During the big bash celebrating 40 of Baltimore's "most eligible" single people, there developed a profound semantic dilemma. It wasn't that they weren't eligible, it just wasn't clear what "eligible" meant.
Such confusing times are the 1990s for single men and women. A kiss may be just a kiss, but maybe not. A sigh might be a sigh or perhaps a signal that commitment is not possible what with the two careers going so well and his night school and her children from a previous marriage and so much to do and so little time. The fundamental things -- such as the definition of "eligible" -- do not necessarily apply.
"Eligible to spend time with, eligible to get to know," is what it means, says Aubree L. Galvin, a former intern who co-wrote the cover article in this month's Baltimore magazine: "40 Most Eligible Singles."
Galvin, 23 -- who confessed in the December issue a pathological weakness for men who drive expensive cars and wear suspenders -- mingled in the packed house Thursday night at the Engineering Society of Baltimore, a most dignified place for an "event" founded on roughly equal parts whim, whimsy, hype and, it appeared, ambiguity. The 400 tickets sold out in less than a week. What a bargain at $25 a head: open bar, hors d'oeuvres, good four-piece band, big dance floor and the opportunity to meet people who might be "eligible," whatever that means.
"Eligible didn't mean available," says Galvin. Nor in the minds of the magazine's editorial staff did it mean unattached or actively pursuing intimate involvement.
"Our eligibility requirements," says Galvin, "were that these people do not have someone who they spend so much time with they wouldn't have time for someone else."
Anyway, it seems clear to her. And to Tobechi Tobechukwu, a 30-year-old photographer and instructor at Baltimore School for the Arts. He's among the Top 40, despite the fact that he's been dating someone exclusively for eight months and is not interested in seeing anyone else at the moment.
Tobechi, what means eligible?
"That I'm not married. Things are subject to change," he says. "I think people are together for a lot of reasons. To be with someone until you meet someone special, or hold them over so they won't be depressed all the time or lonely."
Yes, but wouldn't that mean changing "most eligible" to "most expedient"?
The list includes such a variety of people that any number of adjectives might apply. Galvin and her co-writer, Kathleen Renda, compiled their list by calling everyone they knew in town. They called the Center Club, they called the Junior League of Baltimore. Their fishing expedition even included a call to the National Aquarium, where they came up with an unmarried security guard and a dolphin trainer.
They came up with nearly 200 people. Galvin and Renda say they did not ask any of them if they were actively seeking a mate, but they did ask if they were involved with someone and if so, if that meant they would be uncomfortable about participating. In other words, are you "eligible," whatever that means. From thin air they picked the number 40 and made their picks, using criteria that seem vague at best.
"People you would want to spend time with in Baltimore," says Renda, who supervised the whole project. "Top Singles," said the magazine cover.
The chosen 40 were introduced in the magazine as "just pining away for your call," but most of those at the party expressed utter nonchalance about the notion of pursuing anyone, much less some stranger who read about them in a magazine. It was as if nearly everyone in the place had just read "The Rules," the little best-seller that suggests a woman can find marital bliss chiefly by never returning a man's telephone calls.
By 9 o'clock the place is packed. The oysters and steamed shrimp are going fast. Servers circulate with trays of egg rolls, lamb on crackers with honey mustard, tuna with olives. The women are mostly in their 30s and early 40s and outnumber the men, most of whom are in their 40s and older, about 3-to-1. Everybody in the place is wearing a name tag. Most members of the Top 40 are also wearing powder blue ribbons that say "WINNER," giving the evening the peculiar feel of a combination cocktail party and 4-H fair.
Kathy Paal and Lori Southworth, both among the Top 40, stand together sharing conversation and an outlook. Dates? Who's interested in dates? Frankly, they say, it never occurred to them. Just because their pictures appeared in a magazine article that begins "Don't think there's anyone in this town worth dating?" doesn't mean they're actually looking for someone.
"I just thought it would be fun, highlight the Junior League," says Southworth, 39, who works for IBM and is president of the Baltimore Junior League. She says she's gotten a few calls and letters since the magazine appeared, but hasn't figured out what to do about that.
And nothing should be read into the fact that Michael Crow and Rhonda Wilson agreed to have their faces on the cover of the magazine. Neither views the exposure as a means to romantic involvement.
Crow, a 33-year-old personal trainer, says he agreed to do it because he thought it would be good for his fitness consulting business. He says he has an unlisted telephone number and has received no calls since the magazine appeared. If he did, he says, he wouldn't be interested.
"Just somebody out of the blue, I don't think I'd want that," says Crow.
Wilson, 24, a national director for the NAACP, says she's received three calls and three letters. She hasn't decided if she's interested in pursuing any of these contacts. You can't be too careful these days, she says.
Yet she agreed to be among The Top 40 and have her picture on the magazine cover. Why?
"That's a good question," she says. She thinks a moment. Exposure, she says, for the NAACP program of which she is director. And besides, "I thought it would be fun ... it's a great opportunity to meet people. Not necessarily a mate."
OK, let's review. Here's a singles event, featuring somebody's idea of the Top 40 unmarried people in town. The place is packed. But so far everyone appears to have come out for the oysters.
Wait a minute. Here comes a guy who wants to borrow a pen. He wants to borrow a pen to write down, could it be? Yes, a telephone number. Somebody is making progress. Somebody named Howard. He declines to supply his last name.
"I came here because I'm single," says Howard, 46, a business owner from Towson. "I came here to meet people."
Then there are Hillary Becker and Kelli Conlin, two quite attractive women in their early 30s who have been waiting more than an hour for the alleged men in this place to talk to them.
"I'm here because I have hope," says Becker, 30, a sales person from Columbia. It's fading fast, however. It's 9: 30 already. Where are the eligible men, whatever that means?
"I don't think any of these people are eligible, they're not ready to commit," says Becker, a native New Yorker who is cutting quickly through the dense fog of Baltimore politesse. "I look at Kelli. She's beautiful, she's got a great career. She's eligible. Not this [nonsense]."
Who knows what it all means? Says Becker: "You need a Ph.D. in psychology to understand a conversation with the opposite sex."
Or with Baltimore magazine. Kevin O'Connor, the 33-year-old president of the Firefighters Union for Maryland, Washington and Baltimore County. He's one of the Top 40, but professes to have not the foggiest notion of why he was selected.
"I wish I knew," he says.
The magazine people called him at his office. They asked a few questions, questions designed to signal the article's lighthearted spirit. Such as, "What's your favorite grooming activity?" He answered: "Finding the same color socks to wear in the morning."
They didn't ask how he defines eligible. He would have answered: "Eligible means unattached, but not necessarily interested in a relationship. Am I? Possibly."
Possibly, perhaps, yes and no. The fundamental things -- whatever they were -- may not apply. As time goes by.
Pub Date: 12/14/96