Looking for Love
Fun fact: The DC region has the highest population of single people in the entire country. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to find a great date.
It’s not your imagination. There are more single people living in the DC metro area than anywhere else in the country. In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 70% of the adult population is single—that’s 20% higher than any other region in the country. The DC metro area also has the highest percentage of adults under the age of 40—76.6% of men and 76% of women—who have never been married, according to the U.S. Census.
So, why is it so hard to find a date in the DC metro area?
Two reasons, says Amber Artis, vice president of matchmaking at LUMA Luxury Matchmaking: It’s a transient city and a highly educated city where people are laser-focused on their careers.
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It’s also a small city where it’s easy to bump into the same people. “People come to me and express that DC is a small city, so they know everyone here and keep running into the same type of person over and over again,” says Callie Harris, senior matchmaker and client experience manager at Three Day Rule, a matchmaking company.
Edom Seifu, 28, is familiar with these frustrations. After graduating from the University of Virginia in 2014, she moved back to Alexandria, where she grew up, and then ended a long-term relationship. For the past five years, she has been trying to date in DC, with mixed results.
Seifu finds dating apps like Tinder and Coffee Meets Bagel slightly off-putting. “My first couple of encounters was some random compliment that seems meaningless and that is a huge turnoff,” says Seifu, who works at a management consulting firm. “It’s hard to make witty banter with someone you’ve never met. I’d rather meet in person for coffee or drinks.” But, that might never happen if you’re using a dating app because, according to Pew Research Center, one-third of the people who use online dating apps have never actually gone on a date with someone they met on those sites.
Seifu is open to meeting someone through friends but worries that “mixing friendship with dating gets messy.” She also tried speed dating but found there were more women than men at the event and she had to sit out for three of 20, four-minute speed-dating rounds. She also didn’t meet anyone she wanted to date.
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There is a common belief—fueled by a 2015 article in The Atlantic’s CityLab—that there are more single women than men in the DC metro area. According to that article, there are 65,000 more single women than men in DC.
Michael Karlan, president of Professionals in the City, the company that runs the speed-dating event that Seifu attended, disagrees with this blanket assessment and says it depends on the age group. For instance, he says, events for men in their 20s often attract more single men than women. “If you’re a 21- to 23-year-old woman, you have a wide range of guys you can date,” Karlan says. “But guys in that age range are pretty limited because older women don’t want to date you and women your age are being pursued by older men.” Professionals in the City has 200,000 members in the DC area, Karlan says, and it’s fairly evenly split across gender.
One of the advantages to dating in DC is few people are actually from this area. When you move to other cities, like New York City and Los Angeles, you will meet people who are surrounded by friends they’ve had since high school, Karlan says. “That’s not the case in DC,” he says. “Everyone is looking to meet new people.”
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Crossing Party Lines
Political affiliation has always been on the dating radar in this town. But in the age of Trump—and extreme partisan politics—it’s become a dating deal breaker.
It’s not uncommon for DC singles to spend their 20s and 30s focused on their careers or pursuing an advanced degree, and then suddenly realize, as they’re about to turn 40, that they haven’t given much thought to their personal lives, says Amber Artis, vice president of matchmaking at LUMA Luxury Matchmaking.
It’s also not uncommon for people to leave the DC area after five or 10 years, so Artis sometimes matches DC residents with someone living in New York City or Philadelphia, especially if they aren’t planning on making DC their home.
And, in fact, some DC residents—particularly men—will actually ask to be matched with someone who lives in New York City because they don’t want to marry, as one client said, “a buttoned-up career woman who is politically inclined,” says Lisa Clampitt, founder of Lisa Clampitt Matchmaking.
Think pantsuit-wearing Hillary Clinton versus former fashion model Melania Trump.
“They want to date someone who isn’t as political, business-savvy and conservative,” Clampitt says. “They think looking to New York City will give them more international, fashionable and sexy choices.” Most of these men, Clampitt says, are over 40 and want to date younger women.
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Regardless of age, politics has become the No. 1 deal breaker for romance in DC—even more of a turnoff than smoking, Artis says. Ten years ago, politics wasn’t a core dating value like career, religion and finances, but since 2016, politics has become a value matchmakers screen for, Clampitt says.
And it’s not just Democrats avoiding Trump supporters. Even Republican women are telling Artis that they can’t date a Trump supporter. That could be another reason DC men want to date women from New York City. “In DC, it’s hard to find people who don’t care about politics,” Clampitt says. “In New York City, you can find people who don’t care.”
In fact, Michael Karlan, president of Professionals in the City, says singles’ events specifically geared to Republicans typically have a stronger turnout than those for Democrats. Republicans are harder to find in a city like DC, which tends to be more progressive and liberal, he says. “You can find a Democrat anywhere in the city.”
Even if you find someone who does share your love of politics, Clampitt recommends avoiding the topic, especially on a first date. “There is nothing less romantic,” she says.
8 Tips for a Great Date
“I always tell people you can be your own matchmaker, you just have to keep your eyes open,” says Amber Artis, vice president of matchmaking at LUMA Luxury Matchmaking. Here, Artis and other dating experts share their best advice for dating success.
1. Dress like you’re going on a date
Leave your work persona at work when you’re meeting someone for a date and wear something festive, says Lisa Clampitt, founder of Lisa Clampitt Matchmaking. Leave the pantsuit at home.
2. Talk about feelings, not facts
Don’t treat a date like a job interview. Instead of asking your date about their career or where they live, ask them more engaging questions, such as, “What was the craziest vacation you ever went on?” or “Tell me about a life-changing moment,” Clampitt suggests. If someone starts telling you about their career, ask them if they like what they do and why, says Michael Karlan, president of Professionals in the City.
3. Know your story
No one likes awkward silences on the first date, so Karlan recommends having a few anecdotal tales about yourself that you can share if the conversation slows down. Keep in mind, if you bring up a topic and the discussion gets boring or runs its course, don’t be afraid to change the topic, he says.
4. Don’t just talk, engage in an activity
Sitting down for lunch or coffee feels too much like another meeting. Instead, go somewhere and do something together—ax throwing, an art opening, a walk through a neighborhood. When you participate in an activity together, you engage on a different level and that activity can make you feel more flirtatious and curious, Clampitt says.
“Coffee dates are something we do with our co-workers and friends when we’re catching up,” says Callie Harris, senior matchmaker and client experience manager at matchmaking company Three Day Rule. “They aren’t romantic.”
5. Say yes more often
Just being more open to opportunities will help you meet more people. Make eye contact and smile more, Artis says. “Say yes more than you say no,” Harris says. Agree to go to events, let your friends introduce you to their friends, go on a blind date.
6. Meet people face-to-face
While apps and online dating are a great way to meet new people, it’s important to meet people in real life. “A lot of people get comfortable being behind a cell phone but aren’t as comfortable face to face,” Karlan says. Don’t try to flirt by text message with a woman you just met because your intentions might be misconstrued, Artis says.
7. Find your tribe
Find someone you want to date through activities you enjoy, Artis says. “If you’re not a party person, don’t go to a bar,” she says. “Think about the type of person you see yourself with and where you might find that person.”
8. January is ripe for dating
The busiest time for singles’ events at Professionals in the City is between New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day, Karlan says. “People make New Year’s resolutions to meet someone, and people don’t want to be single on Valentine’s Day.”
This post originally appeared in the cover story of our January 2020 print issue. For more content surrounding life in Northern Virginia, subscribe to our newsletters.