An advice columnist sets out to find out which city is better for finding romance
Sometimes I hear about a kind of jealousy between people in New York City and Boston. But it has nothing to do with baseball. It’s about a different thing.
My single friends in Boston tell me it would be “sooo much easier” to find love if they lived in New York City. Those friends (and some Boston-area readers of my Globe advice column) believe that the dating options would be more plentiful in New York, and that there’d be a better night life scene for meeting strangers. They know for certain there’d be a more diverse dating pool — and perhaps fewer men on apps in TB12 hats. (Not judging the apparel, but that particular look and fandom isn’t for everyone.)
Meanwhile, some of my single friends and readers in New York City have wondered whether it might be easier to find a partner in Boston. Those New Yorkers assume that in a smaller city, people might be less transient. Less fickle. They believe that in a place like Boston, people are more interested in long-term commitments.
Still, both groups make good points about why the grass might be greener elsewhere. So . . . is there any way to figure out whether one of them is right? Maybe not, but as an advice columnist, I want to try.
When I ask around about the dating culture in both cities, I get a lot of generalizations. A few single people over 50 tell me there are too many college kids in Boston. But then a few New Yorkers tell me the same thing about their city. Laura Carpenter, who has been single in both cities (the 35-year-old currently lives on the North Shore), says New York City is better if you’re looking for a range of single people. “People in NYC have diverse backgrounds and life experiences while everyone in Boston, I feel like, generally follows the same path . . . and is white,” she says. The downside of New York, according to Carpenter: People don’t feel the need to settle down — and everyone is too attractive. In New York, she says, “You’re surrounded by people who are modeling, acting, [on] Broadway. Not that Boston doesn’t have beautiful people — but it’s less of a focus.”
Anderson Duff, 36, who has also dated in both cities, says Boston’s vibe was limiting, at least for him. “The way I describe Boston is: Did you ever have a friend whose parents kept their house so clean that you were afraid to go over to their house because you might break things? That’s kind of how I feel about a lot of Boston.”
Their generalizations make sense, but they’re just anecdotal. So I went to find the data on dating.
There have been many “singles maps” published over the years that use US Census Bureau data to show where uncoupled people live. One of the most popular was made by Jonathan Soma, who now teaches data visualization at Columbia University’s journalism school. Soma made his map when he was working as a Web developer, in response to a very vague map of singles 18 to 64 published in the Globe in 2008 by the social theorist Richard Florida. A number of cities, including Boston and New York, had more single women than single men on the 2008 map, while the opposite was true in many others, especially along the West Coast.
“Suddenly [Florida’s] map was everywhere,” Soma says. “And everyone’s very excited about how there were all of these single women in New York and single men on the West Coast, and everyone wanted to move to wherever. And I realized that this map was terrible for all kinds of statistical reasons.” One of its many problems: The map did not break singles out by age group. But in the real world, 18-year-olds are highly unlikely to be looking for romance with senior citizens, and vice versa.
The more specific map Soma built, based on 2012 data, shows that if you count every single man and woman ages 18-64, New York and Boston look identical: Both cities have a 51 to 49 ratio of single women to single men. But Soma’s map allows you to adjust by age. If you are single and between the ages of 40 to 49, it shows you that in your age range in Boston, there are approximately 52 single women for every 48 single men, compared to New York’s 53 single women to 47 single men. But don’t despair, single ladies in your 40s: According to that data, in Manchester, New Hampshire, and Poughkeepsie, New York, single men outnumber single females in that age range. (Once you hit age 50, though, single women outnumber single men just about anywhere.)
Looking at the map, I couldn’t help but wonder (please read that sentence in a Carrie Bradshaw voice) if it has any value. First, it’s binary when it comes to gender. Second, it doesn’t tell you who’s straight, gay, or whether they’re even seeking a partner.
Soma agrees that his map doesn’t tell any kind of full story. He still regularly gets e-mails asking him for specific data on things such as racial makeup or education levels. Numbers can’t tell you, either, the mood of a city, and whether its singles are the type of people who will be kind to a stranger at a party.
Another failure of these maps: They define single as unmarried. They don’t tell you who has a super-serious significant other. That means in Massachusetts or New York, two of only three US states where people’s average age for their first marriage is over 30, people might have multiple long-term relationships or be partnered for years but still be counted as single by the statisticians.
Soma’s map did reveal one thing, though. When I was in my 20s and 30s, my straight women friends often complained there just weren’t many single men in that age range in Boston and New York. But it turns out that wasn’t the case. Soma wrote, in his summary of the data, “Among 20- and 30-somethings, almost every single city in America has more single men than single women. Although no single woman in New York will believe it, I promise it’s true.”
