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Cover Story: Single in Atlanta

One reporter. Two weeks. Eight dates.

Single In Atlanta
Photo credit: JIM STAWNIAK

It's Valentine's Day. I'm single. And I'm sipping on a glass of wine listening to a swinger talk about the recent demise of his 15-year marriage.

Shortly after he gets to the part about the time he, his ex-wife and her best friend screwed on a hotel roof, I gulp down my Merlot and tactfully excuse myself.

I'll admit, I'm new to the "adult" dating world. I've only recently closed the door on random frat boy hook-ups and getting thrown out of Buckhead clubs for trying to hop over the bar.

This conversation with a fortysomething swinger throws me off; I have no clue what it's like to wake up next to the same person - and, sometimes, her best friend - every morning for a decade-and-a-half.

After all, a decade-and-a-half ago I was in second grade.

Middle-aged swingers aside, what must a young, single guy or girl do to find a date in this city? What are Atlanta's eligible singles looking for? A steamy night of sex? Marriage? Children?

I'm sure some are looking to settle down in a house with a white picket fence and bassinet, but I'm not ready to pop out babies. I'm just trying to find someone to be more than a one-night stand, someone who actually wants to have a relationship - and by that I mean dinner, lively conversation and nights where I don't feel like I have to rip off my pants to compensate for a free meal.

In Atlanta - a city of about 415,000 people, a whopping 150,000 of whom are adult and single - can I find an eligible bachelor who will like me for something besides my perky ass?

I decide to investigate. I put my pride on the back burner. I go on a quest to find out what works and what doesn't for a young, professional, twentysomething like myself. The U.S. Census Bureau claims Atlanta has the third-highest concentration of young, unmarried, college-educated people in the country; there's got to be some decent hunks out there.

In two weeks I go on (or attempt to go on) 10 dates. I bowl with a law student and line dance with lesbians. I see a girl bite the nipple of a guy on a crowded dancefloor and debate tort reform with a Jewish medical student. Here's a look at what worked - and what didn't.

Fried Okra and Metrosexuals
DATE NO. 1: WED., FEB. 9; BARHOPPING AT DJANGO, THE EARL AND HALO LOUNGE

I'm ready to go out on a limb for this assignment. I'm used to covering topics like mental health and mortgage fraud, not dating dilemmas. My objective tonight: Get as many phone numbers as possible.

At Django, a gypsy-style lounge, it takes a few glasses of wine to loosen up before revealing my abs to get free Mardi Gras beads. I would've completely lifted up my shirt, but the beads probably would've been taken away. A flat stomach is bead-worthy - a flat rack, not so much.

After getting no numbers at Django - probably because most of the crowd there just wanted to unwind from the working day - I head to the Earl in heated pursuit of East Atlanta hotties. I immediately spot an atypical Earl patron, a guy in a button-down sitting alone at a table. What the hell is he doing in Atlanta's card-carrying indie-rock hangout? I'm intrigued.

Hitting on a guy isn't as easy as I thought it would be - for a moment I feel sorry for men. But once Button-Down Boy gets the I-can't-believe-a-girl-is-talking-to-me look off his face, he tells me he's in the insurance business and likes to golf. I'm bored. I love wood but not nine irons.

I then meet an artist in town from New York for the week. We munch on fried okra and sip PBR. I leave with his number on a napkin. Too bad I have a cold; I wind up using the napkin to wipe by runny nose.

I move on to Halo Lounge, where I order a Hpnotiq on the rocks and cross my legs on a bar stool. I flip my hair a few times and make sure my lips are fully glossed to fit in with the metrosexuals and painted faces.

In this age of post-feminism, I thought the whole "Let him come to me" act was over. Au contraire. Several guys give me the up-down once-over and sashay over - they really did sashay. I like a man who's confident, but not one who works on his walk. I have no better luck on the dancefloor.

By the end of the night, I've got five numbers and sore feet. I don't think I'll call any of my Halo admirers, though maybe I'll give their numbers to my gay friends.

