Upon walking through the glass double doors of Blue Mountain Coffee House on East Main Street, the men are given letters and the women numbers. Both groups are then asked to paste said letter or number to their chest for the purposes of identification. The dim lighting coupled with subtly suggestive R&B tunes should create an easygoing vibe, but the attendees are posturing like high school students clinging to their friends and staying in their respective corners.
Tonight’s event was dubbed “Singled Out” and is described by promoters as an upscale networking affair for single professionals, which is a nice way of saying it’s speed-dating without embarrassing folks. It’s close to Valentine’s Day, so what better way to squeeze $10 out of a purse or pocket than to play to our fears of loneliness.
At first, even the promoters are a bit anxious, hoping for the right ratio of men to women to balance out the crowd. The night begins with only a handful of gentleman spread across the café and bar as women arrive in groups of three or more.
Last year, the online news outlet The Daily Beast reported that Louisville ranked as one of the worst cities in which to meet men, saying: “Situated in the heart of the Bible Belt, most of the men here are already taken.”
The ladies might find better options online, where Louisville’s dating services and professional matchmaking websites are abundant with locals looking for love. The singles here say such sites are easier to navigate for those too shy, but local browsers should beware considering the city was recently ranked No.1 in searches for naughty words and porn. As a result, there’s a good chance the people lurking on such websites are only looking for random hook-ups and getting their rocks off via iChat or Skype. On the contrary, the people in attendance tonight appear genuinely interested in starting a human connection that will last longer than one evening.
“Overall, yes, it’s difficult to date here,” says Michele Yeager, who operates OnyxLouisville.com, a social-networking site for urban processionals, which co-sponsored the event. “The singles in Louisville complain about the dating scene a lot, and they are frustrated with the stalemate at area nightclubs.”
The attendees reserved their spots with Yeager in advance, and most are appreciative for this overt attempt at matchmaking, but it’s difficult to overcome that initial anxiety of speaking to someone new.
“Nobody likes to get rejected,” says Jennifer Walker, 27, who ventured out this evening with two friends. “But it’s something different. When women go to the club, we often see men who hug the wall and are standing to the side. This forces you to get out of your box.”
Helping to ease that introduction, organizers ask participants to fill out a form indicating whether they’re willing to share an e-mail address, phone number or both. At the end of the night, after mingling and mixing, participants circle the identification letter or number of the person (or persons) they enjoyed talking with the most.
“Hey ladies, how are you all doing,” asks an older gentleman, approaching a group of five women seated at a corner table sipping their cocktails. “Now I’m going to need you to help me out and make sure my letter gets circled a couple of times. Did you just scratch me off?”
“No not at all,” a woman at the table laughs. “What do you like to do, letter U?”
“I love sleep,” he jokes.
It’s unclear what these women really think of this bold and rather clumsy introduction. Is their laughter intended to mock his lame approach, or is there perhaps true romantic interest? It’s a tough call.
“Men will say when they go out, a lot of women are in groups, and one reason why they do not approach us is they don’t feel comfortable,” says Yeager. “And if he gets rejected, he’s the joke of the night.”
Eventually the café is filled to capacity, and the initial anxiety is drowned out by the collective noise. Before leaving, many in attendance say they met someone who showed promise, but nothing is official at this point. There’s a general consensus that breaking Louisville’s reputation as a black hole for single people will require those looking for love to become more outgoing and for event planners and nightlife entrepreneurs to create more alternatives.
“A lot of people I can tell were out of their comfort zone,” says Jeremy Buckner, 28, who came alone. “I liked it because it’s a situation where everyone knew they were single and people came in knowing that and felt comfortable introducing themselves to different people.”
The “Singled Out” sponsors say they plan to hold another singles gathering Feb. 11. For some, it might seem odd to do that sort of last-minute shopping for a Valentine’s Day date. But if your weekends are already lonely, that loneliness is made worse by the constant reminder of romance around this holiday. In fact, it just might be enough to push the city’s singles to take a chance on love — by any means necessary.