Minnesota is for lovers.
No, really, says Brian Howie, host of “The Great Love Debate.” Starting Wednesday, Howie is brashly — some would say madly — staging 14 events in Minneapolis where each night, ideally, 100 single men on one side of the aisle will get real and honest with 100 single women on the other side.
The goal: hammering out, face to face, this thing called romance and how to get it, featuring a panel of local relationship experts and media personalities to guide the audience through Q’s and A’s about what they’re looking for in a partner and dissolving misconceptions about the opposite sex.
Twin Cities singles kvetch about how hard it is to meet possible mates, thinking that if they only lived somewhere warmer or more populous or socially relaxed, it would be easier to find love matches. Not so, says Howie, a California-based dating advice author who started the show three years ago as a “social experiment.” That has led to more than 100 similar events in 78 cities across North America, including two last year in Minneapolis.
Howie said the love debate is “setting up a residency” here because the Twin Cities has the perfect storm of ingredients to brew up some high-quality coupling. His radical theory: The Midwestern ethos we think makes us poor candidates for success on the dating front actually works in our favor.
“There’s a hopefulness here compared to places like Boston or L.A.,” said Howie. “And a willingness to work. Like everywhere else, women here want men to try harder and men want women to make things easier. Women look for red flags, men look for green lights. But instead of blaming the place they live or other people, Minnesotans take personal responsibility for what they bring to the party.”
The metro area is about the right size to balance variety with familiarity, he said: “In New York, where I’m from, I can go to a bar one Friday night and like the crowd, but the next Friday none of them will be back. In Minneapolis, you’re more likely to see the same people again.”
Most of the show’s audiences fall between the ages of 35 and 55, with men skewing slightly older than women, but attendees range from early 20s to late 70s. Shows targeting particular demographics include a couple of college nights, a Christian singles night and an LGBT night.
“Let’s face it, any city with a big gay population is more fashionable, has more arts and better clubs,” he said.
So if he’s trying to get people together, what’s with the grade-school-style girls vs. boys seating arrangement? It’s simple.
“Guys are much more likely to open up with their real feelings if they’re surrounded by other men,” he said.
Howie said his job at the events is to “poke the audience with a stick” to get them to open up and ask each other questions. At the very least, he said, it’s a chance for some real face time instead of hiding behind Match.com profiles, Tinder and Facebook.
“Get your head out of your apps,” he said. “Instead of swiping left or right on a screen, go to a Starbucks or Caribou and turn your head left or right. A coffee shop is a way better dating site than anything you’ll find online.”
When we all want
Twin Cities dating coach Kimberly Koehler, who has been dispensing relationship advice for 15 years, was a panelist at both previous local shows and will return next week.
She echoes Howie’s opinion that our media devices might be the biggest stumbling block to developing relationships that go deeper than booty texts. “We don’t have the social graces we once did, or know how to engage with each other like we used to, always answering our phones in the middle of a conversation on a first date,” she said.
“My favorite thing about the show is that it points out how what men and women are seeking is really close to the same thing — they just go about pursuing it in different ways. Men — mature men, anyway — want to be needed and appreciated as much as women do.”
Another plus for Minnesota, according to Howie: People want to live here, so it keeps the fresh blood coming.
“In Cleveland, they’re like: ‘Oh, it’s just us, there’s no one new,’ ” Howie said.
So what about the common lament of young professionals who move here and say that Twin Citians already have their friend-circles firmly established, making it hard for newcomers to make new pals? Howie has an answer for everything.
“If you’re from someplace else, take advantage of that,” he said. “People will look at you like you’re an exotic fruit.”
Though Howie has high praise for Minnesotans’ collective character traits, he doesn’t discount the influence of superficial factors, and isn’t above getting a little smarmy to show it.
“You Minnesota people are attractive,” he said. “You’re a good-looking bunch.”
How does he know, when we’re bundled up like eiderdown mummies?
“I’ve been there in the summer.”
Kristin Tillotson • 612-673-7046
THE GREAT LOVE DEBATE
What: A hosted interactive discussion for Twin Cities singles looking for romance.
When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 13-16, 20-23, 25 & 27-31. College shows Jan. 20 and 25, LGBT show Jan. 27, Christian show Jan. 31.
Where: Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Av. S., Mpls. After-party next door at Town Hall Brewery.
Tickets: $30. greatlovedebate.com.