Little known fact: I went to high school in Los Angeles, so I’m kind of from Los Angeles. So when I found myself back in LA after a long hiatus, it was a bit of a homecoming. I looked forward to perpetually sunny climes, rollerblading on the boardwalk, and the general openness of the people. The perceived abundance of friendly, fit women didn’t hurt either.
However, the quality of my love life was worse than it had been in any other city. For the first two years, I just assumed I had suddenly gotten ugly and stupid. Then I heard multitudes of other people voicing similar experiences.
Now after six years of being in this town, conducting dating seminars, answering thousands of readers’ letters and writing The Tao of Dating for Women and The Tao of Dating for Men, I’m pretty sure that Los Angeles is a particularly tough city to be single in – perhaps the toughest in the US. Here are one man’s observations on the challenges of socializing and dating in LA:
1. According to the Singles Map, the sex ratio in LA sucks.
Anthropologists have noticed a statistic that correlates nicely with the social and sexual permissiveness of a population. It’s called the sex ratio – the number of men for every 100 women. In places where the sex ratio is low (i.e. excess of women over men), social mores are relaxed, women go out a lot, and everyone has a ball. Where the sex ratio is high (i.e. excess of men), people go out less and attitudes are more conservative. No one knows exactly why this is, but it makes sense.
This correlation tracks in large populations (e.g. whole countries like Russia) and smaller ones (e.g. cities, towns and university campuses). According to the latest singles map from the 2006 US Census, New York has a 211,000 surplus of single women over single men, while LA has 89,000 more single men than women. Accordingly, dating in New York City is fun, while dating in Los Angeles sucks. This statistic alone may be the single biggest cause of the lackluster love lives of singles in LA.
2. Large distances in the world’s biggest city create a real barrier to intimacy.
Let’s say you meet someone you like — cute, fun, smart, funny. You ask where this person lives –“Silver Lake.” You live 20 miles away in Santa Monica — and that’s not just any 20 miles. It’s 20 miles through one of the most car-jammed concrete jungles on the planet, with no efficient public transport to speak of. And your helicopter’s in the shop. Again.
20 miles is a perfectly reasonable distance to travel in the 5,000+ square miles of Los Angeles to get somewhere. Yet, it is totally unreasonable by human terms. It’s almost twice the length of Manhattan (13 miles) and enough distance to cross a couple of national borders in Europe.
And so the activation energy of meeting someone not nearby goes up. Physics tells us that the higher the activation energy, the less frequent the event. So people become less likely to meet to get to know one another casually.
Contrast this with New York City. Even though the times required to get around in NYC are comparable, the perceived effort of taking the subway or hopping in a cab is much less than driving yourself through snarls of traffic. Hence people there are much more willing to go places and meet up.
Which brings us to…
3. Lack of pedestrian culture reduces opportunities for casual contact.
Whenever I visit Boston, New York or London, I bump into friends – on the sidewalk, on the subway, in the parks. This casual, unforced, unpremeditated contact is the cornerstone of building social relations. That’s why our closest friends tend to come from work and school.
That casual contact is missing in LA, because we spend a lot of time in our wheeled steel cages. As as in the song by Missing Persons, “Nobody walks in LA.” And if you want to meet someone again, you have to coordinate busy schedules, make a one-on-one date and travel (see #2) – a higher-stakes proposition than bumping into someone and grabbing an apropos drink. The higher energy required for making a date means that it happens less often.
4. Transportation challenges make even the best-intentioned people flaky.
Traffic in LA is unpredictable; as a result, even the best-intentioned people end up being late more often than they wish.
Here’s the psychology of what I think happens: once you’ve been late or missed an appointment for reasons beyond your control, your brain has to make a choice: “I’m flaky so I’m a bad person” vs. “Flakiness is okay.” To avoid cognitive dissonance, the unconscious choice that most people make is to validate the unintended bad behavior.
Showing up late, not showing up at all and breaking promises can then become the norm. When that happens enough times to enough people, you end up in a legendarily flaky city, and social and dating life encounter more obstacles.
5. The transience of the city’s entertainment culture adds an aura of impermanence and unreliability to social ties.
A lot of people come to LA to make it in the entertainment industry, which is a fleeting, fickle creature. Is it too farfetched to see that fickleness permeating all the way down to the participants in that industry and their social bonds?
A peculiar energy permeates a town when so many people are trying to advance an ego-based agenda – my role, my song, my script – which may not be the most conducive energy for building meaningful, lasting relationships. Bringing us to…
6. Dating people in the entertainment industry is fraught with unique challenges.
I’ve already written another article about dating actors, so I’ll make this brief: dating people with uncertain finances, erratic schedules and fragile egos is a challenge requiring saintlier patience than most people possess.
7. Nightlife shuts down at 1am and you have to drive your own butt home afterwards.
Last call being 2am in Los Angeles, most establishments start kicking you out at 1am. So just when things have started to get interesting, the party shuts down. In cities like Berlin, New York, London, Barcelona and Paris, people often start going out at 1am, and the social life is correspondingly more raucous.
Lack of public transport also means that people stay sober enough to drive back home. As a result, the social lubricant effects of alcohol don’t operate in the same way as in a city with public transport.
Mathematically stated, less party time + less imbibing of adult beverages = less fun. This, plus the other six aforementioned factors, may very well make LA the toughest big city in the US to be single in.
I’ve found that the best way to overcome these challenges is to carve out a smaller, more local niche of friends based on shared interests and to cultivate that group with intimate events like book clubs, mixers, dinner parties and game nights. How have you managed to create a lively community of friends in spite of tough odds?