Single in Honolulu

A peek into the sometimes daunting,sometimes exhilarating world of Island singles.
photo: Linny Morris. model: Erica Spangler/Kathy Muller agency, photographed at Bar 35 in downtown Honolulu.

Being single has its ups–your closet is your own, you’ve got freedom and many decisions are more simple. Pasta tonight? Yes. Move to Spain? Yes. On the downside, it can be expensive (less options for splitting costs) and sometimes lonely, particularly in a society so obsessed with coupling that shows like Who Wants To Marry My Dad? get green-lighted. Many of the singles we talked to seemed positive and content, viewing a partner as a nice addition, rather than a necessity. Others are more aggressively seeking that elusive "special someone."

How does Honolulu compare with other cities?

It can be a great town for singles, and was even named as one of the "best cities for finding a date" by Sperling’s Best Places. (The study ranked 80 cities, using data such as the percentage of singles, population density, and dating venues per capita.) Still, as anyone single knows, every city has unique customs and challenges.

"People here are very friendly, in everyday interaction. This is the friendliest city I’ve lived in. But as far as the [dating] scene goes, my experience is that it’s not great," says Jerry, a 27-year-old attorney who works in downtown Honolulu. Jerry is originally from St. Louis, and has spent time on both the East and West coasts.

"Honolulu’s got beautiful people, but it’s also very cliquish," he explains. "It’s all about what high school you went to. It doesn’t have the feel that a city like L.A. or New York has, where everyone is a transplant, where no one has a local support network, and so they have to go out and find that. Honolulu is a little more localized in that respect."

Heather Blair, who owns a personal introduction service, The Date Doctor, says, "The lifestyle here can make it difficult to meet people." She points to the high cost of housing, which means that some people have to work two or three jobs, or live at home with parents long after they would in other cities.

Age: 36
Job: Hairstylist
"It’s easy to walk up to someone I want to meet and pay them a compliment."
photo: karin kovalsky

Monica Toma, the 29-year-old manager of Freedom Wireless, says that a stint living in Oregon provided a different dating environment than Honolulu. "In my group of girlfriends, there are only maybe three that have gone away for school. And so I can see a real difference, socially. If we go out to a restaurant, they won’t talk to a waiter unless they’re ordering. I’ll be the more playful, outgoing one, talking to anyone. They’re just a little more reserved; they’ll kind of just talk within the bubble. They wonder why I’ll talk to anyone."

Scotty Geddings, another Mainland transplant, says that Honoluluans can be somewhat less open to meeting strangers. "I have lots of local friends, great friends. But as far as looking for a serious relationship, it’s harder to break in." Geddings, a 36-year-old hairstylist at Aveda Salon, says he mainly dates non-local guys.

Meet market

Luckily, there are loads of locals looking for love these days. According to the most recent U.S. Census, there are 88,153 Hawai’i adults living alone, a 13 percent increase from the 68,985 flying solo just a decade earlier.

"Hawai’i has a great community," says Amber Ricci, who runs singles’ retreats called Inner Fire Retreats. "If you’re active in the community, if you tap into doing things you love and believe in, you’ll see people consistently and get to know them."

Localism hasn’t proved to be a serious problem for Geddings; he’s managed to overcome any social barriers by dint of enthusiasm. He says the secret to meeting new people is to be open, and to make the first move. "It’s easy to walk up to someone I want to meet and pay them a compliment, because it’s the kind of thing that will make anyone’s day. That’s how I meet a lot of people." One of his favorite hangouts is the Hanohano Room, particularly for the biweekly Skyline party. "There’s such a great mixture of people there, which makes it fun," he says.

For less gregarious singles, Honolulu still offers a wealth of options (see here). Alicia Chang, a graphic designer now working in the communications department of the Honolulu Board of Realtors, says she prefers low-key events. "You typically don’t want to pick up guys from bars, because usually they’re there for one thing. I happen to be more of a shy person, most times, so just getting comfortable in these environments takes some time. Sometimes it can be a little nerve-wracking."

According to the most recent U.S. Census, 88,153 residents in Hawai’i live alone, up 27 percent from 68,985 a decade earlier.

Chang enjoys swing dancing on Friday nights at the Dream to Dance Studio, goes on organized hikes and helps plan monthly mixers for Global Pau Hana, an online community for people with Hawai’i ties. "I love going to the pau hanas, because you never know who’s going to show up," she says.

Of course, being single doesn’t mean you’re necessarily searching for a special someone. Toma says she’s concentrating her energy on her career and on buying her own apartment. "Obviously, I want to get married, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon. Right now, I’m focusing on the business, and whatever else happens along the way, happens."

She’s part of a larger trend of delay: In 2000, the estimated median age at first marriage in Hawai’i was 27.8 for men, 25.7 for women–about five years later than the national average was a generation ago, in 1955.

