by Cheri Eplin
One thing is for sure. When you become single in your 40’s, you become an instant charity for well-meaning friends and relatives. God Bless you if you were unfairly widowed or never married, but for the 50% of us that keep company in the divorced statistics, a bad blind date can make you question why you left your ex-husband in the first place. But I’m not cynical.
I smiled (while my guts twisted inside) when my sister-in-law emailed the information about yet, another, single gathering in the city by the bay. This time it was called “Single Life Camp.” Great. I could hear the stories now… “One time, at Single Life Camp…” Oh, wait… that was Band Camp. So the music plays on.
Shall I go? What the hell. What do I have to lose? Dignity? Gone. Self-preservation? Who cares, I’m over 40. So, I convince my friend to come along and on the morning of the big event, she bails. A headache, or something. I wonder if she can scoot over in bed and I’ll join her in a day of reruns on Oxygen.
It’s just the crowded Bay Bridge and an abandoned burning car that has me walk into the Piazza Market in the North Beach area of SF about 30 minutes late. I walk up to the desk and quietly ask the well-coiffed woman in red if I can just stay for a bit before making the big $40 commitment. “Uh, I might have to go pick up my son early,” I add. A tall man leans into her and says, “You gotta jump in. Make the commitment.” Would it be polite to pull out two divorce decrees and show him how well that worked out? I take a deep breath and walk outside a moment.
Two blocks to my left, Chinatown… great tea, cheap knock-off purses. And to my right, North Beach eateries, here I come. The Stinkin’ Rose would open in about an hour and I could drench my sorry ass in garlic and olive oil. “If you keep doing what you always do, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” My father’s voice whispered gruffly in my ear. I wanted to flick his shadow off my shoulder but instead, I shrug and decide to give myself ONE HOUR. In one hour, if I am even slightly mortified by any kind of verbiage, whatsoever, I am donning a giraffe print Louis Vuitton look-alike while munchin’ prawns at my favorite Italian digs.
Jerusha Stewart, the organizer (and lady in red) explains that this is an “Unconference Event,” where we create the agenda about things we want to talk about. I am immediately skeptical. Her instructions become that of Charlie Brown’s teacher and I am looking at all the avid people in the room, eyes fixed on her every movement of her lips. “Are you frickin’ kidding me?” Where is the kool-aid that everyone is drinking from? Jerusha is an attractive, tall, African American woman that no doubt was the head cheerleader in her high school as she is upbeat, bubbly, and what I would describe as effervescent. She also has perfect hair. She proceeded to introduce a panel of guests who will later spearhead some of the conversations. There is Carol Queen, a sexologist (hey, why not talk about it if you’re not having it? So, I’m intrigued) Wendy Merrill, author of Falling Into Manholes (Uh, I think she wrote the story of my life), and a few others that deal with finance, dating, and traveling. Traveling. Now there’s a topic. How long would it take me to dash from the seat upon which I was resting to make it to the top of the Mark Hopkins for a highly-caffeinated drink as I might be snoozing here pretty soon?
“Keep an open mind,” I surprisingly say to myself as I hear the tail end fact that more than 50% of homebuyers these days are single women. I straighten up a bit. My feathers fluff a little. THAT is one of my hopes. To actually OWN my own home, rather than rent. Then there’s the adorable-looking man that started his own website for single dads. He stands and I realize I’m taller by a landslide, so I shrug back into my seat. I scope the scene for men. I’m not sure why this was a single event when the majority of guests are women and only a few men under 5 feet. I am then ashamed. I think about the BRIEF stint on match.com and how I was certain that Mr. Right passed me up because he just didn’t know how special I was by viewing the contents of who I was in a one-page menu. Be OPEN, Cheri. Open.
Right then, I glanced to my right and notice a man that was rather, well, attractive. He had an openness to him. I wasn’t usually into bald guys but he wasn’t bad looking. Tall. Seemed confident (why was he here, I wonder…) For God’s sake, Cheri… learn something here and stop worrying about HIS reasons for attendance.
So I go to the first session and listen to a young Asian woman – only to learn she was my age. Damn Asians. Beautiful skin. No wrinkles. I’m focused on no crows’ feet and I ponder if I have missed the boat on Botox. She also has a rockin’ body and I can’t remember the last time I stepped foot into 24 Hour Fitness. She then complains about how hard it is to meet a man. She continues that she is traditional and not willing to put out and she just wants to make a connection with SOMEONE and why was it so hard??? (I realize that even if you are cookie-cutter cute with perfect skin and teeth, you still have trouble finding a decent date.) She is actually sounding a little more teeny-bopper and a little less sophisticated. But she has just ripped her M.O. off her sleeve and I respect that.
