Singles Dating in Honolulu
We step into the often thrilling, sometimes taxing world of dating in Honolulu. Here are tales from the frontlines of the singles world—whether you’re 26 or 88, straight or gay, looking for love, or just looking—in Honolulu now.
Honolulu is world famous for destination weddings and honeymoons. But, what’s it like to be single here? Our Island community is unique; our dating scene is no different. Oahu singles take a casual approach to dating compared to our Mainland counterparts. We’re laidback, culturally diverse and tight-knit; go out often enough and you’re bound to run into someone you graduated from high school with or your cousin dated. Not only is the dating scene more intimate than, say, New York or Los Angeles, it's friendlier, too. To find out the ins and outs of dating in Honolulu, we met up for coffee with a 26-year-old who doesn’t want anything serious, had lunch with a 42-year-old virgin who’s waiting for the right woman, chatted with a single mother of two who doesn’t want to date a single dad, talked on the phone with a gold-digger-wary lawyer, gay men who find the dating scene small and more. Each has a unique story about what it’s like to live, date and romp through the bars, beaches—and apartments—of the city.
Once Was Enough
Some divorcees don’t want to walk down the aisle again, yet they don’t want to be alone. But Honolulu lacks a scene for those over 30.
It’s not uncommon for Joseph Flores* to work 12-hour days, six days a week. The 45-year-old is a corporate attorney and has been practicing law for 19 years.
“I want someone to be independent,” he says. Meaning, his partner would have to be OK with his hectic days, that he’ll probably bring his work home, and maybe miss a dinner or two.
Flores, with a few streaks of gray hair and a youthful face, is up front: “I have no interest in getting remarried,” he says. He got divorced seven years ago, after being married for six. Still, he has no desire—or the time, frankly—to date multiple women. “I want everything a marriage looks like without the piece of paper,” he says. He’s currently dating, but adds, “it’s complicated.”
Flores, who has divorced friends and colleagues in high-paying careers, also worries about the “gold-digger aspect,” when younger women—or men—are only interested in someone for their money. He gives the example of a beautiful, 20-something pursuing a middle-age man, knowing only that he’s a lawyer, or a doctor, and drives a nice car. “It does happen [here],” he says. “People are more discreet in Hawaii, though, because we’re a smaller community.”
Neko Kim* had 10 years of marriage on Flores. Born and raised in Hawaii, the vivacious 43-year-old is a flight attendant, and frequently flies to Japan, Thailand and Korea. She isn’t looking to remarry either but is giving dating another go, although she feels the city could offer more. “I wish there were more singles’ events for older people. The singles scene here sucks,” she says bluntly.
*All names in this story—unless they lack an asterisk—have been changed to protect the shy, the vulnerable, the promiscuous, or those who just may have gossipy friends or work in a small office. Their ages and, more importantly, their stories, are real.
49.5%: Percent of Honoluluans age 15 and up who are single, widowed or divorced.
She’s dated men she’s met while traveling, but hasn’t had much luck here. Kim ventured online and signed up for Match.com and had a few dates, but they were duds. “Once, I met up with a guy for coffee. He didn’t look anything like his picture. I think it was 20 years old,” she says with a laugh. “But I finished my coffee, then left.” She says she would try online dating again; she has two good friends who are in steady relationships thanks to Match. “It’s all random chance,” she says.
Kim doesn’t just sit at home on a Friday night (but enjoys her down time, too). She regularly goes out with friends and co-workers for dinner and drinks in hole-in-the-wall restaurants and to monthly events such as Art After Dark and First Friday. “I’m very comfortable being on my own,” she says. “I don’t need a boyfriend, but I don’t want to be single forever.”
Betty Tanaka* married when she was 24, and was thrown back into Honolulu’s dating scene five years ago when she divorced. The 62-year-old teacher, who has lived in Hawaii her whole life, isn’t exactly happy being single. “It’s just the feeling that there are not very many seniors around,” she says. “I’m looking for men in their mid-to-late 60s and the majority of people in that age bracket would have to be divorced or widowed.”
