Feb 05

Behind closed doors at a singles convention
You could ask the question, who’d be seen dead at a singles convention? As NEILL HUNTER discovered, nearly 2000 people were willing to pay $20 a head to hear the guru of good one-liners work the crowd…
On picturesque Takapuna Beach on Auckland’s North Shore, the grassy knoll above the sand is dotted with islands of people, from families to teenagers, enjoying Friday afternoon after-work in the sun. Six girls are sitting in a circle, talking. Their ages are early twenties and one of them says they have been playing a game called match-making. “I got a cuddle,” she laughs. That seems too coincidental so I want to ask them if they’re going to the “singles event of the New Year”, but stop. It could be flirting.
He wanted to be a Catholic priest, had a Christian upbringing but doesn’t do that anymore, runs singles conventions called parties in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and sponsors them on six continents too, for all groups – even Jews and Christians – appeared on Oprah Winfrey and ran for California Governor on a platform of lobbying for singles who he says are discriminated against. His favourite recreation is hiking and last month he found his favourite, between Paihia and Haruru Falls, Bay of Islands, New Zealand. His name? Richard Gosse, call him Rich, and Gosse is French, a word he thinks means “little boy” of which there is one, or girl, in each of us, who needs to have fun, so he does conventions for them and to get single adults listening he makes half his routine stand-up comedy. It must work because some 1500 Kiwis came to party with Rich on a fine warm Saturday evening in Takapuna NZ and they say about 200 were turned away, from the biggest show in town.
“You’d better come in, she’s getting close to the Pearly Gates now,” said a night shift nurse calling at 5.45 to say it was nearly over, a 37 year old wife and mother’s pending death from terminal cancer was about to happen and in hindsight they were strange words. More strange, amongst the whirlwind of events later that week, was the brief realisation of being single again after 11 years. Two years later this journalist gained an understanding of the similarities between being made single by death, and by divorce, at a retreat called The Beginning Experience run by Catholics in an old Friary in Auckland where the widowed, divorced and the youth of both, would spend three days understanding how to close the door a little, on a past life, and accept a new one, in my case one of being single.
Such a crude, sympathy-vote-grabbing introduction of Catholic retreats and Friaries has absolutely nothing to do with a singles convention run by the self proclaimed guru of the unattached, Rich Gosse, but understanding and accepting the state of singleness does. Whether the serenity of leafy, expansive Friary gardens or the razzmatazz luxury of the Spencer on Byron Hotel, Takapuna, participants at either retreat or convention would probably leave with the same sense of satisfaction; having stepped out, had a laugh, and done something different. For years, the Gosse singles convention road-show has come down under to NZ and Australia, because being single is, well, huge. A glance in the classifieds will tell you that, so too will a trawl though the “net” and socially it is far more acceptable to be single today than it was say 30 years ago when foot-loose-and-fancy-free was viewed by some as strange, at age oh…23, not hitched by age 24 – outrageous!

Rich Gosse, Chairman of American Singles Education Inc (or ASE for short), looks at his watch, gets the crowd ready for the NZ Flirt Champion contest and they’re off! On a speed mission to “goodbye-single-days”, of getting the most phone numbers in five minutes, from members-of-the-opposite, here in the ball room of the towering Spencer Hotel. Five minutes later: count down, “30, seconds…20 seconds…and stop” shouts Gosse and then its official, New Zealand “has a new FLIRTING CHAMPION!” Steven, with a staggering 16.
Gosse tells him that all his flirting champions become famous so Steven should go down stairs to Mrs Gosse and get interviewed by the Herald. Not likely. As he threads his way through wall-to-wall singleites I grab him first and with chaperoning skills the envy of any sheep dog, usher him down to Debby Gosse, photo-snap them together and elicit a career first, interview of a flirt. Steven McIntyre is 31, previously married, completing a diploma in computer games software, been in the IT industry 10 years, saw the advertisement for the convention and just thought he’d come for the fun of it. “A friend of mine was coming along as well and said ‘heh why don’t you come along’.” And what’s his secret-swooper-weapon? “I just say Hi and touch them lightly on the upper arm.” Huh.
