Beware of Geeks Bearing GIFs

In the Magazine
Melanie Garrett, of Granite Bay and Nick Santoro of Oakland share a conversation during the "Cougars" single party of Faz Restaurant in Danville. The party is for older women-younger men pairs. Michael Macor/San Francisco Ch

It's Saturday night at The Sea ("Home of the $57 halibut!"), which is perched on the border between Palo Alto and Mountain View, and anyone new here might think there's a big gay scene in Silicon Valley. Guys outnumber women about five to one at this high-end restaurant tonight and many of the men are dining together. But they do not seem together in that sense: Most are looking or tapping intently at their Androids or iPhones - both are in equal evidence, given the restaurant's proximity to both Google and Apple headquarters. The work never stops here, which in the high-octane world of high-tech start-ups is the same as saying the fun never stops: Work is fun in Silicon Valley. Unless your idea of fun is dating.

"The odds are good, but the goods are odd" is the lament of many single women here. Kate Greer, a Stanford grad who lived and dated in Silicon Valley for many years says, "I love to watch women who would have never looked at these guys in high school or college" suddenly circling the big fish in the tiny tech pond. "It's sweet to watch [them] falling in love with the biggest nerd in the room - that guy who looks like that little chicken with the big glasses in the Foghorn Leghorn cartoons."

Of the countless success stories in Silicon Valley none looms larger than Elon Musk: PayPal co-founder, electric car inventor, lunar travel entrepreneur. Director Jon Favreau says Musk was the model for Robert Downey's Tony Stark in the Iron Man movies and the enigmatic South African certainly works and plays like a superhero, if not a movie star. According to a Bloomberg Businessweek profile he has had one vacation in four years, taking time out to divorce his second wife, the actress Talulah Riley, in August 2012. "I would like to allocate more time to dating," Musk said before asking the reporter. "How much time does a woman want a week? Maybe 10 hours?"

The environment of many tech companies is still notoriously frat-like and not necessarily conducive to what most people consider grown-up mating rituals. "The culture at these companies for 20- and even early 30-somethings is not unlike the dorm experience at a top university," says Amy Andersen, founder and CEO of Linx Dating Service in Menlo Park. "Project teams bond over what they do all day.... It's more about living to work than it is about working to live, and so you do everything together."

Andersen came to her calling after a disastrous date with a very eligible venture capitalist 10 years ago. When she asked her date why he was scoping out the other women in the place, he said he was looking for "the BBD" - the bigger, better deal. While you can't necessarily teach people class, she does try to enlighten her clients (for a fee that ranges from $20,000 to $100,000) about proper dating behavior. Andersen recalls a 20-something coder at a gaming company with extreme social anxiety: She had to coach him on hugging, and she suggested a car service for his first date, rather than having him show up on the bike he rides to work.

Some liken the atmosphere, and the romances that blossom in it, to that of a film set - though with a much longer shoot. "There's a sort of youthful exuberance in Silicon Valley," says Greer. "The youthful exuberance is what makes you think you can do something out of nothing. To know that you can take code and make beautiful things that change the world, you have to have youthful exuberance. If you want to have a serious husband with a suit on, go marry a biz dev guy."

The biggest challenge in the Silicon Valley dating game may lie in the personalities that dominate the field. Left-brain Spock types can't so quickly channel their inner Bones and let loose with a barbaric yawp. "My highly educated and analytical clientele often apply the same methodology to their dating that made them successful in their careers," says Andersen, "and that does not always work, because here we are dealing with matters of the heart."

As more women become engineers, the dynamics of dating in Silicon Valley are bound to change. Adam Hertz, an engineer at Comcast, has "been off the market for a while," but his kids, in their 20s, are in the demo: His son, who works at Google, met his partner at a SantaCon event in San Francisco. "They both work really hard," he says. "Once they are together, they have to work at the relationship." His daughter is in the next wave: She is in a  program studying to be a "great software developer," 70 hours a week. Her boyfriend is in the food business, delivering produce in the Bay Area's booming restaurant business. "They never see each other at all."

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