Bowling for boys
DATE NO. 2: THURS., FEB. 10; ANSWERING A CL PERSONAL AD, INTERNATIONAL BOWLING AND EAST ANDREWS

After looking through the Loaf's personal ads - ranging from "SBM, no children, goes to church" to "SWM looking for a casual, steamy night" - I find one who's looking for "friendship first." Sounds safe enough.

We decide to meet at International Bowling on Buford Highway at 8:30 p.m. I show up on time. He's a half-hour late. Not a good start to a first date - but he's got pink roses in hand and an apology. Guys take note: Flowers equal immediate forgiveness.

Personal Ad Guy is a tall, handsome, 24-year-old law student - by far the cutest (and preppiest) guy among the orange vinyl couches and campy picture booths. We bowl, guzzle cheap beer and nosh on pepperoni pizza and chili cheese fries. Romantic it ain't, but the atmosphere puts us both at ease. I don't find myself nervously tapping my foot or trying to think of topics of conversation the way I would on a dinner date.

Personal Ad Guy and I decide to get out of the smoke-filled bowling alley and grab some decent drinks - or, rather, some overpriced ones. We end up at East Andrews in Buckhead, where an $8 cover gets us in to see the thin crowd of ex-frat boys and yuppies rocking out to a Rolling Stones cover band. I can't decide if I'm amused or sympathetic toward the folks jumping up and down to the tune of a very un-Mick Jagger singing, "I can't go no satisfaction."

By 2 a.m., we've had enough. I end the night by giving Personal Ad Guy a good-night smooch.

Lesson of the evening: Don't pre-judge personal ads. They might seem shady, but they're the longest-running dating service known to man. Just look back at old newspapers from the 1930s.

Hide and Kiss
DATE NO. 3: FRI., FEB. 11; POSTING A PERSONAL ON NERVE.COM, NEIGHBOR'S PUB

To find my next date, I use technology in a way my mother would consider dangerous: I post a profile on www.nerve.com, a sister site to the www.theonion.com. Anyone who reads The Onion at least has a sense of humor. I don't contact anyone; instead, I wait to see who contacts me.

A guy - we'll call him Nerve Boy - sends me a note that says, "I like that you're loud. I can be, too. We'd either get along famously or hate each other's guts. I'm hoping for the former. Care to catch a drink with me?"

Nerve Boy arrives ahead of me at Neighbor's, a Virginia-Highland pub. Clad in a UGA T-shirt and sipping on Sweetwater, Nerve Boy blends in with the preps and post-grads. He's an ad writer and, I soon find out, a word dork like me. At the moment, Nerve Boy's faves are "gussied up" and "semblance." Mine are "copious" and "paraphernalia."

Embarrassing stories are always a good icebreaker, so after a few beers, I venture to tell Nerve Boy about the time my little brother, armed with a BB gun, walked in on me and my then-boyfriend taking a bubble bath. There's nothing more embarrassing than your brother shooting BBs into the tub while you try to lather suds onto your tits and your boyfriend is running butt-naked after your meddling sibling.

Nerve Boy's embarrassing moment involves his first kiss. He's 12, playing a nighttime game of hide-and-seek. He decided to make a move while hiding in the bushes with a girl he had a crush on for a year. He turned to kiss her - but placed a wet one on her eye instead of her lips.

He says he's learned to kiss since then, but I don't find out. It's time for me to grab dinner with a friend. Nerve Boy calls later that night to see if I want to meet back up, but I don't hear my phone ring. Not that I really mind.

Meeting someone online first and then in person is weird. There's something safe about having a profile, a code name and a computerized persona - something that's ultimately shattered by an in-person encounter.

I guess Mom was right.

Meat Market Mania
DATE NO. 4: SAT., FEB. 12; ANTI-VALENTINE'S DAY BITTER BALL AT VISION

With V-Day around the corner, I decide to see how many singles are looking for love - or at least some ass. I squeeze into skin-tight black pants and invite my friend Joe to come along to Q100's Bitter Ball. The 3,000-ticket ball is in its fourth year and has sold out every event. That's a lot of single, bitter people in Atlanta.

