The art of the pickup in Vancouver
In a city with a rep for looking good but being standoffish, singles need some expert advice and a relaxed attitude
Stalkers and senior citizens: these are the suitors that raven-haired hottie Erika Dawn attracted during her recent five-year student stint in Vancouver. It’s not that the now 23-year-old wasn’t on the prowl. Each summer, she studied at the beach, skin on display, obviously in the game.
Guys her age, not so interested. The University of B.C. English literature grad reports that she got asked out by eligible strangers maybe twice a year during her time in the city. Male friends would awkwardly declare their love for her—only when heavily intoxicated. For Dawn, Vancouver dating was, at best, clumsy. All was quiet on the western coast.
A month ago, she moved to Montreal. Ever since, she’s been inundated with attention. She’s already gone on 12 dates.
“I’d say hi to [Vancouver] guys all the time, and they just wouldn’t take the bait,” she told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview from Montreal. “Now I’m bombarded. Guys are really reserved in Vancouver, and I didn’t notice it until I moved. I get asked out two or three times a week. They’ll walk right up and say, ”˜Hey, want to go out tonight?’ ”
The following scene would be familiar to Dawn. On a recent Wednesday evening, Vancouver’s Second Beach park was brimming with hot bodies. Shiny, shirtless men made a Greek-frieze-like display of pull-ups and ab crunches on the exercise bars. Two women in bikinis and cowboy hats tossed a Frisbee. One hard woman in a cut-off miniskirt repetitively bent over a picnic blanket to “pick things up”, straight-legged, giving her the posture of a baboon in heat. But there was no interaction. They didn’t speak to each other; the Rollerbladers didn’t even slow down to check out the goods.
Vancouverites are really, really good at looking hot. But the city has a hellish reputation among hetero singles for being socially cold, cliquey, and smug. Still, some single people manage to attract all the attention they could ever want, and more. For those who have the gift, it’s a no-brainer. For those who get passed by, like Dawn, it’s a quagmire.
But when the temperature hits 30 and beaches fill up with short shorts, it’s worth figuring out. So the Straight asked the experts—those who get hit on a lot—just what it takes to make it in Vancouver’s out-and-about singles scene.
Their advice is this. Flirt lots. Not too much seriousness. Be hot. It’s that simple.
At the Granville Island restaurant where he works, 22-year-old Jordan Gray bantered throughout a recent evening with a couple he was serving. A little chit-chat here, another martini there. At the end of the evening—and this happens often to Gray—the couple handed him their business cards, said they were interested in hooking up for a threesome later that night, and asked him to call anytime, even if it was late.
“It was super flattering,” Gray said to the Straight, noting that the pair were two men, and that he identifies as hetero. The duo fit right into the list of customers who regularly make overtures to Gray: heterosexual couples looking for a third bedmate, cougars, giggly young women who write their cell numbers on napkins, and, of course, men. For Gray, attracting sexual attention in cold-shouldered Vancouver is easy.
Not surprisingly, this neo-Adonis hasn’t been single since he was 12. Now, Gray considers himself polyamorous, with at least four girlfriends on the go at any one time. “The book The Ethical Slut [subtitled A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures (Celestial Arts, $22.95)] is like the Bible to me,” he said.
Unlike his friends who troll for dates hunched over a keyboard, Gray has a job that plants him in the public eye. Yet, he claims, it’s the following that attracts the lust: he’s outgoing, warm, a good listener, confident, and passionate. Grudgingly, he also admits that being attractive doesn’t hurt, either.
Gray is, in other words, a beautiful freak. But he believes he understands why so many Vancouver singles have trouble meeting people. They live too much in their heads, he thinks. They’re obsessed with convention and what they “should” do. They’re out of touch with their desire.
“People need to at least attempt to connect with their inner caveman,” he said.
Those women who flirt successfully with him, Gray noted, are lighthearted, funny, and respectful of his time. As a server, he said, he can’t linger. Physically, he looks for full hips, big thighs, tapered legs, and a cute face. “She could be flat-chested. As long as she has a good hip-to-waist ratio and a nice bum, I’ll be done for.”
Ultimately, personal appearance is pretty darn important in any singles scene, according to Lara McQuay. She’s the Vancouver director of operations for Meet Market Adventures, a company that connects groups of singles through events like wine tours, kayaking, hiking, and patio parties.
“Looks are a big factor in a lot of relationships, be they work or personal,” she told the Straight. It’s not that you have to resemble a porn star, she noted; singles tend to search out those who remind them of themselves. And few people, she said, have a really good idea of how they present.
Yet Vancouver folk generally have bigger hook-up problems than just looks, she argued. Compared with single people in Toronto, where McQuay worked until a year ago, this city’s singles don’t go out with the intention of meeting new people. They cancel plans haphazardly, and will use both rain and sun as an excuse not to show up for dates. Some singles keep a checklist of qualities that are nonnegotiable, instead of allowing relationships to grow organically. Plus, people here tend to be transient, so they seem not to invest in relationships as much as singles do elsewhere.
Simply put, she said, Vancouverites don’t connect casually to other people, even their neighbours.
On the flip side, McQuay noted, the locals she takes out through Meet Market are genuinely interested in connecting with one another, and can do it—if she breaks the ice for them. All it takes, she related, is 15 minutes of self-introductions at the beginning of an event, during which she asks clients to talk about their travel history or something else dear to them.
The trick to successful connections at that point, she explained, is recalling what other people have said about themselves.
“I just think we need to pay more attention to each other,” she said. “People need to dig a lot deeper here in Vancouver.”
McQuay is friendly and outgoing—and attracts a lot of attention, both at work and off. The key to her attractiveness, she believes, is that she genuinely listens to other people, and remembers things about them. This isn’t rocket science, she noted. Successful flirts make eye contact with her. They don’t have a strict agenda, and keep their flirting “light and airy”. There’s no pressure, in other words.
For those who hope to avoid the sometimes awkward, rejection-riddled world of in-person hookups, the Internet is no refuge. You can’t escape lookism, according to UBC sociology student Jacqueline Schoemaker-Holmes. For her PhD dissertation, she interviewed 40 heterosexual Vancouver professionals who use the Web to meet other singles. She wanted to record their dating practices and analyze how they present themselves on-line.
What she found was, she said, very Marshall McLuhan. On the Internet, she told the Straight, singles are replicating old-fashioned, face-to-face dating. McLuhan surmised that technology users inevitably replicate old habits on a new platform.
Essentially, the men in her study were looking for women who were young, pretty, and “not fat”, she remarked. Women were looking for men who were employed and had a good sense of humour. But the dating essential that the Internet can’t touch, Schoemaker-Holmes noted, is chemistry.
“Pictures [on the Net] play a really significant role in determining whether you find someone attractive enough to send them a smile or a note,” she said. “But no matter how much rapport is built, it comes down to ”˜Does it work in person?’ ”
In Erika Dawn’s case, the trick to an active hookup scene wasn’t changing her appearance or even her personality. It was changing cities. But for those who will be spending the summer in hard-bodied, cool-headed Vancouver, a little country-style friendliness could be the key to even hotter summer nights.