Love potions and loneliness

Valentine’s Day isn’t necessarily celebratory


I met up with a man the other day that I’d dated in The City a decade ago, and it felt that long since I’d seen him.

He’s thinner now, has grayer hair and a few extra wrinkles, but still the same inexplicably attractive, new age-y caregiver I remember. We spent the day in his yard giving each other salt scrubs, massages, using his sauna and hot tub, eating sushi, and of course: doing other activities in his bed. Near the end, he told me he’d cast a spell to bring goodness back in his life, and then I showed up.

I’m not an especially mystical person, but this is just the latest time someone told me they’d cast a spell. I like to view it as putting energy into the world. If you ask for friends, a community will find you. If you’re lacking inspiration, new artwork may draw your attention. But what if you’re looking for love?

San Francisco provided me with so much the past 10 years: a huge social network, a seat in local journalism, a chosen family of close friends, and creative accomplishment by way of apparel making, event planning and writing. It has seldom provided love. My only long-term relationship here ended seven years ago. In all my dating misfires — the flings, hookups, the three-night stands — I wondered if the problem was me. Maybe I was boring, self-involved, smelled bad, too flaming, not putting myself out there, or looking too hard — because you know that old wives’ tale doled out by “happily partnered” friends whenever you bring up loneliness: “You know Saul, it’s when you stop looking for love that he will find you.” Eye roll.

Valentine’s Day approached this year much like a swimsuit season that came too early. In a mad dash to fix the issue, I started baring my soul to new strangers on Scruff and also to old crushes. On the latter: a twisted advantage the pandemic is a sudden contraction of available lovers due to our collective fear of getting sick and an exodus of certain eligible bachelors out of San Francisco. Suddenly the gay community — usually flush with an abundance of option — has old flames and unrequited crushes wondering what I’m up to. But COVID, the persistent third wheel for any current romance, calls up memories of pre-Truvada days of dating. Now men are asking again when my last encounter was, how well do I quarantine, what’s my living situation, when was I last tested?

It’s all been a mixed bag, and in light of our current situation, my friends default to blaming the pandemic: “How do you date in situations like this?” People do, and I have. Bars are open. There are “socially distant walks” and the dreaded video first date someone suggested to me on OKCupid. I’ve witnessed people begin relationships, while others ended under the pressure of lockdown. I actually picnicked with a politician — and gay men reading this will guess the wrong one—and had a monthlong fling with someone else. My friends-with-benefits situations generally continued at a subdued level, and occasionally, someone new was thrown into the mix. Nothing deeper emerged.

Moments like this typically send my community organizing brain into overdrive: I throw birthday parties for friends, cook elaborate dinners, plan events at bars, and I meddle in others’ love lives. I introduce new matches and provide an endless supply of armchair relationship therapy, all or most in an effort to ignore the lack of romance budding in my own life. Sometimes I think this is where my energy has been misplaced in the spell-casting sense. Maybe I hide behind my art and community projects in an effort to avoid a million awkward first dates. Still, in solitude, I miss the distraction of that life.

You know, I had a Wicca friend in junior high and was pretty enraptured by “Charmed” on TV, which of course featured Phoebe, a columnist for a San Francisco-based newspaper who dated the wrong men. My friend once suggested a love spell that involved something like dropping roses in a five-block radius of your home. I’m wary of thinking what sort of man that might draw into my home nowadays, but maybe I’ll try something.

Since beginning this column, liquor companies have regularly sent emails about being featured. I finally called one back—mostly wondering about free samples, naturally—and told the PR person I was taking a darker turn with a Valentine’s Day column this season. I told her I wanted some cocktails that were “black, like my soul.” She ran with it and sent back these two I thought worth featuring.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Unrequited Lover


2 ounces Partida Reposado Tequila

.5 ounce simple syrup

.5 ounce lime juice

1 ounce strained aquafaba

Butterfly-pea flower tea

Lime for garnish

Directions: Add first four ingredients to a shaker filled with ice. Shake well. Strain into a cocktail glass of choice over ice. Top with butterfly-pea flower tea . Garnish with lime rind or wedge.

Beer and prosecco combine in a Black Velvet. (Courtesy photo)

Beer and prosecco combine in a Black Velvet. (Courtesy photo)

Black Velvet


4 ounces chilled Sapporo Premium Black beer

4 ounces chilled Prosecco of choice

Directions: Pour beer into a Collins glass or flute, top with Prosecco, and serve.

Saul Sugarman is a San Francisco-based writer, event producer and apparel designer; visit him at He is a guest columnist and his opinions are not necessarily that of the Examiner.

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