The line at Vision weaves into the street and we're stuck in it, even though we've prepaid. We finally reach the door and receive numbered stickers. I'm 2945; Joe's 2946. The numbers are for the "Love Ticker," an electronic scroll over the dancefloor that broadcasts messages from one single to another.

The club is packed with people who - as one Q100 assistant put it - are attractive and psycho or ugly but hopeful someone drinks enough to want to hook up with them. Girls in slinky tops and guys in crisp collared shirts crowd the dancefloor. I don't see how these people are "bitter" - it seems like they're horny as hell and want to get laid. Joe points to a girl next to the bar who's sucking on a guy's nipple. Within minutes, her friends carry her out of the club. It's barely after midnight.

After a couple Jger shots, Joe and I split up to work the crowd. Joe meets an Alabama sweetie who doesn't feel comfortable wearing her number, because she doesn't want guys writing her messages on the "Love Ticker" like, "We should get it on. Meet me in the parking lot at 2 a.m."

I have no luck, so Joe and I meet up again and head to the dancefloor. A girl falls. I knock Joe's drink out of his hand. He points to the Love Ticker: "2946 to 2945: I could stare at that ass all night."

In the end, I only get an ass compliment - from my friend. But I'm sure many of the Vision patrons got ass that night, or at least made asses of themselves.

My heart is locked
DATE NO. 5: MON., FEB. 14; LOCK-AND-KEY PARTY AT GORDON BIERSCH BREWERY

Since it's the day for cuddling couples whispering sweet nothings to each other, I decide to participate in the antithesis of a romantic V-Day: a lock-and-key party, a kind of speed dating.

I arrive and immediately receive a nametag, a "How It Works" guide, several contact cards, and a pencil. Did I just sign in at summer camp? I grab a glass of wine before the unlocking game begins.

While I'm waiting for my Merlot, a man with curly blond hair sits next to me. He's a boyishly cute landscaper with an attractive Southern drawl. We're having a decent conversation - until he tells me Bush is the best thing that's ever happened to our economy. I almost spit out my wine. Bush equals no bush from this girl. Welcome to the blue balls state.

A few minutes later, I'm in line with the women waiting to grab padlocks and tie them around their necks. The objective of the game: Men get keys and try to unlock as many women's locks as possible. There's no rhyme or reason as to which key unlocks which lock.

The second I get my lock, several men dart toward me, key in hand. This is intense. Here's the typical interaction:

Bob: "Hi, Alyssa."

Me: "Hi, Bob."

Bob: "Let's see if I fit."

Bob tries, his key doesn't fit.

Me: "Sorry."

Bob: "Oh, well."

Bob wanders off to jam his key into another woman.

The point of the lock-and-key event is to get to know people. But with everyone zipping around the room like they're about to find a cure for AIDS, it's impossible to have a conversation. After about 40 minutes, I still haven't been unlocked, but other women have been unlocked four or five times.

I ask to switch my lock, thinking that maybe it's a dud. My second lock still brings me no luck (or maybe it's trying to protect me).

I instead get to know Bridget, one of the few down-to-earth women at the event. She's an engineer and says she decided to come to the lock-and-key party because guys in Atlanta are unapproachable. Amen, sister.

By the time an hour has passed, I'm exhausted. I grab another glass of wine and sit down next to a man who looks to be in his mid-40s, wearing blue-tinted specs and a striped shirt.

"This is bizarre as shit," he says.

I laugh. Thank god there's a man in the room who finds this game of cat and mouse ridiculous. He chats about his recent divorce and offers to buy my glass of wine. I accept. That's when he tells me about his and his ex-wife's many experiences at Trapeze, a swingers club, culminating in their rooftop escapade with his ex-wife's best friend.

I decide to go home. I'd rather curl up with my cats on V-Day than have guys try to jam ill-fitting keys into me.

