Odds of finding love in Clark County reverse at 40

Singles in Clark County find search for a mate can be challenging experience, despite number of options available locally, online

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter


photoClick on chart to enlarge.

All the romantic hoopla on Valentine’s Day may cause some singles to wonder what their chances are of finding “the one.” Although the answer is unknown, the ease or difficulty in finding a mate may vary according to age, sex and the frequency one visits certain settings where singles are statistically most likely to find their other half, according to experts.

Hottest singles bars

According to three Vancouver 20-somethings, Angelo Adside, Alicia Salazar and Franca Ramirez


The Brickhouse and Lindo’s

Mexican Restaurant & Cantina


Lindo’s Mexican Restaurant & Cantina


Dodge City and

The Avenue

Fridays and Saturdays

The Brickhouse and

The Atrium

About 118,839, or more than 28 percent, of Clark County’s population, ages 20 and older, is single, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Local dating prospects are relatively easy to chart by census figures on marital status. But today’s singles have a world of choices beyond their immediate county, state and nation thanks to the Internet. Interestingly, that expanded pool hasn’t made the mating game any easier to win due to changes in society. Finding a partner is difficult, but knowing the reality of who’s available and where to meet them can help singles improve their chances of finding their Valentine.

Pepper Schwartz, a sociology professor from the University of Washington and author of more than a dozen books on love, compares searching for a mate with a job hunt.

“You’ve got to have moxie to get anything done,” Schwartz said.

Late bloom of love

Census figures indicate the challenge of finding a partner intensifies with age, especially for women. Many people marry at later ages than past generations and often aren’t ready to make the vows until well after their greatest moments of opportunity (i.e. high school and college) have passed. Some find themselves unexpectedly single again after a divorce or death of a spouse.

Both men and women are marrying at later ages than they did in the past. That trend is more noticeable among women, who commonly attend college and launch a career before getting married, unlike many of their predecessors.

“They have more choices in life,” said Lindsey Wilkinson, sociology professor at Portland State University.

The median age of marriage for women is now 26 compared with 20 in 1950, according to the Census Bureau. The average for men is 28, up from 23 in 1950. The drawback of that trend is when people are ready to marry, they have already passed up the best opportunities to find someone.

“After high school and college, people are out of an easy pool of eligible people,” Schwartz said. “That makes dating more difficult than going out with the girl you grew up with or the girl you met at a sorority mixer.”

Women may have a more difficult time finding a mate later in life than men. In youth, women have the advantage in the dating game. In middle and late life, men have it easier.

The odds of love

Between age 20 and 39, Clark County’s single men outnumber single women 29,202 to 26,297.

Vancouver resident Alicia Salazar, 24, said when she walks into a nightclub she has plenty of suitors.

“The guys usually find me,” Salazar said. “Whether it’s the kind of guy I want is the problem. It’s hard to find a guy who wants to be in a relationship.”

Meanwhile, Vancouver’s Stephen Smolen, 24, said he’s ready for a relationship but hasn’t been able to find the right girl.

“I haven’t had a girlfriend in over 1 1/2 years,” Smolen said. “I wouldn’t mind taking the plunge. It’s just kind of a challenge. No one has showed up yet.”

He said he usually goes to Portland to meet girls because he finds the singles scene limited in Vancouver.

“It seems to me in Vancouver, everybody knows everybody,” Smolen said. “You see somebody new, and you find out it’s your friend’s brother’s ex-girlfriend. Then, you have to deal with all that baggage.”

By 40, however, there’s a reversal of fortunes for single men. Single women in the same age bracket begin to slowly outnumber them. By the time the single population reaches 60, there are roughly twice as many single women as men due to women’s longer life expectancy. The choices are further depleted by men’s tendency to prefer younger women, Wilkinson said.

Vancouver resident Kim Tuttle, 46, knows the pickings of eligible bachelors in her age group are slim. After three years in Crossroads Community Church’s Singles 30+ fellowship in Vancouver, Tuttle hasn’t found a mate yet.

“There is not a good availability of men in my age group,” Tuttle said.

Post-divorce love

After a divorce, the challenge of finding a partner climbs another notch.

“The problem with dating at this age is everyone has baggage, including myself,” Tuttle said. “There are broken marriages, broken homes and hurt. It’s a matter of finding someone who isn’t dragging their baggage behind them.”

Tuttle said many of the men she meets in her age group have a history of painful relationships.

“Some research suggests people who remarry have less choices so they may marry someone who is different from them,” Portland State’s Wilkinson said. “First marriages tend to be more homogeneous. Second marriages are more diverse. You have to be more open about who might be a good partner. You might have to go outside of your social circle and be open to people who are different, maybe a different race, a different socioeconomic status.”

Those differences can complicate the relationship, which is one reason second marriages are more likely to fail than first ones, Wilkinson said.

Vancouver resident Paul Vernon, who is divorced, has been involved in Crossroads Singles 30+ for 10 years but still hasn’t found a wife.

Vernon, 50, stays involved in the singles group because he’s made good friends and enjoys the activities. But finding a mate remains elusive.

“The amount of people out there is limited,” Vernon said. “Most of the people who have good relationship skills are married.”

Love locations

Online dating websites have been one way that singles improve their chances of meeting their significant other. Online personals cater to every interest group and demographic, including Greeks and horse lovers. More than 20 percent of couples now meet online, according to a survey of 3,009 partnered adults by Michael Rosenfeld, an associate professor of sociology at Stanford University in Palo Alto,Calif. That percentage is eclipsed only by couples who meet through friends and couples who meet at bars and nightclubs.

“People have gotten into meeting strangers and not meeting in natural places like class,” said Schwartz, the UW sociology professor. “People don’t have easy access (to other singles), and that’s one reason online dating has become more and more important.”

Bars are still a likely place to meet a mate. About a quarter of couples meet in bars and nightclubs, according to the Stanford research. Salazar, the 24-year-old, met her last boyfriend at Vancouver’s Dodge City Saloon.

Some of the traditional ways to meet a mate are now becoming a rarity.

A note on the statistics

The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey comes up with an estimate rather than an actual count of never married, married, divorced and widowed. Census figures may not be an accurate reflection of who is paired up because they don’t divide out by age group how many people are partnered but not legally married. There are 5,241 households with unmarried partners in Clark County.

Fewer than 10 percent of couples meet in college. The likelihood of meeting a partner through co-workers and family is about the same. There is a less than 5 percent chance of meeting through neighbors or in primary or secondary school.

And in a reversal from previous generations, the least likely place to find a mate is church, according to the Stanford study.

Among that minority are Vancouver residents Buffy Harper, 35, and husband Duane, 46. The couple met through the Crossroads singles ministry two years ago and married in September.

“I had been attending the church for 13 years and finding myself between work and the gym,” Duane Harper said. “I wanted a wholesome singles outlet. I didn’t want to hang out in bars.” Buffy wasn’t looking for a relationship, but Duane eventually won her over.

About seven marriages in the past three years have resulted from the Crossroads singles group, Buffy Harper said.

That may go to show that statistics don’t mean much. When it comes to finding a Valentine, hard work and happenstance may be the determining factors.

“When you’re looking for a job, you pound the pavement, you go online, you ask friends,” said Schwartz of the University of Washington. “If you’re rejected, you wouldn’t be deterred. You’d go back out there and try new ways to approach it. Basically, that’s what you need to do with dating.”

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