Are there enough fish in the sea in Spokane, or do you have to find another fishing spot?
Kate Armstrong tried to stay in Spokane, she really did. She had a great job at Itron, taught Zumba classes, volunteered and threw lots of parties in the beautiful Victorian-era house she rented on the South Hill. She loved Spokane, and the city loved her back – but not romantically. It was time, she says, to move on.
“Spokane was perhaps just too small of a dating pool for me,” Armstrong, 35, says from Houston, her new hometown, which positively swims with eligible men.
Moving all the way to Texas to find a mate might seem a bit extreme, she admits. But Armstrong, it turns out, isn’t alone in her frustration over the “small pool” of potential mates in the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene area. Not that we don’t have our share of people: there are plenty of fish in the regional sea. Why, then, do so many singles here feel like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner: Water, water every where/ Nor any drop to drink?
Take Kristin Speller, for instance. She’s 29, owner of her own Garland Avenue business — and fed up with the local dating scene. If it’s a pool, it’s a stagnant one, in her opinion, with too many bottom-feeders.
“They’re okay with their seedy job, with their crappy truck and crappy house,” she says of the Spokane men she’s dated. “I haven’t met anyone with goals, the drive to do better than they’re already doing.”
The last guy she dated had two jobs – one of them as a very popular sperm donor. “He said, ‘I haven’t had sex in three years, and you know? I don’t really care about it.” She snorts. “I said, ‘No wonder! You’re selling the ju-ju-bes.’ ”
“I don’t see a lot of people that try to be successful,” agrees Kirstin Franklin, a 33-year-old salon owner. “They’re perfectly content with no job and not any drive, and that’s hard for me because I want you to be the best person you can be.”
Commercial banker Bill LaVigne makes a similar complaint about the women he’s met in Spokane. “It’s day and night from what’s available in Seattle to what’s available here,” he says. “You have women over there that are more independent. They’re career-oriented.”
Too many Spokane women want a man to take care of them – and their kids, says LaVigne, 49. “Here, you have a lot of women that marry young. I see a lot of dependency. They want to be dependent on another man, or they’re scared to be alone to figure out what they really want in life or in a relationship.”
The singles’ scene isn’t any easier for the city’s gays and lesbians. “The pool from which I have to choose are people that, for the most part, I have known for forty years,” postal carrier Lauren Llewellyn says. “So they’re almost like sisters – I can’t possibly date them. Or, everybody I know has been with them.”
“Everyone has either known everyone or slept with somebody that knows you,” says Nick “Rush” Rotas, 29, who is gay. “Familiarity breeds some contempt.”
But, wait a minute. Didn’t The Advocate, the largest gay-rights magazine in the U.S., recently rank Spokane as the country’s third-gayest city, ahead even of Seattle (which ranked number five)? And didn’t the U.S. Census Bureau report in 2011 that more than 600,000 people call the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene region home? To quote an old Arby’s commercial, “Where did everybody go?”
They’re right here, happy singles say – but you’ve got to look outside your proverbial box to find them. In other words, shut off the television, pull your nose out of your computer screen, and get out of the house.
“It’s no trouble at all to meet women,” Ed Renouard, 56, says. “It’s easy.” He’s been unattached for 10 years, and having a blast. He goes to nightclubs, sure, and also restaurants and parties and movies and out with friends. He skis, golfs and goes to lake cabins. A marketing and advertising executive, he meets plenty of women through his work, as well.
Josh Wade, owner of Nectar Tasting Room downtown, agrees that meeting new people isn’t difficult – not for him, anyway. “I’m around people a lot,” says Wade, 40. “People who don’t go out on dates very often, it’s because they’re in the same routine and see the same people over and over.” Or, he adds, they don’t go out much at all.
Karen Mobley has lived in Spokane nearly 20 years. She dates – looking more for companionship than romance – and she knows lots and lots of people, but she has noticed that people can be clique-ish here.
“More than any place I’ve ever lived, people make assumptions about what your values are based on the geography of where your house is,” she says.
Christine Selden is a case in point: a north-sider, she finds herself mingling primarily with other north-siders. “It seems like the group of singles in that area just swap around,” says Selden, 45.
“Spokane has become almost an incest of people,” complains Stephanie Luciani, a 28-year-old hairstylist. “There’s never unused goods.”