Tanaka has no plans of marrying again, but instead wants a companion who shares her similar interests: theater, opera, symphony, wine tasting and traveling. Tanaka wants someone who’s just as active as she; she’s not interested in a man who “wants a caregiver because they’re in their 60s,” she says.
Even among the few men Tanaka has met, she’s found that they’ll have mutual friends or other ties, making the dates sometimes awkward, especially if the ties are with her ex-husband. Because of that, she’s toyed with the idea of traveling and even moving after she retires.
While finding eligible seniors proves to be difficult, Tanaka does see some good things about dating at her age. “It’s a lot less stressful, because I’m too old to play games and I don’t feel that I have the time,” she says. “So that’s one thing that’s very refreshing. You can be up front about what you expect out of a relationship.”
Looking, But No Dice
Some singles are hoping to find love in a city where issues such as race and cultural attitude work against them.
Rebecca Conrad* works out every morning before heading to her job as a science and technology project manager. Conrad, 53, is a triathlete, and has lived on Oahu for 24 years after moving here from Canada for graduate school.
Conrad is intelligent, attractive and athletic, and yet, by her own admission, isn’t burning up the singles scene. “Hawaii is not the place for a tall, haole girl,” she says with a laugh. “I feel like I’m not the standard of beauty.” She says she has half a dozen single girlfriends who share her same predicament.
Conrad says she’s tried online dating sites, such as Match.com and Fitness Singles, but found that “half the men specify they prefer Asian women,” she says.
At this point, it seems to be something she’s accepted. “I have a very rich life,” says Conrad, adding that she is also on a nonprofit board and is currently volunteering in a political campaign.
But, she says, “I would love to have someone to share my life with.” She says she’d be open to trying a long-distance relationship; Conrad travels to the Mainland about once a month for work.
Race is not the issue for Malia Yoshioka that it is for Conrad. Born and raised on Maui, the attractive 32-year-old moved to Oahu 13 years ago, for the better job opportunities, and what she thought would be better dating opportunities.
“I’ve tried online dating, I’ve done speed dating, I’ve gone on blind dates, I’ve tried Match.com,” she says. “I’ve met nice people, but there were no connections.”
She wants a long-term relationship and feels that many eligible men her age are already in them. That, and it’s harder to meet men once you’re not into club hopping, she says.
Yoshioka, who posts on her food and travel blog in her spare time and has visited more than 20 countries, says that, while the local, laidback mentality has many pros, sometimes, when it comes to dating, it can be a con. “Guys here are shy,” she says, “and aren’t as adventurous.” Yoshioka says she’s looking for a partner who both understands and appreciates local culture but is also up for overseas traveling.
Russell Tanoue, in his late 40s, has found dating challenging simply because of the drawbacks of a highly public career in the Islands. The professional fashion photographer has, for the past 20 years, shot models, actors, celebrities and local entertainers. Tanoue also produces the popular once-a-month nightlife event, Beautiful at Pearl Ultralounge.
“I’m recognized everywhere I go and I will always be that ‘photographer guy.’ People don’t see me, they see the image of what I do,” i.e., the person behind the camera making them feel sexy and desirable, says Tanoue. So, instead, Tanoue jets off to big cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco or Las Vegas, just for fun, to disappear into a crowd.
Tanoue has had long-term relationships, but finds balancing a demanding career and a serious partnership challenging. “I had to end [a] relationship because I could tell that in order for me to fulfill my dreams, I would be neglecting those that truly love me and it would not be fair to them.” Social media has also made things difficult. “It seems with all the social networks out there, people learn so much about each other [online] that it takes so much away from the ‘getting to know you’ phase. Not like before where an intimate dinner was the best way to feel one’s energy and chemistry.” But, Tanoue is still hopeful. “The right person, I know, is out there.”
1,100: Approximate number of 2010 Hawaii marriages in which only one party was a Hawaii resident.
Relationships—of all varieties—abound in local retirement communities.
