Happy Valentine's Day.
Now that niceties are out of the way, here's some tough love if you're single, over 40, and hoping to catch the opposite sex's eye.
Women: Look younger. Guys, look rich, even if you're not.
We do not condone this advice or pretend to like it. It comes from Rich Gosse, the father of Bay Area singles parties. Gosse is chairman and founder of the Society of Single Professionals, the largest nonprofit singles organization in the world. Since 1978, he has thrown singles parties on six continents.
But it all started -- and continues to thrive -- in the Bay Area. Gosse throws three parties a week, whether in San Jose, Oakland, or San Rafael, where he lives with his wife, Debby, whom he met at one of his shindigs in 1998.
Though all ages are welcome and he throws occasional age-specific parties -- the one for young professionals is monthly -- core attendance is usually among folks 50 and older. Without his parties and conventions, which take place in hotels and restaurants and usually feature a speaker punting on love, it's likely hundreds of widows, divorcees, and those who don't care for the bar scene would otherwise not mingle.
So, you might find his views a bit offensive -- "when a woman hits 40, all of a sudden she's no longer a young chick" -- and his references to Archie Bunker and Johnny Carson outdated, but the San Francisco native is probably responsible for many Bay Area love connections.
"I have no idea how many couples have resulted from my parties," said Gosse over drinks at the Claremont Resort & Spa on a recent Friday night. "When people find somebody, they stop coming."
Once in a while, he'll receive an e-mail about a successful match.
Eight years ago, Gosse, who looks like Burt Reynolds circa 1985 and talks like Will Ferrell in "Anchorman," held a singles convention in Perth, Australia. The hotel ballroom was at capacity, and he had to turn away 1,000 people. One of the women who never made it inside sent him an e-mail. Not to complain, but to say thank you.
"She wrote to tell me she met her husband while she was standing in line," Gosse says, proudly.
Not all parties draw those crowds. A weeknight mixer could hit 25, tops. But some parties, like last year's Singles Charity Ball at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, drew upward of 600 people.
No matter the size or scope of a party, Gosse is in the middle of it, much like a chaperon at a junior high school dance, trying to get men and women to mingle instead of letting them stand on opposite sides of the room. True story: He worked as a sixth-grade Catholic school teacher before going into party planning and public relations, which is how he pays the bills.
"It can be intimidating for a man to approach a table of five women, so Rich does what he calls 'breaking the table,' " says Debby, his wife. "He'll start separating the women by asking them to dance one at a time."
Other times, he'll just start dancing by himself to get people on the floor, says friend and Carmel-based dating expert Susan Bradley, author of "How To Be Irresistible to the Opposite Sex."
"There would be a huge void in this world if Rich ever decided to retire because I don't think there's anybody who could do what he does on that scale," she says.
Bradley respects Gosse's straightforward approach, but she doesn't agree with his views on Mars and Venus. Neither does his wife.
"Do he and I agree? Not on your life," Debby says. "Boomer women are self-sufficient and very successful on their own and men are at an age that they are looking for companionship and not that Playboy bunny in the centerfold that he talks about. It's a different dating climate than when Rich started in the 1970s."
He started in 1977 as an attendee of a weekly singles group at the Marin Fellowship of Unitarians in San Rafael. Before long, Gosse was running it. By the next year, he took it across the Golden Gate Bridge, and, eventually, beyond California. Today, those interested can find out about his upcoming parties at www.thepartyhotline.com.
In addition to hosting parties, Gosse has written eight books, including his recent self-published title, "The Cougar Imperative: Why Midlife Women MUST Choose Younger Men."
Still, he thinks of himself less as a relationship expert and more as an advocate for singles.
He ran for governor of California in the recall election of 2003 on a "fairness for singles platform" that called for equal rights on taxes, retirement benefits, and other areas he believes singles face discrimination.
"Singles need an advocate, because in many respects they are second-class citizens," he says. "I envision a world where singles are treated equally with couples."
According to Rich Gosse, Society of Single Professionals:
1. Exploit your job. It's one of the most common places to find a partner.
2. Ask your friends to introduce you to people.
3. If you haven't already tried online dating, it's time.
4. Throw a party. Ask guests to bring a single person of the opposite sex.
5. Go where the opposite sex likes to go. Think boxing matches and aerobics classes.
Five first date tips
According to Rich Gosse, Society of Single Professionals.
1. Never volunteer negative information.
2. Maintain eye contact with your date. Don't let your eyes wander.
3. Dole out compliments when appropriate.
4. Don't talk about yourself too much. Ask questions.
5. Avoid talking about politics, sex or religion.
Age: 50-plus. Says Gosse: "Sorry, I don't give my age. This is an ageist society and people judge you. If you're over 40, you must never tell your age."
Occupation: Founder of the Society of Single Professionals, the largest nonprofit singles organization in the world. He throws singles parties every week in the Bay Area. Get details at www.thepartyhotline.com. Also runs Richard Gosse and Associates, a public relations firm.
Education: Bachelor's degree, government, University of San Francisco; master's degree, education, San Francisco State.
Residence: San Rafael
Family: Wife, Debby