Suddenly Single in Arlington by TAMAR ABRAMS
… Maurice*, 48, who is unmarried and lives in Virginia Square, certainly enjoys the panoply of lifestyle options close by. “Arlington has more things to do and more people available to do things with,” says the IT consultant, who grew up in Montgomery County and lived there before moving to this side of the Potomac 11 years ago. “I find the best way to meet women is through friends of friends. And where I live, everybody is single. We have bars and great places to go to dinner, plus lots of people walking around.”
Though he says his parents have “given up” on the idea of him marrying, he hasn’t. He remains hopeful he will meet someone.
His prospects are good, according to Michael Karlan, president of Professionals in the City (www.prosinthecity.com), a social-networking group that counts 200,000 members in the D.C. area. “Northern Virginia is growing rapidly, which means a larger number of older singles are there than in other places. There are also a lot more singles with children in Northern Virginia than in other areas around D.C.”
In fact, the size of the local singles population has led Karlan’s organization to get fairly targeted with its programming. One recent speed-dating event in Pentagon City was designed specifically for Asian and Indian professionals in their 40s and 50s. Other events have included speed-dating for travel lovers; another for gay men over 40; a seminar on how to connect instantly at a bar or party; and an evening of music at the Ukrainian Embassy.
“Society no longer expects everybody to be married, so people are more free to be single,” Karlan points out. He says marriage is no longer the end-goal that it was when he opened his business 15 years ago. “Many people find [that being single] is more fun.”
Still, for some, the bonanza of choices—from matchmaking sites to every kind of social club imaginable—only makes the prospect of dating more daunting. This can be especially true for those who find themselves reluctantly single and raw after a divorce or the loss of a spouse. The partner with whom you were working through your bucket list is gone. Now what?
Erin Devine is still figuring that out, almost four years after the sudden loss of her husband, Philip Keating, a prominent Arlington lawyer and former chair of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce. (He was 51 at the time of his death, and she was 50.)
Two years after he passed away, Devine moved out of the Arlington home they had shared and into a smaller house a mile away. “That house had become too big, too sad, too lonely,” she recalls. “I had a great marriage and have wonderful kids. I have come to the realization that it might be enough. But then I think, I’m much too young to be single the rest of my life.” She has made what she calls “a few feeble attempts” to get into the dating scene. But at times it feels like just another hassle, she says, coupled with grief.
Ann*, 46, who works in the wine industry, has similar reservations about digital-age dating, which feels awkward and foreign. “I think online dating looks weird, just an odd way to meet someone,” says the longtime Arlington resident, who separated from her husband earlier this year. “I don’t know that I’ve thought very far ahead. I need some time to myself for personal healing. Eventually a fix-up would be nice and I would like to be married again.”
In the meantime, she and her ex are putting all of their energy into ensuring that their two children feel stable and secure. They’ve even bought houses that are near one another. “We tried to make it as easy as possible so their lives wouldn’t change more than necessary,” Ann says.
Donnelly, the dental hygienist, has similar priorities. Though she was “pretty miserable” after her divorce, she’s dragged her feet when it comes to finding romance, in part because her daughter’s Type 1 diabetes requires her full attention.
“My job is to be a mom,” she says. Which is why she has stayed in the Arlington neighborhood where her 8-year-old has always lived, even though it’s not the best place to meet eligible bachelors. “I’m stuck in this married world. I have to insert us into other families’ lives, and when couples get together, I’m usually not invited.” She is not second-guessing her decision to divorce. But she is lonely.
“I miss companionship,” Donnelly admits. “I can go a whole day without adult conversation.”
Krista White, president of the D.C. chapter of It’s Just Lunch, a professional matchmaking service, sees this as a common phenomenon among single parents, who now account for roughly a quarter of U.S. households with children, according to 2011 U.S. Census figures. Finding the time to date can be difficult with kids, she acknowledges, and decisions about how and when to introduce new love interests can be tricky.
“Parents should only introduce kids to dates when the relationship has reached a serious level,” White writes in her book, Lies, Lust and Love Over Lunch. “If things don’t work out between the two of you, kids can take it even harder than you do, and it can put undue stress on them.”
But first you have to meet that someone. And a number of modern-day forces conspire to keep singles, with or without children, from meeting easily.
For starters, the D.C. area is “very transient, so singles don’t have the same networks as back home,” White says. Add to that our tech-fueled, eyes-down tendency to multitask constantly, which renders us unaware of our surroundings.
“With iPhones and tablets, no one is interacting with anyone else,” she points out. “Your mate could be sitting right next to you, so put your phones away and engage.”
Penny Edwards, a 34-year-old accountant, cites the region’s notorious workaholism as another barrier. “It’s been difficult to date over 30 because so many men live to work,” says the Fairlington resident.
Never married, Edwards says she stays active playing soccer, bowling in a duckpin league and hiking with her dog. But she wants more. “There are a lot of things on my bucket list, like whitewater rafting and skydiving, that I want to do with a man.”
Of course, there are also those who—to borrow a phrase—have chosen to lean into their singleness. That’s what McLean resident Anamika Gupta did after her long-term relationship with a former NFL player ended two years ago. “I’m totally independent; I know who I am. I do what makes me happy,” says Gupta, 35, a manager at an educational organization. That includes coaching McLean soccer, teaching Bollywood dance to girls and being a self-described “workout fiend.”
Though she hasn’t given up on dating, Gupta says she’s not making it a priority. “I’m pretty comfortable being on my own, and most men my age want someone to rely on them more than I would.”
Plus, she’s had a few dating experiences that she’s not in a hurry to repeat. “I was out on a date with a guy last summer,” she says, recalling one such episode. “It was a nice evening, so we were sitting outside on the patio and I happened to be wearing a skirt. The guy kept slyly looking under the table. I thought maybe he was getting bitten by mosquitoes or something. After 15 minutes or so he goes, ‘Can I feel your calves?’ ”
The dating pool may be deep and sometimes refreshing, but stay away from the slime.
Arlington resident Tamar Abrams is a freelance writer and the head of outreach for a large international organization based in Washington, D.C. She grudgingly admits to having her own personal cache of dating horror stories, which will be opened only after her death.