So who are the best? “The Italians are the best flirts because they pinch you,” says Gosse, who calls the British, Australians and New Zealanders “very reserved, very shy,” as flirts go. If there is a flirting crisis in New Zealand as Gosse likes to remind us because so many NZ women have told him, how about America? Not the same, says Gosse, quoting his kiwi female sources: “NZ men are too shy. They (woman) wish the NZ men were more outgoing like American men. That’s what I hear all the time. They’re (kiwi women) hoping I will train the kiwi men to be more outgoing. We’re going to teach all the kiwi men how to be a good flirt.” Well I’ve got news for him and like a gun slinger defending this down-under- last-bastion-of-good-silent-kiwi-blokes, hit him! With research. Afterwards he blinks and makes complimentary remarks about journalistic research, which is: In a Fox News item, 7 October 2004, it is revealed that flirts compete at singles conventions to see who can score the most telephone numbers from members of the “opposite” in five minutes, the prize: …a lot of phone numbers. Says Gosse to Fox, “the most difficult thing at a giant singles event is you have all these people, who want to meet someone but they are scared to death”, it was all about overcoming fear of rejection, taking a chance and meeting people.
Not surprisingly female flirters consistently score highest, research shows. Well, why wouldn’t any single bloke worth his salt give away his number to any pleading woman, but no, says Gosse: “most guys don’t have the strength to ask for a phone number?”
At American conventions most woman are reluctant to give away their number and Gosse, the research continues, tells them to make the men work for it. Even in Wisconsin. According to the Flirting Champion of Wisconsin (true!) getting men to give up their…information, isn’t easy. “Most of the men won’t even look at you,” says Nancy McDermott, 54. “One guy said ‘I don’t give out my number until I know I’m going to date someone.’ ” Staunch doesn’t describe it as a visual flash of an American square-lantern-jawed-teeth-gritter make his own Custer’s Last Stand. Says McDermott seriously: “how do you know if you’re going to date someone if you don’t give your number away,” How true indeed, and she’s no slouch because that’s the sort of razor sharp incisiveness which enabled her to claim the biggest flirt title by scoring a whopping 19 phone numbers under five minutes! (Loud American cheering). However, seems she was only in it for the glory because the big tease didn’t even bother calling any of her adoring beaus afterwards, explaining that although appearing gimmicky, the contest gave her increased confidence in daily life. The big flirter further explains that finding interesting single men doesn’t seem any easier now than it did before she was named champ’; she does however feel more prepared to talk to men and not worry about the outcome. “The real benefit comes when people walk out into the world and give themselves permission to be a little more flirtatious than they were the day before. “The world’s a better place for all the flirting that goes on. (That’s it! I quit!)…I use to be really shy, I’ve been to a number of workshops, you learn to open up, and you’re going to get rejected (darn right with that sort of reputation) but so what.”It seems McDermott’s are a big name in flirting because Trish McDermott (we are not told if any relation to Nancy) vice president (give me break)…of Romance at match.com told Marla Lehner at Fox News (that’s Fox, as in the media group, not some sleazy little break-away militant singles faction) that Americans are flirt deficient (Investigate’s description). Vice president McDermott said there was a flirting crisis (Fox New’s…) in America. “I have concerns that we as a society have become less flirtatious (get those pills ready people!). Men and women say it is harder to make that initial connection in our day-to-day lives.”
There you go. We down under can hold our heads high. Not so says Gosse because if the research is correct then NZ men are even worse…you just can’t keep a good American down.
Is flirting promiscuous? No it’s fun he says because it is in us from infancy to be expert flirts. “Every one falls in love with babies” who are experts at it he says but as we grow older, get hurt, get rejected, “we start putting up walls,” so the educator see his role as restoring the skill. Understanding our inner selves…perhaps that’s what all this is about.
