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Posted at 10:29 AM ET, 07/29/2005

Meeting People Is ... Easy?

By Fritz Hahn

When the D.C. area made it into the top 5 in the Forbes "Best Cities For Singles" list, it seemed like a no-brainer to us, but it might be a head-scratcher for the many singles who send questions to Got Plans? asking for help in meeting folks.

The supply side is easy. Washington is like a main depot for the East Coast's young, upwardly mobile migration pattern. There's a constant churn of singles making a circuit among Atlanta, Washington, Philly and New York, whether they're moving for job opportunities, visiting friends or just checking out the city. Still more come from further afield for the educational opportunities or the vast number of jobs that comes from being at the center of government.

We do bristle, though, whenever Washington is made out to be this cauldron of professional ladder-climbers. For every political hopeful there's a nonprofit do-gooder. For every technology professional there's a struggling artist. And that means a potentially bountiful catch for anyone willing to cast wide enough.

Casting the net is the genesis of the problem. Many people are so busy trying to make it (or just survive) that they don't feel they have time to get to know people, and turn "meeting someone special" into an entry in their daily calendar, like "pilates" or "go to the ballgame." Hence the popularity of structured mixers like speed dating or kickball.

Overall, though, we really believe that the best way to meet people is to stop trying so hard, relax, and enjoy your life. Do things because you enjoy them -- not just because you think the activity will lead to an encounter with a potential mate. Are you a runner? Join a club. Love the arts? Look into the young members' groups sponsored by the Smithsonian, the Corcoran or the National Zoo. Into music? Read about upcoming shows, pick one that sounds cool, and talk to someone at the bar who catches your eye. "So what'd you think of the band?" or "Good show, huh?" are natural conversation starters. It just takes a touch of courage, whether you're going to an embassy event, poetry reading or cooking class.

One thing gnaws at us, though -- how did Boston beat us in the culture category? Recount!!

-- Rhome and Fritz

By Fritz Hahn  | July 29, 2005; 10:29 AM ET
Categories:  Misc.  
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I also saw this Forbes report, but, unlike you, disagree with it. Washington DC has an unfriendly vibe to it, and a lot of posers.

Posted by: wrj | July 29, 2005 11:16 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: mike | July 29, 2005 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Yep. Lots of phony people.

Posted by: wrj | July 29, 2005 12:24 PM | Report abuse

Curious. Do you think D.C. has more "phony people" than New York or L.A., for example?

Posted by: The Editors | July 29, 2005 12:53 PM | Report abuse

This is really interesting, but having visited both NYC and LA, I believe that DC for some reason has more phony people. It has to do with DC's trying to be a cosmopolitan city when, in fact, it's a small town. Just my opinion.

Posted by: wrj | July 29, 2005 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Rhome and Fritz. I was one of the eye-rollers when I heard that DC was in the top five, but I think you made some good points.

Posted by: arlington | July 29, 2005 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Forbes acknowledges the "eye-rollers" in its 2003 story:

"So what prevents the [DC] metro from winning our ranking every year? The reader poll. Unlike other cities that finish on the top of our ranking, the Washington metro elicits a ho-hum response from its own residents. Some complain of the singles scene being too snooty, careerist and politically charged. Both men and women say there is a dearth of the opposite sex. Maybe they just don't know how good they have it."

Posted by: Eyeroller | July 29, 2005 2:32 PM | Report abuse

It's not a "cauldron of ladder-climbers" necessarily, but -- the housing/rental market demands a certain income level. Those who can make ends meet (and aren't consumed by that like, say, your "struggling artist") are those who have a surplus of time/energy to meet people. My $.02. The same in NY/LA, but not for lower-cost cities, for example, Charlotte (or even B'more to some extent).

But I agree about the supply-side, the people are here, no question.

Posted by: Rick | July 29, 2005 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Numbers and quality are two different things.

'nuff said.

Posted by: anon | July 30, 2005 11:05 PM | Report abuse

I love DC, was born in it, etc. (at the old Doctors' Hospital don't you know), and as I age I have to smile at newcomers who attempt to interpret it a particular way. DC is everywhere and nowhere. Since it is primarily made up of transplants, it never develops a particular identity, but takes on the character of whoever happens to be here at the moment. People who want to see poseurs see them. People who want to see volunteers and community-minded souls see those, too. If you think this is a city "full of" anything in particular, look in the mirror. You may be reflecting yourself, perhaps, but certainly not this many-faceted and enigmatic city.

My one eternal gripe is over events being described -- especially in the Post or the Washingtonian -- as "singles scenes" or (as you put it) "structured mixers." HUH? Having been both single and partnered and single again in this region, I have always enjoyed kickball, rowing, etc. without thinking of any of them as ways to meet dates. Even the WORD "singles" can ruin an otherwise charming and interesting event by driving away the cool people, some of whom happen to be partnered, others not. I love meeting people for themselves, not their dating status. It's more fun to hang out when you don't feel as though there's a subtext/agenda to the event, and when you don't have to wonder what the other person thinks or wants.

