THEY LIVE AMONG US. They're rich. They work in the high-tech industry. They're extremely busy. And they're single and don't know exactly what to do about it. The New Single may be sleepless in Seattle, but it's probably because he or she was up late in front of the computer. High-tech companies demand an extreme level of commitment, whether that means late hours or, in the case of many e-commerce companies, on-call status, which means you can be paged at any hour to fix a glitch in the site and get it up and running again. As at Amazon.com, the occasional stint in the warehouse during the holiday rush might also be part of the package. But for all the grueling work, the carrots that these companies dangle are extremely enticing. Factoring in stock options, the average software employee pulled in a whopping $287,000 in 1998. ABC News reports that there are 10,000 millionaires at Microsoft alone. It's a wonder they haven't filmed a remake of How to Marry A Millionaire here. But even if you find a millionaire, good luck getting a date.
All work and no play...
Unlike their parents, New Singles have almost no social infrastructure to rely on in the way of introductions. With heavy work schedules and dreams of IPO gold dancing in their heads, New Singles enjoy less leisure time than prior generations. But this also points to a severe lack of interactive venues available. Where are people supposed to meet these days? Volunteering? Unlikely. The bar scene? Too much effort. Mixers? What's that? A gym membership (rarely used) and the occasional office happy hour now constitute a social life. And if you spend your day online, you can rent movies and buy books, clothes, hardware, software, sports equipment, music, and groceries from the isolation of your office cube. You're not going to bump into a fetching stranger while perusing foreign films or produce there. The best you can hope for is an instant message. These days, the Scene—if one can call it that—is centered around the office. The Wall Street Journal reported a couple of years ago that younger managers have become much more accepting of interoffice relationships than their senior managers. The workplace climate is simply more tolerant of interoffice romance, shifting markedly away from puritanical human resources- driven policy—even when a manager dates a subordinate. What more public example of this than Bill and Melinda? Work can snuff out relationships pretty quickly. Sarah* (not her real name, like those indicated below with an asterisk) is a thirtysomething who works at Real Networks. She recently complained that she and her ex would arrange to meet after 10 on weeknights. "We'd spend like an hour with each other and then go right to bed. We both worked on the weekends. Ultimately, it was one of those things where we both just felt like it was too much work to be dating." Likewise Eric*, a 29-year old Internet entrepreneur, knows what's it's like to see relationships fall apart when work demands increase; he's
started four companies and is currently juggling two start-ups. "All relationships suffer when you work like this. I recently met someone I liked, but suddenly I got pulled away to Tokyo for a month. I sent a postcard," he says, almost apologetically. Eric has also seen the New Single lifestyle take its toll on friends and colleagues. "You have an extreme—people who go through dating dry spells of 10 years. That puts them back in high school socially."
The way 20-year-old Joel Jamieson sees it, Seattle's New Single is a special creature that needs to be coaxed out of its shell—on its own terms. The place to do this, of course, is cyberspace. Jamieson, with three other undergrad friends at the UW, created singlesinseattle.com, a Web-based introduction service, which he believes will "change the face of dating." "Traditional singles clubs can be sleazy and depressing," says 21-year-old Dante Martin, a co-founder. The four founding members, all undergrads, came up with the idea last summer after friends complained how hard it was to meet people in the city. Before they knew it they were scanning the Yellow Pages for funding and found themselves pitching their idea to a roomful of suit-and-tie investors. After they spent the summer eating Triscuit sandwiches and crossing their fingers, the site went live. By the end of the first month, they had 250,000 hits, compared to the 30,000 hits per month received by a national competitor. "The club scene is not as big nowadays," says Jamieson. "Our site attracts a lot of high-tech singles who don't get out too much. They need a way to meet people." Online dating services are, of course, nothing new. There are currently over 2,500 Web sites devoted to matchmaking, according to an article last summer in the New York Times. What Jamieson and his partners hope to deliver is content that's specifically targeted to the Seattle market. Right now, the site is dominated by visits from male high-tech employees at companies like Adobe and Microsoft. "We get a lot of hits during the day, when people are at work," says Jamieson. But if singlesinseattle succeeds, it's partly because they understand that the New Single isn't just lacking a date—but also a way to meet people that isn't too demanding. "What people respond to is that we're providing them with a community, not just a way to get dates," says Jamieson. The
site offers nightclub listings, chatrooms, discussion boards, reader polls, and will soon sponsor live events.
Singlesinseattle isn't the only site vying for New Single cash. The preposterously named Seattle Elite Social Club seems to grasp the New Singles ethic, at least insofar as it insists it's not a singles club. Instead, it calls itself a private club for the "corridor of upper-class, young adults. . . . The very people who've made this region what it is." Since it hasn't officially opened, it remains to be seen whether Seattle houses enough social-climbing youngsters willing to be associated with a self-proclaiming elitist club. (A gala opening night soiree—featuring a convoy of limos, no less—seems to have been postponed; the Web site has mysteriously been replaced with a "Check back soon!" page, and the organizer didn't return phone calls.)