Singles_girl_HI RES.jpgDesperately seeking… we asked Kerry Frances who is not a singles convention junkie, doesn’t flirt and hasn’t co-founded anything but is no slouch when it comes to understanding people, and she has the singleness to prove it. The stunningly attractive brunette was a lawyer before turning to analysing people and as well as having a law degree she has a BA and a Masters in Counselling, knows the stigmatisms surrounding singleness and says she has copped pressure in that area herself, from family, friends and church but gets on with life anyway. So why do people go to these things in such large numbers? Says Frances, “singles are working a lot longer and harder. Think back to when there was glide time. People finished work at four or five, they socialised at tennis clubs, churches and halls.” So an event like a singles convention solves the dilemma. “It’s all about time and opportunity,” she says.
Is that the answer for those agonising over marital status? Just go out and get on with life, get a haircut and a real job? Is it fair to put singles under the magnifying glass? Of course singles don’t self consciously scurry from corner to corner in little swarms of festering self consciousness but social discourses as such, means there are expectations and presumptions. Take Christian singles for example. Far from portraying themselves as a bunch of cheesy, halo-crowned-virgins, that nasty stereo typical image adopted by some in main stream media, your modern Christian single isn’t afraid to join a group, have fun …and work too hard? In America there is the Singles Channel Newsletter an internet site sponsored by Harmony Ministries for singles and in their August 2004 edition Camerin Courtney, makes an ugly little confession: “having an affair with Jean-Luc,” then before we dive for our big-bashy-bibles, the journo explains: “no not some cheese loving, beret-wearing French guy (I wish),” she ’fesses, “No I’m talking about Jean-Luc my lap top…” In a wonderful blend of good column writing and humour the single Christian free lancer ’fesses-up to being too preoccupied with work: “there is nothing new in our overworked, prove-your-worth-by-how-busy-you-are culture but when I recently recognised the relationship between my singleness and my workaholism, I knew something needed to change. I walked out of work at 7 pm and realised the only two cars left in the parking lot belonged to fellow single people.” Then Camerin, who has no affiliation with ACIE, writes about stumbling upon a quote from none other, Mr Gosse: “ ‘workaholism is a frequent problem amongst single people. Work enables you to escape the fear, loneliness and boredom that often plagues singles’. Ouch!” She exclaims.
Painful as it may seem, some fork out their hard earned dollars for singles conventions but author-of-eight-books Gosse puts his money where his mouth is by charging cash strapped kiwis only $20. Cash. For that you get advice on the best place to meet single people and if people at his workshops don’t find love in six months – it’s money back. Sometimes. The, “have-I-got-the-deal-for-you” attitude also means he isn’t afraid to make a buck or two from singles so in case you think it’s all only about flirts, fellas floosies and flowers, or if you’re a little conventioned-out, or just need to find a real summer this summer, take a tour, with Rich. Gosse runs his own travel business for singles, with their promo’: “…those looking for a normal vacation filled with single people (eh…normal?)…this is a large organisation…around the world…really good deal…the owner Rich Gosse…even spoke recently at a packed convention in the lavish ball room of the Spencer on Byron Hotel in Takapuna (heeeee’s back)” The advertisement continues: “ ‘As you know the number one goal for singles in respect of travel, is to avoid paying the singles supplement (yea right) which sometimes can double their costs,’ said Mr Gosse, ‘that’s one of the main reasons that singles go on our trips. We guarantee them a room mate (mate…not a typo, not rate)…so they don’t have to pay double…especially woman like the security of travelling with a group. Plus the social opportunities are obvious (now we’re getting to it) who wants to travel to a romantic spot and not have anyone with whom to share’ ”.