Matchmaker Nancy Bates hears this complaint more than any other. “Everybody knows everybody’s business in this town,” she says. “It’s a small circle, in some ways. People don’t migrate out. They like staying in their comfort zone.”
Or they don’t have the time or energy to explore. Franklin’s salon keeps her busy seven days a week, leaving her little time to do much more than rest. “I love to chill at my house,” she says. Besides spending time with her 13-year-old daughter, she reads psychology books on her sun patio, plays games on her iPad, and watches movies on TV. She needs a homebody, she says – “I just want someone to sit at home in my sweats with me after a day’s work and watch Netflix” – but how to find him when he’s probably at home, too?
It’s a dilemma that worsens with age, Selden maintains. “People in their 40s, 50s, 60s on up tend to not go out. They hole themselves up, go to work and go home. If they’re not getting out, it’s pretty tough to meet other people.”
For them, online dating might be a godsend – or not. Nearly everyone, it seems, has tried it, but almost no one admits to enjoying it.
“It’s ridiculous,” Selden says of the online scene. “The men are not on the same playing field. A lot of them are not educated, and can’t carry on a conversation.” She has, she adds, “met some great guys and have made a lot of friends and have several fond memories,” but nothing more.
Renouard is online, but he doesn’t spend much time there, he says. “I prefer to meet somebody without expectations. Its such an artificial environment, where you’re sizing people up based on a paragraph or photograph.”
Ah, but leave the expectations at home, and the online dating experience can be sublime. Just ask Judi Rabensteiner, 50, newly single and casting her net in the Match.com sea these past nine months – and having the time of her life. She’s met fascinating men: a pilot, and, on the night of our interview, a firefighter.
“You attract what you are,” she says. “You bring to yourself what you project. If you go into a date with this big expectation, you’re bound to be disappointed.”
“Trust my gut” is Rabensteiner’s approach to online dating. She emails a few times before agreeing to a meeting, which is so important. “You really have to meet someone face to face. You can’t get the chemistry across a computer screen.”
Sure, she’s had a few clunker dates, where the connection wasn’t there – but she chalks it up to experience, tries to learn something from it, and gives it another whirl.
“I think enjoyment comes from within,” she says. “I tend to embrace life that way, anyway, whether it’s being single, or my job, or being a mom. I just want to soak it up.”
Some of Rabensteiner’s favorite dates so far have been with an Air Force pilot she met on Match. Military men do frequent the site, Luciani says, and can be found by the van-full wherever the Fairchild A.F.B. shuttle – the “Stars and Stripes van” – is parked. Those wanting to meet someone new might look no further. But, Luciani adds, if you hook a fish wearing a uniform, you might wind up throwing him or her back in.
“The military promotes getting married immediately,” she says. “The only way you and your military significant other can be together in any way, shape or form is if you are married.” Co-habitating is forbidden in military housing, she says. And then, if your beloved gets shipped elsewhere, it’s either marry or say good-bye. He might pressure you to marry, she adds: with each new dependent, he gets a pay raise.
Dating online expands the possibilities for meeting new people, but it can be a crapshoot. Not only is that all-important chemistry impossible to gauge via a computer screen, but also what you see isn’t always what you get. “A lot of people lie on Match.com,” Mobley says. “I know a lot of people in the community well, and I would say there’s a lot of stuff that’s not true.”
If not online, though, where are singles supposed to meet? The city certainly has its share of watering holes – the Marquee Lounge, Soulful Soups and Jimmy’z are especially popular, and, among the younger set, Fast Eddie’s, Luciani says.
Sarah Patton meets men in bars, but she never takes them seriously. “My thought walking in is that I’m not going to meet anybody of quality …,” she says. “There’s never a good outcome.”
Patton, 30, often meets men at concerts, she says – a great place to dance and have fun, but not so good for intimate conversation. And, although she’s bisexual – “and very monogamous” – she says meeting women is even more difficult.
Whitney Fehringer, 25, of Coeur d’Alene, sometimes meets men at the gym. A triathlete, she spends much of her free time working out. Athletic and outdoorsy, she’d seem a natural match for many of Spokane’s men – she even likes to fish – but, she says, “The pickings are slim here.”
Maybe she should try Meetup.com. The site offers a plethora of ways to meet others of like minds and interests: groups devoted to hiking, social dancing, cooking, meditation, board games, art films – you name it, there’s probably a group – as well as those for “boomer” singles, polyamorous people, Generation X singles, young professional singles, and more.