I think reporters mean well when they put events in the paper and note their suitability for single people, but it's basically kind of ew, and a turnoff. Just please tell me if it looks fun or not, and I'll figure out the rest.

Posted by: Arlandrian | August 1, 2005 9:28 AM | Report abuse

Out of curiosity I google'd "Washington DC dating scene" on the Internet and tried to find some other people's views or articles on this.

Here's some quotes from what I've found after this random search:

1) "One way to understand the social scene in DC is to look at professional cliques. You will inevitably get slotted into one of the fluid communities here, where there are only 2 degrees of separation. One tip for you: this is a small town and don't forget it. As a young professional, your clique can't be larger than a small university. After a couple of parties, you will know a hefty percentage of the people in your clique ... Making friends in DC can require patience ... Most people meet new friends by being introduced to others. The general feeling here is reserved, but polite ... trust is built slowly."

2) "What sets Washington apart in the dating scene? First, Kirsch says D.C. is full of cliques, which isn't a bad thing, mind you-just a factor that keeps some people from meeting new faces."

3) "D.C. ranks number Five [in Forbes]!
Frankly, we find this all a little bit mind-boggling. We haven't done too much dating on the D.C. scene, but it often strikes us as a city that could use MORE sex and dating as opposed to being the capital of love and the free world. People here are often so busy, and such workaholics, that dating can take a backseat."

Posted by: Eyeroller | August 1, 2005 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Arlandrian, enjoyed your post in general and especially agreed with your views on "singles" events and the pressure/agenda that particular categorization implies.

Separately, I found it interesting that the Forbes article also ranked DC #5 in the specific category of "coolness," higher than NYC. Leaving aside the potential arguments over how one determines a city's coolness and whether or not DC deserves to be ranked higher than NYC, it's interesting nonetheless, given that DC seems to have an inferiority complex to NYC. I wish DC could just relax and be.

We have a very diverse community here (that diversity includes ethnicity, culture, religion, education, career choice, lifestyle, etc.) and a wide variety of events that go with that diversity. Take advantage of as much as possible and enjoy.

Posted by: DCenthusiast | August 1, 2005 4:38 PM | Report abuse

I don't really trust Forbes as an arbiter of coolness.

Posted by: Brian | August 1, 2005 5:02 PM | Report abuse

What follows is the methodology given for rating the cities, by following the link in the article. The 'Coolness' category wasn't even rated by Forbes itself, although admittedly it used pretty dumb categories such as 'diversity', whatever that means, to determine coolness.

Posted by: rtfa | August 1, 2005 11:29 PM | Report abuse

Like Arlandrian, I'm a DC native, as are most of my friends (most of us ventured elsewhere but came back eventually... and there is good reason for that). I've grown up, as have my friends, enjoying the diversity of the city and all that it offers without being tied into any particular professional circle. DC is nothing but DC, and it's a town I really love. Don't try to compare it to NYC or anywhere else. Grab a half-smoke and enjoy DC for what it offers that nowhere else does.

That said, a lot depends on the circles one travels in. Certain professional circles attract a certain type of person. But not all of DC is about, say, politics. Only a small part, actually, and most of those people aren't even from here (not that there's anything wrong with that, but I am tired of hearing DC defined by people who are here for like a year. I've been here off and on for 35 years and I am neither a poser nor unfriendly, and I can say the same of many other natives I know.. and even a few newbies). This is a town of remarkable character and history, with a diverse population. Get off of the hill and walk around U st, for example, reading the signs about the jazz greats who lived and performed here. Get away from the touristy streets of Georgetown and grab a drink in Mt Pleasant. (Not saying that Georgetown and the Hill are bad, just that they alone don't define the city any more than a certain type of person does).

For those who would complain about how people are in DC... well, you're here, right? You're not the only cool person, so stop making excuses and open your eyes.

I am single myself, and agree that it's hard to meet others, but that is true everywhere I've ever lived. Bigger cities tend to be difficult because people are just not as likely to strike up conversation with strangers: people avert their eyes on the street and are mistrustful. It is human nature in a big place to stick to a small group. I've had some success with online dating - at least you can seek out people with common interests that way, though chemistry is another question. But you're meeting people you wouldn't have otherwise, and if you want quantity of dates, it's a sure bet. But don't volunteer or join a sport because you're just looking for dates. Join because you want to and dates will follow (personally, I am not a joiner, so I cringe when given that advice). I'll admit I do wish that people were more prone to approach others in a natural context as Rhome & Fritz suggest, but I think I'd fall over in shock if a guy approached me at the Black Cat or 9:30 and struck up a conversation about the band. And I am hardly unattractive - people simply don't mingle much unless you're really at a pickup joint or dance club (you couldn't pay me to go to either). Actually, I often meet interesting people at pool halls - lots of reasons to talk to others there ("Can I borrow your chalk?" "Um, is this your ball that just flew across the room?" "We need another person, want to join?" Etc...). Again, don't go if you don't enjoy shooting pool, but you don't have to be any good, either.

