Books: Rachel Machacek and 'The Science of Single'

By Ellen McCarthy
Friday, December 17, 2010; 3:31 PM

It started with a particularly bad date. A date Rachel Machacek had met online, who didn't crack a smile the whole night and then literally ran away from her without so much as a farewell handshake.

The Adams Morgan resident was 32 then and had been single for seven years, often spending Saturday nights with her cat, a batch of cookies and a litany of complaints about the difficulties of dating. To get motivated, she immersed herself in the world of dating self-help books and wrote about her experiences for The Post's now-defunct Sunday Source section.

A book deal followed, sending Machacek on a year-long adventure to investigate "what happens when you use all the resources you possibly can to meet and date the opposite sex."

"The Science of Single," which hits bookstores January 3, is her account of that experiment - a memoir that's equal parts funny, mortifying and insightful and stands to make Machacek into the Bridget Jones of Washington.

The book traces her forays into singles events, online dating, matchmaking services, blind dates and dating coaches. Approaching the endeavor with a not-so-scientific method that turns her into a romance-seeking guinea pig, she encounters debacles any veteran singleton will recognize: dates that bear no resemblance to their online profile, conversations that run dry in two minutes and baffling behavior - in her case, a man who drank from the same water glass as a dog and another who loudly declared that their waiter smelled like a vagina.

The worst kind of disappointment was also the most common: The guys she went out with weren't who she hoped they'd be. "I was heaving these enormous expectations on my dates," says Machacek, now 37. "Like, 'Okay, this might be 'The One.' And this poor guy who doesn't even know me, doesn't know what he's in for - 'cause I've already planned out my wedding dress and where we're getting married and all that stuff."

The process of forcing herself into social situations helped her acquire a more realistic tack when it comes to dating: These days, "I'm usually thinking, 'Ugh this probably isn't gonna be the one. But I'll get to know someone and maybe they'll know someone.' "

A year of nonstop dating - with all the implicit highs and lows - also proved to Machacek, who works as a marketing manager and freelance writer, that she could do it. She could take charge of her social life, proactively find dates and survive even the worst of them.

Sitting at home with the cat and cookies "is so much easier - it' s safe, and you know it," she says. "I've been okay with living a single life, for the most part. But I don't really want that forever. I would like to be with someone eventually and [hibernating] does not bring you any closer to that. Not even close."

Washingtonians will recognize references to places like the Diner and Cafe L'Enfant, where Machacek's dates take place. One of the things she quickly realized is that "Washington is so small when it comes to dating." And she knows it's about to get a lot smaller for her once the book is published and her prospective dates discover it via Google.

"Some guys do have a problem with it," she says. "And if they read that, I might not have the chance to express who I am now."

But Machacek is proud of the book and hopes it will give solace to other singles.

"It can be lonely being single, when you don't have someone to come home to and share your life with. In some ways its really awesome, 'cause you're free to do whatever the heck you want. But I felt like I was having fewer and fewer people to commiserate with," she says. "So I really wanted to create something that people could actually commiserate with.

"And hopefully inspire them," she adds. "If they're not open to the possibilities or if they haven't explored all the dating possibilities, maybe they'll go, 'Oh, okay, if she did that, I could do that. No one dies.' "

Machacek reads from "The Science of Single" at Politics and Prose on Jan. 9 at 5 p.m.

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