MSN Does It Again: Dating Advice For The Terminally Lame

“You chop this onion yourself? That’s hott.”

MSN does it again, with “Fun Places” to meet your mate…

At spelling bees
One of the latest ideas for mingling and meeting a mate happens to be singles’ spelling bees, which have become quite a hit. Fueled by the popularity of books like Bee Season, documentaries like Spellbound, and even an off-Broadway hit, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, these events were the brainchild of Zac Kushner, coordinator of recreational programming for Makor (, a New York-based organization that specializes in offbeat mixers. “We’re always trying to host fun events where what’s going on is the focal point,” he explains. “If you meet someone, that’s an additional bonus. That’s definitely the new wave of dating and meeting.”

These spelling bees do sport some snazzy twists from the tense mood you may recall with a shudder from similar events during high school. For starters, at the New York City version Kushner oversees, there’s an open bar for those who feel a martini could help calm their jitters. And the word categories — which include “uncomfortable things,” “band names,” and “mythological creatures”– show no one’s taking this competition too seriously. While Kushner can’t say for sure whether any of the contestants exchanged phone numbers, they definitely seemed to be bonding over their victories and, more often, their failures–which included misspellings of Snoop Doggy Dogg (two Gs!), chupacabra, and chlamydia. “I don’t even think ‘meticulosity’ is a word,” laughs Leah LaRiccia, a 29-year-old biologist who attended the event. But that comment sure beats “come here often?” as an ice-breaker.

Am I hopelessly out of touch or is this the worst MSN dating idea since meeting chicks at the shooting range? Personally, I’d steer clear of any contestant that spelled “chlamydia” correctly. The organizer can’t say “for sure” if anyone exchanged numbers. That’s because all the contestants were hitting on each other in Klingon.

Folks, you can’t pretend that you’re in 7th grade anymore. Yes, the dating “scene” is harsh- a veritable Hobbesian jungle, red in tooth and claw. I know it sucks, but it’s reality and you can’t turn back the clock and pretend that you’re 12 years old all over again, palms sweating, hoping the guy/girl of your pre-pubescent dreams is impressed with your mad vocab.

You know there’s more…

2. While grocery shopping
Ever caught yourself checking out a whole lot more than your groceries while standing in line at the market–for example, that attractive individual standing in front of you? If so, you’re not alone. Recently, when an Atlanta Whole Foods Market was voted the number one spot to “pick up a date” and “meet new people,” store representatives decided to help shoppers hook up in an official way. The result: Singles Night at Whole Foods.

At the inaugural event, held this past July, 170 singles got to shop for a mate as well as their meals. Participants wore nametags that indicated the gender of the person they were seeking, thus minimizing awkward approaches. They strolled among stations offering wine tastings and cooking demonstrations titled “Perfect Dinner For Two” and “How to Impress Your Date.” Bonus: Since Whole Foods’ organic goods cater to a health-conscious crowd, customers could swap phone numbers fairly confident that their potential paramours share some of their values. “We have a lot of people that are coming from the gym so they’re obviously taking care of their bodies and thinking about what they’re putting inside their bodies as well,” says Darrah Horgan, a marketing specialist for the store. “So, that’s a definite connection.”

While Horgan isn’t sure whether any of the event’s participants are now doing their shopping arm in arm, a flurry of calls from customers asking for more singles nights has prompted the store to make these evenings a regular occurrence. Whole Foods stores in Boston and Austin have followed suit as well. And even if your own local grocer hasn’t caught on to the trend and offered singles nights, that doesn’t mean you can’t bat your eyes at someone over the fresh produce, now, does it?

Put down that cucumber, pervert, and listen up. Yes, if your mad spelling steez doesn’t attract the honeys, maybe your food snobbery will. Outside of Hollywood movies, picking up women in the produce aisle simply doesn’t happen very often. The reason is that, just like at the gym, the laundromat and other places men erroneously think are great hookup locations, women tend not to feel their sexiest while grocery shopping, and consequently, are rarely amenable to one’s overtures.

And once again the organizer can’t say for sure if anyone has actually hooked up. She is certain, however, that this is a great marketing ploy for Whole Foods. She needs some help with media relations though- isn’t the fact that women are choosy about what they “put in their bodies” precisely the problem for these pathetic single guys?

3. While riding the rails
Think your everyday commute is just about getting from here to there? That may soon change thanks to Caltrain, a California commuter train that recently embarked on its maiden “Romance on the Rails” voyage–a special section filled with singles raring to mingle and make sparks fly.

“Fifty-three percent of Caltrain commuters are single men, so we thought we’d highlight the social benefits of taking public transit,” says Christine Maley-Grubl, executive director of the Peninsula Traffic Congestion Relief Alliance, which teamed with Caltrain to launch the program. To aid the flirt-fest, passengers were given a list of questions to ask people and were asked to switch seats every three minutes and make the rounds, speed-dating style. “I think the way they went about it, where everybody had an opportunity to meet each other, was great,” says Dan O’Leary, a realtor from San Francisco who participated. “It’s always tough to meet new people.”