L'Chaim
DATE NO. 6: THURS., FEB. 17; JEWISH SINGLES WINE TASTING AT BRASSERIE LE COZE

There's nothing that would make Grandma Abkowitz happier than for me to meet a "nice Jewish boy" - or even a so-so one. That's my goal at the wine and chocolate tasting event organized by the Marcus Jewish Community Center.

I arrive on time, though I wind up waiting with Kate, the event's Yenta of the evening, for a good 10 minutes before anyone else shows. By 7:30 p.m., most of the 20 eligible singles are seated at five tables that resemble a disjointed Passover seder. I sit next to Sarah, a bright woman who has made the wine tasting her first outing since her lung cancer has been in remission.

Before I taste a drop of wine, I find myself discussing a paper I wrote in college about the socioeconomic impact of prostitution in Nairobi while a semi-balding businessman in glasses responds by describing his senior thesis on microeconomics at Yale. I love intellectual banter, but not the type that causes my foot to constantly tap.

Kelly, the sommelier at the cozy Buckhead restaurant, finally comes around and pours the vino. L'Chaim. First up, a dry Muscadet, which we learn goes well with milk chocolate. The golden rule of wine and chocolate: light with light, dark with dark. At least that isn't the rule with relationships.

I spend most of the evening conversing with an Emory medical student - who, no surprises here, went to Harvard as an undergrad - about the tort reform bill that was just signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue. He won't wipe the semi-shit-eating grin off his face. I appreciate a man who's up on current events, but this guy could obviously use a little lesson in humility.

I leave with a hurt tummy (too much chocolate), a little tipsy (too much wine) and no Kosher cutie in tow. I guess Grandma Abkowitz will have to wait for her granddaughter to find a Jewish gem.

Lipstick Lesbianism
DATE NO. 7: SAT., FEB. 19; LINE DANCING AT HOEDOWNS

Since I still haven't struck gold in the male department, I decide to weigh all my options, including those of my own sex. I head to Hoedowns, a country-Western haven for queers and dykes, on Saturday, the hottest night to find a same-sex match. Being from Nashville, I have an affinity for line dancing, so I slip into my cowboy boots and see if I can rope a fine young lass.

The dancefloor is packed with women in plaid and guys in anything from polo shirts to no shirts. I have to admit, same-sex couples look to me a bit odd dancing together, but I'm all for progressive thinking.

After guzzling a few beers, I decide to kick up my heels as well. I boot-scoot, two-step and learn a new dance, the Renegade, from the gay DJ. I work up a sweat and soon plop down onto a bar stool for a breather.

"You're a cutie," a gay guy shouts across the room to me.

I'm a little surprised. I'd prepared myself to be hit on by lesbians, not gay boys. I guess he sees I'm shocked, because he adds, "I might be gay but I can spot a cute girl in a second."

He comes over and smokes a cigarette while I down a Bud Light. He tells me I'm a lipstick lesbian - one who actually puts some thought into her appearance. "That's a fabulous thing, girl," he says. I smile and sip my beer.

I then spot a lovely Loretta Lynn look-alike - with her butch partner, who's carrying a Chihuahua donning a hot pink rhinestone collar. It's the most feminine accessory in the joint.

After a fifth beer, I dance a bit more and decide to call it a night. No women hit on me. Perhaps I look a bit too feminine, or maybe they totally flagged me as an undercover hetero.

Artisan Angst
DATE NO. 8: TUES., FEB. 22; BLIND DATE AT DISH

Feeling worn out, I tell myself a blind date can't be that bad if it's with someone my friends know. I'm set up with a metalworking artist. Our mutual friends do the dirty work and plan for us to meet at Dish.

Right off the bat, he tells me to call him Chaz - a nickname that stuck after he saw The Royal Tenenbaums. He looks nothing like Ben Stiller. He says it's a family joke. I don't get it.

I sip wine and pick at mussels while Chaz explains how he can't get the scrap metal out of his hands for days after sculpting. Note to self: He won't be touching me at all tonight.

I tell him I like contemporary artwork, particularly abstract paintings. Big mistake. He starts lecturing me:

"An artist can close his eyes, splash paint on a canvas and sell it for 20 grand. You call this art?"

