One of my favourite weekly rituals is waiting for the new issue of the Georgia Straight to hit the newsstand.
I don’t read it for the articles. Actually, I don’t read it at all. I just head straight to the back pages where sex is for sale.
Buried among the tawdry ads for escort services, massage parlours, she-males, campus cuties and busty blondes are the two things that make the Georgia Straight worth waiting for -- the Savage Love column and the "I saw you" ads.
I read the "I saw you" pages religiously because they manage to entertain and shed insight into the human condition at the same time.
The concept is simple. Let’s say you’re walking down the street and you see someone who takes your breath away. You make meaningful eye contact, maybe one of you even smiles. But you pass without exchanging a word.
Missed opportunity? Not if you place an "I saw you" ad, which might read something like this:
"You: Prince Harry look-alike walking down Davie Street at 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 23. Tall, red hair, gray wool scarf tucked under your chiseled chin. Me: Drooling uncontrollably. Want to make me your princess? Email me at email@example.com"
Vancouver is full of painfully shy and socially awkward people. The "I saw you" ads usually fill two pages. Sometimes there are more than 100 ads in a single issue.
How did it get to this point? Why are people in Vancouver so chicken when it comes to the art of romance?
A recent article in the Tyee attempts to answer the question:
Has our reliance on e-mail made it more comfortable for us to initially connect through the web? Maybe we are forgetting how to banter with strangers. Has e-mail stifled all spontaneity? Perhaps it is because we can't backspace or delete a sentence once it's out of our mouth.
The ads make things safe. "Mediated communication is becoming more commonplace," explains Dan Perlman, a Professor of Family Studies at the University of British Columbia and an expert in classifieds advertising. "Most of us are accustomed to writing things down through e-mail rather than saying it aloud. These ads give us more control of the situation."
More control but at what cost? Have we lost our ability to flirt with attractive strangers in person? I mean, some of the "I saw you" ads are downright pathetic:
"Numbers, Sept. 25. Stared at you for hours. You with a group of friends – all noticed me staring. Me, alone at the bar overlooking the dance floor. Can’t get you out of my head. firstname.lastname@example.org"
"Saturday, October 1st around 23h00. Both waiting on Granville near Davie for the bus to Broadway, you had two braids in your hair and I was wearing a maroon toque. Hopefully that wasn’t the only chance I had to talk to you. email@example.com"
A friend of mine blames Vancouver’s apathy on its mild climate. Vancouver never really gets very hot or very cold, and neither do the people who live here. Hot climates ignite passions and tempers. Cold climates force people indoors.
Because Vancouver’s weather is generally pleasant 12 months a year, most people spend their time outdoors, doing things apart from each other in a temperate and even-keeled kind of way.
I have another friend who thinks Vancouver men aren’t assertive because they eat too much estrogen-laden tofu.
Weather and tofu conspiracy theories aside, being single and female in Vancouver is hard on the self-esteem. The existence of "I saw you" ads only encourages more anti-social and timid behaviour.
Why can’t we just say "hi" and go from there?