Skeptics to the possibility of finding love on a train have only to meet Bill Laubenheimer and Carole Parker, who met on a Caltrain bike car, got married five years ago, and were along for the ride to tell their story. Possible plans for a second voyage on Valentine’s Day will give locals yet another chance to hit the rails and, hopefully, hit it off.

Yeah, what better environment in which to pitch woo than an enclosed steel box which lacks AC and that reeks of piss, BO and leftover lunch?

4. At a new kind of party
Ever met someone who’s good-looking, smart, sweet, a total catch… but just not for you? Of course you have. Maybe you’ve tried dating this person and it didn’t work out, or maybe your relationship has always been purely platonic. Somehow, at this point, you just know you two aren’t meant for each other, even though you’re certain that he or she will make someone very happy. Only who?

Thus the “date my friend” party was born–an increasingly popular option for singles who prefer to meet romantic interests through friends, but would rather do so at a party than a potentially awkward setup. Also called “Not for me” or “not date” parties, these soirĂ©es adhere to one simple rule: All guests must be single and are required to bring at least one single friend in tow. Unlike typical singles events, everyone at “date my friend” gatherings is handpicked, upping the odds for a love connection or two, as one recent party host, Susan Friedman, can attest.

“As a recent transplant to Texas and newly single, I hosted a ‘Suddenly Single in Dallas’ party and requested that my female guests bring tall, single gentlemen,” recalls Friedman. Several margaritas and friendly introductions later, she met a great guy she’s been happily dating for several months. “There was already more trust from the beginning because my friends already liked him,” she says. “When you meet someone randomly at a bar, there are definitely more precautions to take, and it may take more time to really get to know the person.”

“Date my friend” parties have become so popular they’ve even spawned a party-planning business called Date My Friend, which has hosted parties in major cities across the U.S. “We know of at least four marriages of couples who met at our parties,” says spokesperson Trish Gardener. So why not follow suit and gather some friends, break out your little black books, and start e-viting?

MSN threw me off when they titled this “A New Kind Of Party,” unless what they meant was that this is like a classic 70’s swingers party, except without all the sex and everyone goes home empty handed.

5. While cooking
If you believe the way to someone’s heart is through the stomach, you may be right. But here’s a new twist on the food-love equation: Several companies are betting that if you get single people together, teach them how to cook dinner — and let them enjoy the results together — you’ll do more than boost culinary skills. You may just heat up their love life, too.

In these classes, “students” learn to prepare a gourmet meal, then break bread with a new group of friends–and maybe a new mate. You needn’t have any culinary experience; in fact, sharing knowledge with those less or more skilled than you opens up all sorts of conversation paths. “Having the activity of cooking to focus on made it easier to talk to people,” says Tamara Santos, who met her husband, Rick, through an event put on by Gourmet Gatherings (, which throws these parties in San Francisco, Santa Rosa, Chicago, and Santa Monica. Other companies offering similar events include Cooking with the Best Chefs ( in Chicago and Serendipity-SF ( in San Francisco, which has classes centered on a theme such as Tuscan cooking, Asian fusion, or baking with chocolate.

Tamara and Rick first learned the basics, like how to chop an onion, and then were assigned to coed teams, each of which worked on a different recipe (heavy on the aphrodisiac ingredients, of course). “Rick was in a small group doing appetizers, and I was with a larger group doing the main course,” Tamara says. “Because Rick’s pesto shrimp was such a quick and easy dish, he had time to circulate and give out samples. He told me later that he had made a concerted effort to give me a taste.”

After the event, participants received copies of the recipes, as well as digital photos and email addresses of their fellow cooks. Rick got in touch with Tamara after class, and the two are now really cooking together.

How to chop an onion? What do they teach you in week two, how to turn on the faucet? One wonders how much time they spend explaining what happens to the little light bulb when you shut the refrigerator door.

Look, if Tamara and Rick needed to PAY somebody to show them how to chop an onion, there’s not much nikkos can do to help them. The message here is if you are looking for a chronically stupid partner, look no further than the guy/gal locked in mortal combat with the lemon zester.

1 Comment so far

  1. Tom Zullo (unregistered) on April 2nd, 2006 @ 3:14 pm


    We are a FREE wine Club that meets monthly and anyone is able to join as well attend our events. The group is made up of “Wine Curious” who are ages mid 30’s to 40’s plus. Our events are 100 plus in attendance and located throughout the city. We usually sample 15 to 20 different wines and serve tasty appetizers when conducting these social tastings. Everyone is supplied a wine diary to score and learn about wines and it is a comfortable and laid back atmosphere.

    If you could make your group aware of us that would be great!

    Our website is and feel free to contact me with further questions.


    Tom Zullo
    Uncorked Chicago
    773 687-0784

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