This story originally appeared in The New Tropic.
Everyone loves to hate on dating in Miami. From the far reaches of Kendall to our turquoise-watered beaches, Miamians lament the dearth of quality partners, spouting the usual complaints: the women are only interested in money and the men are only interested in models.
Googling “dating in Miami” yields disheartening gems like this one that suggests singles are just looking for green cards after their porn careers run out. Guys are all club promoters who do coke in the middle of dates and head home in their leased BMWs to the rooms they share with abuelita in Doral. Every woman is an “Instagram model” waiting for her sugar daddy to swoop in.
This is an incomplete story about the Miami dating scene, at best. In the words of a frustrated friend, “Who are those people dating all these promoters?” I suspect most people in Miami are living more sedate lives: making a living, having a little fun when they have the time, and, on a primal level, trying to feel safe and loved… like most people in the world.
I am one of those normal single people. A couple weeks ago, listening to a single guy friend’s latest datinginmiamisucks rant, I started to wonder: are there really no people to date in Miami? Are the people here actually no good? And if this is the case, why do we date at all?
So I decided to find out what it’s really like for a single young professional looking to find someone in Miami — and what they’re finding when they do. I re-downloaded Tinder, joined Bumble, and talked to a local dating coach. I swiped, swiped, and swiped. I’ve gone out on a couple dates. I read everything I could about relationships, from serious books to Internet think pieces to anachronistic dating manuals. And I recruited 15 young professionals to share their battle stories from the trenches with me.
My findings are by no means the result of a scientifically sound study, but I hope it starts a discussion on what dating here is like for the youngish, college-educated professional set, and not — bless their hearts — the club promoters and Instagram models of this town.
Are we fishing in a small pond?
The biggest complaint out there is about the size of our dating pool. For some people, friends and professional networks are quite enmeshed, and dating within them can result in frequent, awkward run-ins with exes. It can be easy to exhaust the options in your network, and “dating within my social group is… weird,” said one dude.
But Miami is no small town — Miami-Dade County has 2.6 million people. With the myriad online tools we have nowadays, it shouldn’t be that hard to meet a few new people.
Let’s look at the demographics.
According to the last census, Miami-Dade County has slightly more women than men, although some sources claim Miami actually has more single hetero men than women (1.2 single man to every single woman).
Yay for the ladies? Well… That isn’t the whole story.
According to Jon Birger, an economist and author of Date-onomics, humans tend to date “assortatively,” which means that we usually date people similar to ourselves. The college-educated mostly date other college-educated people. Only 26% of Miami-Dade’s population is college educated, and Birger claims that there are 86% more female college grads under the age of 25 than college-grad men under 25 in Miami. We have one of the largest educated “man deficits” in the country.
Hetero college-educated women, you’re not wrong when you say your pool is small; for those of you 25 and under, there are 86 percent more of you than there are of the people you like to date!
Scholars often look at animal behavior to understand how sex ratios impact human behavior. Since we’re dealing in fish metaphors here, let’s talk about the behavior of actual fish, specifically pond cichlids, which are “typically monogamous during the mating season.”
As Birger, our Date-onomics friend, explains, when there are more males than females, female fish become choosier, but a kind of patriarchy ensues, with the males jealously guarding their females. When females are made more present, though, male desertion rates more than double, from 22 percent to 51 percent. Having more female fish in the sea makes the male fish less likely to commit because they have so many choices.
So, yay for the guys?
It’s not that simple. People are more complex than cichlids, which I presume are not looking for a mate that can fulfill their emotional urges as well. While men didn’t exactly say every woman in Miami is a superficial gold digger, they did say they found ladies here to be more standoffish and guarded than in other cities, which makes sense if women perceive men to approach them with, let’s say, different relationship goals. That makes it harder for guys who want to forge a real connection.
“I fear I may never find the woman for me here — someone who likes hiking, the outdoors. But anecdotally I know that’s not true — I’ve met lots of great women,” said one.
Perhaps the paradox of choice is at play here, and our friend finds it hard to settle on one choice when he sees so many potential matches out there.
Regardless of the size of the pool, it really seems like your attitude does matter a lot on how you fare.