Goodbye, Bar Scene

As the birthdays tick by, many people find that dating gets more complicated. "You are a lot more mature, more serious now, you’re not just going to the movies, you’re talking about life," says 45-year-old Chris Villeza, who is divorced and works at a downtown law firm. "You’re not looking for the perfect person, you’ve gotten past that, you’re more accepting of flaws." Time is more of an issue, too, as people are farther along in their careers or may need to spend time with children from a previous relationship.

Randall Sugihara, a 44-year-old auto body worker, has been divorced for 15 years. A single father, he’s devoted nearly all of his time to his son, now a freshman in high school, and put dating on the back burner.

"I always knew, if I had a kid, he would be my first priority," Sugihara says. "How could I even think about being in a relationship? I gotta take care of him."

Age: 59
Job: Teacher
"You don’t go out to the bars or dancing like you did in your 20s."
photo: Olivier Koning

Sugihara has dated a few times since his divorce, but now that his son is just a few years away from graduation, he’s more open to the idea of meeting that special someone. "I’ve been thinking about it for a while now, because I know my son will probably leave the house soon," he says. "But at 44, where are you supposed to look for a date?"

Many divorcees wonder if it’s too late to start over again, if they’re too old to attract another mate. It’s harder to put themselves back on the market when they assume that "all the good ones" are already taken.

These are common concerns, says Martin Johnson, a clinical psychologist in private practice. "It’s, ‘There’s not going to be anybody out there my age who’s interested in me or who I’ll be interested in.’ That’s simply not true. There’s still a lot of leftover mythology that dating is for young people, and the new reality is people of all ages are looking for relationships."

Villeza says, "I still believe in marriage; I’d try it again." To interact with singles her age, she goes out with her friends, mostly to restaurants. "I’m not a night clubber, I’ve been there and done that. Places like Kincaid’s, where it’s more of an adult social scene. I’ve gone to the theater, art galleries. I’ve had people set me up on blind dates, but those haven’t worked out. I haven’t done an online service or dating service. I didn’t want to push it: If it was meant to be, it would be."

When elementary school teacher Marily Bartell, 59, started dating again six years ago, she had no idea where to find respectable men her age.

"Unless you’re a really hip older person, you don’t go out to the bars or dancing like you did in your 20s, and it’s really hard to meet people," Bartell says. "For me to meet someone, it’s literally like someone has to walk into my life."

Bartell signed up with a few online dating services, which resulted in a handful of coffee dates. She’s also active in the First Presbyterian Church, which hosts weekly "Singles Impact" meetings and monthly socials for singles 40 and over. Industrious baby boomers, it turns out, have come up with countless, creative ways for members of their generation to connect with each other.

Age: 29
Job: Manager of a downtown cell phone store, Freedom Wireless
"I want to get married, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon."
photo: Gina Finkelstein

Fewer frogs?

What are the perks of being single after your 20s and 30s? You know better, says Johnson. "People are more confident when they’re older. They take inventory of their interests and figure out what they want out of their relationships," he says.

"Hopefully most of us are wiser and don’t want to repeat mistakes," says Norma Koenig, the coordinator for Singles Together, a group of singles ages 40 and up. "We smell the rat faster, and are reluctant to kiss any more frogs." Koenig, who is 62, says she has been "blissfully single" since 1983. "Society tells us that we aren’t complete unless we’re joined at the hip to someone," she muses. "You have to be complete in yourself first, coming together out of lucidity and choice, not out of need. I now realize I don’t have to be with that special person 24 hours a day."

Koenig says that women her age often give up on finding a suitable mate. "The 70-year-old men have this notion of Miss Wonderful somewhere who is 32 and is waiting to charm them out of their boots. So the men who are ideal mates for the 60-year-old women are not available; they are looking younger."

"I would date a younger man, if we had the same values," she continues. Her favorite date locations are a gentle hike, such as Manoa Falls, a trip to Kaka’ako Park for a sunset or a stroll around Magic Island. "It would be nice to be wooed at the Hanohano Room, but that’s not where the men are at. So why insist?" she says. "With dinner, there can be some expectation, too, so I’d prefer to go Dutch. I’d rather encourage a meeting for coffee or a picnic, you bring the grapes and I bring the cheese."

Sensual seniors

While society encourages companionship among older adults, many Americans seem uncomfortable with the idea of seniors finding actual romance. That may change as the population ages. According to the AARP, the age group of 85-plus is the fastest growing part of the population and will grow 286 percent by 2010, to 40,120 people in Hawai’i.

"Our world is in denial," says Koenig. "It’s, ‘If you aren’t 32 or younger, you can’t be sexually oriented.’ We only stop being sexual in the coffin and people cannot admit to that."

As people age, their behaviors become more rigid, observes David Blair, co-owner of The Date Doctor. "They are more set in their lifestyles, and may have been set in their behavior with another partner before being divorced or widowed." At this stage, he adds, "Relationships aren’t just about the physical appearance."

But, as with any age, Blair says, "Falling in love is a choice. If a person wants to fall in love, it’s possible. There are 6 billion people out there. You have to want it."

What percentage of men and women in Hawai’i are single?

source: U.S. Census 2000