Get our free newsletter
The Big Hunt looks like the tail end of a nasty frat party, and it’s only 7 p.m. Pint glasses of jaundiced beer litter crumb-coated tabletops. Ashtrays display a melting pot of multibrand cigarettes, and something that looks like an artichoke heart worms its way into the dank red floor mat. The place is mostly empty, and the only evidence of kill I see at the Big Hunt is hanging from the ceilinga chandelier covered with a coat of fur. But the passing of a few minutes heralds the end of the workday and the beginning of the suit-and-headband brigade. The hunt begins in earnest, with Alannis complaining about God knows what on the jukebox.
My friend Tim, a personal trainer, is cruising the not-so-wild kingdom. A buff bundle of steroids with decent hair and a chiseled face, he’s trying to profile as a hunter, but he’s haunted by the likelihood he will become prey. Tim has lived in D.C. for a while, so he’s used to getting mercilessly shot down. Still, he keeps crawling back into the forest. Tonight he eyes the growing crowd and locks onto a booth of three girls, which dwindles to two as soon as he arrives.
“Is your friend coming back?” he asks.
Neither of the remaining girls, who are probably used to pimping for their better-looking friend, answers him. “Does she have a boyfriend?” Tim ventures. One says yes, the other no; then they flip-flop their answers like an Abbott and Costello routine. They fill the air with eye rolls and secret signs from girl island until Tim finally retreats to our booth.
As soon as the missing friend returns from the bathroom, Vamp lipstick fully applied, her friends eagerly bespatter Tim. “His veins could feed a whole family of heroin addicts,” says one within earshot. “I hate that,” says Vamp. “We told him you had a boyfriend,” they say. “Oh good, thanks,” clucks Vamp, working her ample butt back onto her throne.
It’s the first kill of the evening at the Big Hunt.
If men and women go to meat markets like the Hunt to, well, hunt, how come nobody ever leaves with anyone, or even exchanges so much as a phone number, let alone a spontaneous kiss?
Guys like Tim are supposed to be having the time of their lives in D.C. Urban lore holds that there are something like five single women for every single man in the District. Actually, Census Bureau figures indicate that the odds aren’t quite so skewed, but still, for every 100 single women, there are approximately 85 single men. Add in the high number of D.C. guys who don’t swing with females of any sort, and D.C. bars should be packed with a massive surplus of women, many of them dying to beat the odds and find a nice fella. But every night in the District men march into the night armed with that juicy numerical advantage and end up collecting countless verbal knees to the groincourtesy of the bitchiest women north of the Potomac.
What gives? Is the D.C. water more toxic than we imagined?
Begin with the fact that D.C. is one of the least romantic places on the planetwhere else does anyone work C-SPAN II into first-date conversation? But it’s more insidious than that. The District is a place where people are on guard as a matter of course, a culture where suspicion and cynicism are viewed as adaptive traits. It’s a way of living that becomes second nature, so it makes sense that plenty of women pack some serious attitude when they head out for the night.
And it’s not just about survivingit seems to be about prospering as well. D.C. women, products of their environment, are conditioned to respond to either professional or social standing. If you’ve got neither, you ain’t getting any.
Being a decent-looking guy with an honorable occupation and no recent felonies may be enough to help you stay warm and busy in other cities, but Washington is not other cities. In the District, your value as a male increases exponentially as you move up the food chain; hence, Washington is full of remarkably average-looking toads who have remarkably beautiful women on their arms. It’s more a testament to their earning power at work than their staying power in the sack.
Most people, including women, move to or stay in Washington to be proximal to power. The city’s one-industry configuration makes it much more hierarchalthat means a lowly GS-10 shouldn’t be surprised if he spends night after night, and eventually, year after year, all by his lonesome. Women who fight their way into the mix in D.C. don’t want to settle for some schmuck who rode the Metro to the bar, because they think if they hold out they might be whisked away from happy hour in a limo to a fabulous embassy party or a house party full of media stars and Clintonites.
