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Together
Published: February 6, 2002

Meeting your match
Local dating organizations set stage for romance with everything from haute cuisine to hiking

by Jocelyn Dong

If you're looking to find that special someone, take heart -- you're not alone.

Even in the midst of a recession, local singles organizations are reporting a healthy demand for their services, which can cost anywhere from $20 to $1,600 a year. Four groups with offices in Palo Alto and Mountain View -- Meeting for Good, Sierra Singles, Singles Supper Club and Table for Six Total Adventures & Entertainment -- boast about 8,400 members among them (Table for Six alone accounts for 6,000 of those). And, they say, their ranks are growing.

For more information:
Meeting for Good www.meetingforgood.com; 949-4611 Sierra Singles http://lomaprieta.sierraclub.org/lpss/; (408) 795-3237 Singles Supper Club www.singlessupperclub.com; 327-4645 Table for Six Total Adventures & Entertainment www.tableforsix.com; 934-0800

"When people were making so much money, they could fill the black hole of loneliness with lots of things: a trip to Las Vegas, shopping at Saks," said Julie Paiva, owner of Table for Six, which hosts dinners, social events and trips. "They could run away from their feelings. But people are realizing that relationships count more than anything."

Paiva began her business in 1997 and now employs a staff of 30. She said that single people's attitudes have changed over the past nine months. Instead of attending events in order to find friends and business contacts, people now say they're looking for the person with whom they can spend the rest of their lives.

"Couple matching" has gone up by 60 percent over the past eight or nine months, according to Paiva. That's what the former model and Barbizon executive calls it when there's mutual interest between two people at an event and they exchange contact info (aided or unaided by her staff). Since Sept. 11, Paiva said, the organization's been connecting 50 couples a week.

Perhaps, she said, the uncertain times have "almost forced (singles) to be real people."

"The top three reasons people weren't in relationships (before) were that they were picky, picky and picky," Paiva said. But nowadays, singles seem more willing to look beneath the surface of their potential dates, she said.

Finding a soul mate can be hard going, a fact that is not lost on Barbara Millen, owner of the Singles Supper Club in Palo Alto. Divorces bring many people back into the singles scene, and those with rusty dating skills may require a little extra TLC from Millen and her staff of three part-time employees.

"With a lot of newly single people (joining), most of our time is on the phone" doing informal counseling, Millen said. "I talk to people and discuss their social life now -- how long it's been since they've dated . . . what their discomforts are."

Mostly, Millen said, she counsels people to relax, have a good time and adjust their expectations.

"What we emphasize is doing things you want to do. You're going to meet nice people and have interesting conversations. That's all the expectations you should have," Millen said. If people come to an event expecting to fall for someone, or for someone to fall for them, it creates pressure and can lead to disappointment.

Two changes that Millen's seen among her clientele since she founded the group in 1985 have been an increasingly older crowd and more ethnic diversity in the group.

"When I started, it was mostly (people in their) 30s and early 40s. Now there's a lot of single people who are 45-60, and part of that is the baby-boom generation -- they're a large group," Millen said.

At the same time, both Asians and Hispanics have started joining the club, which has about 500 members. When it began, Singles Supper Club catered mostly to the Caucasian crowd. Millen thinks the change reflects the "educational and socioeconomic attainment" of minorities.

On the other end of the dating spectrum, the non-profit Sierra Singles (affiliated with the Sierra Club) and Meeting for Good position themselves as low-cost and low-pressure alternatives.

Charging less than $100 a year each (compared with $350 and $1,600 for Singles Supper Club and Table for Six respectively), Sierra Singles and Meeting for Good gather singles together around common interests: hiking and the environment with Sierra Singles, and volunteerism with Meeting for Good.

Jack Borok, the Sierra Singles chairman, considers the club one of "the best values for my entertainment dollar." The monthly calendar is typically full; it's unusual for there to be more than three or four activity-less days, Borok said. About 60 percent of the group's events are outdoors oriented, the other 40 percent range from theater outings to pool parties.

Events are organized by volunteer leaders. Even though couples do meet and marry through the group, Borok said there's no emphasis on "finding that special someone."

"It's a low-pressure way to meet people," he said.

Likewise, Meeting for Good members said there is less of an overt focus on matchmaking in their group. About the only mention of singleness comes during an orientation, according to Paul Houtz, the group's president. "We tell them the rules, give them homely advice: 'If you want to meet people, you have to hang around with strangers. Get out of your comfort area and do new things.' "

The cost to join, $90 a year, helps people to relax, Houtz said. When people pay upwards of $1,000, they feel they have to get a match out of it, he figured. Instead, "we're trying to gently help that happen."

The group organizes volunteer events at local nonprofit organizations, sending singles out to do everything from stuffing envelopes to visiting kids at a children's shelter. The group also offers social events, organized by members.

While Houtz may eschew the style of some dating organizations, he said his group is nonetheless considering bringing back "member-match" dinners on a regular basis. The dinners group small numbers of men and women together by age and educational level. Organizing them is time intensive. With just one part-time staff member, the responsibility for getting the dinners together currently falls on volunteers, who occasionally put them on. But Houtz hopes to get a grant to hire a person who can organize them more frequently.

Even if people don't find their match in these groups, Houtz and the other organization heads said that members will nonetheless get their money's worth in fun activities and enjoyable company. And for busy Silicon Valley types, the offerings fill a definite social need.

"People have had the experience of calling up a friend to see if they're available for tennis on the weekend and they're not free," Table for Six's Paiva said. "Who has time to set up these things? We're their social secretary."

E-mail Jocelyn Dong at jdong@paweekly.com

 

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