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Where to Be Single in New York

Thursday, November 17, 2016


Where to Be Single in New York
Tara Atwood, top row, fourth from left, with friends in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Credit Demetrius Freeman for The New York Times

​By KIM VELSEY

There may be no such thing as an ideal neighborhood for single people, but even in this age of dating apps and websites, neighborhood continues to play a huge role in how, and whom, people choose to date.

Whether one is striking up a conversation at a coffee shop or tallying up proximity points with a potential love interest, geography matters in large ways and small. Not fretting about an hourlong postdate commute allows drinks to turn into dinner, for instance. A bar filled with friends may bestow the confidence to initiate a conversation with a stranger, which in turn may lead to the confidence to approach some other stranger, at some other bar, on some other night.

In a city as diverse as New York, a neighborhood where dating happens naturally can be difficult to find. And statistics may, like a pickup line, mislead.

Dorothy Castillo found the prospect of moving to Manhattan enticing for any number of reasons. Not least of all because she assumed the city’s dating scene would be far superior to that of suburban Rockland County, N.Y., where she’d spent most of her life.

“I thought, ‘This is going to be my golden ticket! I’m going to date all the time!’ ” recalled Ms. Castillo, 27, a special-education teacher who bought a studio apartment in Washington Heights two and a half years ago.

“I was truly and honestly — I don’t know if this is naïve — but I was hoping to meet someone at the grocery store or walking down the street,” she said. Instead, meeting people in person was “near impossible,” she added. “And I consider myself a social person.”

Though not opposed to online dating, she felt out of place in family-friendly Washington Heights and found her forays to Midtown and Lower East Side bars disappointing, the men standoffish.

Then one day, a friend texted her to come to happy hour at Rambling House, an Irish pub in the Woodlawn neighborhood of the Bronx. “The vibe was great — everyone was ready to have a good time and tell you their story,” she recalled. “I texted my mom and said, ‘I want to move to Woodlawn.’ Within a few weeks I was in a Realtor’s office.”

Last May, she did indeed move there, to a one-bedroom co-op she bought. And Woodlawn, a neighborhood filled with one- and two-family houses as well as some brick apartment buildings, has proved unexpectedly welcoming to Ms. Castillo.

“I love it here,” Ms. Castillo said. “There are a lot of young people here because it’s a fun place to live. I’d like to meet someone not in a bar, but I’m just enjoying my 20s, going on some crazy dates.”

In a similarly surprising corollary, a neighborhood with a high percentage of single people doesn’t necessarily translate into a good singles neighborhood.

Between 2010 and 2014, Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, had a 36 percent increase in the number of single men (single being defined as a person aged 20 to 34 who has never been married) to 15,121 from 11,127, and a 31 percent increase in single women, to 12,272 from 9,361 — one of the largest increases in the city, according to the census bureau’s American Community Survey. Based on that data, the New York City Economic Development Corporation declared the neighborhood “an attractive spot for all young singles” in 2014.

Not everyone agrees. The area “is not such a good spot for single people,” said Mirsad Kadribasic, 41, an owner of La Bohème Lounge on Stillwell Avenue in Bensonhurst, which on a recent Friday night was half-filled with couples smoking hookahs at velvet banquettes. “I’m a single person myself and I can’t meet anyone here.

“It’s a middle-class neighborhood. People go to work, go home, go to sleep. When people want to go out, they go elsewhere. It’s not like Park Slope, where people are hanging out all the time.”

Though it may be the envy of Bensonhurst, the Park Slope dating scene did not impress Robert DiBiase when he moved there from Washington, D.C., several years ago.

The neighborhood had plenty of bars, conceded Mr. DiBiase, 42, an associate broker at Halstead Property, “but they were small and filled with locals, not people coming from Manhattan to hang out.” The local bars were places where neighbors went to grab a beer and catch up, he said, not places to meet a potential mate.

When his aging bulldog compelled him to trade his walk-up for an elevator building, he seized on the opportunity and rented a one-bedroom on the Lower East Side, a quick walk to local favorites like Stanton Social or Mr. Purple, the rooftop bar at the Hotel Indigo.

Now he won’t date anyone who lives in Brooklyn. Or Queens. Or the Upper East Side, for that matter. He prefers to stay within blocks of home. “That’s what apps are for,” he said. “I’m so used to convenience living in New York. I don’t want an hour-and-a-half obstacle just to grab a coffee. I don’t want to end up coming back at midnight on some train that stalls in the station because of an investigation.”

Nancy Slotnick, a dating coach, said that proximity was crucial for many single New Yorkers. “The first date is going to happen so much more easily if you’re in the same neighborhood,” she said.

And for those hoping to meet in what her clients often refer to as “the natural way,” neighborhood can make all the difference, she said. Certainly, it did for her.

One evening, she saw an attractive man at an event on the Upper West Side, where she lived, but she was too shy to approach. Afterward, she was standing on the sidewalk and he walked by again. Loath to let another opportunity pass, she caught his eye, smiled and struck up a conversation. She later found out that he had come into the cafe where she was an owner just the day before. He is now her husband. “Fate gave us another chance!” she said.

“I know this sounds hokey, but you get a chance to cross paths with people and you often miss it,” she said. “When you’re in the same neighborhood you get that chance over and over again.”

But Michael J. Rosenfeld, a Stanford University sociology professor who researches how couples meet, said that meeting in the neighborhood, along with meeting through family, friends, co-workers, school and church, had declined since the 1990s, largely because of the rise of online dating. “Neighborhood still matters in lots of ways, at least for people who have a choice of where they live, which is not everybody,” he said. “But the ability to find single people to date in the neighborhood matters less than it used to.”