The average 85-year-old retirees at Arcadia Retirement Residence aren’t looking to remarry (which for some would be a third time), but that doesn’t mean they’ve lost interest in love, either. “About 14 years ago, we had a housekeeper and a maintenance guy that walked in on a couple that was in their mid-80s. And, of course, the bed was too soft, but the floor was not soft. And they were doing business,” remembers Emmet White, CEO of Arcadia. “The same issues and problems and thoughts that one has when they’re 20 don’t go away when you’re 80 or 90. The companionships, the relationships, the sexuality … yeah, it doesn’t change.”
These seniors do indeed date, says White. “I hate the term ‘companion,’” says resident and New Jersey-native Elaine Stroka, 78, when asked to explain how she would define her relationship with a fellow Arcadian. “It’s kind of a friendship developing into a love.”
At Arcadia, the women outnumber the men 10 to 1, so Stroka’s relationship is unique. She says she first met her partner when they were both still married. Now, 12 years later, each is widowed, and the two enjoy going to the opera, doing outdoor activities and dining together.
Frances Yee is also a widow. “It took me six years to get over the death of my husband,” remembers the 88-year-old, who looks 10 years younger. After that, she took up bridge, made new friends and was soon asked out by a man living outside of Arcadia. They went to shows and concerts together until he, too, passed away two years ago. Dating someone who may die is a real concern, but White says that it doesn’t deter dating.
Since Yee’s last relationship, friends have tried to match her up, unsuccessfully. So she occupies herself by going out with her male and female friends to functions around Honolulu, including the Honolulu Museum of Art, UH Law School and contributing to the Kapiolani Culinary School.
“There’s nothing wrong with losing your husband and going out and making a new life for yourself,” she says. “I think it’s wonderful. You owe it to yourself and to your husband.”
While dating does continue on for some, White guesses that less than five percent actually do look for a relationship. In the case of 76-year-old Katherine Bolman, learning, teaching and creating art fill her days, just as it did prior to retiring. “The dating is done,” she says with finality.
White says the dating trends haven’t changed much in the 18 years that he’s been at Arcadia, nor does he believe it’s any different with seniors who live outside of retirement communities. “Some of these folks are coming in at 85 to 90, so they’re not acting any different in here than how they would be on the outside. They’re not looking to get married again, but what you will find is that the devotion of the couples here, to each other, is inspiring.”
Where’s the “Gayborhood?”
Honolulu is no San Francisco.
Scott MacGowan is newly single. The 55-year-old real estate agent has lived in Hawaii for the past 15 years and is originally from Southern California. In fact, his last two relationships were with men from the West Coast, one from San Francisco, and, before that, someone from Vancouver, B.C. “Local guys are not really my flavor,” says MacGowan. “I prefer haoles. I like them beefier and furrier.”
In addition to a stocky physique, he wants to date someone “who has his shit together and is in the same socioeconomic situation.” That’s been difficult for him to find here, partly because Honolulu lacks a thriving, gay business community. “Really and truly, Hula’s and Bacchus are the only ones of note,” he says. “They’re okay, but not great. I was just in San Francisco and they have a whole community of gay restaurants and shops, which we used to have when Hula’s was down at the other end of Waikiki. We called it the ‘gayborhood’ and a lot of the community got upset when it moved in 1998.”
According to MacGowan, Bacchus is helping fill a niche in the community. “Hula’s tends to be a little more tourist-oriented, while Bacchus is a little more local, a little friendlier.” But, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the bar scene is an ideal place for him to meet other singles. “I don’t go out as much as I used to do. The bar scene has lost its luster a little bit. I think what’s happened is that we’re finding the community has lost the ability to communicate face to face. They’re taking to the Internet, especially the young guys. It’s hurting the bars, and it’s hurting the community.”
Back on the Market
2.2%: Percentage of Hawaii-resident married couples that divorce each year, as of 2000.
Websites and phone applications such as Adam4adam.com, Manhunt.com, Growlr, Scruff and Grinder were created and are used exclusively for hooking up, says MacGowan. While he’s not currently browsing, he says he’s tried Scruff, and “met some really nice guys. If I was seriously looking, it would probably be out at cultural events or traveling with friends, and I’m involved with [LGBT nonprofit] Equality Hawaii. But I don’t see it happening at the bars or online.”
