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Photographs by Felipe Buitrago

Man Jose

Is San Jose really one big sausage party, or is the 'bachelor capital of the world' tag that's been slapped on this area just a cruel myth?

By William Dean Hinton

IF YOU HAD to say exactly when the South Bay dating scene went wrong for the average bachelor, you'd be smart to go with the mid-1980s, when, for reasons obvious to nearly everyone living here today, the total number of male residents began to exceed the number of females.

Twenty-five years ago, 12,000 more women than men lived in the metropolitan area—not a significant number, but enough to provide bachelors with a fighting chance for female attention. By 2000, the number had flip-flopped. Fourteen thousand more males than females lived in San Jose.

Now, for a population of 900,000, that isn't a huge difference. Not in an area where women outnumber men in adjacent counties.

Yet in the minds of many, this is the millennium of Man Jose.

It's a hell of a nickname to be stuck with—and for some reason, we are. If you relied mainly only on barroom conversations, where things tend to be exaggerated for effect, you'd think it was impossible for the two sexes to ever connect south of Woodside.

It is common to hear the city's male population compared with Alaska, which allegedly has a 6-to-1 ratio, men to women. (In fact, Alaska leads all states with 1.07 men for every woman. Nevada is next with 1.039 men for every woman.) Single South Bay men complain about "picky" women, about the competition in downtown clubs, about having to drive to San Francisco to find a date, about the humiliation of San Jose blind dates gone wrong.


From this perspective, single San Jose women possess a rare psychological advantage over their potential heterosexual partners. Dating coaches, like Liz Kelly, a Los Angeles-based author who specializes in "manhunting," predicts that a surplus of men should make it easier for South Bay women to manipulate their predatory instincts.

"Everyone knows that dating is a numbers game, which makes Man Jose an ideal place for women to date," Kelly says. "By setting up many dates, you can boost your odds of finding the right mate. By having many dating options, it takes the edge off so you don't place so much pressure on a date. Guys want what they can't have, so if a woman adopts an 'I can take it or leave it' attitude, men are much more likely to ask them out for a second date."

If only things were that easy. For one thing, the numbers aren't nearly as bad as loose barroom talk would have us believe. San Jose was one of about 45 cities across the country that counted more men than women in the last Census. Phoenix, Dallas, Ft. Lauderdale and San Diego all own a worse male-female ratio than San Jose. What's more, there were 66,500 more single men than single women in San Diego County during the last Census, compared with 44,200 in Santa Clara County. So how come they're not Man Diego? Why aren't more people talking about Dallas or Phoenix as problem cities for eligible bachelors?

The difference might be attributed to the neighborhoods around San Jose's small downtown, where 6,000 more men than women are congregated. Many young professionals of both sexes, raised in a comfortable suburban setting, avoid downtown because they say it's too thuggish, too ghetto, too creepy. More than a few women complain of being accosted on downtown streets.

Young professionals prefer Los Gatos, Mountain View—even Sunnyvale, which was named the "bachelor capital of America" in 1999 because of the disproportionate number of single men to single women. It is these men—often geeks, and not always the chic kind—who often shoulder the blame for the supposed Man Jose phenomenon.

Whoa, That's a Girl?: For the life of us, we can't understand why none of the guys we photographed for this story wanted us to use their names.

Men Behaving Badly

Desireé is a pretty, 30-year-old single mother who moved downtown from Las Vegas three years ago. So far, she says she hasn't been exactly floored by San Jose men. Men howl at her from their cars. They gawk. They whistle. She's been followed, she says, by no fewer than five men, one of whom was arrested in her presence, a metal rod shoved down the back of his pants. Some guy named John left a note on her door asking her to leave her window drapes open. He enjoyed looking into her apartment to see his "angel."

Not long after she moved here, she says, a guy slipped a date-rape drug into her drink while she was hanging with friends at a local bar and grill.

"I've been confused since moving here," Desireé tells me. "Do women walk up to cars with guys yelling at them? Do they want to be approached that way? Guys drive by giving me the stare-down. That's not hot at all."

Desireé had never heard the term Man Jose, but once she became familiar with the concept, she felt it pretty much nailed it. Maybe she's not the typical downtown woman—she works in a gay bar—but the combination of living downtown and her occupation has given her a perspective few others see.