One group with an actual membership base is the Seattle Art Museum's Avant-garde, which promises "social, educational, and philanthropic opportunities focusing on the Museum and the visual arts community." Other arts organizations, from Seattle Opera to the Pacific Northwest Ballet, have also cultivated social groups for younger professionals, many of whom are wealthy enough to be generous donors. Many events feature such highbrow interactions as wine tastings, pre-performance dinners out, and booze cruises.
Rob, a 27-year-old software developer at a large Seattle e-commerce company, is in the market for a house—and a girlfriend, too. On a recent weeknight at the Garage on Capitol Hill, however, Rob seems just as happy to talk about the house.
Rob has a handsome face, a self-deprecating sense of humor, and speaks in a quiet mumble. He likes to play pool here now and then—although lately his work hours have taken a toll on his social life. "A woman would be most likely to meet me at work or walking my dog," he says, referring to his year-old pug, Feynman (named after the Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman), although he laments that Feynman seems to only attract women with boyfriends and babies.
The Technology Divide
Some, like Tammi*, a lesbian who's worked at Microsoft for eight years, find another sort of work-related obstacle to relationships; it can be summed up as the "love me, love my options" conundrum. Where else in the world does the number of years you've been with a company say so much about your net worth? Tammi, a tall, attractive brunette with nouveau-nerd glasses, dates on and off but admits that she's wary of disclosing her old-timer status at Microsoft to gold-diggers who may just be masquerading as potential love interests. "People see dollar signs," she says. "They ask: So, when are you going to retire?
"I've changed the way I talk about it," she adds. "I now say, 'Oh, I've worked there for a while,' and leave it at that."
Delia*, a 31-year-old publicist who works for an online retailer, has seen the other side of the money issue. Blond, with a dancer's poise and friendly, confident manner, Delia has been set up with many a Microsoft millionaire. "I've had the 'I-hope-you-don't-like-me-for-my millions' talk many times," she says. "They always find some way to bring it up early on in the relationship. With my last boyfriend, it was because he had really expensive cars. He semi-apologized for them, saying, 'Oh, it was a total splurge. I had sold these options and I'd been working really hard and wanted to reward myself.' But then he has to add, 'But if I hadn't sold the options then they'd be worth much more now.' It's really insulting. There are so many rich guys in Seattle, it's not at all difficult to meet one. You want to say, if I were out for money, you think I would have held out this long?
"Another guy I dated at Microsoft had so much money, everything was replaceable. It was the same thing with women—he felt he could just upgrade whenever he wanted to. Move on to Girl 2.0."
Eric admits his lifestyle could easily intimidate someone. "I don't have any credit cards," he confesses. "I pay cash for everything. . . . Another thing is that I have big plans, plans for starting philanthropic organizations, institutes, colleges—and that tends to scare people." He adds, "There's also a strain on a relationship when you can't talk about work, because your company is secretive. You can be strained for weeks on end and no one knows why. . . ."
The irony is that technology, the very stuff that makes New Singles so successful at work, may well be hindering them from establishing meaningful relationships with others. "When you spend so much time working in the tech world," says Delia, "it effects how you interact with people." The other isolating factor for New Singles may just be a matter of location. Companies like Microsoft have perfected the formula to keep employees at the office into the wee hours: Create a campus, subsidize the cafeterias, add intramural sports, playing fields, gym memberships. Give workers every excuse not to leave. The results are what sociologists call "homosocial networks"—groups of friends who work at the same company and do things together on the weekends (if they're not working).
For Rob, in terms of meeting someone, second to the dog run is the office. "It's no longer taboo to date someone at work, unless you report to them," he says. "Work, next to friends, is your biggest common ground." Rob gets around to dating when he can. "The last person I dated was over the summer," he confesses. She was an intern at his company.
It's no malt shop, but the office does give a couple equal footing and the opportunity to mingle between meetings. Today's New Singles don't have as many opportunities to cross paths with people outside of their office parks and corporate campuses than their parents did. Cross-cubicle flirting, however, may not turn out to be so ideal. If you only meet people at work, your pool of potential dates is severely restricted. Add to that the stress caused by maintaining a relationship with a co-worker, someone you may spend anywhere from 10 to 12 hours a day with, and you may find yourself back where you started: busy and alone.
Will*, 31, is a Madison Park resident who's worked at Microsoft his whole adult life. Interviewed at Madison Park's affluent Starbucks on a bustling Sunday morning, Will says that he can't think of a single couple who met there over coffee and croissants. "It's not a place where I would pick anyone up."
And when asked where he would be most likely to meet a potential date, the answer comes fast: "Work."
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