I become more amused by our waiter, Milford, than my date. Milford is a part-time filmmaker who produced Claire, a silent black and white film about two gay men who raise a little girl. That intrigues me more than Chaz's critique of Jackson Pollock.

We end dinner without dessert. Perhaps the friend-arranged blind date wasn't a good idea. I felt that I had to like him because he's a friend of a friend. I'm sure he's a fabulous metalworker with a kind heart, but I'll let my friends keep him.

CYBER ME, BABY
DATE NO. 9: FEB. 16-23; CRAIG'S LIST PERSONAL AD

Since picking a guy based on a personal ad was my most fruitful attempt to date, I decide to put myself out there, too. I place two personal ads on www.craigslist.com, an online listings site. In the first, I describe myself as a sweet Southern belle. I place this ad under the "Strictly Platonic" category. In the second, I say I'm a sexy, outgoing woman who likes to party till dawn and place it under the "Women Seeking Men" header.

After a couple of days I get no response.

The next day I write this and place it under the "Casual Encounters" heading: "SWF looking for a good time. Very outgoing, sexy and smart. Seeking hot man who knows how to please a woman in all ways."

OK, it sounds sleazy. But I have a degree in anthropology from Emory, so naturally I'm curious about the psyches of guys who venture into the "Casual Encounters" territory.

It's the worst idea ever.

Within 10 minutes my inbox is overflowing, most of the responses so foul you'd think I'd asked for a writing sample for an erotica anthology:

"What would I do to/with you? We make out and I start to remove your clothing. We get very hot for each other, I lay you down and give you oral. You scream as you cum and it's ok there is nobody around."

Or: "About me - Brown hair, late 20something, SWM with athletic build, 5'11, 180 pounds. (7 inches, if there is a prerequisite there.) I've had a vasectomy."

Gross! I take the ad down. I'm not a prude, but I'm not one to meet a stranger at a hotel for a nooner and some role-playing, either.

MySpace - or yours?
DATE NO. 10: WED., FEB. 23; SOLICITING GUYS ON MYSPACE.COM

While toying with Craig's List, I also join MySpace.com, a hipster networking site, and post a picture of myself in a silky tank top with the quote, "God made sin so we would know his mercy."

After a couple of hours browsing the site, I e-mail a cute soccer boy who loves to buy apple juice and wander around home accent stores. I write, "Saw your profile ... you sound interesting. Any chance we might be able to grab apple juice sometime or walk around Pier 1?"

He writes back: "Trust me, I'm not that interesting. Excitement for me means a marathon fine linens shop-fest and the bottomless pasta bowl at the Olive Garden."

Hmmm. This guy said he was straight in his profile - but a linens shop-fest? Perhaps he hasn't found his closet to come out of yet.

So I e-mail a couple other cuties and receive no response. How rude! I feel like I'm running into the same problem I had at the Earl; guys ultimately seem shocked when a woman makes the first move. The next time a guy tells me he likes a forward woman, I'm calling his bluff.

Soccer Boy and I wind up e-mailing back and forth, discussing basketball and how he's just started indulging in happy hours.

I end up inviting him to a happy hour to see if his drinking skills are up to par - and if he's as cute as his picture.

He never shows. Maybe he had to run to Bed, Bath and Beyond to get the latest 300-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets.

After the storm

I'm eight dates (and two attempted dates) ahead of where I was a few weeks ago, with a couple new numbers and some damn good stories. But I still haven't been swept off my feet.

The funny thing is, while "researching" this story, I actually met a guy I liked. He wasn't one of my dates, he didn't send me dirty e-mails, and I met him through a friend - he's actually the guy who accompanied me to Q100's Bitter Ball.

Sure, the online services and lock-and-key parties might help some singles find love - or at least some booty. But from my experience, meeting a good match happens when you least expect it.

I don't know what will happen with this new beau, but I can tell you our first date involved delivery pizza and a DVD rental. After this assignment, my couch is going to be getting all my loving for a while.



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