"I walk down the street and three people yell at me. Do I look like a streetwalker?" she asks. (By the way, she doesn't.) "Girls wandering around downtown don't help much. Girls are a little less picky here. They're more likely to put out. They're teasy. They walk around taunting men. They can have their pick because there's twice as many men as women."

To make her point about San Jose men, Desiree escorts me on a tour of downtown clubs on one of her off-nights. It's a Thursday, so things are kind of slow at one club on Santa Clara Street. Not long after we've arrived, as we shoot pool in a backroom, a Hispanic guy in a red ball cap approaches her. Gesturing toward me, he asks if I'm her man. Just friends, she tells him, at which point he tries to hand her a red cocktail his friend has brought over. It's an extra Cape Cod, he says, because the bartender poured too much.

Refusing the drink, Desireé shoos the men away. She says she never accepts drinks from strangers since the date-drug incident left her at the mercy of a man trying to enter her apartment while she was knocked out. "Vodka makes me vomit anyway," she says dismissively.

Fives With Fives

On the other end of the spectrum are women like Kathy, who asked that her real name not be used. Kathy neither lives nor works downtown and tries to avoid the city's inner core. Living in the South Bay all her life, Kathy, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed finance professional, never had a problem meeting men. She was married at 23, divorced at 30. Post-divorce, she dated seven guys at the same time. ("Dated," she laughs nervously. "Not slept with.") She's had a couple of serious boyfriends since then but they didn't want to commit to any sort of future, much less marriage, leaving Kathy to face the bleak prospect of diminished returns after the age of 40.

"It used to be that when you broke up with somebody, you opened the front door and said, 'Next,'" she says. "Now it can take up to a year to meet someone worth dating. That's awful."

She has resorted to services like speed dating and Match.com. Neither one has impressed her. Kathy owns her own business. She is endowed with the natural aggressiveness common to entrepreneurs. She says she doesn't like the passive role preferred by men on the Match site. Speed dating? Three minutes with most of the candidates was more than enough time, she says. This summer, she'll attend the weddings of three friends. Each is between 39 and 42. Each was never married before.

"It's a myth that there's more men than women here," she says. "Meeting people in your peer group gets harder and harder to do. I don't know if that's a function of change in San Jose or my being older. My girlfriends and I spend a considerable amount of time talking about 'Where are all the men?' If we just knew where to go, that would be wonderful."

Many turn to singles groups for prospects as much as for support. Early last month, Rich Gosse threw a wine-tasting party at a downtown disco for about 80 older singles. Gosse, who is 56 and tall with brown curly hair, stood outside the Vault talking with me while songs like KC and the Sunshine Band's "Boogie Shoes" blared inside for singles old enough to be grandparents, who danced on carpet in an upstairs balcony.

Gosse is a former sixth-grade teacher who spent most of his adult life chasing women before settling down several years ago with his wife, Debby, who helps him run events. He is a kind of guru on singles, since, in addition to being one for so long, he has organized singles parties for more than 20 years. In 2003, the University of San Francisco government major ran for governor on a singles platform.

Gosse says what's occurring in San Jose is the same thing happening everywhere: At birth, boys outnumber girls by 1 percent (a figure verified by the National Center for Health Statistics). But through attrition—wars, alcoholism, motorcycle accidents—men are whittled away faster than women. The key age is 35. Women below that age, like Desireé, have the upper hand finding men. (Desireé says she's had a steady stream of suitors since she was 23. She recently moved in with her boyfriend.) Conversely, women older than 35, like Kathy, run into a huge disadvantage, especially since older men tend to date younger women.

"Singles always say life is unfair," Gosse says. "Life is very fair. Women do much better at age 25. For every 100 women, there's 160 single men. That means there's an extra 60 guys who can't find a date on Saturday night. It's the law of supply and demand. The competition is fierce for young women. For a young guy, the secret is getting old."

Gosse says even older women can find a mate. The one drawback many singles make, he says, is that they tend to overestimate their qualities. He uses the old numerical 1-10 scale that frat boys often rely upon to judge beauty. Only Gosse takes it one step further to include intelligence, wealth, personality—even hygiene.

