- The Washington Times - Monday, August 15, 2011

Gene Byron is having the time of his life. It’s Friday night, just after 8, and he’s at the Stein Room, a bar where his friends come three or four nights a week, surrounded by women. As the music gets louder, one of them is threatening to dance on the table.

“You see Lucille there? You ought to see her when they play ‘Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off,’” Mr. Byron says.

He has a younger woman by his side. “They were all after him, and I was the winner,” says Marcia Hahn, 69, who calls Mr. Byron “the love of my life.”

He’s got neighborhood pal Phil Katz there too. “We became friends right in the beginning — both our minds were in the gutter,” Mr. Katz says.

For 80 years old, he’s not doing too badly, but the odds are in his favor. The Stein Room is in Leisure World, a retirement community on Georgia Avenue north of Silver Spring, and two-thirds of the residents are women.

That figure makes it one of the most gender-skewed communities in the Washington area, according to a Washington Times analysis of newly released census data that found an eclectic bunch of locales that, for wildly different reasons, have either a glut of men or a disproportionate number of women. The differences represent a basic dynamic affecting every facet of life for those seeking to date, those raising families and those trying to live out their days in comfort.

“I’m loving it,” Mr. Byron says.

“What’s the new word for women who — the opposite of arm candy?” asks Janet Crumpt. “Cougars. There are a lot of them here.”

‘Here to work, not live’

Hours later and 10 miles south at Cuzco in Langley Park, there are just four people on the dance floor. Yet the loud, smoky club is packed: Four dozen men are sipping Coronas around pool tables as two women and two men gyrate to Latin music.

“Girls get bothered because everyone is asking them to dance. And then the guys are like, ‘Why did you come to a club if you don’t want to dance?’” says Teodoro Marino, a server at Samantha’s Restaurant on University Boulevard.

To visit Langley Park, a town of recent Latin American immigrants where few speak English, is to be struck by what it lacks, an absence so dramatic that, statistics show, the only places in the region with more young men and fewer young women are the Jessup Correctional Institution and the U.S. Naval Academy:

Where are all the girls?

“In Colombia,” answers Elmer Baudista as he folds shirts in a laundromat just past midnight. “When we come here, we just come here to work. Not for living here, just to make some money to send back and then leave. The man in Latin America is head of the family, so he will come here first. They will bring the family or send money.”

The situation is so common, both in Langley Park and surrounding areas and in parts of Latin America, that “the guys in Colombia or Guatemala now, they will have two or three girls,” he says.

Of four young men outside Rio Bravo nightclub, where a 90 percent male clientele sings karaoke, three are sending money to wives in Latin America and one is single.

“I have a wife and two children in Salvador. I send them money. I am trying to get them to come here,” one says.

But if the men of Langley Park hope eventually to bring families here, it appears many never do so. In the meantime, dollars may be the most concrete manifestation of faraway relationships in this spread-out town of emotional distance in Prince George’s County.

“I have a girl here, too. My wife, I love her, but she is not here,” confesses a man who does not want to be named to avoid jeopardizing his relationships. “You can find girls here if you go to the right place at the right time, but it is hard.”

Those who uproot themselves and move around the world to support families with low-paying jobs are, by definition, flexible and accustomed to some impermanence. If the man eventually can move his family to Langley Park, he jokes, “My girlfriend, I will have to send her somewhere else.”

WASHINGTON TIMES INTERACTIVE: Explore a color-coded map, and search the data of every tract, city, and county in Maryland and Virginia in an interactive online feature based on Census age and sex statistics. How does your area stack up? Where are the best — and worst — places in the D.C. area to find a date?

The URL is here: https://www.washingtontimes.com/special/census/

‘You don’t want a man around here’

In another part of Prince George’s just across the border from Southeast Washington, the quandary is reversed, and as six women prepare for a child’s birthday party at the Seat Pleasant Activity Center, a good man is hard to find.

Stephanie Daniels of Deanwood, a single mother of one with “one on the way,” motions past the squat family-style homes toward the streets that lead toward Minnesota Avenue in Southeast Washington. “The young men are out there, I take it,” she says. “They’re in jail or dead.

“Whereas the mothers, we’re living for our children, so we don’t have time for that nonsense.”