That may help explain why women here are so damn picky, but it still doesn’t account for why they take such unfettered joy in exercising their fickleness. And don’t look to me for answers about all the ambient bitchiness. By now I’m sure you’re all thinking, “Takes one to know one,” but I honestly do not have a role in Washington’s Frigidgate. For one, I live with my boyfriend, so I’m not part of the Foggy Bottom Beer/501 gene pool. And since I’m relatively recently relocated from Connecticut, I haven’t had time to learn to loathe men through osmosis. Most importantly, I love men. I itch for their calloused hands, their come-as-you-are inclusiveness, their false hopes and beaten-down angst. In fact, if I wasn’t already taken, I could beby any of the guys I interviewed for this story.
I have been here long enough to know that District men have a well-deserved reputation for self-involvement. But they will tell you that even if they manage to get their heads out of their own asses, women will diss them just on general principle. There may be more than workaday Washington careerism and elitism at play here. Let’s not forget the delicious sense of payback enjoyed by women who service dreary male bureaucrats from 9 to 5; once happy hour hits, the girls are on top. Perhaps because they are so used and abused during the day, they become Venus’ flytraps camouflaged in Ann Taylor suits who have no compunction about snapping the head off the nearest available male. All day long they are forced to pretend they are actually interested in the lint between the ears of the dweebs they work for, so it only makes sense that once they punch out, working girls get busy ignoring the shit out of every man in sight. They run the show until the sun comes up, and then and only then do they resume their roles as handmaidens to self-importance.
“Love me,” says Ben, handing a rose to a sullen-faced woman making a go at a “Rachel” hairdo. It’s 10 p.m. Thursday night at the Toledo Lounge. “Keep it,” she says, jogging to catch up with her three friends, all wearing Gap-around skirts.
Ben has successfully given away one roseto me, and that’s because I kicked in one of the four dollars. Sturdy and well-scrubbed, of that no-hair-but-good-teeth mold of man, Ben is a ringer for Henry Rollins. Now, Henry Rollins is an acquired taste, but one that’s been broadly acquired. Ben should have women crawling all over him.
“I haven’t come close to getting laid since I moved to D.C. almost a year ago,” he admits.
It’s not as if he isn’t trying. Seated in plastic chairs on Toledo’s “patio,” Ben tries to strike up a conversation with a girl at a table so close to ours she’s practically giving him a lap dance. In profile she has the horsy looks of Heidi Fleiss. Full on, I notice she has an abnormally narrow face that is dangerously tanned. I’m guessing she doesn’t get hit on that often.
“What does your T-shirt mean?” Ben asks her. She has on a blue shirt with “Ayuda” silk-screened across the front. The same shirt is worn by the other five people at her table. Obviously she represents Ayuda, a prominent District nonprofit, and has just had a softball/volleyball/kickball game of some kind.
“I don’t know Spanish,” she says in a voice that has no affect. None.
“Well, how about if I buy you a cerveza?” he tries. “I don’t drink,” she responds through the back of her head. As if on cue, a waitress brings the whole table a round of beers.
Meanwhile, Tim, fresh from his abasement at the Big Hunt, tries again with another table of three women. “It betters my chances,” he says of his safety-in-numbers approach. Adjusting the brim of his navy blue baseball cap, Tim makes his move, plopping into an empty chair at their table. This immediately provokes his intendeds.
“Do we know you?” says the one with the shortest hair, sort of a Dorothy Hamill-in-a-blender coif.
“I’m Tim,” he says, extending his hand to the short-haired girl. Since she’s the plainest of the three, I have a sneaking suspicion he’s making nice with her to get to her better-looking, longer-haired friend, who is completely ignoring him and talking to the third girl, with the in-between hair.
Undeterred by his still unshaken hand, he barks out his dossier: Kenyon College, owns a gym, Capricorn, likes include moonlit beaches and kittens. He talks on, oblivious to the curled-lip-and-furrowed-brow reception.