Yes well. Just when you thought it safe to swoon with Gosse, singles should check the season and the location, before catching the love boat to one of his conventions, especially an Alaskan one. He admits he hasn’t always got it right, like the time he thought Alaska a good place for a singles showdown. He humbly told writer Janelle Brown of Salon.com that “unfortunately the convention happened to fall on the first day of the hunting season”. There is a dearth of good women, to men ratio at the best of times in the land of moose and oil but “All those sporty Alaskan hunks whom Gosse had promised to the female attendees” writes Brown “were out with their guns instead” doing what men gotta do, hunt and gather, in the state which Brown says has the largest surplus of single men in the nation. Woo-hoo for the guys who didn’t hunt that weekend when the Gosse show came to town. Gosse told Brown: “there were three women to every man…it was a disaster”. Says who?
On the rebound, he tried to make amends and play the money card, by holding the next convention in Silicon Valley because he figured the odds for a woman to find a rich computer nerdy guy much higher there than a man from Alaska in hunt. He told Brown that Silicon Valley had the highest percentage of unmarried men in America. Of rich single internet millionaires, he said there were “thousands of them.” He knew this from his match-making Webb site which “would balance out the hordes of woman usually in attendance.” Touted Gosse: “these guys are shell shocked. Where ever they go they only see men. Apparently it was all true and a thousand people showed up, …and 30 requested their money back, which was good news, assured Gosse who fiercely defends that he does it out of a passion not lost after 27 years. Besides, he wears a $20 watch and drives a 1996 Toyota Camry in the US because he says he is practicality, not money driven: “The money is in websites. That’s where I made my money”. He sold his website to another giant dating agency.
He did offer a money back guarantee at one of his previous six visits to NZ and nobody took it. There are no dollar signs in the eyes of those here in the Spencer tonight, only Cupid’s reflection and with an average age of around 30 to 40, they are all a mixed bunch.
Investigate interviewed over 10 budding dators and datees ranging in age between 31 and 55 and only one is here just for the fun. His name is Andy. Aren’t coincidences great? Andy, it transpires, is staying with the same friends. “What are you coming to Auckland for?” Enquires Stuart, of a journalist needing North Shore lodgings for the big assignment. “We’ve got a friend, Andy, from Napier going to that too and he’s staying with us.” Excellent.
Andy has never married, has had countless dates, friendships and one engagement and is an electrical design draughtsman by profession, manager for 10 years by occupation, at Napier’s The Hot Chick.
No, sickoes.
A health food takeaway outlet.
Specialising in chicken roasted over volcanic rock, salads and roasted vege’s Andy agreed to be journalistically stalked and insisted he was not really after the elusive knot-to-tie especially as he’d left his friend of 26 years, girlfriend of five, behind, to tour north in his sports car, visit friends and do the convention. “You can quote me on everything and use my name if you like” he obliges. It’s half an hour before convention registration but he doesn’t mind being made late by the “before-interview”. Tanned, medium build and height, fit with a full non- receding (lucky…) head of grey he is dressed in blues and black – shoes to match leather jacket. A Christian, he laughs “it would be one of God’s great miracles if I got married” and lists amongst his many accomplishments, of being “in Hollywood when Marylyn Munro died.” Explaining the left-behind-girlfriend-thing, “you can quote me, I’m a great believer in honesty” before explaining how they talked about it before he left, “Im very independent” and “I have come up for a fun night.”
We will return to Andy later because honesty raises another question. Does Gosse have that attribute?
Investigate has researched Gosse before meeting he-who-runs-flirting-contests and wants to assure you it’s okay to be single, in case that little gem had escaped you of such disposition, and the first question that must be asked: who is Rodney Dangerfield (RD)? This is important because so much research on Gosse refers to RD in a throw away line hauled out by American media commentators on Gosse who likens singles to Dangerfield. RD was an American comedian, did some movies and had a catch-phrase, snapped up by Gosse: “aah caint geet no respect.” Which begs the question then, just “who is Gosse’s favourite comedian?” He hesitates, mentions Rodney Dangerfield again, struggles, so needs help. “I’ve heard of John Cleese but he’s not one of my favourites.” Hah. Tasteless American. Seriously however Gosse became so passionate about singles, he stood for Governor, in 2004, and will do it again he says in 2006 when he will take on again the muscle-bound-one, Arnie the terminating sand-kicker.