But, says Selden, the Meetup gatherings she’s attended consist chiefly of women. She’d like to see a Seattle-style lunch dating service here, in which professional singles are matched for lunch dates.
“This town could use a matchmaker, and they’d probably be really busy,” she says.
Enter Bates, an energetic woman with a ready smile whose potluck mixers – “Singles Mingles,” she calls them – bring available men and women together. Her last event in 2011 resulted in two couples, she says: both are still together, one of them married. Her next event is planned for Saturday, August 10th. Interested? Drop her a line on Facebook: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For gays and lesbians, bars are pretty much the only offline place to meet: Irv’s, and, especially popular with lesbians, nYne, both of them downtown. Llewellyn enjoys the trivia nights at nYne, on Thursdays, for getting together with other lesbian friends.
Rotas, who doesn’t like bars, wants to see more gay-friendly coffee shops, such as Chairs Coffee on West Indiana, and bookstores, both popular in other cities. Gay sports teams – rugby, flag football – have also worked well in other cities, he says.
For Spokane gays and lesbians, subset that they are, being single can be particularly lonely, Bates says. But for them, the advice remains the same as for the straight crowd: the best way to meet new people is to go out and find them.
That’s Rabensteiner’s recipe, and it’s working quite well, she says. She joined the Inland Northwest Hikers on Meetup.com. She belongs to a swing dance club that meets every other Sunday night. She goes to movies at the Magic Lantern. She takes Zumba and Pilates classes, rides horses and has even competed in an adult spelling bee.
For her, being single is Spokane offers a world of opportunities to connect not only with others, but also with herself: “Spokane is not Seattle or New York or Chicago or wherever, but I think it’s a pretty cool place.”
Worst Date: Moonlight Kayaking in November
He seemed terrific on Match.com, and promised her romance. On their first date, he took her to a northside park at dusk, where his kayak awaited in the Spokane River. Surprise! He’d planned a full-moon excursion, complete with wine, cheese, even firewood – romantic, yes, if you know each other and if you’re dressed for it, which she was not. “I’m sitting on the river and I’m freezing,” she says. “I’m thinking, this might have been better in July.” When he suggested they cross the river and build a fire, she begged off. Adding insult to injury, she had to help him schlep the kayak back to his car.
Best Date: Table for Six – Hours
They’d already met once, and knew they liked each other. On their second date, he took her out for what turned out to be a marathon lunch date, six hours long. Those hours flew past as they talked and laughed and ate and drank. “I hit it off with this guy so well.” They continued to date for months, and are still friends.
Worst: Snoopy, Go Home
During a disagreement, she referred to a personal email he had received. How, he asked, did she know about that? While he’d been in the men’s room, she’d entered his security code into his phone – having figured it out – and read it, she confessed. And that, he says, was the end of that.
Kristin Speller, 29
Owner, Garland Sandwich Shoppe
“There’s really nothing new to try in Spokane except maybe a billboard, and I can’t finance that right now.”
Stephanie Luciani, 25
“There’s never unused goods. It almost feels like the well is dry.”
Bill LaVigne, 49
“I think there’s a lot of people who settle. I’m not willing to settle.”
Judi Rabensteiner, 50
Regional development officer, Gonzaga University
“You’re going to be yourself at some point, so you might as well be yourself at the beginning.”
Kirstin Franklin, 33
Owner, Hey Gorgeous salon
“I will not get married until I find my best friend.”
Christine Selden, 46
CFO in a family business
“I feel like I am fishing in a very small pond for a really great catch. The right one just hasn’t come along!”
Sarah Patton, 30
“I’m still looking for daddy material. If I meet the most perfect man for me and he is so adamantly against children, I would consider not having children. But if I don’t meet any men at all, I still plan on having children.”
Josh Wade. 40
Owner, Nectar Tasting Room and nectarMEDIA
“I think men have an easier time finding women in Spokane than women have finding quality men in Spokane.”
Whitney Fehringer, 25
“My dad is amazing to my mom, and they’re still in love, and I want that.”
Nick “Rush” Rotas, 29
Client transaction technician for an investment company
“It can be a bit harder to date the older you get. A lot of the crowd my age or so does tend to move. They either don’t feel like their niche is here, or they make career moves. That’s why I’m probably going to move.”