The art of the pickup in Vancouver

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      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.




      Jun 20, 2009 at 1:44pm

      Why should I be taking advice from this guy? Who the hell does he think he is? Alfie? See you pulled a scenester chick from the photo. Way to go. Go take some e and listen to some calvin Harris......he's probably a failed film student who'll be trying to pick up chicks in the same resturant till he's 50. Give it a rest Fabio and make sure you get tested


      Jun 24, 2009 at 4:27pm

      Interesting article. I'm sure no Megan Fox, but the minute I leave Vancouver to cross the border into the US, I have good-looking (by my standards) men asking me out almost immediately. They're charming, confident, and great fun. In Vancouver? Hey, I'd have my pick if I were into marijuana-addled dudes who don't shave or clip their toenails, or married men. Yuck. I think there's an erroneous belief out there that Vancouver men have their pick of women, so they just wait for the desperate, approval-seeking females to run after them as if they were dipped in dark chocolate. Not me. I like to be met half-way. Go south, young woman, and have a blast. That's my advice.


      Jun 26, 2009 at 12:21am

      I think this Vancouver "behavior" transcends beyond dating and into day to day interaction in places like work, along the streets, etc. Don't get me wrong, Vancouverites are nice and respectful but NOT WARM. I think they take political correctness too seriously that the social scene became too sterile. The scary thing is that the artificial chats never progressed into something more interesting. Grow up, Vancouver!


      Jul 30, 2009 at 12:44am

      I happen to know that lovely lady, and she is not a scenester... she's a fabulous young woman :)


      Aug 9, 2009 at 1:35pm

      Men in Vancouver are boring jocks. Every women eventually comes to know this. Especially when they go to another city where they are surrounded by outgoing, amazing men. I had the same experience as she did. Great men in Toronto, slobbo-jockos in Vancouver. Yuck! Women, your best bet to meet great men is to leave Vancouver. Seriously!


      Dec 9, 2009 at 7:35am

      Having lived in 4 countries and 5 cities in Canada, I can tell you this: Vancouver is adolescent when it comes to dating. I don't know whether it's the politics, financial issues, or the superficiality of the city, but one thing is for sure: If you're looking for romance, go elsewhere.


      May 12, 2010 at 10:48am

      I lived all over the world and I have to agree that when it comes to the dating scene, Vancouver is really bad. In my experience, both men and women just seem so full of themselves and concerned with following "the rules" that the encounters become awkward and downright weird. There seems to be a consistent stereotype of what women find attractive in Vancouver. That is the tall, slim sandal wearing pretty boy that surfs...LOL Men are almost more like fashion accessories to women than actual partners. As bad as the guys are here, the women that I have met are alot worse. I have never met such stuck up flaky princesses with egos the size of football stadiums in my life. In Vancouver, good men are hard to find, good women are harder to find. Either way, go elsewhere. I did and I'm engaged to a Brit...hehe


      Aug 28, 2010 at 6:12pm

      "Server in a restaurant" .. oooh.. what a catch *cough*


      Jan 27, 2011 at 9:26pm

      Vancouver is a place of the possible, but often not the real. There seem to be some perpetual daters in Vancouver that put on fascades to attract the attention of others. When you get a tiny bit closer, past the fascade, their substance just isn't there and they're as empty as Yaletown mensa meeting.


      Apr 27, 2011 at 3:27pm

      I like Vancouver for all the reasons others are commenting against... it's filled with men who are posturing to get the girl's attention and have her make the move and women who are posturing for the guy to do the same. And nothing gets done. Everyone is busy just looking good and feeding their own ego knowing "yup, I'm looking good and he/she just noticed me". Until someone like me actually goes up to the girl, gets her attention, entertains her, flirts with her and gets her mind off the guy who has been in the corner, watching and posturing with his 3 Corona drinking buddies like a good little wall-fly. That being said... yup, I too agree... vancouver does a great job LOOKING good and takes it overboard to the point where interaction and having careless fun often takes a back seat.