As for the coolness... well. Those things that are labeled "cool" are rarely ever actually cool. Ditto people who would seek out "coolness." So I'll have to file that under "who cares" because it's meaningless.

Posted by: dcnative | August 3, 2005 4:45 PM | Report abuse

I've been in DC for several years and I'd like to second the comments that (1) people don't mingle except in meat market bars like Lucky Bar, Madhatters, etc (2) people in DC can be phony (only in DC does a conversation start with who you work for - and then end if the person/agency/firm you work for isn't important enough) and (3) it's quality, not quantity that counts, which explains why most of my smart, beautiful, well-educated, twenty-something girlfriends choose between settling and being single in DC.

Posted by: dcintern | August 4, 2005 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Please. I'm going to puke if I hear one more sob story of smart, beautiful, well-educated single women who cannot find men on their "level" to date in DC. Men complain about women, and women complain about men, but there's no evidence beyond casual anecdote that the dating playing field is significantly tilted in favor of one gender over another. If you're home and dateless on Saturday night, you need to get of the house more. Or spend the time doing some serious self-reflection.

Posted by: DC Lawyer | August 4, 2005 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Singlehood is not some disease waiting for a cure, so lamentations are hardly necessary whether it is DC, NYC, or even Scranton.

And as for "coolness"-- look at these posts-- great, articulate, optimistic people for the most part. I revel in a locale that brings such a range of opinions; many of you sound like the kind of people I'd wanna have a drink with on the terrace at Hotel Washington.

Posted by: J.Pierpont | August 4, 2005 1:49 PM | Report abuse

One common criticism of DC continues to mystify me -- that of the conversational inquiry, "who do you work for?" or "what do you do?" A friend of mine also criticizes DC based on the commonality of this question in conversation, and it has always confused me. Maybe I'm considering this from a skewed perspective, given that I have a professional career and so possibly haven't been deemed unworthy of conversation based on my job (though I am by no means wealthy nor do I have any particular power of my own) and also would never consider dismissing someone else based solely on their source of employment. I simply don't understand why this question is deemed a problem or particularly unique to DC. I've always asked this question of people, regardless of where I was living at the time and even when I was a student. It's a natural question to determine if you might have something in common with another person based on what you both do for 40 or more hours per week. In addition, it leads to other natural follow-up questions to establish what else (if anything) you might have in common (e.g., where did you go to school? what did you specialize in? do you know my friend so-and-so who also works there?). I simply don't see what all the negative fuss is about.

Posted by: DCenthusiast | August 4, 2005 4:56 PM | Report abuse

I agree that singles events are taboo. If I see that word listed on an invitation I immediately decline. There's nothing worse than creepy people assuming that just because you're attending an event, it's open season and you're just dying to meet them. Same goes for a large number of the bars in DC and the surrouding suburbs.
Sometimes, just really like to go out with some friends and enjoy a glass of wine or a martini. Period. I'm always open to meeting new people (and rarely passes a night when I don't) but not for being slobbered on.
Wow, are there any good predator-free zones in town?

Posted by: single in the city | August 4, 2005 6:02 PM | Report abuse

I love DC, but I do think it is a very high-stress place, but it makes sense for it to be, right? I do think it is a great mix of cosmopolitan and small town. I grew up in a small town, and believe me, a city of a half-million ain't it.
I personally have had no luck as far as relationships in DC, but no one said moving here would be some sort of guarantee for that, and I've learned it's hardly the most important thing in life anyway. I'm having a lot of fun and enjoying my life here, kickball, "meat markets," and all.

Posted by: jess | August 7, 2005 2:04 AM | Report abuse

I just wanna meet Fritz Hahn. I heart you.

Posted by: Tongue-in-Cheek-GoG-Groupie | August 11, 2005 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Some interesting observations and opinions posted. I have lived in the D.C. area most of my life, work in the IT field like many, about to embark on a career change and eventually a location change. The D.C. area is a place you either fit in socially or you do not...period. I will agree that many people here are snooty, stuffy, self centered careerist and seem to have little time for expanding their horizons socially by reaching out to others, this of course would mean leaving the security of there clicks...dreaded. Although there is a lot that I take for granted (culturally) living in this area, at this point in my life there are other things that matter more than culture, fancy museums, restaurants, uppity institutions of higher learning and night clubs. After awhile I just want to meet some friendly, fun down to earth real people that I can have as friends. When ever I go out of the area to visit relatives and friends I see the lives these people lead and I become just a bit envious of them. They are all married with children, beautiful wives, own homes, have fun hobbies such as fishing, hunting, hiking, mountain biking, camping/backpacking, skiing, snowmobiling. That's not to say that there lives are easy or perfect, but overall more settled, with a sense of direction, fulfillment, purpose and meaning. Sadly this sort of thing is almost impossible to attain around here. I also find that this area has a feminizing effect on men. I am someone that enjoys being physical, playing sports, building and making things with my hands, something that is looked down on around here. The high cost of living, outrageous housing prices, heavy traffic, the people, all a big downside to living in the D.C. area

Posted by: MrNOVA | September 14, 2005 11:40 AM | Report abuse

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