Why Dating in San Francisco Bay Area (Oakland, San Jose, Berkeley, Palo Also) is Challenging

In the city where people love to complain about everything from electric scooters, to Ubers blocking bike lanes, long waits at Blue Bottle, incorrect DoorDash orders, fog, nudists, delayed MUNI lines, price of avocado toast, steep hills, lack of late night cafe culture, nimby’s, tourists to high rents, it’s no wonder that dating is at or near the top of people’s lists of gripes. Demanding work schedules, long commutes, men who suffer from Peter Pan syndrome, guys who don’t approach women offline and a shortage of women are some of the most commonly referenced reasons for such frustration among single folks in San Francisco. I am not here to repeat those familiar reasons but rather explain some of the driving forces behind those factors as well as introduce some additional reasons specifically related to San Francisco that contribute to this current ecosystem of frustration.

On Demand Culture

No other city in the world is quite like San Francisco. Tt is not unheard of to commute for 2-3 hours a day to/from work; couple that with the technology hotbed of Silicon Valley, you get the perfect melting pot for on-demand culture. There are on-demand apps for meals, lunch, dog-sitters, babysitters, snacks, coffee orders, hook-ups, cabs, restaurants, beauty services and more. In San Francisco, free time is a luxury and people turn to apps to streamline their needs regularly and it’s not just for basic necessities. The ‘Have It Your Way’ options embedded in these apps enable people to feel that anything is available with just a few clicks. It’s one thing to rely on a cab due to a missed bus but if you were never exposed to hailing a cab, waiting in the rain, shopping for clothes in person or adhering to a train schedule, this impatience and me-centric view of the world can set you up for some major disappointments in life.

Dating Apps

Match.com, the early pioneer of online dating, was (and still is) the worst culprit when it comes to unnecessary customization (filters for 7 body types, hair color, profession, associates degree vs some college, graduate degree vs PHD and more) – it has commoditized the dating population like no other. Training individuals to segment users further down than what they would ordinarily offline is not helping people here in San Francisco.

Dating apps have also created another set of bad habits for people: false sense of security, identity and authenticity. When you order a coffee from Philz from the app, you can be certain you are getting what you ordered. Apps like these are ordering apps whereas dating apps should be treated like introduction apps. Dating apps are not designed to screen people, provide background checks nor verify intent and behavior – these aspects are up to users to figure out on their own through due diligence, Google/LinkedIn searches, questions, patience, communication and in person dates. People are a bit too trusting of anonymous profiles and have forgotten how to read body language, yet to learn how to analyze photos, less likely to seek feedback from friends about dates from Tinder than the cute guy at the bar, and are more likely to focus on looks alone vs other queues when deciding whether to go out on a date with someone.

If one is lucky enough to meet a half-way decent person from a dating app, chances are that the date will be ruined by one or more of the individuals putting too much pressure too early on the other person on date #1. Tailored filters and excessive customizations coupled with timing force people to make rushed decisions about the person you are sitting next to or in front of on a date “Is this my soulmate?” aka “Is this exactly what I ordered?” vs. “Do I like this person? Do I want to see him/her again” approach. Manage to find a significant other?

Bay Area Lifestyle and Characteristics

Unlike other parts of the country where the weather can expedite cuffing season during the cold months, the Bay Area has no shortage of climates, weekend trips and activities to keep people busy. Ski trips to Tahoe, waterfall hikes to Alamere Falls, wine-tasting in Sonoma, camping in Yosemite, oyster binges at Hog Island – you start to get the idea. There is plenty to do and no shortage of people to do these things with to keep you busy as a single person. If you log onto a dating app, there is no shortage of travelers said dating apps – everyone has been to Iceland and Maccu Piccu. Be it for work or pleasure, many folks in San Francisco are constantly traveling across country or across the globe. Fewer people actually live here full-time and companies like Airbnb has made it easier for folks to rent out their place on weekends and live elsewhere.

Even if you manage to stay in the city, there are endless activities to indulge a never grow up mindset from SantaCon, Folsom Street Fair, food trucks, weekend flip cup games, Frisbee Golf, Bay to Breakers, video game arcade bars and more. There is always something going on everyday in San Francisco that FOMO is evident in those unable to commit to plans beyond this weekend which makes planning dates impossible. Who wants to give up a weekend away to go on a bad date? Who wants to be spotted on an awkward date by co-workers? Those who work in demanding tech and start-up jobs either don’t have the time to go on dates during the week after work or don’t want to give up their weekend of relaxing and getting caught up on chores, friends etc.

