Love, Silicon Valley Style, Returns to Earth

By Christina McCarroll writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, April 5, 2002 | Go to article overview

Love, Silicon Valley Style, Returns to Earth


Christina McCarroll writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


DURING one incredible month in its dotcom heyday, Silicon Valley was minting 64 millionaires every day, many young and mostly male. It was a heady frontier of newfound gold, a realm of fast profits and fast people.

The San Francisco Bay Area, by media accounts, was a bachelorette's dream - "The Valley of the Guys." Palo Alto boasted 36 percent more men than women. Magazines and Internet sites profiled male tech magnates in all their Palm-Pilot splendor, inviting women to drool over "Hunks of the Web."

But when the dotcom bubble deflated, hot air left the singles scene, too. Gone are the Gatsby-esque parties and use of job titles as pickup lines. In the wake of dotcom breakups, many singles are trying harder to build long-term relationships in their personal lives. Men are less arrogant, women less choosy.

The saga of courtship here, in America's capital of new wealth, is a parable of the cultural excesses that can accompany sudden riches - and the realignment that results when wide-eyed dreams collapse.

While the tale reflects wider societal trends, it is also a window on the unique culture of America's high-tech entrepreneurs in this bucolic region of sun-bathed hills and tinted-glass software factories.

Clearly, in the domain of love, this area has clicked onto a whole new URL.

Thanks to company shutdowns, Palo Alto - the erstwhile mecca of masculinity - is now just 49 percent male.

But bigger than any numerical adjustment is the shift in mood.

It's evident at City Tavern, a mecca for 20-somethings in San Francisco's ritzy Marina district. Gianni Arnoldi, who has worked behind the U-shaped bar for five years, recalls the frenzied social scene. Swaggering dotcomers, with exuberance matched by narcissism, often approached romance as another adventure in capitalism, he says. "Guys would say, 'I work for this company, this is how much money I'm making, this is what I'm driving' - and that's what the girls would gravitate to."

Today, several Nasdaq nosedives later, the bravado is gone.

The protocol of courtship is not to ask someone what they do - but if they work. And if they don't, "there's no stigma," says Andrew Stern, a 20-something employed at San Francisco's Bang Networks. "How your company's going to take over the world is no longer something you talk about "

And fancy dinners? So 1995. "There's not the same cachet to being a dotcom CEO or a director of business development," continues Stern, himself a director of business development.

Values - not BMWs

Personal ads have also undergone a sea change - or at least an e- change - growing more numerous and more humble. Where ads in the late 1990s hinted at expensive lifestyles, today's wishlists are "more down to earth," says Craig Newmark, who runs the San Francisco online community Craigslist.org. Increasingly, he says, the personals refer to "old-fashioned values," or wanting to "start out as friends."

Julie Paiva of Table for Six, a San Francisco matchmaking club for "elite singles," also sees a dramatic value shift. She says the men she interviews now have wishlists emphasizing personality - and mothering skills. It's no longer "someone who's 5-foot, 8-inches and 120 pounds," or "someone who looks good on my arm when I go to ... benefits."

And where women once demanded men with impeccable social skills, they're now focusing on "his values, if he's interested in family" - and are more open to "nerds."

Since tech stocks tumbled, Paiva's business has soared. And since the crash, she says, clients "freeze" memberships far more often - meaning they've found serious partners, and are taking a break from singles events.

Marriages, indeed, are on the rise. Between the "boom time" of 1997-1999 and the bust of 2000-2001, the number of marriage licenses issued annually in Santa Clara County leapt 19 percent. …

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