"Everybody's too picky," he says. "Nobody wants to date anyone less attractive than they are. They want someone on their level or higher. If you're someone higher, why would you go out with people lower than yourself? Twos have to go out with twos. Five with fives. Tens with tens. The problem with single people is they are unrealistic. Everybody wants somebody they don't deserve. If you have a five personality, five in attractiveness and five in wealth, but you want to meet an eight in those categories, you're being impractical. Look in the mirror. Make a realistic assessment how likely you are to attract someone."

Single and Bitter

As I drift around Gosse's wine-tasting event, a silver-haired lady descending the stairs catches my attention. She's conspicuous for the maternal, almost grandmotherly way she carries herself, as if she came of age circa 1950. She seems too innocent for the downtown scene, too naive, unable to be absorbed in the small-time dramas and calculations of the party crowd. When I ask her to come outside to talk, I expect her to tell me she is a grandmother in her late 50s.

Instead, she tells me she's 43. Her name is Tracy; she's lived in the valley her entire life and works as a customer service rep for a defense contractor. She paid $20 to attend the wine-tasting event but wasn't happy with what she found. There were no "quality" men in attendance, she says, and the Asian women, whom Tracy refers to in a pretty shocking moment as "gold diggers," attracted most of the attention.

"I don't know if they're easy or what," she tells me.

Only one man asked her to dance, a retired teacher whose stomach hung over his pants. She declined.

Tracy has never married. She has no children. She's attended dating events for five years but never received so much as an offer for a cup of coffee from any of them. Three years ago, she says, she met an entrepreneur named Michael at church. She liked him but didn't try to push romance because he was starting two businesses. She prepared a birthday dinner for him—white wine sangria, stuffed artichoke, Dungeness crab, margarita granita. At the end of the night, he camped on one end of the sofa, she on the other, waiting for him to make a move. He never did. Not long after, she discovered he'd begun dating someone else.

Tracy turns to me for answers to her "singleness." Where does a nice girl meet a guy? Who do I know? Why can't I play cupid? What's my personal situation?

Are We Not Men?: Does the Man Jose phenomenon really exist? Well, this table here has a 3-to-1 ratio going right now. But in a larger sense, the numbers don't always hold up to closer scrutiny.

Where the Girls Aren't

Of course, if this really is Man Jose, straight men are in even more trouble than women. Erik toured a few clubs with me in a vain attempt to learn how young professionals might be encouraged to spend more time downtown, mingling in places women might find him. Erik is 34, short and on the stocky side. He's from the Bay Area and has been aware for decades of San Jose's male-centric reputation. He moved here anyway to take a job as a software engineer.

"Everyone down here is so scattered. It's hard to meet people," he says. "You go to some event, it's all guys. I feel sorry for the women because they get hit on by so many guys at once. It's scary in a way."

Erik met a San Francisco woman he likes, but says the romance still needs time to develop. He's tried long distance relationships, dating websites and speed dating. In the next year or two, he says he'd like to be married.

We start out at First Street Billiards, which, because it's still early, is mostly empty. Several doors down, we take a brief tour of a new nightclub. We walk around a bit but nothing catches our eye. Tres Gringos and the San Jose Bar and Grill are filled with an early crowd but they look like anybody you'd find in your average sports bars. We wind up at the Vault, where we have a beer and look around. It's about 10:30. The place is mostly empty except for two groups of women in a rear dance room. The ladies look like the young professional types downtown San Jose supposedly doesn't attract. They are shapely, dressed in blue jeans, slacks and gold jewelry. They seem friendly and approachable.

Even though Erik and I agreed we wouldn't try to pick up women, I play a stupid reporter's trick and tell him I'll turn my back if he wants to talk to the ladies. This way, nothing he does will appear in the paper, I reason with him. Erik declines, though. The Vault isn't his kind of place and he's more comfortable in casual situations. It's probably just as well. I'm not sure the women would have liked us anyway. The night was still young and they weren't about to waste it on a couple of guys just killing time—whether or not the Man Jose tag is a myth, the best evidence suggests there's plenty of fish in the sea.

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From the August 3-9, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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