The love disconnection

There are more single men than single women in Ottawa. So why do single women find it so hard to meet one good man? Photograph by: Stan Honda, AFP/Getty Images

There are more single men than single women in Ottawa. So why do single women find it so hard to meet one good man?

It’s true. There are slightly more single men in Ottawa than single women.

According to 2006 census figures, if you took all the single men who are not living in a common-law relationship and their female counterparts and matched them one for one, you’d have 12,000 men left over.

To some single women, it just doesn’t feel like that way.

“I think there are good men in Ottawa, but there are far less good men than jerks,” says Jennifer, a 27-year-old public servant with a law degree who likes the outdoors and travel, speaks fluent Spanish and is currently doing a master’s degree in international law. She has been in three serious relationships and is now dating men through online sites.

“Seems that I would meet one good man for every five to seven dates,” she says.

Taylor, a 33-year-old civil servant and single mother of a seven-year-old with two long-term relationships behind her, says a lot of men in this city have a “skewed reality” when it comes to women.

“They’re looking for a woman with a Barbie appearance and an Einstein brain,” says Taylor, who likes music and hockey and has both a university degree and a college diploma.

“I’ve gone with a number of men who I’d consider in my league who weren’t interested even after what I thought were great dates. I think they’re always looking for something better — or out of their league — but are willing to chance letting go of someone who is a bit of a Barbie and a bit of an Einstein.”

Jennifer thinks it cuts both ways. “When a woman is successful she is looking for someone who is successful or more successful than she is,” she says.

“This can be hard. Successful women generally have really high standards that are sometimes disproportionate to what they have to offer in return. Women have this ‘I deserve only the best — I want to be swept off my feet’ kind of ideal since we were kids and were told so often not the settle for less.”

Whatever it is, something is happening out there for young adults and there are many theories about why it is happening: educated women are getting more picky; men aren’t trying hard enough — and too many of them live in their parents’ basements. Besides, men can see that there are better pickings of high-earning young women than ever before, so they’re taking the opportunity to play the field for longer.

And Ottawa is not the only place where it’s happening.

The average age of first marriages has been drifting upwards for decades, so now it is almost 30 for men and over 27 for women. An increasing number of first-time mothers are over 40. From 1990 to 2009, the proportion of women with a bachelor’s degree more than doubled to 28 per cent. In 2006, almost 31 per cent of men between the ages of 25 and 29 lived at home with parents, compared to 21.3 per cent of women.

This is not unprecedented. Canadian couples have not always married young. In 1921, for example, the average age at first marriage was 28 for men and 25 for women, because men had to work for years to secure a home for a wife.

Young men today have more bargaining power in relationships, says Roderik Beaujot, a professor of sociology at the University of Western Ontario. In the past, men were forced into adulthood because they had to have a job and get married before they could get into an intimate relationship. Children usually soon followed, and men were in the marriage for the long haul.

“Young men are perhaps taking the easy route. Like living at home with few restraints,” he says. “If women want to find men of comparable education, they either can’t go to university or they have to marry down.”

This matches up to Jennifer’s observations of the singles scene.

“Most women don’t need a provider, they can provide for themselves and I think that plays a big role in why they are single for longer,” she says.

“Men want to be providers, and are generally not attracted to women who don’t need them, Sure it’s nice to have a smart, funny, direct and confidence wife, but that’s not what most men are looking for. Most men can find all those qualities in their guy friends or at work. At home, most guys would rather a wife who is compassionate, supportive, feminine and who he can provide for.”

Taylor thinks it’s a good thing women are waiting longer to marry and can spend their mature years dating around more selectively.

“Unfortunately, I think the trend is also true for men. And since women mature faster, men are fine settling down even later in their 30s,” she says. “So for a woman like me who would like to have more children, sooner rather than later. it’s frustrating to find a lot of men my age are still playing the field and not in a rush because they don’t worry about their biological clocks ticking.”

In 2006, Columbia University economist Lena Edlund had an explanation for why the market for available men was so competitive in urban areas, despite the fact that the 2005 U.S. census showed more unmarried men than unmarried women in the 15-to-44 age bracket.

Edlund found well-educated men prefer women with traits that suggest fertility — that is, attractive and curvy — and they move to cities because they can earn higher wages. Well-educated women make the same choice, both for higher wages and for a better pool of marriage partners. But they have more competition because uneducated women also move to cities for the same reasons. It means a surplus of women in urban areas and a surplus of men in rural areas.

“Highly educated women want the male equivalent of the movies in terms of earning power and attractiveness,” says Jocelyn Wentland, a University of Ottawa psychology researcher, who lectures on mate selection.

When entering the dating marketplace, each person has their trading cards: attractiveness, education, personality, family background. “And in the dating marketplace, most people want to trade up, not down,” she says.

In the past, many women were willing to “trade down” in terms of looks in order to trade up in terms of money.

“But now that many women make more money than men, they don’t have to do that anymore, so they might trade up in terms of attractiveness — or other qualities — rather than money.”

Click here for tips on where and how to meet men in Ottawa

Men, on the other hand, still demand that attractiveness trading. Hence the: Barbie looks and Einstein brain” as Taylor observes.

Wentland and two research colleagues at the University of Guelph recently completed a survey of first-date expectations, based on a study of 1,200 people in Ottawa and Guelph, about half of them university undergraduates, the other half young people, mostly under 30.

