Monday, October 13, 2008

No Room For Spontaneity: Is DC Really A Great Place To Be Single?

I was talking about this with a friend a few days ago over tea in DC. There are no doubt many singles in the DC area, but everyone always seems so busy it is often more difficult to form deeper relationships with people compared to other places I have lived.

One explanation for this is that people working in DC tend to be young, bright, and ambitious, giving them a very high opportunity cost for their time. This keeps everyone frantically busy and working incredibly hard. If you want to plan a meal with someone, everyone has to take out their blackberries and schedule at least three weeks in advance --with a high probability that it's going to have to get rescheduled. It seems like everyone is so busy trying to change the world, there's no time left to try to enjoy it.

With my fellow students, it's a little different. (Moreso with the PhD students than with the law students.) The past few days at school reminded me of this. Friday, I ended up running into a friend right after class and hung out for an hour. I then went to grab a sandwich over at Quiznos and texted Ali on the way. Another law student was there and we ended up talking for a bit. After he left, I was finishing up my sandwich and Ali came over (he had already eaten). A few minutes later Carrie and Jason showed up too. We hung out for 45 minutes or so -- Ali playing with my tablet PC and the rest of us sitting around talking. After they left, I started in on some work on my laptop when a friend from Orlando called. We talked for almost an hour. I finally did get an hour's work done on my computer and then started walking back to the library.

On the way back, I ran into a big group of PhD students (including Jason, Carrie, and Ali) who invited me to go to happy hour with them at Mei's. Naturally, I had to join in. I got into some great conversation with one of our professors (including some encouraging feedback on a research idea I have) and with the other students. From there, I ran off to one one of those scheduled dinners I mentioned with some friends from DC that ended up lasting until 2 in the morning (something unplanned). It was a fun time and wonderful end to a great day.

Saturday, I had a repeat experience on a smaller scale -- I went into the library later in the day to make up for not going on Friday, and not 5 minutes after I arrived I got a call from Karuna asking if I wanted to join her and Josh for dinner. We met up an hour later and went out for Thai food around the corner from school and then to Barnes and Noble afterwards, having ridiculous conversations along the way. Lots of fun.

While I did not get as much work as I had planned this weekend, the social tradeoffs were well worth it. They were also a wonderful reminder of how much I miss this kind of spontaneous interaction with friends and how much less of it I seem to experience here in DC than other places I've lived.

I'm not the only one to notice this:
I’m guessing the person who came up with the conclusion of Washington DC being the best city for singles, either never lived in DC for more than 2 weeks, or wasn’t single when s/he lived in DC.

Work culture of DC: DC is full of hard-working young single professionals, who put in 50-60 hour work weeks to get ahead in his/her career. I’d like to think that as a group, young professionals in DC are probably the most ambitious people there are in the country. But the majority of those people sees DC as a "stepping stone" in their career, nobody I know was "raised in DC", most people moved to DC for work, and probably will move onto other parts of the country after DC "launches their careers". Knowing that, singles remain single for that specific reason.

Social aspect of DC: Due to how much young professionals care about their own career, they care about each other’s just as much. When meeting a new person, and playing the 20 questions game that everyone likes to play so much (sarcasm), I often hear the question "so what do you do" before hearing "what do you enjoy doing", that just sums it all up for the social culture of DC. I’m sure it happens in all major cities in the US, but none as blatant as DC.

There’s a reason why DC has an extremely high amount of single professionals (population percentage wise), because a lot of singles want to remain single, and the "DC Culture" isn’t to the advantage of the ones that don’t. Lots of bars mean young people can have a great time in the city on weekends or after work, but it also means people have less motivation to "find a boyfriend/girlfriend" because they always have something to do.
Paradoxically, it may be that "great places to be single" are actually not so great for finding a spouse. In economic terms, if having a lot of fun stuff to do effectively reduces the relative cost of singleness, it could lead to an increased consumption of singleness. It could also tend to attract people who are not marriage minded and are looking for a fun place that fits that lifestyle.

Having said this, that might not be the only thing going on. I did a few back-of-the-envelope calculations on singles in DC and here is what I came up with.


The lack of single men in DC may end up contributing to the high rate of dating and low rate of relationships observed by the blogger quoted above in a similar way that a lack of men affect "dating markets" on college campuses. The basic logic is that if there is an abundance of women relative to men, it helps create a "hook-up" or "dating without relationship" culture. The surplus of women creates a more intense competition for the men than you'd find a more gender-balanced environment, effectively lowering the price men have to pay to get affection and/or attention from the women. (This analysis is assuming that on the margin, less commitment is more male-centric and higher levels of commitment in dating is more female centric.) You also see a similar gender-imbalance among singles in churches which has a different, but significant effect.

With such a high ratio of rich/successful men relative to women in DC, there could also be a secondary "alpha-male" effect going on as well that leads many women to try to hold-out for high-status man, which could also contribute to a lower rate of relationship formation.

Bottom Line: Although DC may be a fun place to live while you're single, it may also be a tough place to find a mate.

Read my other posts on dating here.

1 comment:

jaap said...

If you're trying to derive how good of a city DC is for the average single inhabitant, after subtracting the gays out so you can get an accurate number for the straights, you then still have to take a weighted average and add the gays back in, right? We exist, too.