Parallel to his singles platform, is economics and crime, “victimless crime” to be precise. He is on record:
“…Decriminalise victimless crimes, (drugs, gambling prostitution). This would cut serious crime in half in California because drug addicts would no longer have to burglarise our homes and mug us on the street in order to pay for their exorbitant habits. It would also save billions of dollars that are currently being wasted arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating victimless criminals. Once we decriminalise these vices we can tax them and raise the $38 billion we need to solve our financial woes.” You want to do it for money? Asks this incredulous interviewer. He does and it’s all to do with tax.
Singles_DANCING_hi res.jpgNow, where have we heard that before, somewhere closer to home and there shall be no further comment for fear of “making the stoners mad,” as my 18 year old said of certain letters to the editor recently and maybe if my whole story, with incisive interview of Nandor and a stunningly good street canvass, the stoners might like me. Then again.
So is he a liberal? Possibly, dressed in Republican cloth because conversely he told the Legislative Newsletter of the Federation of Republican Woman (aah the Americans) “I have deep roots in the Republican party and conservatism. At the age of 14 I campaigned for Barry Goldwater…becoming a Republican precinct captain…I co-founded Young Conservatives…I co-founded Citizens Against Crime…I co-founded Kids Today, Parents Tomorrow…”
Gosse got terminated by the Terminator in the nick of time, some might feel; although truth be known Arnie probably didn’t even know he was there because as illustrated in a satirical story by Los Angeles Times writer Steve Lopez, Gosse was only one of the many minnows “never heard of” by voters. That opinion though is not shared by Janet Levaux writing for the Contra Costa Times. She was excited by Gosse because – unable to previously get excited about candidates until she decided to rate all according to their dating potential – Levaux fell for Gosse. Swooping on Gosse she proclaimed him top candidate, one she would love to date, because of his platform on “fairness for singles.” Her love struck eyes soon dimmed alas and heart t’was cruelly pierced, when she found a picture of Gosse in a tux’, arm draped around his wife, so she slammed the door on the politician for deceiving her.
Yes, our crusader for singles is married, married because Debby Gosse passed the ultimate test. “She laughed at my jokes,” chuckles Rich, of the beautiful blond who once sat in the front row of a convention and afterwards he responded with: “the caveman approach. I took her by the hand (not hair) and dragged her onto the dance floor, in silence.”
So, how can someone married, advocating Neanderthal techniques and good economics by taxing honest, victimless, drug dealing, gamblers and prostitutes, know what’s good for singles, for pining out loud? Is his Love Potion No. Nine one of dope, roulette and hookers? Dignifying such journalistically shallow, a-little question with an answer we must do to understand this married champion of singles. For starters the ex teacher didn’t marry until 1998 prior to which he humbly describes himself as being like a” mechanic whose car wouldn’t start”. He says he talked too much and was a “motor mouth” which he still professes to be but he’s learnt to manage it because previously his dates learnt all about him, nothing about them. Learning it seems should be easy for the man from San Rafael and in his own short biography he says he has a Masters Degree in Secondary Education and Batchelor of Science degree from the University of San Francisco and while teaching, attended a singles group at a local church. Then became its chairman, leading all the ASE’s to become, he says, the world’s largest non profit singles organisation. Their website states ASE was established in 1978, runs 100 education and social events for singles around the world, “often in conjunction with 61 universities and colleges and is much, much more than just “talk”.“Stand around and talk!” You single groupies spit. Agreed, that too was way below the chastity belt because idleness and gossiping is not something singles at conventions do. They do more … like…play flirting games. Gosse, like John Gray in his earlier 15 minutes of fame slot for Venus & Mars, reinforces the point that men and women are different: “When a woman talks to a man she’s met, she’s thinking about the future. When a man talks to a woman he’s thinking about tonight.”
That, he says, can lead to some crossed-lines. Like the men who ask a woman they’ve just met how old she is or, horrors, even her weight! “Believe me, there are men stupid enough to make that mistake on a first date. It’s not usually a mistake you make twice.”
