As a nerdy Single Guy in Washington, D.C., I've tried just about every one of the nerdy Washington ways to meet the Right Girl:
I've rolled the aisles of the "Social Safeway" on Wisconsin Avenue, filling my cart with Single Guy food; nodded agreeably at book readings as feminist authors told me that I was a Martian and women were all Venuses; loned out to Singles Night at the Smithsonian and Artistic Evenings at the Phillips.
Sometimes it seems like every organization in the city is trying to help me find a date except the one place where there are eligible women galore: the Metro. Every time I ride on it, I fall in love.
This may sound pathetic, but grant me this: Most of the other men riding on the Metro also are pathetic. A survey of my male Metro-riding friends, including many who said that they don't otherwise believe in love at first sight, revealed an epidemic of lovesickness on the Metro.
Some confessed to even riding extra stops to see where their visione amorosa would get off. Others dared to share a handhold on a seat or an overhead pole with the object of their affection. And a brave few told of actually thinking of offering up their seat to their perfect, perfect stranger, though none actually did so.
There are many reasons why men fall in love on the Metro. For starters, there are the aesthetics. For the urban male Metro rider regarding the world through mug-shot eyes, the sight of young maidens fresh and dewy from a hinterland morning in, say, Bethesda, overwhelms all reason. The typical office-pallored working woman looks especially alluring when perched coquettishly on Metro's tasteful orange couchettes, or when lissomely entwined around a Metro car's steel support pole.
For men who are at the stage of life when having the stylist touch their remaining hair is a big thrill, just watching a woman putting on her makeup, even on the Metro, is as close as they'll get to sharing the intimate routines of the morning after.
Metro Love also can be a sign of vulnerability before A Big Day at the Office, just as GIs fell in love before shipping out for the Big Battle. In this commitment-phobic age, Metro Love allows men to emotionally experience a relationship in the space of a single ride -- circling warily at Dupont Circle, barefoot in the Woodley Park, out of tune by Tenleytown, and "just friends" by Friendship Heights.
Metro Love can be the result of intellectual compatibility as well. Many a Metro Love affair has bloomed when a male passenger begins reading his favorite newspaper or magazine, and is shocked to discover it is being held in a nearby woman's hands. In a city where selection of The Post or the Washington Times is a public declaration of political allegiance, philosophical outlook, and belief in the afterlife, reading the same newspaper (even over a shoulder) together is practically a first date.
And what male Metro rider could resist a woman reading a Tom Clancy novel or the box scores in the sports pages or, even better, an impassioned letter to the editor about cost of living adjustments written by the onlooker himself?
Sad to say, Metro Love seems to be one-sided. A gentle debriefing of women friends reveals a support group waiting to be formed, perhaps called "Survivors of a Metro Encounter," victims who look up from their morning paper only to find a man staring at them, dumbstruck.
Men don't match up visually, either, with our dopey trench coats and those pocket protectors, which stifle the sexiness of the short-sleeved shirt and tie look. And as my friend Kathryn points out, if you watch any guy on the Metro for longer than three stops, he will do something gross -- pick his nose, clip his fingernails, explore his ear with his little finger.
It would be nice to note that Metro Man senses Metro Woman's disinterest, and reconciles himself to unrequited Metro Love. However, the real reason behind the almost inviolate "guy rule" that men should not hit on women on the Metro is that no man wants to be turned down by a woman in view of his fellow male riders. I was on the Metro one night when I noticed a group of women watching a man trying to pick up a woman at the far end of the car. Their running commentary, complete with squeals of "eeuu" and "gross" as he ran his hand through his hair or struck what he thought was a winning pose, was enough to make me zip my lip forever.
Because there is no question of addressing Metro Woman, the male Metro Lover must try to communicate his infatuation through nonverbal communication. My preferred approach is walking back and forth intensely while looking so lost in thought that any reasonable onlooker would be compelled to ask what the thought is. However, at 7 o'clock in the morning, most women are oblivious to a short, swiftly moving philosopher, no matter how many times he tries to cross their path.
Even in these downsized times, this is a situation that cries out for government intervention. Metro should get with the program by designating the first car on each train as the "interested singles only" car, the second as the "having a bad hair/breath/horoscope day car" and so on.
Activities could be organized for singles on-board, such as pairs crossword puzzling, newspaper origami, and Lindy Hopping to the sway of the Metro car. For the tongue-tied, City Paper staffers could be waiting to scratch impulsive "I saw you" valentines for the personal ads. Successful matches would pay a surcharge to leave the station.
Before you throw out your date book and head for the Metro, a word to the wise: Metro Love can be hard on a man. The typical male Metro Lover begins his journey appearing neat and tidy, hard-working, of good posture, unworried by sex, not unhealthily interested in art, a pride if not a joy to his parents.
At the other end, he slouches out of carriage, tie askew and nails neurotically bitten. Appearances will be even harder to keep up if Metro actually starts encouraging singles to mingle.
If mingle you must, a few final tips:
Keep an eye out for riders of either sex holding what is known as a Bimbo Card, or single-fare card. They are either so hopelessly air-headed that you'll be constantly taking care of them, or so afraid of commitment that they can't even commit to a return trip.
Avoid the poseurs reading Livy in Latin or Aristotle in ancient Greek, with the index finger of the recently literate. These are the endlessly self-improving, Smithsonian-Campus-on-the-Mall types who won't stop self-improving you.
Finally, avoid the nerds wearing identification cards around their necks -- sooner or later, the temptation to strangle them with it will be overwhelming, and there are too many witnesses on board.
Follow these few rules, and the Metro can change your love life. All aboard!