Money Manners

The great KC date debate;

Faith in love;Treat your sweetie to these sensual sweets;Singles out singles out;Can't we just get along?Date expectations;Cupid and the cubicle;Popping the question;Where to go for foods of love ...Will you marry me?Are you jealous? What do other cities have that we don't?We're No. 9! KC climbs out of pitsIf life were a movie she wouldn't be jadedI'll have the ice breaker...Hunter gatherings; A passing shot at KC's passive guysAdjusted to life in KCOnline storiesBefore you post take note of these tipsAiming for Mr. Right; After four cyber-misses, I'm still holding out hope for a hitLife by the numbersReaders throw us their pick-up linesMini makeovers;Readers rantMeet our makeovers;Meet today's mini-makeoverLetter on the Kiss & Tell seriesChange is goodRonnetta Parks; `I had to come out of my shell'Ryan Livengood; 'Surround yourself with better people'Carolyn Bordner; `I would go out with him again'Mini makeover - conclusion`Outthere' after 35

Note: The story originally appeared Sunday,October 16, 2005

It's planned. The approach is always planned. Little bar interaction happens by accident.

Leah Schnare leaves the restroom, makes eye contact and shows a grin. The guy at the bar looks back, but doesn't seem to pick up on the signal.

He's watching television, oblivious, drinking a beer alone. She walks across the room. A tall blonde in a white button-down shirt. People notice. How could you not? Tonight, in Tomfooleries in Zona Rosa, she's looking hotter than pawn shop rims.

Then she sits down at a table with some friends, and the thing begins unraveling. It's ugly. As she tries to glance back at the guy, someone at the table knocks over a beer. The commotion kills the moment, and everyone around the table is in hysterics.

"Oh, (forget) it," Schnare says.

"She got all flustered," friend Stacia Timmons says, laughing.

The pick-up undone, the women sit around, share dating stories and spill the worst-kept secret in Kansas City. It's hard to date here.

In national surveys, Kansas City repeatedly is ranked among the worst dating cities in America. We were dead last in Sperling's 2004 "Best Dating Cities" poll. Even Wichita came in ahead of us.

How can that be? A place terrorized by a serial killer for nearly three decades is a better dating city? That hurts.

So The Star commissioned a poll of Kansas City singles ages 20-34. While nearly 60 percent say they are satisfied with their dating life, the other 40 percent are clearly unhappy. More women are unhappy than men. The thirtysomething singles are more unhappy than the twentysomething singles.

Just like this group of single women knocking back beers in the Northland. They don't need to see any more surveys. They see it most every time they're out. They are living proof. Young, attractive, successful - and alone. Even their families don't get it.

Schnare sighs and says, "My parents think I'm gay."

If you're single in town, you don't have a lot of options. Usually, you can hang out with:

A. Friends from high school

B. Friends from Mizzou, KU or some local college

C. A girlfriend/boyfriend that you've been seeing since the eighth freaking grade. (Often, one member of the couple is ridiculously hot and the other is a schlub. Must be a small-town thing.)

D. Co-workers.

At Tomfooleries, we had "B." A group of single women, having drinks after work on a Tuesday night.

Schnare's story is like that of a lot of area singles. She was raised in the small town of Carrollton, Mo., and thought Kansas City would hold all the answers. She imagined all the interesting people she'd meet.

Now 32, her reality is much different than her dream.

"You have your view on life that things are supposed to go in a certain order," she says. "You graduate from high school, you go to college, you meet the love of your life and get married. And it doesn't happen. Then you get to be 32, and it's not happening."

Schnare and her friends could be any group of women - or men for that matter. Night after night, young singles are out there looking for something meaningful - conversation, relationship, sex (not necessarily in that order). Mostly, they see familiar faces.

"It's the same (freaking) people," their friend Jake Gronbeck says. "I can't go out anywhere on the Plaza or in the Westport area and not see five, 10 people I didn't see last week. And everybody's there for the same thing: one-night stands."

Though there's no hard data, Kansas City seems to lag in that category, too. Check out's Casual Encounters page. This is where men and women seek people for immediate sex, no-strings-attached (unless that's your particular fetish).

On a recent Tuesday morning on the New York board, for instance, there are more than 700 postings from people offering/seeking some freak. Certainly, New York is New York, and that accounts for some of it. But here are a few of the first items:

"Want phone sex this morning? pleasure is just an email away! - m4w"

"Couple seeking Couple for a Sensual Massage - mw4mw"

"Couple seeks sexy t-girl for fun - mw4t"

Then check out the Kansas City page. On the same Tuesday morning, there were nine listings. Nine. And they appeared to be either ads for hookers or cries for help from lonely divorcees.

Put it this way. There are no swingers seeking transvestites, though some might consider that a civic plus.

This is the Midwest. There actually are people here who won't watch "Will & Grace." Seriously, it's true. We're a conservative town, in a conservative region. It's hard not to hook up in, say, Chicago or L.A. Big cities force interaction. There's a greater density of bars and museums and beaches and coffee shops and parks. You might catch the eye of the guy on the El. You could accidentally bump into your future wife playing Frisbee in Central Park.

The biggest American cities attract people from all over, people who are forced to build a life from scratch. Kansas City mostly catches the people born here, or those from towns around the Midwest who - whether by choice or circumstance - didn't go to the big city.

"In New York, it's so transient - you have to meet new people," says Schnare. Kansas City "isn't like that because we all went to college together."

