Lifestyle

Wrong zip code for love - Island"s singles scene dismal

By Breck Longstreth

Are you single and living on Mercer Island? Are you divorced, widowed, or never married? Do you find yourself looking for love in all the wrong places? Do you wander aimlessly from Starbucks to Starbucks to Starbucks to Starbucks, searching for a significant other?

Well, join the crowd. But you probably won't be happy about it, especially if you're female.

The sad fact of single life on Mercer Island is most people here are married; there are many more available dateable women than catchable men; singles have few places to hook up; and the unhitched tend to run into others who are in the same situation.

More than 3,000 people over the age of 15 on the Island have never been married, according to the 2000 United States Census. More than 14 percent of adults here are separated, divorced, or widowed. Of the 1,363 divorcees, 903 are women. And 828 of the 1,023 widowed Islanders are females.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that single women outnumber single men here.

``If I had waited for someone from Mercer Island to ask me out I never would have had a date. It is miserable here for single women,'' says Janet Graham, who describes herself ``as a very active 66.''

Graham was 47 when her husband died, and most of the men she has dated she met at work.

Joyce Colfer, 62, divorced and the mother of three grown children, says that 95 percent of the singles she has met here are women.

``They share my feeling -- no men to meet on Mercer Island,'' she says.

On an Island where more than 65 percent of households are made up of married-couple families, being single is the exception rather than the rule.

``It was much easier to meet people when I had the children at home, says Colfer. ``School, baseball, their friends and families were all around. Since many of their parents divorced and left here, it has been very isolating. Married couples do not have much to do with singles.''

Karrie Blumenthal, 40, divorced and a single parent, says she assumes that men she sees here are married.

``Maybe the single people on the Island should wear a sign or something on their jackets,'' she says, laughing.

Paul Parks is in a similar quandary.

Despite the high ratio of single women to single men on the Island, the divorced 55-year-old says he can't find gals to date.

``I don't know where they are. I frequent the vegetable aisle at the QFC, and they're not there. I'm holding out hope that all the women are at Albertsons.''

Ken Levine, 47, is equally puzzled. How do you go about meeting a single woman on Mercer Island? ``I haven't a clue,'' says Levine, who is divorced.

But even if Islanders did wear signs announcing their unmarried status, could you get enough of them in a room at the same time to make a difference?

Probably not. Other than a dance three or four times a year at the Stroum Jewish Community Center, there are virtually no places for the not-wed to gather to meet one another on the Island. (See sidebar). As a result, Island singles must travel east to Bellevue or Kirkland, or west to Seattle to find a singles group or activity. And, even at those functions, not everyone walks away happy.

``The singles groups are saturated with nice women and dorky men who are so spoiled -- like kids in a candy store,'' says Colfer.

Parks isn't dorky -- but he's worried he's getting too used to being single. So he joined Space City Mixer, an activity-based Seattle singles group with 10,000 members.

``I'm a little concerned that my life is busy and full, and that I'm starting to get comfortable being single,'' he says.

Divorced, widowed, or never-married, the insularity of Island life can be a detriment to meeting new people, no matter what one's age.

Levine was single when he moved to the Island in 1980, so he joined a Jewish singles group, where he met his wife.

``Now when I attend that group, I see some of the same people,'' he says. ``Except now, they're divorced.''

The Jewish community is tightly knit, says Levine, and that leads to some problems. He tried JDate, an online dating service for Jewish singles. A couple of the women he contacted knew his ex-wife.

``JDate was a bust,'' he says.

Steve Stimpson is only 27, but he, too, speaks to the in-grown nature of the Island singles scene for his demographic.

``Mercer Island is not a good place for singles; it's pretty lame,'' he says. Stimpson, who has lived here all his life, has worked at both the Roanoke Inn and at The Islander, two of the Island's best-known bar/restaurants.

Though The Roanoke attracts a lot of young people in the evenings, says Stimpson, it's usually people who grew up on the Island.

``You rarely meet people you don't already know,'' he says. Many of these are Islanders fresh out of college, who come back to live with their parents for a year or two -- a population that's larger than you might guess, according to Stimpson.

Stimpson says there seem to be a number of young singles in the 25- to 32-year-old age group living in condos in the downtown area.

``When I was bar tending at The Islander, they'd walk over after work and ask me if there is anyplace to meet people on the Island. I'd tell them, `No,''' says Stimpson.

With so few availables on-Island, some residents are turning to the Internet.

Levine has tried it. But he's not a fan. Men outnumber women two to one on most sites, so women can be choosy, he says. He also found that some women he met online were gold-diggers attracted to the Mercer Island zip code.

``If you live on Mercer Island, people expect a certain income level,'' he says.

Parks is considering online dating. He figures if you're going to be selective, it's a good way to go, though he suspects that the undefinable quality he's looking for in a mate is hard to put in words.

``There are specific things I'd like to find in a partner, but all of that can go out the window if someone smiles or moves their hands in a certain way,'' he says.

Those people who have found and lost that person are a significant singles subset on the Island. The widowed here face special challenges, according to Beverly Bridge. She was only 43 when her husband died 13 years ago, plunging her unexpectedly into the single life. She joined a support group for young widows. Bridge, who works as a marriage, family, and child counselor, now facilitates that group.

Issues are often different for young widows and widowers than they are for those who are divorced, says Bridge. Take children, for instance.

