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The Dating Game


Posted on February 27, 2017

Portraits by Tyler & Christina; Illustrations by Jason Crosby

In some ways, dating has never been easier, mostly thanks to technology. Don’t have a date? Swipe right and find a last-minute match. Don’t know what to do? Here, let me Google that for you. Why deal with the anxiety of approaching a stranger at a bar if you can meet online and begin with the premise of mutual attraction? So what if they Google your name and lurk your Instagram account? Think of it as an icebreaker.

Then there’s the diversification: swiping apps likes Tinder, where men traditionally message first, and Bumble, where women initiate the conversation; conventional dating sites like OkCupid, which generate compatibility based on questionnaires; and niche sites like ChristianMingle, Farmers Only . . . there’s even one called Singles with Food Allergies.

Sure, the internet has made it easier to meet people, but it will never make up for a lack of creativity or chemistry. Which is maybe why dating has become such a lost art. With everything (and everyone) so accessible, we don’t have to try anymore. If we can find out everything about our date before we even meet them, why make the effort to get to know them? Chivalry isn’t the only thing dying a slow death. So is conversation.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve met through an app while sitting in different rooms across the country, or by locking eyes while sitting across the same bar—you’ll never have a shot at love if you don’t spend time together. That comes with real risk, and no guarantee of success. Every date is a potential horror story or romantic comedy, but you’ll never know the plot if you don’t get out there and try.

Lucky In Love: ​Kelliann Denney and Travis White, midtown Sacramento
Kelliann and Travis

According to Kelliann, Travis looked first. The not-yet-couple were sitting across the bar at LowBrau when they locked eyes, “and I immediately felt electricity, and my huge silly grin was answered with the same breadth of excitement,” says Kelliann. After tangoing glances, she admits that she began the conversation, but only after building up some liquid courage.

Their first common bonds were almost trivial: Each still used laughably outdated and boxy cellphones, and they both shared an unapologetic appreciation for Robin Williams, particularly Mork and Mindy. They both loved downtown Sacramento.

But more importantly, says Kelliann, “we both had an aching appreciation for the lost form of communication, and I was hooked.”

They exchanged phone numbers that night and a month later were on a beach in Santa Cruz, mutually expressing their love for each other.

Lucky in Love: Kevin and Mandy Zee, midtown Sacramento
Kevin and Mandy

Mandy was sitting with a friend outside Insight on Eighth and S streets when a man walked past her.

“I noticed he had a cute butt and that he had a pair of spoons in the place where pens would normally go in his backpack,” says Mandy. She asked her friend if she thought he might play them, but she didn’t think so. “He probably just eats with them.”

When Kevin came outside, he sat next to an acquaintance that Mandy had made the week before, “and that was enough of an excuse to walk over and ask about the spoons,” she says.

Kevin had already noticed her, so he was quick to beat out a jam on the spoons, which prompted a conversation about music. When Kevin found out that she also played music, he was quick to suggest they play together. It was an excuse.

“There was no way for the two of us to jam together,” explains Kevin. “Her music is slow, sultry, R&B piano, and spoons provide an upbeat tempo in traditional folk. Regardless, I just wanted to hang out with her.”

They spent every day together for the next two weeks, and though they debate who said it first, they agree it was said: “I feel like I could spend the rest of my life with you.”

Within the week, they purchased a marriage license and were married at City Hall in San Francisco.

Horror Story:
Horry Story

So I was grabbing a drink with this guy and he was scrolling through his photos to show me something when a pic of some girl’s boobs pops up. I was in shock and just started laughing. Then he went into detail about how his ex still sends him nude pictures blah blah blah. He was so awkward that he literally got up and left. I took three shots after that on my own, and there was no second date.—ASHLEIGH GOLDSTEIN

An App to Spice Things Up

Ann App to Spice Things Up

Thanks to the internet, the world is more than ever at our fingertips, so why do we still twiddle our thumbs when it comes to dating? App developer Adam Busch, 26, learned that simple routine could be the death of a couple, so to help spice up our love lives, Busch created DateNightXO, a website and newsletter that offers 10 ideas for local dates emailed directly to your inbox every Thursday. So even if you spend the entire week sitting around, you’ll at least have fresh ideas to get you and yours off your asses—and maybe even finding sparks again.

Why did you want to create DateNightXO?
There’s so much information out there that it becomes a chore to sort through it. I’d go up to a couple and ask what their dating life was like, and they’d say, “We’re married,” like it was an excuse. But they should still have a dating life. Even I used to have trouble figuring out things to do, so hopefully this will provide unique experiences around town that people didn’t know about.

What do you think makes a good date?
Think about it in retrospect. Will it be a good memory, and something that creates new discussion? Have something new to talk about.

What would you recommend for a first date?
Get coffee and just talk, or experience something playful, maybe something that includes competition like miniature golf or the Coin-Op. Competition can reveal a lot about a person you’re just meeting. And don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone— you’ll be opening yourself up to what you like and dislike.

