January 5, 2006

For Savvy, Successful, Sexy and Single Women Age 35 and Up, the Shortage of Quality Men is a Problem That Needs an Urgent Fix


I recently went to a social gathering after work.

All women; all married. Except for me.

This isn't unusual; I'm typically the lone, husband-free female in a room. At some point in the evening, the hostess' other half wandered in to say hello and grab a plateful of goodies. He's a nice- looking guy, not stop-you-in-your-tracks gorgeous, but attractive for a middle-aged, slightly balding man. For a brief moment, in between the panini and cream puffs, I caught myself thinking, "Gee, he'd be a good one to keep on the back burner if things go sour between him and the wife."

A second later, I felt skanky about this. Not because I was lusting after a friend's husband; single or married, we're all guilty of dabbling in imaginary infidelity. It was more the fact that earmarking a friend's husband for future reclamation made me realize that I had sunk to a new low in the hunt for eligible, datable men in my age group - generously speaking, between "my biological clock is ticking" and "here comes the AARP application."

Here's the sad truth: Quality, available men for women somewhere around age 35 on up are in grievously scant supply these days in the Queen City. Part of the reason, of course, is simple mathematics: After 30, most of the good ones are taken.

And let's get this on the table right away: There's nothing wrong with us. We're a new breed of women - well-educated, successful self- actualized; master home managers and time jugglers. We're equally adept at managing a company or a birthday party with 20 sugar-hyped first-graders. At the same time, we've kept up our Cosmo subscriptions, if you catch my drift.

Do we appreciate men? To quote country music's Redneck Woman, Gretchen Wilson: "Hell, yeah!"

What we bring to a relationship and our interest in it are not the problems. It's the times we live in. Even New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd poses questions about the appeal of power between the sexes in her new book "Are Men Necessary?" Women, she contends, are attracted to power in men while the same aura in women tends to scare men off. Women have achieved unprecedented independence and professional success; men haven't evolved quite fast enough to catch up. We get that. It doesn't stop us from longing for companionship, love and that spark that comes from mutual attraction.

For women in Rust Belt cities like Buffalo, there's another influence affecting our datable men resources that's as pernicious as those pesky zebra mussels proliferating in the Great Lakes, and just as hard to alleviate: the chronic leeching of manpower due to job loss and a stagnant economy.

We can't blame the men. They're just responding to a deep- seated, primitive instinct to follow the food supply. More antelope elsewhere equals guarantee of survival. Job decay and economic woes are forcing our mammoth hunters to go where the herds are abundant, so they can raise families, pay taxes, and have plenty of recreational money left over for plasma screen TVs and Jaguars. This is the American male dream.

I know what you're thinking: With all the real problems facing Buffalo, the decline of date-worthy men is pretty trivial, even irrational. I beg to differ, and so would all my sisters hugging their remote controls instead of boyfriends on these cold Western New York nights.

So where does that leave us? In the middle-aged dating jungle where the only rule is: Do whatever it takes. Yes, scouting out future mate material among our married friends is slightly less distasteful than poking our noses in their medicine cabinets, but extreme times call for extreme measures.

I haven't been above bribing male friends for inside information on their buddies' marital woes. Really - what do you think guys talk about between goals and hat tricks? And then there's the hot new trend of using your body parts as billboards. I'm sure we're not far from some desperate woman tattooing her forehead with "available" and her Web site address. Just don't look at me.

There is, of course, the tried and true course: waiting for men to become widowers. Personally, I'm put off by scanning the obituaries. I don't like the idea of mixing sympathy with an eagerness to be the first woman offering more than a casserole for consolation. Besides, waiting around for the inevitable smacks of passivity. We're women of the post-feminist age, raised to take a goal-oriented approach to getting what we want.

If we learned anything from last year's natural disasters, it's that scarcity drives people to take drastic action. And you know women when it comes to a limited supply of anything, whether it's the last drop of coffee in the pot or a buy-one, get-one-free table of cashmere sweaters at Kaufmann's: We're possessed. Show us a prime available man, and get out of the way, sister! That man, and a convenient parking spot at the mall, will be claimed with equal ruthlessness.