It’s difficult to meet a man in these parts, where women of certain age groups significantly outnumber men, leaving many women lonely, she says, “but you don’t want a man around here anyway, because of the negativity.”

Competition is fierce for men who are stable and productive. “There are a few, but the ones that have their heads on straight, they’re already snatched up,” Ms. Daniels says.

Just off a basketball court on the other side of the recreation center, Taras Brown jokes with a friend and tries to mentor a ninth-grade neighborhood boy, epitomizing both the sense of privilege and the complications in child rearing that the shortage of men breeds.

“Let’s just say you don’t have to fight for them around here,” he says.

As a result of the imbalance in the numbers of eligible men to women, “they double up,” Mr. Brown says, referring to area men who have more than one girlfriend at a time. “It’s acceptable, but you can’t be doing them wrong.”

The women’s desire to have a man around — even if he can’t be secured exclusively — is compounded by the frequency of single motherhood and an awareness of the importance of male role models.

“You have to let them talk to your children, because otherwise at 14 they’ll be walking up and down the street,” Mr. Brown says of the mothers’ willingness to expose their children to boyfriends. The boyfriends, too, have become more comfortable with the arrangement.

“Twenty years ago, they’d say you’ve got children, they’re stepping off. Now, it’s the norm. You got to take the package. … Just hope she don’t have three packages,” he says with a laugh.

‘The men die young’

In Maryland and Virginia, most areas lean just slightly female, but the dating-age population leans more male, and areas that are most skewed are usually male-dominated, including those with a military presence and Southwest Virginia towns whose economies depend on coal miners and other rough-and-tumble laborers.

In the urban core, Arlington leans female among those of dating age, which young women who live there say is because they are attracted to the urban feel yet have a greater sense of safety than in the District.

The whole city of Baltimore leans female for many of the same reasons as the small towns around Seat Pleasant.

But vast swaths of Maryland’s Eastern Shore and Southern Virginia are particularly female-heavy, and a closer look at the aging populations of those old-fashioned places shows a disparity that holds true wherever one goes: By the time residents reach age 85 and older, fewer than 32 percent are men.

Back at the Stein Room in Leisure World, you don’t have to tell that to Bettie Gamble. “I have had three wonderful marriages. The first had cancer, the second had heart problems, and the last had emphysema,” says Mrs. Gamble, 85.

And so many of the women who arrive at Leisure World, far from looking for a quiet place to live out the last few years of life, are starting over.

“A lot of people meet here and get married. A lot meet and don’t get married.”

The unexpectedly lively social scene is the reason many move to this retirement community, one of the largest in the area. “I have friends who say, ‘I don’t want to leave my home.’ But what do you do there? Here, you can meet people,” says Suzzette Katsouros, 83.

The way the gender disparity and the circumstances of aging have shaped attitudes toward sex are oft-repeated.

“Older people used to look down on younger people for shacking up, but now a lot of them are doing it. They have wills and kids, and it gets all tangled up if you get remarried,” Mrs. Katsourous says.

“Years ago, we wouldn’t have done that. But you can lose your pension. The men die young,” Ms. Gamble adds.

For the women, whose Leisure World outings have included a trip to the male stripping troupe Chippendales, life goes on.

“We go wild every now and then,” says one of the oldest yet liveliest residents, who says that around these parts, she’s known so well she goes simply by Mimi, “like Lady Gaga.”

There are about 130 clubs, residents say, but one of the most popular is a singles club.

“I wanted to go, but my wife wouldn’t let me,” Mr. Katz says.

The club is where Mr. Byron and Ms. Hahn met. “We were buds,” Ms. Hahn says.

“And now they’re living in sin,” Mr. Katz interjects.

For the prevalence of friends, contained living and parties — and scarcity of work — residents often compare Leisure World with college. “It’s like living in a dorm,” says Barbara Katz, Mr. Katz’s wife. “You come here, and everybody knows your name.”

And so, of all the differences one might expect between life at a university and life at a retirement community, this is, perhaps, the biggest: The Going Alone Club is “about 100 women and two men,” says Jim Angle.

Adds Mimi: “There used to be four.”

• Luke Rosiak can be reached at lrosiak@washingtontimes.com.

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