims he's memorized line, chapter and verse.

She said she hopes she and Bookman can remain friends. "One of my favorite sayings is 'I don't need any more friends,' " Bookman says.

So back to the dating services. He thinks this time he'll try out Meeting for Good, the Mountain View-based service that gets singles together on volunteer projects. Bookman thinks he might meet more commitment-minded women there, and if he doesn't, the fee's only $45.

COVETED BY DATING services and personals advertisers, wooed by nightclub owners and party promoters, members of the fairer sex are a hotter item in the guy glut than Internet companies on the stock market. With numbers this good, one might think that for women, sex in Silicon Valley should be a cakewalk.

Not so, says a selection of bar-going women who claim that with so few players on the home team, even girl-friendly bars can feel like an away game.

At a Friday-night happy hour at Fuel in San Jose, the boy-girl score is a respectable 37 to 28. At least one Adobe and one Cisco Systems logo are in the house. Jerry--not a guy; she's a babe--Tubbs, 25, is behind the bar.

Fuel positions itself as a girl-friendly spot for downtown sophisticates. Owner Chris Esparza explains, "Enough women in the place keeps the energy much more positive. Our style brings out a little more mature person. If we see someone hitting on women and it borders on harassment, we ask them to leave."

Behind the bar, Fuel's soft lights cast a glow on Tubbs' golden curls and throw shadows along her delicate collar bones. When she smiles, as she occasionally does, it can knock the wind out of a man, especially one who's been in a cubicle all day.

But the guy glut has hardened Tubbs. She feels them watching, then leering, as she gets change at the register or bends over to wash a glass.

"I have my guard up all the time, especially when I'm working," she says.

Emboldened with a few drinks under their belt, some men try to transition the drink order into a conversation. So, uh, what's your real job? How long have you been working here? What's your name?

Then there's the business-card game. Some men, amazingly, have taken to handing out special "going out cards," perhaps hoping to transfer their job-networking skills to their sex lives. Not the best idea, Jerry confides. "The business card thing is just gross."

Once, for the first and last time, Jerry briefly dated a patron. It lasted two months and ended during a typical conversation that went like this: "computers, computers, computers; money money, money."

Positioned in the center of the bar, Mara Wold, 28, and Jocelyn Guansing, 29, sip pink drinks garnished with cherries. Regulars at Fuel, they say they transferred their allegiance from another downtown bar when the guy vibe got too hectic. "The atmosphere there shifted," Guansing says.

Both say it's pretty easy to get attention in Silicon Valley, though both would doubtless get attention anywhere. The wrong kind of attention, though, is worse than nothing at all.

"As soon as you walk in the door, all eyes face you," Guansing says of some guy-glut bars. "Guys position themselves facing the door so they can see who comes in."

A glance is almost always nice, she says, but staring is rarely welcome.

"A lot of guys are obvious about turning around," Wold says. "It can be flattering, but uncomfortable for some women. That's why some women don't go out."

The key to comfort, they say, is to get to know the regular patrons and the staff. "I can walk in here and there might be 20 guys and five girls and I would be comfortable," Guansing says.

A wispy bald guy orders a drink from Jerry and starts talking. His lips move in the noisy room, his head bounces. Jerry smiles politely and her eyes drift to something else. "I'm just immune," she says later. "It's too bad, because it might be a really nice guy just trying to make friends."

Equally likely, it's the next corporate striver who thinks he's interesting because he got promoted to VP of marketing.

Can't blame him for trying. Competition is tough, even though a good many Silicon Valley men find the barroom competition too tough and shun it altogether. Marvin Raab, our good friend from Sunnyvale, is about to cast his net again. This time, he says, he's pricing ad space on the big screen of Syufy Theaters, where he wants to post a picture and a personal ad for the whole moviegoing valley to see.

"I'll have a nice picture taken," he assures me. And he says the ad will be "short and to the point. You know, 'He's on Match.com' and all that typical stuff."

Good luck, Marvin. Just keep the business cards in your pocket, OK?

[ San Jose | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

From the April 8-14, 1999 issue of Metro.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.