A “give me a break” expression emanates in triplicate. Finally, long-hair spits, “Can’t you take a hint, or is your brain your least-worked muscle?”
Why are these women so appalled by my friend? And more importantly, what are they doing all hair-sprayed and lipsticked in an Adams Morgan hot spot if they don’t want to talk to men?
“That’s the thingthe women want the men to talk to them. Then they can diss them, slam them, and get off.” So says Mark Judge, a local writer. And he should know. Mark says, probably exaggerating for effect, that he has gone on around 800 dates this year alone.
His 801st date is with me. We are sharing bottled water at Soho Tea and Coffee, in a room so heavy with nicotine that yellow stains spontaneously appear on my fingertips. Looking a little like a tall Michael J. Fox, Mark blames District women’s bitchiness on secondary narcissism. “But it’s not about self-love. It’s about self-hate.”
His theory is not a new one. It’s based on The Culture of Narcissism, a national best-seller by Christopher Lasch. In his book, Lasch basically says that it’s better to look good than to be good. He almost sounds like he’s quoting Andre Agassi when he maintains that the “self consists of little more than its ‘image’ reflected in others’ eyes.” In Lasch’s world, the uberself appears in the mirror. “Self-approval depends on public recognition and acclaim.” Lasch arguesand Judge offers real-world concurrencethat women have neatly codified ego and id into one attractive piece of human-size jewelry. Image is not only everything, it’s the only thing.
Says Judge, “Women’s self-esteem is so low that they need to build themselves up by knocking others down. You can see this at any bar in the city. It’s like, pay attention to me. OK, now I hate you.” Or as Lasch says, “She craves admiration but scorns those who provide it.”
“It’s a cruel paradox,” Judge continues, “and these women need help.”
Judge believes that women in contemporary culture, especially a culture as maniacally competitive as Washington, D.C.’s, are never truly allowed to punch out. Lasch explains it thus: “Personal life, no longer a refuge from deprivations suffered at work, has become as anarchical, as warlike, and as full of stress as the marketplace itself. The cocktail party reduces sociability to social combat.” It’s no news that love is war, but in the District the combatants never seem to set down arms and arrange some kind of workable truce.
As a modern, ’90s kind of guy, Judge says he understands that women have suffered plenty to get where they are today. And he’s really there for them, man. “As women take on jobs once reserved for men, they become what men are accused of being: emotionally closed. These women are fighting a lot of stereotypes and overcompensating. I have had to become steely, or else it would really get to me.”
As he is attracted to strong-willed, self-directed women, he frequently ends up paying the price. Invoking Camille Paglia, one particular avatar of independence told him, “You have no idea how pathetic and worthless you guys look after sex.”
(I bought into Mark’s gee-whiz, I’m-just-looking-for-that-certain-someone story and fixed him up with one of my friends, a nice Irish Catholic whom he immediately tried to bedafter coaxing her with all the “you have beautiful eyes” obligatory compliments. She was somewhat taken by his charms but decided to save a little for their next date. She hasn’t heard from him since. It’s just the kind of transaction that can leave you feeling, well, mighty bitchy.)
Happy Hour at Panevino, and if you pay $10 you get unlimited antipasto and beer until 9 p.m. The only downside to the deal is that you have to gorge yourself in a room that looks like a finished basement. The place is crawling with poorly paid office chattel who recognize a bargain when they see one. My co-worker Bill and I are among those cheapskates. Over watery beer I tell Bill that I’m writing a story about how the women of D.C. seem allergic to the allures of the average Joe.
“You should talk to my sister,” says Bill. “All the guys she’s ever dated have had expensive cars and own their own businesses. Either that or they’re high-ranking officials. She’s a real bitch.”
The next day I call up Bill’s sister, Susan, a 28-year-old marketing coordinator, and tell her that I’ll treat for drinks if I can ask her about her dating experiences. (I don’t mention that her brother has described her as an incredible bitch.) Instead of thinking, “Hey, free booze,” Susan wants to know if I “was some kind of lesbian or something.”