Oddly enough, some things about the dating scenario would be familiar to their grandparents. The researchers found that the expectations of “what people typically do” on a first date were still gender-based: the men expected to plan the date, pick up the woman at her residence — often with flowers — pick up the tab and make the sexual advances. The women expect to buy something new to wear, and possibly put on some sexy lingerie. They plan to eat lightly if there is a meal and resist their date’s advances.

Despite all of the new technology, including texting, Facebook and online dating, this expected “script” still holds up: the man expects to act, the woman expects to react, says Wentland.

But when it comes to real dates, though, men are confused.

“Men don’t know what they are supposed to do. Are they supposed to open the door because that’s what a gentleman does? Or does opening the door make him chauvinistic?” says Wentland. “Gender roles are uncertain. We have the scripts, but the reality is unclear.”

A date, Wentland points out, is different from another social convention in the age of online dating, what she calls the “meet-and-greet,” where two people who have communicated online but never seen other meet at a coffee shop of for a beer just to size each other up and make sure online information is accurate. There are no plans for dinner — although that might still happen — and the format makes it easy for either parties to duck out if they are not interested.

There is also, she notes, a “sweet spot” for meeting face-to-face, says Wentland. Text flirting can go on for weeks or months and never result in a real meeting. One person in the equation is getting his or her ego stroked by knowing that another person is interested, but has no intention of gong to the disappointment of meeting face-to-face. “Men and women both do it,” she says.

Meanwhile, online dating means that people looking to date can cast their nets more widely. But it also creates the illusion that there are far more potential partners out there. And it can lead to juggling multiple potential partners during the process of weeding out those who are not suitable — and the potential for hurt feelings, especially if a candidate is told up-front that are one of several dating partners currently in the mix, says Wentland.

It’s no less hurtful — and there is a sense of betrayal — if juggling of dates comes up by accident.

“I don’t think it’s men or women,” she says. “It’s an even playing field.”

Ottawa’s single women can certainly catalogue their dating disasters.

Taylor recalls going out on one first date with a man who got drunk, was rude to the waitress and invited himself back to her place. (She was so frightened, she waited in the parking lot until he left so he didn’t follow her home). Jennifer dated one man who said he was her age and was in law school. It turned out he was 21 and had only applied to law school.

Marilyn, 28, who works with people in the early stages of Alzheimers disease, dated a lawyer who she met on an online dating site who seemed interested in her. “It turns out he was living with a longtime girlfriend.”

Other experiences have been painfully awkward, or the men were “not very serious about dating and were using the site as a ‘little black book,’“ she says. “My experience would lead me to believe that there are no good men out there. But that would be too cynical. I’m sure they’re out there.”

Click here to read what four females say about being solo in Ottawa

Nora Spinks, chief executive officer of the Vanier Institute of the Family, says young people now of marriageable age more likely to separate intimacy from commitment because they see examples of this separation everywhere, in pop culture and in the news. They asked their parents questions — and their parents answered — when U.S. president Bill Clinton dallied with an intern in the White House.

“All kinds of taboos fell away,” she says.

They have higher levels of education than any other previous generation, and yet it is more difficult to get a job that pays enough to live independently. They have more cordial and equal relationships with their parents if they remain at home than previous generations. The question for young people, Spinks says, is, “Why not live at home?”

If they get married and have children, they can’t expect their parents to help with the babysitting because most grandparents have jobs of their own.

Spinks also believes that Ottawa is unique because of the makeup of its workforce. Public sector workers put in long hours, which makes it difficult to find the time and energy to socialize. And Ottawa has a high proportion of households where the demands of two careers, not just two incomes, can be at odds.

At the same time, most young men were raised in households (in houses much larger than the ones where their parents grew up with more siblings) where they were expected to assist in domestic tasks like laundry, cooking and cleaning that were once considered “pink” jobs. Young men no longer need a wife to clean the house and cook the meals.

“If you have taken away the need, then you have to replace it with want,” says Spinks. “Do you want a partner? How do you want to structure this relationship?”

Some things are marvellous about the recent evolution of the relationship between the sexes, she says. Household tasks can be assigned according to competency, and not gender, for example. Juggling a career and parenthood is still not easy, but neither is it revolutionary they way it was three or four decades ago.

“Would people want to go back to partnering at 19 and having babies at 21?”“

Marilyn didn’t spend any time romanticizing about her wedding as a girl. As an adult, what she wants from a marriage is exactly what her mother got: a husband who always saved the best cut of meat for his wife and served her first; a man who would bake pita bread and fashion one in the shape of a heart for her. This despite the fact that on the surface they appeared a mismatch, her mother an upper-crust British Protestant and her father an Eastern European Jew 27 years her senior.

Marilyn is willing to wait for the spark her parents had. And perhaps, because of her age, she has the luxury of waiting.

“Women get into trouble when they start viewing the dating, marriage, babies game as a race,” she says. “Marriage should come after meeting someone that you actually want to spend the rest of your life with and you can be choosy if you aren’t in any hurry and feel happy and proud to be single.

Hopefully, women are waiting a bit longer to get married because they understand that they are in charge of their destinies and don’t need to meet and marry someone in order to accomplish something.”

Guys, what do you think? Is dating in Ottawa so rotten? Contact Joanne Laucius at



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