Back to the party and someone who looks honest is Heather. The 55 year old was told by her “ex” to go to the convention because “I needed to be a bit more flirtatious.” Her second marriage, of 24 years, she is here at the party because she thought she “needed to learn how to relate better” and had this to say: “Times have changed. Women approach men now. Years ago a woman would wait until a man did it. It’s all sped up. People have different boundaries now.”
Indeed they have and trying to teach boundaries without being religious and holy about it, are “7 for Heaven” who are amongst other dating groups with enquiry tables. Young, smart and relaxed, the group manning Heaven’s table mingle with both crowd and those enquiring in a manner which belies popular misconception. “…a concept born out of a desire to see single Christians celebrating life and friendship…” says the promo’. Wendy is one of their front-people: “Christian singles might find they’re on the outside, they’ve got married couples who go off and do their thing and sometimes they’re at a loose end to do things as far as events and outings. So this fulfils that. There’s no pressure. It’s relaxed and easy… you make friends.” She explains of their non-denominational group’s focus on singles, “they might find there’s only three or four singles Christians in their church and really there’s a huge expanse of single Christians over Auckland.
Where’s the opportunity for them to meet? Some Christian singles have a limited circle and haven’t seen another way to increase that circle.” And of their presence at a secular event: “we’re making sure we get seen.” The name? “We do a table for six for dinner and the seventh place is for the unseen guest, always remembering to bring God into the mix, being reminded they’re not here on their own.”
Spreading like an undivided sea before the Christian group is an expanse of people both in groups and on their own and there’s been a mistake. Not enough chairs. So a huge group stand and mingle behind those seated before Gosse at the podium, where they have unrestricted access to the bar, and conversation, while the Californian battles to subdue them. “I used to be a teacher you know” he shouts for a laugh and several times those seated yell at those standing to “shut-up!” In the end they’re abandoned, to figure out alone, how best to date. The renegades will miss Gosse’s best tips, on making that connection: (We have condensed Gosse’s advice into NZ’ ese, for reader pleasure, because in American, it was long)
* Get over the fear of rejection; put your ego on the line.
* Make eye contact, three seconds is good, anymore and it’s stalking.
* Smile. Like the American Express card you can take it anywhere.
* Pick up lines: hi works just fine.
* Close the deal. Let ’em talk.
It is nearing 11pm and the dance floor is raging, I’m tired of scrounging interviews from starry eyed Romeos and Juliet’s and I’ve lost Andy so it’s off downstairs to grab some final data from the Gosses and, while doing so, Investigate’s photographer arrives. For the first time tonight a young attractive woman calls out my name which is much better than my big ugly journalism photo’ tutor from Taranaki who earlier didn’t even recognise me, which figures; he now works for some outfit called Metro and tries poaching my pics. “You can take over, I’m off,” to young-attractive-Investigate-photographer who laughs at my wedding ring, tosses her head and disappears into a seething mass on the dance floor, camera held aloft.
Then at 1.30am Andy gets home, to be grilled by both waiting hosts and journalist and so it is with these last words, Mr Independent, sums up what it is like, to be single, un-Americanised, on the town, in Auckland, after a giant singles party. “I wasn’t expecting to meet so many people. I met a good dozen or so ladies. It was past my expectations, I’d go again.” Did he like any? “The very first one. I was eyeing her up when I first got there but I told her I was probably too old but she said age didn’t matter. She was 35. Her girlfriend talked her into going. I also met an Iraqi lady who had been married twice and I asked her about Saddam Hussein.” Which probably killed that one stone dead. Andy explains he was interested in quality not quantity by “getting one number only” during the big flirt competition. The 35 year old and Andy talked and “she’s got my number and might call me if she’s down in Napier. Did it look like many got hitched? “Yes it did actually, looked like quite a few hooked up.” Over all impression? “It was worth the six hour trip.” What more can be said.