Like MacGowan, Steven Blake* also frequents Bacchus, and is rarely seen at Hula’s. Blake, who’s 44, is a flight-attendant co-worker of Neko Kim’s and also flies to Japan a lot.
“I find it hard to keep a steady relationship,” he says, because of his work schedule. “Spontaneity is out the window.” Still, when he dates, Blake prefers to see one man at a time.
Whether you’re gay or straight, dating here can be difficult, says Blake. “After your 20s, for singles events, it’s like you’re in limbo. There are really young people here and really old people here,” he says. “And a lot of military.”
Blake has noticed that the combination of tourists on the prowl and young, enlisted military converging in Waikiki make for an interesting phenomenon, one that he hasn’t witnessed in many other cities. “There are more trolls,” he says. “You know what they’re [at the Waikiki bars] for.”
Some young bachelors aren’t looking—unless it’s for short-term fun.
Corey Hashimoto* has had surprising success with women at Starbucks, specifically the Ward theaters location. A few times, the outgoing 26-year-old has picked up vacationing women there. When things are more serious, he also prefers to go on coffee dates. “They’re informal,” he says, taking a sip of coffee at, yes, a Starbucks.
“I don’t want to go somewhere to drink [for a first date], or have to need alcohol,” he says. Yet, two of his go-to spots to meet women are Bar 35 and the Yard House. Hashimoto, who is a general manager, likes Bar 35 because “It has the best combo of people,” and Yard House because “It’s a good pre-game spot and it’s great if you have no plans for the night.” With short, spiky hair and an infectious smile, he is confident when it comes to women. “As long as I can get them to laugh,” he says. Right now, he says he doesn’t want anything serious, which might explain his occasional rendezvous with tourists.
Matt Morici, 29, also doesn’t want to be in a relationship. And like Hashimoto, dating tourists works well for him, as he’s a concierge who lives and works in Waikiki. “I find that girls that are on vacation are generally more carefree and not [into] confining themselves to social rules,” says Morici. That, and the women he dates leave the island in a matter of days. “I love women. I enjoy spending time with them, but I like to go home and have my place be mine. It’s just me and my dog. I like having that simple life. I feel like being in a relationship complicates things and I don’t like it complicated.”
Morici says he’s dated women from Australia, England, Europe, Spain and Japan. Although his job provides an easy way for him to meet many women, he says he still likes to “screen” them first.
“Sometimes I’ll wait till they come back [to my desk] the second or third time and build a little chemistry before asking them out,” he says. “Then, I’ll show them around the island or the different food places. I don’t take them straight to my apartment. I want them to have a good memory of me.”
Forget dinner & a movie, here are 50 great dates. honolulumag.com/50dates.
You Like Go Beach?
Some dates are so casual, you can’t even tell you’re on one.
Sarah Kahanu*, 26, defines Honolulu’s singles scene as fun, but casual. “It’s more like, ‘Let’s go to the beach and maybe we’ll eat something after.’ Or, ‘Let’s go hang out,’” she explains, sometimes leaving you wondering whether it’s actually a date. “And, nowadays, people don’t even call. People just text you or even e-mail, which seems so weak.”
Kahanu, a UH student, isn’t necessarily looking for love, and says she feels she can’t find the type of guy she’s looking for in Hawaii. “There’s always the local guy who speaks pidgin, but pidgin is unattractive because it makes you sound uneducated. I want someone who is educated and well put together and has their own source of income so I’m not footing the bill.” In the meantime, she goes out with her friends to bars such as Pearl, RumFire and Rumours (yes, that Rumours).
She’s not about to fill out an OK Cupid or Match profile, though. “I’m really scared to do online dating, because I don’t know if I would already know them, or they’re related to me, either a cousin or second cousin,” says Kahanu. “I just wouldn’t want to do that [living] here.”