Since singles maps don’t give us enough information to tell us whether New York, Boston, or anywhere else is the best place to find love, I turned to other sources: dating apps, survey makers, and corporations.
WalletHub, a credit-focused personal finance website, has ranked the best (and worst) cities for singles based on “34 key indicators of dating-friendliness.” Those indicators included the average monthly fitness club fee, the number of restaurants, and the number of active Tinder users. Boston beats New York on this list, ranking as the 12th most dating-friendly city, with NYC far behind at No. 28. Atlanta sits in the No. 1 spot.
WalletHub’s ranking for the best cities for singles
The dating app EliteSingles, which delivers matches to its users after they answer a substantial questionnaire, sent me a press release recently announcing its list of the most “marriage-minded” locations based on information from 100,000 of its members. According to the app, the No. 1 place to find someone who wants to get married is Keller, Texas, a city of about 45,000 people not far from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. New York City doesn’t event make it into the top 15 — nor does Boston. Sitting at No. 4, randomly, is Agawam (maybe couples find strength in Six Flags’ roller coasters).
Where EliteSingles says the most ‘marriage-minded’ people live
New York roars back on Match.com, whose ranking of the most “successful” cities for singles puts it second behind only Houston. The only city in Match.com’s top five that isn’t also one of the five most populous cities is Miami. A Match spokesperson tells me by e-mail, “There are all sorts of variables when it comes down to WHY certain cities are better for potential success than others . . . . Boston, interestingly enough, has an unusually high rate of educated members, which actually has a moderate correlation with female satisfaction on the site.”
It’s worth noting that dating is probably expensive in both cities, judging from a 2016 Match.com survey that asked, among other things, what people spend on first dates. In New York state, people spent $58.80 on average, while in Massachusetts the average was $49.88. North Dakotans, however, spent $84, tops in the nation, and second was Rhode Island, where first dates averaged $75.33, suggesting residents expect more elaborate outings than the rest of us.
It doesn’t surprise me that the cities topping most of these lists are in warm places. Dating is easier when you aren’t sad to have to walk outside. (Of course, when I tell a West Coast friend I assume it’s easier to date in California because of the warmth, she laughs at me.)
These rankings, then, are all over the map when it comes to Boston and New York. For a singular opinion on the dating culture in both cities, I went to Zachary Zane, who writes about culture, sexuality, and non-traditional relationships for a variety of publications. The 27-year-old has plenty to say about how people couple up and why. A Vassar graduate, he lived in Boston, and now resides in New York.
I ask Zane whether he thinks it’s easier to date in some cities than others — and whether Boston or New York is a better dating city, in general. First, he advises against romanticizing New York simply because it’s America’s most populous city. Numbers don’t always translate into meaningful relationships. “Hookup culture is a little more prevalent here,” he says. “Every night in New York I could go out to a bar and have sex.” Having so many options makes it difficult to settle and get to know someone, he says. That’s the paradox of choice.
When he moved to Boston, Zane feared the city would be too traditional for him to have the love life he wanted. But he found a boyfriend, and they were polyamorous. He says not to generalize about any city with a population in the millions (Boston doesn’t, but Greater Boston has an estimated 4.7 million residents).
Zane believes the best location for dating is wherever you’ll make the best friends. Choose a place to live based on the quality of your whole life, he says, not just your romantic opportunities.
Obehi Janice, a playwright and screenwriter who now works on the Hulu series “Castle Rock,” takes this thought a step further. Janice grew up in Lowell, lived in Boston for years, and then moved to New York City. She now splits her time between Brooklyn and Los Angeles. She had so much trouble dating in Boston she made a music video about it; “It’s So Hard to Date Around in Boston” is an almost shot-by-shot parody of the Boyz II Men song “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.” (The short played at last year’s Roxbury Film Festival.)
Janice found Boston a challenging place to date. The men she went out with were ambiguous about their intentions (sometimes she didn’t even know if she was on a date). But she acknowledges she was never 100 percent invested in finding love in Boston. She knew she wanted to be in New York for creative opportunities, and that made her time here feel temporary.
Once she moved to Brooklyn to build the professional life she wanted, it also changed her personal life. “When I’m in Brooklyn I’m like, I’m home . . . I feel in my element, way more than I ever did in Boston,” Janice says. “I feel sexier in New York. I feel more confident in New York.” Little wonder that dating has been better for her there.
And that’s the answer, I think, or at least the one I’m sticking with. The easiest place to date is where it feels like home — or, more importantly, where you feel like the best version of yourself. That’s where you might meet someone who feels like they’re home, too.
Meredith Goldstein is a Globe staff writer, and is pretty sure she’d have a cool boyfriend if she lived in London. Season 2, Episode 3 of her Love Letters podcast is about dating and geography. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.