Look around, sweetie. You bet your hard-bottomed ass it’s hard to find a great partner. That’s why we’re all here. And of course, that was an invisible speech bubble above my head as I do have decent manners and didn’t want to make the woman cry. She then talked about “her list” and “expectations” and a myriad of ways she has tried meeting Mr.Right from shopping Trader Joe’s on Wednesday nights (who knew that was an unofficial single’s night for shopping?) to online dating. I actually get sucked into the conversation.
“You’re trying too hard,” I blurt out. Then the bald guy said, “Go out and do the things you love to do and you will eventually find someone who likes to do the same things.” Cute and he has common sense (AND he shares one of my major philosophies, aka LIVING LIFE.). I’m amazed at how the five or six of us start chatting it up until the timer rings to go into the next session. Bald Guy and I exchange smiles and I notice he has exceptionally nice teeth.
I am now realizing why Jerusha said that this unconference is “ the perfect format to apply to lot of areas where several brains are better than one.” Pretty deep. But anything’s possible.
I meander to the next topic. And to the next. And I couldn’t even tell you exactly which ones I chose, as it just seemed like one amazing, intellectual conversation with a variety of people. I found myself engaged in the entire day and made it to 3:00 p.m. without thinking again about how I was going to ditch. The food was great and the people who attended suddenly transformed from the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz to the people I wonder about when I travel on BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit.) Interesting people. Singles who want to meet someone to singles who are quite content with their singledom and are looking to find other singles to travel with or socialize with. Or just learn about resources for singles.
I take a risk and tell Bald Guy we should exchange info. Some baloney about sharing some laughs and similar sentiments, etc. I don’t have a card and he gives me his. I surprise him by actually following up the next day. He surprises me by responding. Since this event, he has become my #1 email pal. We’ve shared stories and even met for lunch to discuss the ways of the world, even figured out how to solve a couple worldly issues.
Bald Guy helped me realize that maybe I need to pocket my cynicism not only about meeting great men (with or without hair) but by opening up to new experiences out of my comfort zone, or realm of understanding. It’s just one tiny step out of my comfort zone of doing what I’ve always done.
I emailed Jerusha Stewart, organizer of Single Life Camp and asked her to answer a few questions.
How did you get involved with Bar Camp and is that the appropriate name to use in the article? And how would you describe it?
The idea for SingleLifeCamp occurred to me while I was attending IIW (Internet Identity Workshop). It just seemed like a perfect structure for a singles-focused event and one that I’d not seen before. The spontaneity and randomness of how people interacted reminded me so much of single life. Along with the opportunity to form deeper connections through intelligent conversation rather than the usual small talk you have at your usual singles event.
What are your hopes for the “unconference?”
It’s the best example of I’ve seen of leveraging peer-to-peer knowledge and influence to make an any aspect of our personal or work lives better.
How do other women in the Bay Area and beyond get involved?
At www.SingleLifeCamp.com we’ve set up a social networking experience through one of our sponsors Crowd Vine. It takes about 5 minutes to join. We’re encouraging women to join as a way to foster SingleLifeCamp events in other cities. You can suggest topics for future camps as well as find others interested in having the same talk you are about a subject. It’s a way to continue the conversations and relationships begun offline at SingleLifeCamp.
Is this something others can plan? (Like a “Meet Up?”)
Bar camps on a variety of topics are definitely something individuals are planning on their own all over the world. You can find templates, information on upcoming barcamps – basically all the information you’d need to host one at www.Barcamps.org.
After organizing our first SingleLifeCamp in San Francisco, we’ve certainly been encouraged to build a branded experience that can be replicated across the planet.
When/Where is the next one?
Right now we’re in the planning stages for SingleLifeCamp Los Angeles and SingleLifeCamp East Bay. We’ve got a growing list of camps for 2010. Sign up at www.SingleLifeCamp.com to receive updates or to volunteer for upcoming camps.
Why should someone go?
I’ve been involved with the singles scene for quite awhile, I attend a number of events per week and I host a number events per year, when I attended my first unconference, I realized that this might be a really good way – a third way if you will to meet members of the opposite sex and other smart, funny single women like myself.
Typically singles meet each other at dating parties in bars or lounges or possibly at singles and life coaching events where individuals pay a lot of money to hear diva dating tips.
But this is a third way in that the participants propose the topics and their passion drives the day’s agenda.
SingleLifeCamp also creates a unique chemistry and compatibility with members of the opposite sex, which could lead to deeper relationships.
As one participant said “There’s no small talk!”
Also SingelifeCamp attracts amazing women – accomplished personally and professionally, so there’s a wealth of information available.
As another participant said it was “truly an event of style and substance.”
Best contact/website for readers to go to?
TheLastSingleGirlintheWorld to find out more information.