Elvira Garber, 30, feels differently. “You would think that living on an island you would see nothing but the same people, but, because it’s a place where people come and go so much, I feel like there’s a lot to choose from,” she says. “But, I’m hesitant to even get involved with anyone because it feels like everyone’s here just temporarily.”
A business student at the University of Phoenix, Garber married young, has a young son and daughter and has been divorced for three years. She’s originally from Santa Cruz, Calif., where she says the men have “Peter Pan syndrome,” meaning they never want to grow up. She is currently looking, but doesn’t want to date other single parents.
“I don’t go to the playgrounds on weekends, because that’s where all the single dads are. You get attacked,” she says with a laugh, adding that she avoids the Aikahi playground in Kailua for that reason. “It’s hard enough to introduce another adult to your children, but to introduce an adult and a kid—it seems more challenging. Relationships are already hard and messy.”
While she doesn’t like getting hit on while she’s playing with her children, Garber says she does find that “people are really friendly here compared to other places.” Because of that, she has no problem approaching a guy who catches her eye. Once at the beach she saw a cute guy trying to a snap a photo of himself and his friend. “There was opportunity to talk, so I took it,” she says, smiling.
Forty-Two and Still Saving Himself
John Ling* is a unique Honolulu single. At 42 years old he is a virgin, and chooses to remain one for religious reasons. “If God wanted me to be with someone, then he would present that opportunity,” he says. Ling works in the entertainment industry, and hopes to find someone who is both Christian, and within his line of work, mainly because he works 19-hour days. But, given his requirements, he hasn’t yet found anyone.
Church is obviously a great way to meet fellow Christians, but, says Ling, he’s found it to be more beneficial for younger believers. “[Churches] have youth groups for teenagers,” says Ling, adding that they have groups for those in college, too. “But, once you pass that, it’s mostly prayer meetings and bible studies,” which he says he does not have time for; he says his best bet is in the workplace.
Ling’s first—and only—relationship blossomed with a woman he met in a Hollywood office at the Warner Bros. studio more than 14 years ago. They both began attending bible study together on the lot. However, business took them to different places and it didn’t work out.
Ling hopes to meet another virgin, but understands most Christians his age will have had sexual experiences. “I definitely feel like I’m missing something for sure. But, I think the main thing is that I live a life that’s pleasing to God.”
Dating in Honolulu: Then and Now
What was honolulu’s dating scene like in the 1930s? Not much different from 2012, says Craig Ono, who is 97. When he was 20, he says he would go with friends to bars in town and around Waikiki. He would often take his dates to the beach. The casual dating style he saw then, still persists today for singles in their 20s, he says.
Frances Yee, 88, remembers the same. “I did a lot of picnicking and potluck and swimming in the water. I met my husband at Hanauma Bay. We were at the beach and he singled me out,” she says. “And, in the olden days after the war, they had these mattresses that you would swoosh in the water and put air in it. And, it becomes a big, single-bed mattress, like a big balloon, that you then surf on.”
But it wasn’t all surf and sun. Yee remembers the nightclubs she’d frequent in the 1940s, such as the Queen’s Surf. “It was a dinner-dance and it would be outside under the stars with a live band … You would go there with a guy, but he’s not going to dance all the dances with you,” she explains. “He’ll dance the first, middle and last dance with you. So, in between, these fellows will ask you to sign up with them [using cards]. The men asked the women. The women did not ask the men.”
Race was a big deal in 1947. “I’m Japanese and my husband was Chinese. In the Chinese culture, there are a lot of different ethnic groups and his parents wanted to make sure that he was marrying a hakau woman. It’s a very small group of Chinese,” says Yee, adding, that, in the end, it all worked out.
The ’70s brought more clubs—discos—to Honolulu, some of which remain today. “There were discos like The Point After at the Hyatt. And there was a tiki bar in the International Marketplace and the other place was Rumours. Those are the places we’d go to,” says Betty Tanaka, 62, remembering her favorite nightlife haunts.
ALL STATISTICS ARE FROM THE 2011 HAWAII STATE DATA BOOK.