I thought I had more time.
I turned 30 in January, but I did not fret about being single. Let’s be clear: Thirty is old, an age that seemed impossibly far away as a teenager, or even when I was 25. But who cares? I invited all my friends to a bar, we counted down to midnight, and I felt happier than I’d ever been. Thirty-year-old Dan McQuade is my least insufferable version yet. I was content.
Then things fell apart.
I should have seen the warning signs. I had a few bad dates in a row. My grandmother asked me when I was going to get a girlfriend. (I was dating someone the last time I saw her!) I sent a saved email draft I shouldn’t have sent to an ex. Societal double standards should keep me from feeling worried about being alone, but cracks appeared.
Over the weekend a news source slightly more reliable than my grandmother, the New York Post, weighed in on my dating life: Men and women pair off early in Philadelphia, and those of us still left are bottom-of-the-barrel types. Well, crap. I guess I should start looking for a cat to keep me company.
To be fair, the piece isn’t one of those Post scoops. It was written by Jo Piazza, author of the new novel Love Rehab (and the eye-opening Celebrity Inc., about how people like the Kardashians make their money). When Piazza, a Yardley native and Penn grad, moved back to Philadelphia in 2011, she found the dating scene here wanting.
Among her potential suitors:
- A political consultant who, when she asked what he liked about her, told her she was a brunette and had a vagina. (I won’t be using this pick-up line anytime soon.)
- A guy with “an egregious psychological tic” and a married man from the suburbs. (If I do get married, am I still expected to date here? Tiger Woods is in town; maybe I can get some tips.)
- A man who “had never traveled beyond the city’s limits—and had no intention of ever doing so.” (Essentially, she dated Charlie Kelly from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Okay, this is accurate.)
When Piazza returned to New York after a year, she writes, dating was fresher. There were more men, she says, and she’s now dating a wonderful man she met at an “Internet Week party.” (I would probably rather remain single than attend a party for something called “Internet Week,” but that’s just me.)
To her credit, Piazza isn’t dismissive of Philadelphia or slamming the Philly dating scene. She told me she has wonderful memories of the city—this is a rare admission to get, from a New Yorker—and did have good dates here, singling out The Archery and Gun Club in South Philly, Pub & Kitchen in Center City, and Go Vertical in Northern Liberties. Someone puked on her at the Mummers Parade, but that’s a Philadelphia rite of passage. “I think I was just delusional thinking that it was the city that made dating hard,” she says. “Yes, I dated douchey guys in Philly, but I also dated them in New York during the 10 years prior.”
Her column is one of those pieces the New York media churn out, reassuring New Yorkers they live in the only city worth living in. And she has a point about size: New York’s a larger city, the dating pool is bigger. Perhaps in five years, I’ll want to move to New York (or Mexico City) to look for love. But people in Philadelphia don’t really get hitched that much earlier. A 2010 study set the average marriage age in Philadelphia at 27.9 and New York at 28.3—hardly a huge gap. There are plenty of people in their late 20s and early 30s here.
And, yeah, dating in Philadelphia is terrible. It’s been both my and my date’s fault. I’ve run out of things to say. I’ve called people the wrong name. I’ve come on too strong or not strong enough. Women have started saying racist things. I’ve been told I don’t look like my photo. (I do!) Many women have told me about the other dates they have scheduled for later in the week. We’ve had too much to drink. Multiple women have commented on the number of sneakers and hair care products I own. I’ve had plenty of fantastically pleasant dates with people I just wasn’t into that much, and I’ve struggled with what to say.
After two dates, one woman told me she was moving to Ohio to get back with her ex-boyfriend.
Based on anecdotal data from friends and sitcoms, dating is terrible everywhere. That’s part of the fun. Dating is an adventure. Adventures can be horrible and depressing. But who cares? A bad first date becomes a hilarious story to tell your friends in about six hours. And a good date becomes a fantastic memory, even if that person has faded from your life. My favorite dates of 2012 were watching Wimbledon on my couch and shopping at the King of Prussia mall.
Plus, dating in Philadelphia has its own pleasures: Fantastic bars with cheap cocktails and awesome BYOBs. The most popular dates in Philadelphia, according to HowAboutWe.com, include silly exploits: bowling, tennis, quizzo, pay-what-you-wish days at the Art Museum. (I am missing out on these tennis dates!) Since the dating pool is smaller, you have to be on your toes: Be especially nice to the dates you don’t like, since you’re likely to run into them at the bar again.
And going out in Philadelphia has one beautiful caveat every time: If you play your cards right, there’s a chance you’ll wake up next to someone wearing a Mike Vick jersey.