What are some of your favorite dates?
Dancing. My girlfriend and I have been going to Firehouse 5, and it’s just a great date. If you both go into it as something new, it can prompt conversation while creating a skill that you can take into other settings and events. Also, one of my favorite places is The Pilothouse in the Delta King, the boat in Old Sacramento, just dinner and a cocktail but in a unique setting. For informal dates, I’ve always liked nature walks, because it can be intimate. And multilayered dates, like going to an art show, then dinner and drinks. Midtown and downtown is great for that.

What advice would you give to somebody who says they don’t know what to do?
If you’re unsure of anything to do, then go do everything for a while. Start with your interests. One of the most attractive things is to see somebody in their place of passion.

Horror Story:
Horror Story UOP

During my sophomore year at UOP, I was in a band. We played a show at some house party. At this point in my life, I didn’t really drink, just a few beers here or there. Somebody brought out a tray of brownies, and I love chocolate, so I ate one. Minutes later, a friend informed me they were pot brownies. I had a date after the show, and I had never before ingested weed. We played the show, then on my way back to UOP, it hit me: The Jack Johnson song on the radio began sounding really good. I texted the girl I was taking to dinner to tell her I was a little stoned, but she didn’t seem to mind. By the time I arrived at dinner, I was soaring. I think I said four words during the whole meal, though I know I kept laughing. Once the food arrived, I crashed. All my attention was focused on my Mongolian beef. After that, we drove back and I never heard from her again.—DANIEL GUERRA

Horror Story:
Horry Story

I was on Tinder for a bit. Most guys would chat a bit before wanting to meet, but this guy wanted to meet right away. We met at a restaurant, but he was late because he couldn’t find parking. When he finally arrived, he told me he was blocking somebody’s driveway. We ordered a drink—well, I ordered a drink. He ordered a beer and a shot. He continued taking shots throughout dinner and left every 10 minutes to make sure his car wasn’t being towed. I also found out he had just moved back from Europe and was sleeping in his car. We began talking about careers. He was a translator in Europe, and during the course of the conversation, I mentioned that one of my best friends is an attorney. He said, “Attorneys are just part of the racist good old boys club. It doesn’t require any special skills, and they’re just a bunch of middlemen.” I asked him if he saw the irony about a translator calling someone else a middleman, but he stared blankly and ordered another shot. When the bill arrived, he asked, “How do you want to do this?” I wanted to say, “How about you get this one and I’ll get the next?” Instead, I offered to split.—ANONYMOUS

Great Dates

Great Dates

A first date is only technically the first if it’s followed by a second. While a successful love life isn’t necessarily contingent upon your dating prowess (sometimes it comes down to chemistry), it never hurts to aim to impress. With that in mind, here are some tips and ideas to help dig your dating life out of the dumps—or at least get you that second. 

A good meal is more than a dating staple; it’s also a nutritional necessity, so dinner will never go out of style. While Sacramento has plenty of restaurants to pique your palate, why not explore cuisines outside your comfort zone? A romantic date doesn’t always have to be candles and wine. Try an Ethiopian meal “plated” on injera bread at Queen Sheba, or the kuro tonkotsu (black ramen) at Shoki. Or take things into your own hands by planning a meal around ingredients purchased together at one of Sacramento’s many farmers markets. You can cook together or create a simple snack to be enjoyed on a picnic. 

Speaking of picnics, going out for a date can be taken literally: Get out into nature. Try bird-watching in the wetlands of the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, or biking any of the 32-mile Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail along the American River. The Lake Tahoe area has no shortage of hikes, but closer to home is Effie Yeaw Nature Center in Carmichael, which offers variously themed and guided nature walks—you’ll only have to pay the five bucks for parking. 

Nature might not be for everybody, so try a variation on an old theme: dinner and a show. But think outside the box and ditch the stale popcorn. Check out an indie film at the historic Tower Theatre, or catch a live performance by actors at B Street Theatre or Capital Stage. If you’re still in the mood for a recent release, then cozy up together at West Wind Drive-In: Just bring some blankets and pillows and takeout. All the better if you’ve got a car with reclining back seats. 

If sitting silent and still for 90 minutes with a relative stranger isn’t your thing, try incorporating some friendly competition. Tee off at indoor Monster Mini Golf (wear a white shirt for the glow) in Rancho Cordova, or go bumper to bumper with go-karts at K1 Speed in Sacramento. Plus plenty of bars include some form of friendly face-off, like boccie at Federalist Public House or cornhole at Der Biergarten. 

Prove your pedigree—or at least your appreciation of the creative class—by taking advantage of the local arts scene. Crocker Art Museum remains open later on Thursday evenings, and smaller studio spaces and galleries, including Beatnik and Panama Art Factory also have recurring shows. Eight galleries and studios participate in R Street Corridor’s First Fridays art walk, held every first Friday between 6 and 9 p.m. Or, for something a little more off the wall (or more like on it), explore the rich murals and graffiti art in the alleys and on the buildings of midtown and downtown Sacramento.

