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Dating not a game in Sonoma County


Zach Peterson's new dating-mobile is not the fast Nissan 350Z once parked in his garage. The sporty showcar may have been a bit of a chick magnet. But the 32-year-old bachelor from Sebastopol worried that it wasn't necessarily attracting the kind of woman he really wanted to spend time with.

So now Peterson is experimenting by driving up for dates in an orange VW Bug, a ride sure to repel gold-diggers more interested in his bank account than in who he is inside.

"I've dated women who size you up for money and your success. You can see them a mile away," said Peterson, a successful plumbing contractor. "Our society is so based on where you're at. ... I'm sick of it so I'm doing a little reverse psychology."

Peterson's increasingly calculated search for Ms. Right is a far cry from TV's "Bachelor Ben" Flajnik. The 29-year-old Sonoma winemaker on Monday will supposedly pick his life partner based on an elaborate made-for-TV public mating ritual that began in a Wine Country mansion with a dream dance card of 25 carefully sifted and meticulously made-up beauties, one of whom rode in on a horse.

As Flajnik finally prepares to declare his intentions either for the dimpled equestrian Lindzi or the ravishing in-it-to-win-it Courtney, eligible millennials like Peterson ply the real-life dating waters in Wine Country the old-fashioned way, ever hopeful that the current will eventually carry them to the right one.

But without network assistance, a lavish travel and wardrobe budget and a greenhouse full of roses, it's not always easy for discriminating guys to find someone they really click with.

"It's hard to meet somebody. It really is," lamented Jeff Sears, 29, a Sonoma State grad and co-owner of LiveFit Boot Camp. "I'm also picky. But with a divorce rate of 50 percent, I don't want to invest in the wrong person. I'm looking for someone I can spend the rest of my life with. I'm not looking to date around. But sometimes you have to date around to find that person."

Sears has eliminated the club scene as a fruitful hunting ground.

"I've always been able to meet women, but recently it's become more difficult now that I'm out of college and out in the working world. I'm not a bar goer and I'm not a partyer. A lot of people meet girls at bars and clubs, but that's not going to be my kind of girl."

It's a familiar refrain to Kevin Lewis, a 28-year-old fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, where he's doing his doctoral research in sociology on how couples connect in the early stages of courtship.

"We're just not meeting people," he said of his own cohort, people in their late 20s who are consumed with higher education, building careers and moving around in pursuit of both.

Statistics bear that out. The average age at which men marry for the first time has inched up from 24 to 28 in the last 30 years.

Online dating, he said, is now the second leading choice for ways to meet up, serving as a "giant virtual bar."

And it can be an effective tool for zeroing in on people who are of similar age, education and religion while filtering out dates with potentially deal-breaking differences, like whether they want kids, he said.

But so far, online dating, he conceded, has been unsuccessful in predicting that elusive X factor that kindles passion.

The Windsor bachelor said he's gone out on some 10 to 15 dates set up through Match.com. Many were nice but so far, no heat.

"A lot of times people don't act the same way they communicate with you online," said Sears, who prefers Facebook as a tool in his search for a woman who is "loyal, down-to-earth and easy-going."

Matthew Nalywaiko, 30, who does media graphics and video for a Santa Rosa company with international clients, said guys also can get antsy if they're still single at his age, even if they don't admit it.

That can lead some, he observed, to settle for someone who doesn't stir the butterflies of love, something he still believes is a sign you're on to the Right One.

Although female kin needle him that he should try out for "The Bachelor," he said the odds are slim that he'd find the love of his life among 25 contestants picked by someone else.

"I just don't think it would lead to a real marriage," he said. "Or it would lead to the kind of marriage we see these days that lasts only a couple of years."

Like Flajnik, Dominic Foppoli is a 29-year-old Sonoma County winemaker and brewer. He said he was recruited by a production company with Bravo network for a pilot bachelor-style show.

After a couple of filming sessions he withdrew, figuring it wasn't the kind of publicity he wanted. But he happily auctioned himself off at February's Affair of the Heart event, raking in a high bid of $2,000 for the Heart Association from a woman willing to pay two grand for a date. Stay tuned.

"Love isn't something you can script or put into an hour-long box every week," he said. "My role models were my grandparents. I saw my grandfather dance with my grandmother every weekend for my entire life. The love they shared was so incredibly natural. You can't find that on a TV show."

He thinks he has an idea how it will happen, and when it does, it will be over a shared passion.

"Eventually the right girl will walk through the door looking for wine," he predicted, "and end up with something more."

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 521-5204.