Dr. O’Neal is a Harvard-trained, licensed clinical psychologist with a diverse clinical background. She currently maintains a private practice in the Back Bay in Boston where she specializes in treating adults with anxiety, depression, body image disorders, trauma, and relationship challenges, to name a few.
“It’s hard out here.’’
If you were to listen into one of my therapy sessions with a patient who happens to be single and dating, you’d likely hear me say this to create a little levity while we discuss the unrelenting anxieties within Boston’s dating and mating scene.
Regardless of your age or gender, being single in Boston can be a challenge.
Over the next few days, I will be exploring the social and psychological challenges Boston singles face when looking for long-term love.
The life of a single Bostonian
The good news is that overall, Boston is a great place to meet other vibrant, intelligent, and successful singles. Approximately 50.2% of the city population is single.
So statistically speaking, when a Bostonian eventually makes a long-lasting match, it tends to last. On the other hand, getting to marriage can be a gargantuan task for city singles as the journey is often mired with anxiety and anxiety-avoiding behaviors that have resulted from Boston’s unique gender inequities.
Boston Magazine recently highlighted the city of Boston as the very best American city for a heterosexual, single male primarily because of the 93:100 ratio of males to females. Dating should feel easier for men, but upon closer observation, it seems that both Boston men and women experience challenges.
Battling the mind games in the Boston dating scene
Boston women seem anxious to “let their guard down’’ and communicate openly when dating, even with someone they find attractive. Boston men, on the other hand, seem to be in the quandary of sowing their oats without a care while harboring the awareness that they too, have feelings involved.
I asked several single Bostonians how they feel about Boston’s dating scene:
Paul, a 29-year-old single male who is not seeking a serious commitment, says “dating in Boston is great!’’ He enjoys the fun and facile flirtation with women but acknowledged that more often than not, each other’s intentions are never discussed. He says that women will try to be “cool’’ and not ask about intentions, but he realizes if he were to voluntarily make his intentions known, it would likely curtail his endeavors. If by chance, Paul is asked about his intentions, he says he “absolutely’’ tells them the truth.
Theresa, a 32-year-old single woman expressed the opposite, saying that dating in Boston is an anxiety-provoking, “chilvary-less’’ cycle of relationship “false starts’’ and “unenthusiastic’’ engagement on the part of men. Theresa also happens to be African-American, which she feels only makes dating in Boston more challenging. Online dating is her primary tool for making connections, and while she may receive communication from black and non-black men equally, she feels that the communications from black men demonstrate “significantly less effort in trying to get to know [her],’’ often only writing “hi’’ or an “unwanted sexual overture.’’ She is open to dating men of different races, but feels particularly let down by the black men she encounters online. Theresa has begun to be more clear about her intentions for dating earlier on, but has found that a majority of the men she encounters online, regardless of their race, seem disinterested in that.
Tina and Brandon, both seniors in college, feel that attempts to make a real connection are even more thwarted due to the binge-drinking culture of Boston’s college crowd. Tina said the drinking culture “diminishes faith in finding a partner who is in it for a meaningful commitment.’’ Tina also said that she and her friends often feel suspicious of guys and will not let their guard down, even if they happen to be attracted to him because they’re worried that “he [may be] a party boy [who just wants] sex?’’
Interestingly, Brandon echoed her sentiments saying that alcohol acts as a “massive restraint against our true desires’’ of finding a committed relationship. Brandon also referred to dating in college as the “ultimate Catch-22’’ in that alcohol facilitates confidence in pursuing a person, but creates the challenge of “dating the same person while sober’’ in the process.
How about you? Have you found similar trends in your Boston dating experiences?