Last night, we read a terrific piece Amanda Hess wrote for The Atlantic earlier this summer, “Is Your City Making You Single?” Hess relocated to Los Angeles from Washington, D.C., a year ago. In the article, she examines the differences between dating here and there. She points out that L.A. regularly is named one of the country's “Best Cities for Singles” due to the fact that 54 percent of households are listed as single. But depending on how you look at the data, it actually is one of the worst.
No doubt it's hard out here (ugh, no pun intended). Yet the reason is much different than what you might think.
If you grew up in a small town and now live in L.A., you probably dreamed of the day you'd spring out of that little hole, escaping the boring routine most of your high school friends would settle into the minute they graduated: get married, have a baby or two, go to Applebee's on date night.
Off you scooted to the city, and for a couple years, being single was fun. So many options! You went out a few times a week, always with different people. Home for the holidays, you'd regale your married friends with stories about the time you had sex beside a pool at a house in the Hollywood Hills, or the sorta famous, definitely attached actor you had a fling with. You weren't trying to be an asshole; they always prodded you to tell everything.
But the glitter started wearing off that lifestyle. You still had a ton of people hitting you up to go have drinks (rarely dinner, tellingly), but you began to wonder why you hadn't had an actual Boy/Girlfriend in years. Suddenly, it dawned that while your hometown friends always loved hearing about Mr. Toad's Wild Dating Ride, they also seemed pretty happy having only dated, and then married, one person.
Hess references Sheena Iyengar's research on the psychology of choice as a way to explain why what seems like an ideal situation — having a multitude of possibilities for a partner — is actually incredibly stressful.
What she discovered were “neurological limits on humans' ability to process information” that meant “the task of having to choose is often experienced as suffering, not pleasure.” Iyengar concluded that “the explosion of choice has made it more difficult overall for people to identify what they want and how to get it.”
In other words, dating in a city with too many options just leaves everybody really confused and indecisive — not to mention always looking for a BBD (a bigger, better deal). Your friend at home, though, had maybe a couple of really good candidates at most, and just made a damn choice.
Like a shelf stocked full with fancy mustards, too many potential mates makes it harder to settle on just one. The surplus of singles in New York and L.A. means only that the single person's wasteland is that much more vast: New York City's 305-square-mile expanse offers over 8 million people to pick over … [a] friend who uses an online dating site in the city says that the buffet of options means “everyone is looking out for someone better.”
She mentions the dwindling job market as a factor, too — and sure, hustling in order to survive and stay in the city takes precedence over hooking up. But being overwhelmed with choices seems much more likely, because, face it, we'll always find time for sex.
“Los Angeles is not for lovers,” Hess ends. Though it kills us to admit it, that little town we ran away from, on the other hand, just might be.