``I had my children 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I didn't have the option of every other weekend and Wednesdays off,'' she says. ``It makes dating difficult.''

Betsy Zuber, geriatric specialist for the City of Mercer Island, runs a Grief and Loss Support Group for widowed senior men and women. Issues for this group are slightly different because of age. The aging process and loss of independence compound the loss of a partner, says Zuber. But she and Bridge agree that men tend to move on quite a bit faster than women. ``Men get fixed up and re-marry much sooner,'' says Bridge.

Despite the generally dismal outlook for Islanders trying to date, several people, including Stimpson, say they think the singles scene might change here in the next couple of years, due to the many building projects springing up in downtown.

According to the City of Mercer Island, there will be about 850 new living units in the Town Center, and retail rental space will increase by 15 percent. Stimpson thinks that more single people moving into apartments and condos, and several additional restaurants with bars, might change things for the better for Mercer Island singles.

Karrie Blumenthal agrees. She has lived in a condo in the Town Center for four years.

``I'm really excited about it. I think there will be a big influx of single people on the Island,'' she says. ``Mercer Island needs updating and new blood. It's a beautiful community, but it's old. If communities don't update, they die.''

She lives here because it's safe, clean, and the schools are good. As for meeting someone on the Island, she thinks it's unlikely.

``That would be real serendipity,'' she says.

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The single life: where to look

By Breck Longstreth

Special to the Reporter

Singles groups on the Island have come and gone over the years, and right now there appear to be virtually none. Just ask the people who have started them.

Connie Wible, who has been a single parent for 17 years, initiated a group for single parents through Mercer Island Youth and Family Services in 2001. It lasted for three or four months, held three meetings and three activities, and then fell apart.

``You have to have a lot of people on board to make it work, and everyone is very busy,'' said Wible, who was involved in another single parent group at the Covenant Church from 1989 to 1997. It, too, fizzled.

Josefin Kannin, marketing director for the Mercer Island Stroum Jewish Community Center, said, ``A few years ago, we used to have a really big program, but it disbanded.'' Now, the JCC donates space for Jewish Social Singles, a Seattle/Eastside group for ages 45 and up, to have seasonal dances three or four times a year.

So how do Island singles meet people? Here's what we found out (in alphabetical order):

eHarmony.com is an Internet dating service that uses a patented compatibility matching system to match singles. Prices range from $49.95 for one month to $249.95 for a year's subscription. Contact: eHarmony.com.

Events and Adventures boasts 40 events a month. Each member is screened and interviewed by a member of the staff before being allowed to join. Contact: www.eventsandadventures.com or call the Bellevue office at 425-882-0838.

The 45+ Jewish Social Singles Club, with more than 350 members, was established in 2001. The group holds several dances a year at the Mercer Island JCC. Contact Norm Schultz, unicompwa@aol.com ,or 425-827-5318.

Grief and Loss Support Group for senior adult widowed men and women who have lost a spouse or partner. Meets the second and fourth Thursday afternoons at the Mercer Island Library. Call Betsy Zuber at 236-3525.

JDate.com bills itself as a leader in online Jewish dating. A one-month subscription is $34.95; six months is $149. Contact: www.jdate.com, or 877-453-3861.

Lox of Friends Social Group is a Jewish social group for singles 40 and up, with or without children, living, working, or visiting the greater Seattle area. The group gets together for meals and activities. Contact Raymond Calderon, Loxoffriends@hotmail.com, 772-2639, or Linda Kumin, lkumin@yahoo.com, 232-9195.

Match.com has more than 130,000 members from the greater Seattle area with profiles posted on this 10-year-old Internet dating site. Subscription packages run from $29.99 for a month to $77.94 for six months. Contact www.match.com.

The Mountaineers have events for singles centered on outdoor activity, but they also have dances -- folk, swing, and rock 'n roll. Membership is $61. Contact www.mountaineers.org or 284-8484.

Parents Without Partners is a national organization with a chapter in Bellevue. Some activities include children, others are for adults only. Contact: www.pwp55.org, or call 517-2700.

Seattle Widowed Young Persons' Support Group for ages 20 to 50 meets Monday evenings in Seattle. For more information, call 441-3556 or go to www.seattlewidowed.com.

Seattle Sleepless Singles for active singles over 40 has a $35 annual membership fee. Members meet at Popinjay's in Kirkland at 10:30 a.m. on Saturdays to plan activities. Contact: 527-7400 or www.seattlesleepless.org.

Space City Mixer is an activity-based social and networking club, most of whose members are single. Of the 10,000 members, 1.052 percent -- about 70 people -- live on the Island, and 20 percent on the Eastside. There is no membership fee. Activities (about 15 a week) include everything from wine tastings to volunteer work. Contact www.spacecitymixer.com.

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How'd you meet?

It may be serendipity when single Mercer Islanders meet one another and go on to marry, but we know it happens now and then. In researching this article, I located four such couples, but none of them wanted to tell their stories. Perhaps with serendipity comes superstition, or at the very least a strong desire to keep good fortune private.

But perhaps there are some of you out there who would be willing to share your stories about how you met your mate. If you have a good story to tell, send it by e-mail to our Lifestyle editor, Lynn Porter, at lynn.porter@mi-reporter.com, or write it up and drop it by The Reporter office. Please inlude your name, telephone number and e-mail address. If we can gather enough tales of finding love in all the right places, we may publish them in a future story. -- Breck Longstreth

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