Meeting new people here sometimes feels impossible. The KC suburban sprawl means you have to drive everywhere. There's no real downtown. After a few months, the Plaza gets boring. How many times can you spit game at boys in striped shirts on the roof at O'Dowds?

When Stacia Timmons moved back from Scottsdale, Ariz., a year ago, she'd forgotten just how bad it was here. She'd been in Arizona for five years, going there to find herself after a relationship fell apart. She'd found more than herself; she'd walked into a singles Shangri-La.

"In Arizona, people are more aggressive. They're more social," Timmons says. "People aren't as outgoing here."

She reconnected with all her girlfriends from Northwest Missouri State, then realized the pattern they'd fallen into.

"How do we expect to meet people if we keep sitting in booths?" she asked. "We need to walk around."

A plan was formed. They invented a game called Bar A-Z. They'd make themselves go to new places and meet new folks.

Except, familiar patterns are tempting. Soon enough, they were back where they'd always been - hanging out in a Northland bar in what is essentially a strip mall on a Tuesday night. An upscale strip mall, but a strip mall nonetheless.

"We were gonna make ourselves go to different bars," Timmons says.

"Yeah," says Nickole Blankenship. "What happened to that?"

Late summer. A new night, a Friday night. Maybe this will be different. For a change, the girls and some of their guy friends have come to the Crossroads District for the monthly street party. The women are giddy about sipping wine in the galleries. Then possibly a nice Pinot at Lidia's.

The guys have other ideas: namely, finding a television to watch a preseason Chiefs game. A compromise is reached: City Tavern. They find spots at the bar and settle in. Gronbeck, like his friends, is single. He's tried it all. Groups. The bar scene. Online services, which are becoming more and more popular in Kansas City.

"I've been to three different singles Web sites trying to meet people," Gronbeck says. "I haven't met anybody interesting that's actually gone out with me."

His mom, from a different generation, is worried. For his 34th birthday, she gave him a membership to

Real subtle, Mom.

"She knows I'm trying to find somebody," he says. "She's dying for more grandkids."

That's pretty standard. The men and women on the prowl this night agree: if you're not married in Kansas City by a certain age, people start to think something's wrong with you.

Take Brent Lindsley. Last month, while attending a wedding of a college frat brother, he stared down the barrel of his 10-year high-school reunion. It frightened him.

This guy was in the Army, did a tour in Iraq. And being single a decade after high school made him shake.

"You get to 10 years and only a handful aren't married," he says. "I'm getting close. Man, I'm scared. I'm serious. That's scary."

To avoid permanent singlehood, people in Kansas City will try just about anything. Schnare, Timmons and their crew bought man-baiting pheromones at a party, for crying out loud.

Others branch out from the nightlife. There's the group at the art gallery. There's the young groups at churches. There are the young people who like wine. And on and on.

"I think it's hard to find good people," local twentysomething single Brandi Degenhardt says. "Where do you find them? You go out to bars and you don't want to pick up somebody in a bar. You go to church? Ideally, a lot of people would like to meet people at church, but that probably won't happen. And a lot of people go into online dating."

A lot of people, this being a blue-collar kind of town, meet playing in sports leagues. The ballfield is the place to mack during the summer. Degenhardt played softball four nights a week this summer, and a lot of her dates come from the diamond.

"I get asked out quite a bit," she says. "Everybody pretty much knows me. I have to know them. I don't meet people in bars because I don't want to date somebody who wants to go there all the time."

Guys try everything, too. They act tough. Just to have something to talk about, they study up on the hottest fashion trends.

Of course, that brings up another problem. Kansas City is somewhere between a big city and a little town, so they never know what people are going to be interested in. Commenting on a woman's Jimmy Choos can be a risky proposition.

"Some love it," Chad Dennis says, sitting at City Tavern with friends. "Some despise it. They don't want you to look at their shoes if they're looking for the Marlboro Man."

Gronbeck nods.

"If you roll up to Tanner's talking about shoes, they're gonna think you're" gay, he says. "If you roll up in Brio or The Drink and do the same thing, you're gonna get their attention."

Meanwhile, a few feet away, at long last, Janine Kohler has found Mr. Right. She looks, her eyes flickering, his cheeks flushing.

One problem.

"He's on TV," Kohler says, pointing at Marc Boerigter catching a pass against the Rams. "My future husband is in St. Louis."

Oh. A fantasy, but is dating a sports star statistically more unlikely than dating anyone in town? It's not labeled the worst dating city in America for nothing. The women group together. They know this isn't the place to meet a partner. And so another night comes and goes.

Schnare leans up against the bar, nursing a beer. There is someone out there for her; there's supposed to be someone for everyone. She just has to find them. They all do. So what if it's not easy - this is the Midwest. We like hard work, right?

Her friend Timmons, the one who'll go up to anyone and start a conversation, does admit that she sometimes wonders.

"I'm not giving up," she says, "but you don't go searching for it."

On second dates, Timmons now has three questions. The clock is ticking. She needs to know:

1. Do you want to get married?

2. Do you want to have kids?

3. Do you mind if the woman makes more money?

Answer any of them wrong, and she's out. It's come to that.

Schnare doesn't have a list. She's hopeful. Today could be the day. Two guys walk up to her in the bar and start talking. She listens. Nods.

"Oh," she says, "that's cool."

The leader keeps talking, the wingman there for support. She keeps listening. Who knows? This could be the one.