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Q&A: S.F. Matchmaker Beth Cook on the “New” (Old) Rules of Dating
Annie Tittiger | February 3, 2012
Matchmaker and serial dater Beth Cook, of Try Me events, spends an insane amount of time thinking about the San Francisco singles scene and surveying the men and women who fall victim to it. Her take? No one seems to know what the rules are anymore. Times have changed, but a lot of people’s expectations haven’t. Here, she lays down the law.
What’s the most striking thing about San Francisco when it comes to dating?
In San Francisco, people seem to think relationships are going to drop into their laps. There’s a fatalistic “Oh, whatever, it will come when it comes” attitude. I do not see this in New York, Chicago, or other places. Do you think you’d have the career you wanted if you just sat around? No. You have to put time and energy into pursuing things.
How do gender issues complicate dating here?
San Francisco attracts people who defy gender roles. All the women I know are super smart, independent, outgoing, savvy. The men are graphic designers, writers, winemakers—more creative types. If you can nail one down, they’re probably more emotionally available, but they’re passive and so confused about the rules. Women have great jobs, their own apartments, so guys are like: “I don’t get it. Do I pay for dinner or not? Do I ask her out or what?” They don’t want to be overly chivalrous and old-school because women seem to know what they want and go right after it. Yet women are still surprisingly old-school when it comes to dating.
What are the rules, anyway? Let’s start from the beginning. Where’s a good place to meet someone?
I like neighborhood bars/restaurant bars on weeknights. You see people in their regular clothes, with friends, acting like themselves, so you’re not going to be surprised later. One of my standbys is the Homestead in the Mission. But my favorite neighborhoods are Hayes Valley and NoPa; there’s a great mix of creative, foodie, artsy types and people in business and tech. The Mission and the Marina are the extremes—just one type of person.
And who makes the first move?
The way to get past the passivity in San Francisco is for girls to let guys know they’re interested. Start the conversation, make a joke. If he’s interested, he’ll come in.
What happens if a cute guy at a bar doesn’t ask for your number? Should you ask for his?
Nope. Exchange cards. If you think there’s chemistry, say, “It was really fun chatting with you, and it’d be fun to grab a drink sometime,” give him your card, and walk away. He still gets to call and ask you out, but you gave him the resources to do it.
What about the phone number exchange?
So awkward with the phones out. Offer a card. I have one that just has my name and number. It’s old-fashioned and kind of romantic.
But he’s the one who should suggest getting together? That seems so retro.
I used to ask people out, but I’ve changed my tactic over the past year, and I think it’s working better. I do the card thing and let the guy make the move instead of bulldozing him into a date. It emasculates men if you take charge the whole way. Girls should really tone it down in the dating atmosphere. Learn to compartmentalize in that way. You can be super aggressive at work, but it’s different when you’re dating.
Where do you stand on phone calls vs. texting as a way to ask someone out?
I tell my male clients that calling is always better. You will put yourself way ahead of the pack if you make the phone call. But hardly anyone ever calls any more, so it’ll probably be an email or text, and that’s okay, as long as he takes charge and picks the location. Of course, he should make sure that the place he picks is OK. And he should pay the first couple of times.
Really? The guy pays?
Women still expect it. I do think that women should start offering after the second date, but the first couple of dates the guy should take care of.
Many girls feel uncomfortable being taken to a nice place early on because it adds a lot of pressure, especially if he’s paying and you know it’s going to be a big bill… And you don’t know if he’s paying! That’s happened to me—I was like, “I can’t afford this place. I really hope he’s picking up the check!”—which makes for a weird date and sets the tone for the rest of the relationship.
So—fancy is a no-no?
My advice to my clients is: Go out for drinks at happy hour. Aim for middle of the road—a place where drinks are a normal price for the city. Don’t go out for dinner on the first or second date unless you have the money to pay for it, and even then, I think you should keep it casual. After three or four dates, fine—go out for a meal and spend more money.
Give me one more piece of advice that guys should know but don’t.
If you’re interested, act like you’re taking her off the market. If you let the ball drop for a week, that’s communicating that you’re not interested and are going on other dates. If you follow up with her, she knows that you’re interested, and her mind is going to be focused on you. Don’t let that ball drop.
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