Santa Barbara Independent
SB Dating Services: Video & Astrological Dates
By Georgia Sargeant
During the 70’s the battle of the sexes looked like a war. Distinctions and discrepancies in values, expectations, and needs which had seemed trivial or tolerable to previous generations began to loom as absolute barriers to communication. It almost seemed as though men and women were members of different cultures; behavior that one group thought had one meaning looked entirely different to the other. Machismo meant strength and forcefulness to some, callous brutality to others; female assertion looked ballcutting bitchery from one side of the fence, long overdue freedom-fighting from the other. Hard times for romance.
Fortunately those conflicts are starting to look like growing pains rather than terminal mortal combat. After all, the world changers; behavior and habits of mind that make life work in a farm or factory-based economy don’t fit in an electronic society where communication is king. The 70’s shakeup permitted us to sift real values from among the traditional shibboleths, and create genuine new ways to cope with new twists on ancient problems.
One surprising nouveau antique response to the male-female dilemma is the development of the dating service, just starting to thrive in our town. Many traditional cultures include matchmakers – folks whose role is to balance the needs of individual, family and village and come up with alliances that work well for all. In these societies falling in love is considered an unreliable-to-bad predictor of stability.
We, of course, have assumed the opposite for the past 50 years; and our divorce rate suggests that those old guys may have been onto something. Or maybe the post-industrial age just hadn’t evolved really workable ways for men and women to get to know one another on an honest basis. Despite preconceptions to the contrary, dating services seem to fill a real vacuum in our society, according to the members of Stars in Your Eyes and Action Dating, our local institutions.
After all, think about the alternatives. Convention says to look for your opposite number in school, in bars, in recreation, at work. But how often does it really work out? For one thing, we have pretty stereo-typed ideas about how these encounters will go, and they’re not necessarily conducive to openness, honesty or real regard.
“I went out with one guy for a couple of months – let’s call him Fred,” remembered Stars member Celeste. “After we broke up he started making the bar scene with a vengeance, scoring right and left, with several different women every week. He said to me, “Can you imagine? Some of these broads actually think I would want to see them again after picking them up in a bar. They must be out of their minds.” She quoted, incensed. “Women don’t think like that! Some of those poor girls were probably perfectly sincere; it made me glad I’d never slept with him.”
Celeste has enjoyed meeting people through Stars in Your Eyes because, she says, proprietor Amber matches her with men who would be good for her, rather than the salvage cases she is usually perversely attracted to. “On my own I seem to pick men kind of neurotically; I have a huge mother instinct, and I’m drawn to men who need help, but it drains me. I haven’t met anyone that swept me off my feet through Amber, because she keeps sending me men who aren’t lame! But I’ve made some awfully good friends, and maybe I can learn to love nice men instead of sick ones.” She laughed.
Surprisingly, friendship is the most common benefit cited by patrons of both services. The two businesses seem to attract slightly different styles of people, but both are refreshingly sincere. Action Dating started last year by Jean, occupies a quiet conventional waiting room in the cinder-block San Roque office building. I always like to play Cupid,” she says softly. Action offers photographs and questionnaires divided by age as well as sex, since most people are quite specific about what age they are looking for.
For recent members there is also the videotape record, the short taped interviews give a much better impression of appearance and manner than snapshots. Jean is a soothing and amiable person, as innocently self-conscious as any of the patrons; her unaffected questions and comments off-screen seem to elicit very natural replies from the victim on the tube. The effect is engaging cinema verite- people are nervous and funny, as anyone would expect, but their personalities seem to come across vividly. She retapes the sessions if they don’t go well.
Amber’s technique is different. The concept came to her in church. Stars in Your Eyes is an astrological dating service, and the first thing Amber does is make up a birth chart for the new member, with all the planets carefully in place. Then she explains the significance of the chart to opposite-sex relationships; each planet is held to govern certain aspects of the psyche – the moon, for example, governs dreams and desires. Its placement (“house”) at the time of birth influences certain aspects of life, e.g. money, career or marriage. In astrological theory the way two people’s charts mesh will influence their relationship strongly.
“I don’t exactly buy the astrology part, though I don’t rule it out either, but I like Amber and I like the people I’ve met through her,” explained Roger, a contractor in his early ‘30s who joined when he was a new kid in town. “I think it’s like a Rorschach- you only remember what suits you,” commented John, an engineer. On the other hand Yvonne, a real estate secretary, appreciates the astrological counsel per se, because she is into spirituality, and she has had interesting conversations on Eastern philosophy with men met through Stars- not a subject often discussed in bars or real estate offices.
Most of Amber’s clients have a New Age or adventurous streak; but astrology is more like enjoyable icing than core dynamics. “It would make me pretty mad to think there were all these charming women in the service I wouldn’t be allowed to meet because I was a Capricorn and they were incompatible Leos or something,” remarked one caviler. But even that is probably not a valid critique, since Amber, a Cancer with a passion to nurture the world, also organizes picnics, boat trips and support groups for her brood, where rebels can take introductions into their own ill-starred hands.
The quality of participants in both services seems to be surprisingly high. Most are sincere hardworking people with a genuine interest in meeting new people and making new friends; hustle is apparently at a minimum. Perhaps this is not so surprising; both are pretty expensive. ($100/6 months for Action, ($100 plus $10 monthly for Stars.) though both try to accommodate the impecunious. “It’s a pretty expensive way to get laid,” says musician Anne, who is so busy establishing her career that she doesn’t really have time to pursue romance in the ordinary singles scene. “I explicitly said in the ‘pet peeves’ section that I didn’t like bullshitters and men just out for sex; and all the men I’ve met have been fine. They’re not all my type, but I’ve really made some good friends; the first time one guy called we talked for two hours straight. We were almost afraid to meet, in case we would be disappointed physically after getting along so well on the phone.”
“What I like best is that it cuts out so much bullshit,” explains veteran single Bob. Widowed once and divorced once, he checked out all the standard ways to meet women, and likes the service because he doesn’t have to waste time finding out if someone he’s attracted to is interested in becoming involved at all.
“Suppose you meet someone you like- maybe they’re married, or breaking up and upset, or going with somebody. Maybe they don’t like to do what you like. It can take hours to figure out whether they’re even a possibility. This way you know they’re willing to meet someone, and you’ll have something in common. It doesn’t sound like much, but it really makes things easier.”
Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match… even if it’s not your soulmate, it’s nice to have someone to talk to.