Jane Austen said it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
Well, it is also a truth universally acknowledged, or at least acknowledged by those who lead the many singles classes around the San Fernando Valley these days, that single women with hopes of being that wife had better start making themselves approachable in public places.
Say you're a single woman dining alone in a restaurant and . . . Wait. If that's where you're reading this article, then you've already found a habit you'd better break.
Bringing reading material into restaurants when you're alone is a major no-no if you want to meet men, according to Barbara DeKovner-Mayer of Encino, a former actress and radio personality who teaches a six-hour seminar called "The Female Connection: What It Takes to Attract and Keep a Man."
It is also a major no-no if you don't want to be a statistic in those notorious studies that say women over 30 have hardly any chance of getting married. This past summer, Newsweek magazine featured a much-publicized cover story that included the results of a study called "Marriage Patterns in the United States." Done by two Yale sociologists and a Harvard economist, the study found that if white college-educated women born in the 50s are still single by the time they are 30, they have a 20% chance of marrying; if they are still single at 35, they have a 5% chance of marrying; and if they are 40 and unmarried, the study said there is only a 2.6% chance that they will marry.
"A lot of women are panicked, whereas before they were just anxious," said John Fergus, who teaches a seminar called "Meeting the Opposite Sex" at Los Angeles Valley College in Van Nuys and the Learning Tree in Canoga Park.
"The problem is very complex. Finding someone is probably as complicated as finding out how to live life," he said.
Back to the restaurant. So you're dining alone, you want to get married and an attractive man catches your eye. Now what?
"If a man's looking at you," DeKovner-Mayer said, "you make eye contact, look down and then immediately look up."
What you do next, said DeKovner-Mayer, is whip out a business card ("one of the most important tools for single women"), walk over to his table and say something like, "Do you always look at redheads during dinner?"
Or, "Do you usually dine alone? Because if you don't want to dine alone again, call this number."
"Then walk away. Give him some room," DeKovner-Mayer said. "Men are so unused to being approached by women. But a man who's had a little experience, he's going to think, 'What a neat one this is. She's got guts.' "
Don't Come on Too Strong
Still, you have to be careful. Some of the experts caution against a woman coming on too strong.
"Men want to do the pursuing," said Brenda Blackman, a communications consultant based in Tarzana who teaches a class called "Playing the Dating Game" for Valley College and Los Angeles Pierce College in Woodland Hills.
"Most men are flattered if a woman approaches them, but they don't want her to come on like gangbusters. Just smiling and eye contact--most men will pick up on that."
If you're shy about encouraging strangers in public places, you still have to take definite steps.
"I advise people to develop a personal network," said Teri Ansel, a Tarzana-based psychotherapist who teaches a class called "Happily Single" for Every Woman's Village in Van Nuys.
"People don't always think about networking in their personal lives, although they do in their career. Make a list of 50 people you know, make appointments with them and say, 'I'm ready to date again. Do you know anybody?' "
That approach might seem intimidating, "but if you don't make it obvious enough," Ansel said, "people won't think of you. Very often they say, 'now that you mention it, I do know someone.' People are not active enough in looking. They're so terrified of rejection."
Who Are the Experts?
Who are these purveyors of romantic advice? On the whole, their track records aren't terrific: One has been married five times, another has been divorced twice, another is on his first marriage and one has never been married.
DeKovner-Mayer not long ago married for a fifth time. She used to host the KIEV talk radio show "The Female Connection" and has been a political-affairs analyst for "Israel Today," traveling throughout the Middle East, Central America, Europe and the Soviet Union. She has worked as an actress, with movie credits that include "Twist Around the Clock" and "Don't Knock the Twist."
Fergus started teaching singles seminars 13 years ago because he was having a difficult time meeting women and so were a lot of his male friends. (Women aren't the only ones who worry about being left on the shelf.)
"It started out as a kind of experiment," said Fergus, a social scientist who does independent research for companies. He has been married three years.