Natasha Zamor, 28, a paralegal who lives in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, said that her neighborhood played almost no role in her dating life. While she enjoys going out with friends to bars by the Barclays Center333 Lounge on Flatbush Avenue is a favorite — there’s nothing to tell you if the person you meet at a bar is someone “you want to invest your time in.”

Ms. Zamor’s mother, a nurse, and father, a psychiatrist, emphasized the importance of marrying a man whose education and aspirations were similar to her own. She likes that on dating apps like SoulSwipe, Tinder and Plenty of Fish you can easily find out where someone went to school, what he does for work, and where he lives — which she views as important indicators of compatibility. She says she dates “throughout the metro area.”

“I want someone I can communicate with and bring into my circle of friends. Someone who can be equal or better,” Ms. Zamor said, adding that, “unfortunately, this seems to create a standard that can never ever be met.”

Tara Atwood, 33, lived in Manhattan for 10 years after college, first on the Upper East Side, then in Midtown East. She worked in finance and dated “meatheads who wore baggy jeans ripped at the bottom and didn’t want to do anything but drink beer and watch football.”

After ending a long-term relationship with one such meathead, she left her job to go to business school and moved to 1 North Fourth, a luxury rental on the waterfront in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which suits her perfectly. “It’s full of people who are like-minded: creative, well-traveled, educated, curious,” she said. “I would say 75 percent of the people are people you’d swipe right on. Living here has literally been like a live dating app.”

She and friends from the building have traveled to Tulum, Mexico, participated in a coed fantasy football league, gone on daylong bike trips and sweated through SoulCycle classes together.

In Manhattan, she said, the men she met through apps would boast about being a top person at a place like Oracle, the high-tech company.

“Now I’m into the kind of guy with facial hair who wears a leather bracelet and goes salsa dancing,” she said.

While finding one’s tribe may be the underpinning of dating success, certain factors make it more likely to happen in some places than others. Neighborhoods popular with singles tend to have comparatively affordable housing, convenience to transportation and a good assortment of bars and restaurants — think Astoria in Queens and Murray Hill and the East Village in Manhattan.

Charles Conroy, a salesman for Citi Habitats, said that for his post-college clients who want to walk out the door into night life, he usually recommends the East Village. He recently found an apartment on Second Avenue and 10th Street for three men in their early 20s, one of whom broke up with his girlfriend so he could move in with his friends and “extend the college experience before moving in with girlfriends down the road.”

“His dating life has skyrocketed,” Mr. Conroy said. “He sends me texts all the time.”

Elie Seidman, the chief executive of OkCupid, an online dating site, said that while he believes that moving to New York might improve a person’s romantic odds, he didn’t believe there was “a magic neighborhood cure.” Census data shows that neighborhoods with high concentrations of single women don’t often match up with those that have a lot of single men.

The New York neighborhoods with the highest ratio of single women to single men, ages 20 to 34, are the Upper East Side (0.6 men to every woman), Murray Hill (0.68), the Upper West Side (0.79) and Brownsville, Brooklyn (0.8) according to 2014 data from the American Community Survey compiled by the city’s Economic Development Corporation.

Neighborhoods with the highest percentages of single men tend to be immigrant communities, according to a researcher at the development corporation — Elmhurst/South Corona, Queens has the best odds for women in the city, with 1.57 men to every woman; Jackson Heights/North Corona is a close second at 1.54 men to every woman. Not all of those men are looking for women — Jackson Heights has grown increasingly popular with gay men.

The Upper West Side, some say, is the place to be if you’re a single Modern Orthodox Jew. “Really the only other place in the world as good for dating is Jerusalem,” said Curtis Goldstein, a salesman at Halstead.

Newcomers quickly find themselves overwhelmed with invitations for Friday night Shabbat dinners, and synagogues vie to be the center of the scene, luring singles with snacks like kosher sushi and meatballs.

“I’m a social butterfly, so I love it,” said Jessica Schechter, 29, an actress, director, producer and teacher who moved to the neighborhood in 2011. When she’s not dating someone, she said, she attends at least one neighborhood singles event a week.

The dating scene is so frenetic, some people weary of it, including those who fail to meet someone despite what would appear to be every conceivable opportunity.

“It can be hard, it can be draining. My roommate jokes about JOMO — the joy of missing out,” Ms. Schechter said. But the ceaseless courtship ritual has provided fodder for “Soon by You,” a web series she produces and acts in about dating in the community. For those who tire of the West Side, she added, there’s the smaller dating scene on the East Side.

For some singles, less may be more.

Dr. Carlos J. Huerta, 40, a dentist, moved to Hell’s Kitchen recently after nine years in the East Village. He left an apartment share to be closer to his then-boyfriend, his friends and the practice he had just started.

When he and his boyfriend broke up a short time later, he found himself single in the center of one of the city’s most vibrant gay dating scenes. “I loved the East Village. It felt serendipitous, like you could meet people from different walks of life,” Dr. Huerta said. “Hell’s Kitchen is so concentrated with eligible men,” he said. “How do you pick and choose?”

He said he was glad that his rental building, Gotham West, is on 11th Avenue, because it affords some distance from the scene. Even so, he’s thinking about moving back downtown. “It’d just be nice to have to think about it a little less, to live in less of a concentrated dating pool,” he said. “To meet someone in more of a chance encounter.”

A version of this article appears in print on November 20, 2016, on page RE1 of the New York edition with the headline: The Singlescape.
 


 

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