The other characteristic of San Francisco and the Bay Area that has hindered dating is geography, transportation and climate. Cities like NYC and other major cities have greatly expanded dating diameters to cross rivers, boroughs and neighborhoods. It’s not uncommon for individuals to be overly selective and not date someone on the other side of Van Ness or Market streets. Similarly daily drop in temperature, tall hills and relaxed work cultures have led to people dressing too casually or heading home early because it is too cold or windy. A vest or pullover is considered dressing up in San Francisco these. When was the last time you saw a guy in a suit that was not a bank teller or real estate agent. Women in dresses and heels – forget about it. You would be surprised how many heads you can turn if you dressed up like you did in NYC.

Work Culture and Pressure

High stakes conditions with startups with high valuations and promises on an IPO have hurt individuals in their quest for love. Whether it is 2-3 hour commutes in private buses vs public transportation, need to be constantly on call or adhering to the work hard play hard culture, employees are not only burning out more quickly but they are having fewer opportunities for organic, spontaneous interactions with strangers. No more lunches outside the office, no more coffee breaks down the street, no more walking to the grocery store to meet that cute girl in the produce section, no more waiting at the bus stop. Instead you have people on their phones constantly, employees trapped in the office for longer periods of time, more folks with Airpods permanently lodged in their ears. These subtle conveniences of on site cafeterias, gyms, day care, happy hours have greatly reduced interaction with casual strangers outside your office. Employees at these large companies are feeling the pressure to work longer days and delay lifestyle decisions such as having kids (as evident in offering freezing eggs as a perk) or take reduced salaries in exchange for better work-life balance.

The blame from working culture here in San Francisco cannot all be blamed on startup and tech companies (at least not all directly). The shift in companies established in and relocating to San Francisco has caused prices to skyrocket as more people are choosing to live in San Francisco because of private buses and opportunities to rent out their dwelling on Airbnb. Fewer people are eating out less, going out to bars less often and instead are working side gigs or getting 2nd and 3rd jobs just to survive. This has put a big strain across all socioeconomic levels.

Technology and Isolation

These days people are more isolated now more than ever before. In person connections and meetings are replaced by social media feeds, YouTube how to videos have replaced trial and error of developing crafts, Slack communications have replaced in person meetings, private buses with co-workers have replaced spontaneous interactions with strangers on public transportation, text messages have replaced phone calls, order ahead apps have replaced interactions with people in line and baristas, take out and delivery app orders have replaced dining in, in-office happy hours have replaced off-site happy hours, on-site gyms have replaced exercising outdoors, more demanding work schedules have resulted in less me time.

Apps have made it easier for folks to seek feedback on their photos from strangers via Photofeeler and Reddit. Relying on a single subjective score from a stranger rather than working on one’s posture, seeking feedback on wardrobe from friends, getting a second opinion about the person at the bar from a friend and improving their eye contact and communication skills. I call this the growth hacker mentality of dating – trying to hack the algorithms is a preferred approach vs. facing the harsh reality of self-awareness and working on oneself. Most of the people on dating apps have never had someone review their app choices, photos or bios. Whether it’s embarrassment, lack of friends or insecurity more and more people are having trouble being comfortable being in their own skin, asking for help and being vulnerable.

Social Media and Mental Health Issues

One cannot ignore all these contributing factors when it comes to dating – repeat flakiness, available time, fear of missing out, better options a swipe away, work pressure, cost of living, social awkwardness from lack of offline interactions, changing demographic of people with a shift to relying on algorithms and less on feeling and intuition – all of these things build up over time. If you spend too much time on dating apps, get flustered with meeting people at bars or have trouble establishing a relationship, these things can begin to take a toll on your life. It doesn’t help that your social media feed is filled with friend’s vacations, engagements, babies, etc. The constant comparisons can make one feel inadequately.

Some Food For Thought

For those that are aware of the challenges of dating in San Francisco as well as the daily trade-offs they make through their job, priorities and lifestyle, there is hope. Get off your phone, take off your Airpods, go out for lunch, buy your own groceries, talk to a stranger, don’t turn down an invite to go out with a friend, cancel your Netflix account, take public transportation instead of taking a Lyft – go outside your comfort (and convenient) zone. Take a new class, find a new route to take home, sit at the communal table, volunteer at a non-profit that resonates with your passions, sit alone at the bar, explore that new exhibit at the museum, don’t wait friends in order to make plans and instead learn to do things on your own. Be vulnerable, take a chance to say hello to someone new, or just smile – you might be surprised who you might meet next time you are out and about.

It’s hard to engage in conversation if you don’t have much to talk about or if you don’t leave your home outside of work. Common experiences, unique life choices, positivity and curiosity fuel conversations – don’t expect someone to lift you from your rut. Don’t let your past interaction or relationship hinder your ability to give next person you meet a chance to wow you. 

For tips about dipping your toe in the world of dating apps as well best practices for profile photos, bios, prompts, check out my blog.