Over the phone, Susan tells me that when she goes out she “just wants to have fun.” She says she’s nice to everyone. But what if a guy she’s not interested in approaches her? “I’d still talk to him.” But what if he’s shorter than you and you can see his bald spot? “I’d probably still talk to him.”
She admits that she and her friends are picky “’cause there’s a lot of trash out there.” Her treasure would be a man who is down to earth, has a sense of humor, and is genuine. “Money is not important,” she stresses. She comes off sounding like one of the particularly insincere personal ads in the back of this paper, so I try to pin her down, asking if she’d date someone like her brother, a sweet-natured, funny, generous 31-year-old who works in a mail room. Susan doesn’t hesitate. “No way,” she answers.
“She’s so full of it,” Bill says when I show him my interview notes. “If she just wants to have fun and not meet guys, why does she wear skin-tight dresses and midriff tops? She dresses like she’s in Malibubleach-blond hair that’s 10 different kinds of yellow. And she’s tan all year ’round.” Apparently, Bill wouldn’t date anyone like his sister, either.
Susan is definitely a piece of work, although she probably hangs in a gallery filled with similar portraits. In fact, when I tell women around town about my bitch theory, they all say, “You’re right. Women here are such bitches!” but never recognize themselves as part of the picture.
I decided to ask psychotherapist Barbara Raden Fox, who runs the Unstressed Center, what makes Susan, well, Susan. Fox catches my drift and says that if Susan is a bitch, it’s because she is just trying to survive. “D.C. is becoming increasingly a tougher and tougher place. It’s harder to get a job, it’s harder to make money, it’s harder to maintain a sense of security. This makes some women angry and upset.”
It also makes them hard and impenetrable as a Secret Service agent. Fox says it’s less a matter of nature than nurture. “There is no more idealistic ‘Let’s just love each other’ feeling here. It’s hardening them, making women afraid to give their true feelings. There is a huge list of stressers that women have to deal withfrom work, employers, plus dealing with a general lack of commitment from men. Women are hardened to the things that are going on around them. This might make them seem bitchy.”
When Dante was calculating his rings in Hell, he forgot about Friday night at Rumors (or Tumors, as my friend calls it). An extended family of Brooks Brothers and Liz Claibornes cluster in tight circles, holding beers and soft briefcases. I’ve attached myself to Stephanie, a bottle-blonde with bad skin. A self-proclaimed bitch, she defends her “sisters” saying, “Men have been doing it to us all our lives. It’s payback time.” She is tormenting the hell out of a stunned Young Republican, practically demanding to be told how much someone like him makes per year. He’s alternating between buying her sea breezes and checking his fly. “Why are you such a bitch?” I ask. “To survive,” Steph deadpans. “Don’t you have to be nice to survive?” asks the Young Republican. She answers, “Not in the ’90s, honey.”
The downtown scene may be short on the milk of human kindness, but it’s nothing compared to Georgetown, the Iceland of dating. I continue looking for Ms. Goodwench at J. Paul’s, a watering hole with so many identical blondes it feels like Village of the Damned. I make nice with a writer named Eric; his pre-Raphaelite hair, button nose, and rosebud mouth make him an anachronism in the jarhead world of D.C. professionals. He is just off the elbowa sharp one, no doubtof a blonde in a silk shell of a dress drinking a G&T. I ask him what she might want out of a Washingtonian such as himself. “Money that I don’t have and may never have,” he says.
Eric thinks women here are loathe to admit their material addictions, often trying to cover up their shallow intents. “Women who say that a sense of humor is the most important thing are full of shit. Let’s assume it’s true. Then the only logical conclusion is that I am one homely fucker.”
A blondie who has the manly good looks of a soap opera star overhears the conversation. “I gotta agree with you, buddy. Girls are only interested in what a guy does. That’s why the guys around Capitol Hill wear their press badges out to bars.”