As proof, my friend Steve told me a story about how his mother missed her shot at two available widowers because she wanted to be considerate and give them a bit of grieving time. Apparently, some other women weren't reading the same Emily Post, and snatched up both men before she had time to bring over the obligatory basket of muffins. Forget politeness. Forget sisterhood. Female hormones are at work here, and there's no such thing as civilized behavior.

Just as men relate everything in life to sports, women make sense of their world through shopping. As far as we're concerned, what we're facing in Buffalo is a surplus of inferior-quality products. Or to put it in consumer terms: Our mate mall has been reduced to a Wal-Mart.

We could tell you stories. A male friend of mine knows a woman around my age who has a long history of "loser men." One was an accomplished intellectual type. Promising, on the surface, until the end of their dinner date when he discovered he was short of cash, which he borrowed from her. And never paid back.

I, myself, have amassed a catalog of men I call Pants-With-a- Pulse types. These are basically men who have little more to offer than the fact that they're breathing.

For instance, there is the "Tight Pants" man, which has nothing to do with the fit of his jeans. This is the guy who incessantly brags about his net worth, but is too cheap to buy furniture, replace his wreck of a car, or spring for a dinner that doesn't come in a take-out bag. I've also had a few "Smarty Pants." These are the geniuses who correct every point you make with enough boring factoids to put the staff at Britannica into a permanent coma.

Other all-time favorites are the ones I dub "Freak-in-Pants." These are men who creep you out with their weird idiosyncrasies. One was a relatively normal guy - bachelor, good job, decent-looking - who insisted on telling me how much he really, really loved to snuggle with his nieces and nephews. 'Scuse me? I'm outta here. The other was a guy I called "The Virus." He would hover around like a nasty flu bug, and no amount of rudeness or insults would drive him away.

The point I'm trying to make is Buffalo's datable man malaise has led to a competition-free state of affairs. What happens is similar to the real estate market when interest rates soar: Instead of a lot of buyers paying top dollar for prime properties, you end up with a slew of ambivalent buyers who try to dicker down the price.

In a man-depleted environment, the dickerers are the unclaimed men; they know there are few challengers in the field. All they have to do is show up. They're like the clumsy kid on the baseball team who can't hit a ball to save his life. And then one day, he steps up to the plate and realizes there's no one covering the bases, no one in the outfield. Heck, this is his golden opportunity to round all the bases and slide into home without ever picking up the bat. This is what we women end up with when there's little pressure to compete for female attention.

Look, guys. It's not that we think you're all Neanderthals. We love 'ya. You're brawny, big-hearted, and can wield a mean snowblower and change tires without even worrying about your manicure. But there are just not enough of you to go around, and we're getting a little desperate for some good, old-fashioned horn- bashing to show us we're oh-so desirable creatures. And, besides, when there's competition for women, men make an effort. They look better. Act better. Smell better. Everyone wins.

I'm thinking it's time we take a proactive, guerrilla-marketing ap-proach to correct this growing deficit of Grade A testosterone in our city.

Here's a suggestion: Instead of selling tourists on our great architecture, let's hawk our reserves of available women. It's not as if Buffalo would be the first to use the natural attraction between the sexes to save itself. Alaska marketed its excess of burly male mushers to attract more women. Miami rebuilt itself by making thongs and bare chests welcome in every public eatery. Even Las Vegas is putting the sin back in "Sin City."

At the very core of our humanity, homo sapiens are just upright walking primates. We're motivated by three basic needs: food, shelter and sex. Buffalo already has the food angle sewn up. Habitat? More than enough is said about the Buffalo environment on the Weather Channel. That leaves selling our sex appeal.

With all due respect, I don't really think this is a job for Rich Geiger and the Convention and Visitors Bureau. Shriners and busloads of Amway sales reps aren't exactly what we have in mind. Attracting eager and available members of the opposite sex takes a below-the- beltline kind of strategy. Maybe someone should put gentlemen's club owner Richard Snowden on this. He seems to know something about how to lure men.

If that's what it takes to cure the decline of Buffalo's datable men population, I say: bring it.

Elaine Harrigan is marketing director for a local non-profit arts institution. This is her first article for First Sunday.