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The Players

Romance in the new economy

THE DOWNSIZED DON JUAN

Michael Wharton
AGE: He’d rather not say.
HIS STORY: A former AOL editor–turned–Yoshi’s barback, he’s now living in SoMa and taking some time off to care for his sick mother.
SMOOTH OPERATOR: Even before the hookup era, his charm and connections meant that he never lacked for female companionship. (Not
that he’s particularly proud of his Casanova stage.)
TOUGH COOKIES: These days, he spends more time at bike stores than bars, so he’s not meeting as many women. But he’s impressed with the ones he does meet: “It takes a lot of spine to live in the city now. You’re working hard, so chances are you’re not going to be a complete flake.”
LESS IS STILL PRETTY GOOD: For Wharton, half the fun of dating now is seeking out “artisanal” yet inexpensive experiences that prove he knows the city
better than some callow zillionaire kid. Places like Bar Tartine or Mr. Pollo in the Mission are grown-up in all the right ways, and the upside of unemployment is
that “you have more time to get to know each other.”

THE HAPPY COUPLE

Erin McNear and Jeffrey Arnold
AGES: 26 and 34, respectively
THEIR STORY: They met on OkCupid nearly two years ago—she was living on Nob Hill and working for a caterer; he was finishing his BA in physics. Their schedules were so out of sync that she enrolled in his karate class at Stanford to be able to spend time with him. (The true-love part: She didn’t have a car.)
MUTUAL SUPPORT: When he was an unemployed student, she treated him to the occasional dinner and to a graduation trip to Tahoe. These days, he’s an
engineer and she ekes out a living as a public service aide at the de Young, so now he’s subsidizing her.
RISKY MOVE: When McNear got evicted last fall—one of her roommates was a secret addict who spent all the rent on heroin—she didn’t want to move back in with Mom, so she suggested that she and Arnold get a place together. Still, she feels guilty not to be pulling her financial weight. “We’ve never
really fought about money. But it’s always there. Hopefully, this situation won’t last long enough to affect our relationship.”
NO FRILLS: Between Arnold’s student loans and their $2,400-a-month rent, there’s not much left, so they tend to cook at home or get takeout burritos. Once he borrowed a friend’s Porsche and whisked McNear to a nice dinner in Mountain View. “We appreciate dates that do cost money,” she says, “because we feel
like we earned it.”

THE ENTERPRISING SINGLE GAL

Samantha Liu
AGE: 34
HER STORY: A veteran of the fitness industry, she’s the epitome of the hardworking type that abounds in San Francisco these days, with three businesses
(a matchmaking service, a sex-toy boutique, and, soon, a nail salon) to her name.
EVERY ANGLE: She’s dated in the Bay Area, watched her friends date (and flounder), and worked with tons of eligible men willing to pay $2,000-plus for her advice.  Her takeaway: No matter how much money you have, it’s tough out there.
CHEAP ENTERTAINMENT: Liu thinks the recession has cemented hookup culture here: “It doesn’t cost that much to have sex.” Still to happen, she says: fi guring out how to move from sex to dating to “becoming official.”
MONEY MATTERS: Even her “1 percent” clients are looking for deals, relying on happy hours and Groupons to give their wallets a break. Some of them actually hope to split the bill on first dates.  Her warning to friends: “If you offer, don’t be upset if he takes you up on it.”

THE PENNILESS PERFORMER

Sam Kehl

AGE: 30
HIS STORY: Originally from Seattle, he’s an electronic music DJ who works at clubs under the name Samuelroy; he’s also one-half of the duo Waylon Smithers (the other half is the drag queen Miss Rahni).
STARVING ARTIST: He lives on $35 a day, plus rent for his one room apartment/recording studio near the Castro and SoMa districts—all subsidized
by a generous backer, “someone who believes in my music,” he says. Luckily for Kehl, he doesn’t mind long walks and fast food.
MY BOYFRIEND IS A ROCK STAR: That budget doesn’t leave a lot of money for the finer things in life, or even cabs and cigarettes, but Kehl does have
something that impresses the guys he goes out with: access to some of San Francisco’s hottest dance and music spots.
FRIEND WITH BENEFITS: Kehl doesn’t extend his VIP treatment to just any Tom, Dick, or Harry. “If you’re going to date me,” he says, “you already have
to be obsessed or you’re going to get annoyed.”

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