Needless to say, Eric does not have a nicely laminated testament to his dateworthiness. He turns back to the bar silently, prepared to go it alone.
Saturday night can be the loneliest night of the week. Unless of course you’re at Mister Day’s. The promise of sex fills the air like the day-old Poison perfume on the puny sorority sister standing next to me. It’s so crowded her head is practically under my armpit. Another sorority girl is wearing a condom balloon hat that looks like something Steve Martin would make. She’s dancing wildly to “White Lines,” her rubbers teasingly bopping her partner in the head. Women clump like cat litter here and there in the bar, talking to each other but constantly looking past to see who or what might be happening.
I’ve agreed to come to Mister Day’s with Matt, a pal of my brother’s. Matt has gotten lucky at Mister Day’s in the past and is hoping to maintain his karma with the girl-next-door brunette huddling with two of her friends. Matt makes his move, and they begin rotating their heads, Exorcist-like, and finally employ a football-style maneuver to successfully evade him.
Even if Matt had met someone, he never would have asked for her number. “Dozens of times I’ve met a woman at a bar and after a few minutes or hours of pleasant conversation, I’ve asked for their numbers. Only once in all those times was I given the correct number.” He ticks off a list of phantom phone numbers that women have forked over: the George Washington University admissions office, a direct line to a full partner in a law firm, several nonEnglish speaking households, and a gynecologist’s office.
Is it possible for a single man and single woman to meet, connect, perhaps copulate, or at least go out for latte in this city? If you’re looking for expertise, there’s nothing quite like a rich divorcée. Say hello to Chana Sky.
Realtor by trade, matchmaker by design, Ms. Sky likes to say she finds “houses and spouses.” A former Miss Israel who looks like a combination of Carly Simon and Robyn Byrd, she’s a supercharged yenta who believes that romance isn’t dead, it’s just taking a nap. Sky, 48, throws intimate parties and hand-picks her guests from a list that includes congressmen, senators, and governors. She’s well connected enough to call Arnold Schwarzenegger a “cheapskate”her home is filled with framed photos of herself posing with luminaries from two show-biz universes: Hollywood and Washington, D.C. She is particularly proud of the picture of Dan Quayle looking down her dress. Almost everyone she knows is “fabulous.”
She agrees that D.C. women are bitchier than most. “Their biggest problem is that they forgot how to be feminine. They’re not soft enough, not giving enough.” Adjusting a spaghetti strap on her dress, she continues, “These women do not lead gentle kind of lives anymore, and they are so competitive with men over money and all kinds of thingsit’s just ridiculous.”
Like Lasch, Sky firmly believes that the women’s revolution did some damage while creating some long-overdue progress toward gender equality. “Women didn’t know when to quit,” she says. She believes that because Washington is a place where women compete in the work place, they also compete outside of it.
“Come to a party with me,” Sky cries. “I think it will be good for you.”
The party at LuLu’s is given by the Renaissance Club, a group that throws events for singles and donates a portion of the $20 entrance fee to charity. Tonight’s cover charge goes to the House of Ruth, which strikes me as slightly ironic, because most of the victims of abuse tonight will be undoubtedly be men.
I walk into LuLu’s to the strains of Phil Collins singing “Easy Lover.” The song, the name tags given out at the door, and the sea of middle-aged swingers make my skin crawl. I’m expecting to have a close encounter with karaoke any minute. Chana is a no-show, but she sends two friends in her place, both of whom I immediately lose as I head straight for the bar for a drink.
Because Chana described the crowd as being upscale, I’m trying to pass myself off in a black Jil Sander dress, courtesy of Filene’s Basement, and by carrying a really good Chanel knockoff. The first five women I see are all wearing similar black dresses. I feel like a cast member in Freaks: One of us, one of us.