Horror Story:
Horror Story Dive Bar

I had met up with a promising prospect at a local dive bar. She wasn’t much like I thought she’d be. She was salty-tempered and gravelly voiced; she seemed much older than she claimed. We enjoyed a few beers, and when time came to pay the bill, I immediately offered to pay. She stopped me and said she could pay her share. I insisted I pay. She insisted I don’t. Thinking at this point that she might be afraid that I’d expect “something in return” for paying the bill, I let her pay her half. Then she looked furious and blurted: “I thought you were gonna be a real man.” I was then treated to a lengthy rant about how 1) a real man would have put her in her place and under no circumstances allowed her to pay, and 2) how she “hates feminists” because she’s a “Disney princess” and deserves her prince.—PHIL SHARP

Lucky in Love: Moshe and Orange Swearingen, South Land Park, Sacramento
Moshe and Orange

Ask Orange and she’ll say they first noticed each other at the synagogue during the holiday of Sukkot, but Moshe remembers speaking with her much sooner, in 2005, when he was the DJ at a cousin’s bat mitzvah, and then again when he saw her perform a cultural dance at his cousin’s baby shower in 2009.

“The dance was for everyone, but I was mesmerized, and it sure did feel like it was for me.” Whether it was fate or the extra margarita, Moshe felt compelled to approach her and tell her the performance was beautiful. 

The next year, Moshe and Orange were invited to the same bar mitzvah, and that’s when they both first felt sparks fly. “We ended up crashing and dancing at a Mexican wedding party that was held in the same hotel,” says Orange.

While it wasn’t quite a date, they did add each other on Facebook, and a few weeks later Orange posted a status saying she had an extra ticket for a Shakira concert in Anaheim.

“But I didn’t have a car, so I asked for a ride in exchange for the ticket,” says Orange. Moshe was quick to volunteer, and “he changed his very important doctor appointment just so he could make it.” 

The couple married in 2014.

Lucky in Love: Kylie Palmer and Matthew Hornicek; South Sacramento
Kylie and Matthew

In 2013, Kylie downloaded the video-sharing app Vine. “It was a place where I could just be myself unedited because no one I knew was on it,” she says, although she quickly connected with Viners across the country who networked through messaging apps like GroupMe, Snapchat and ooVoo. It was in one such group chat that Kylie “met” Matthew, a Viner from New York.

“I believe there was a chat going on about people’s record collections, and Matthew started sending photos of his collection and I started my shameless flirting crusade,” Kylie adds.

The “snap” exchanges went something like this: Matthew would send a photo of his records, and Kylie responded to him directly. But the thing about Snapchat: Kylie didn’t know if he was “mass snapping” everybody or just her, and whenever she responded to his snaps, Matthew would send more photos of his records.

“I just assumed he wasn’t interested in this flirting relationship,” says Kylie.

“This makes sense,” Matthew concedes. “I lose all motor skills when confronted by someone attractive.”

Snaps and vines eventually evolved into personal text messaging and video chatting, and a few months later, Matthew flew to Sacramento to meet Kylie. After another seven months, Matthew quit his job, packed his belongings in his Hyundai Sonata and drove 3,000 miles to Sacramento. The couple recently bought a house together in South Sacramento.

Horror Story:
Horror Story Tinder match

So a couple years ago I matched with a guy on Tinder. We messaged a bit, and he seemed nice, so we set up an actual date. He showed up acting a bit “off,” which I assumed was nerves, but when we ordered dinner he ordered two more beers for himself. He then told me that he already had a couple beers beforehand and smoked a bunch of weed. I asked if he was nervous, and he said, “No, I just like to prep for the party.” I assumed he meant a pants party at my place after dinner. As the server brought our food, he excused himself to the restroom, and as soon as he was gone, I asked the server to box my food and I left. He never contacted me again.—AMANDA RYE

Lucky in Love: Nastasha Ivory and Shawn Mathison, West Roseville
Natasha and Shawn

“After having swiped right and left more times than I can count, I came across a profile that caught my eye,” says Natasha, who had joined OkCupid.

He was handsome, she says, but had written little in his bio. Still, they “matched” at 85 percent. Natasha waited for a message.

Over the next few days, she kept coming back to Shawn’s profile. Let’s call it like it is: stalking, lurking. Shawn did the same. “I went to her profile a few times, but on OkCupid it says when you check someone’s profile, so I felt like a creeper. No way will she talk to me,” Shawn remembers thinking.

Natasha had actually gone online to delete her profile when she found the first message from Shawn. “We immediately hit it off and exchanged phone numbers. He called me within minutes and we stayed on the phone for almost two hours, and we planned a coffee date for the next day.”

“For me,” says Shawn, “coffee only added to the anxiety. I got dressed two hours beforehand and talked in the mirror as if I were talking to her.” When he arrived, he saw her first. “I wanted to run toward her, but I tried to play it cool. We still laugh because my face was twitching the whole time.”

By the time Shawn walked Natasha to her car, they hugged, “and I knew that I was done for,” she recalls.

Shawn proposed six months later, and the couple plans to marry this summer.

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