The party is held upstairs, in a dark-wood, clubby sort of room. Men hew to the perimeter like a nervous fringe; overdressed women crowd the center. One woman has a Mary Ann-when-she-thought-she-was-Ginger hairdo and enough makeup for a drag queen. She actually asks me for a “smokie-treat.”
“It’s like repeating third grade,” says Lee, a deeply tanned computer salesman who comes to these things a lot. I meet him while I’m waiting at a bar four deep in people looking for a little something to settle their nerves.
“I always see the same people hitting on the same people,” Lee says. When I ask him if he’s ever had any success with the women who make the party circuit, he says, “No comment.”
Lee brings me over to meet his two friends, Jim and Amir, who are cowering behind a potted plant. It is their goal to meet women tonight, and now that they’ve met me, they relax tremendously. Jim tells me that I’m different from most women he meets, “because you’re talking to me.”
Amir, a computer scientist who looks like Richard Benjamin, believes that no woman here will talk to him, whining that D.C. women are cruel by nature and always wear matching agendas. Finally, Amir braces himself and approaches an obvious blonde in a tight blue dress. She walks away from him after about eight seconds of conversation. I follow her and ask her why she didn’t give Amir a chance. “I knew I wouldn’t like him,” she says coolly.
Next I shadow one of the whitest women I’ve ever seenJayne Mansfield dye-job, white, puckery lycra dress, white shoes (post-Labor Day), fleshy white skin. The snow bank is calling attention to herself by constantly yanking her dress down and over her ample white butt. Every few steps necessitate a dress adjustment. Finally she is approached by my buddy Lee. I don’t know what he is saying to her, but her face goes all rubbery and squinchy like Jim Carrey’s. He goes down quietly.
I work my way back to Jim, the most sincere guy I’ve met all evening. He’s entranced by a woman dressed entirely in crayola red. Amazingly, she has managed to match her red hair to her red dress to her red stockings to her red fuck-me pumps. Probably hired a colorist. As Jim wonders out loud where she found stockings that color, our fiery beauty snaps, “What’re you lookin’ at, asshole?”
There are women in Washington who are willing to go out with a guy at the drop of a hat…as long as he’s willing to drop $200 as well. I found lots of ready and willing ladies in the Yellow Pages. As professional escorts, they won’t insult you unless you make a special request. I spoke to oneI’ll call her Honeyfrom Perfect Angels, who sounded more like an English teacher than porn queen. I could see why a guy might want to spend time with her: She was chatty and clever, and very slick with the entendres. When I ask her if men here seek out her services because District women are such cold fishes, she says, “Yeah, it’s that ‘sturgeon/whore thing.’”
Honey believes that men use escorts the same way a person might turn to food for comfort. “We’re easy. The guy knows exactly what he’s getting when he calls an escort. That takes a lot of the pressure off.”
Wednesday night at Peppers, 10 minutes before the $1.50 margarita special starts. Except for a few hunched-over guys sitting on bar stools, the place is emptybetter to view the “art” that hangs on the exposed brick walls and makes Peppers come off like a Jasper Johns vomitorium. Five girls, so identical they could have been birthed by the Dionne quintuplets, storm the bar.
“Five margaritas, four frozen, no salt, one on the rocks, no salt,” one quin says, waving around some dollar bills.
“Well, you’ve got 10 minutes before the special starts. If you want your drinks now, they’ll be the regular price. And the special doesn’t include frozen ones,” says the bartender.
“Oh come on, just give us the drinks.”
“Sorry. My watch says it’s only 10 of,” he says.
“Your tip says it’s time,” replies one who obviously has some assertiveness-training classes under her belt.
“Ten minutes, ladies,” says my hero. Walking away I hear him mutter, “Gee, I guess I’ll have to wait a little longer before I can buy my mansion.”
The girls stand around glaring for a while. Clearly, they have met their match. They turn in a disgusted huff and storm out into the night, vowing to “never come back to this sucky place.” They don’t look backthey’ve obviously got places to go and balls to bust. CP
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Joe Rocco.