One woman who was widowed at 27 and is back at the dating game three years later was the most positive person I encountered. “I love dating! I love meeting people and I’ve had great experiences,” she said to me.
It’s worth noting, however, that she had one of the most open minds I encountered. “I’ll give any guy who is decent looking enough, has a job, and loves his mom at least a chance,” she said.
That seems to be working for her. She recently started exclusively dating a chef she matched with on Bumble (who doesn’t have a traditional college degree).
“OK, but there are no good [men/women] in Miami!”
Interestingly, everyone seems to discriminate against Miami locals who have never moved away — particularly other locals! I heard from women that local Miami men who never moved away are “kind of ghetto bros” that “haven’t grown up,” while men thought Miami women who stayed put weren’t as worldly — “they eat sushi with mayonnaise” one man told me. One guy, while defending his nearly lifelong Miamian status (he was born elsewhere but moved here as a baby and went to UM), said “Yeah, I never moved away, but I travel! I’m not typical Miami — I live in the Grove!”
No one seems willing to date someone who’s living at home or with abuelita. But that’s cutting out a huge swathe of your dating pool. It’s hard to afford a place of your own in Miami — according to Bloomberg, only 8% of rental units here are available to young professionals if they are spending only the recommended maximum of 30% of their income on housing. There’s a cultural factor at play, too. Latino parents are generally more welcoming to their adult children than gringo parents, so there’s less pressure on the financially strained to move out.
And while women don’t seem to expect to be treated by guys all the time, men feel the financial pressures of dating. A Brickell resident said he “had to go on a diet to afford dating and paying rent.” But women feel the pressure, too. They say some men equate a girl accepting a drink or going out on a date with consent for sex.
If going dutch doesn’t seem like a guy’s thing, treating him may be a strategy to consider. A 40-something friend of mine, not an interview subject, said she hooked her partner by treating him to a nice event a couple dates in — he was really impressed that he didn’t have to shell out cash to see her!
While both sexes seem to want to treat each other with respect, both occasionally engage in bad behavior — ghosting was the most common for women, while two men mentioned walking out on dates because “their personalities didn’t match what they said online.”
But it has to get really bad for people to be that rude — in this small pool, many said they expect to run into former dates in a professional context later on. “Who knows…He might be a good business contact” is something I heard from more than one woman (but interestingly, not from any men).
So why date at all?
When asked why they date, few people had clear goals such as “I want to get married and have kids within a few years” or “I’m just in it for sex!”
“Hey, you never know!” — aka FOMO — seems to be the reason most people date, particularly with the help of online dating. No one dreams of meeting ‘The One’ via technology — we want our first meeting to be in person and magical; we want to “to feel his ‘specialness’,” to feel like their meeting is “fated; energetic” (note: this last bit was said by a man).
Guys want “a lady bestie,” “someone to go to the opera with.” They don’t want to “come home to an empty apartment in the end of the day.”
Women want to be “seen,” and “understood,” to be with someone who likes them for who they are.
But if people are not in it just for sex and not for anything “super serious,” are we putting ourselves in gray areas filled with murky relationships between people on different pages and break ups when one person “catches more feelings” than the other?
Settling down, finding a life partner, seems like something everyone wants… but just not yet. So we whip out our phones and swipe half-heartedly while we wait for that magical perfect partner to mysteriously show up in person.
We date for a variety of reasons in Miami. We prefer to meet our matches in person, but most of us are not scared of using apps, even if they cause us stress with all the choice they provide. We want love and to settle down, but not just yet — and we’ll keep swiping ourselves into gray areas until we find it.
If the college-educated date only other college-educated people, it does appear that Miami women are at a statistical disadvantage. But that doesn’t mean that guys have it easy — having too many choices can cause anxiety and make it difficult to choose, even when looking for deeper emotional fulfillment.
My 15 test subjects are all decent, hardworking folks who seem to treat people mostly with respect, proving that there are at least 15 good, eligible people in Miami. I suspect there are a lot more.
I’m an optimist, and a Miami lover, so I’d like to end with something that should give you some hope. To get statistical again, Miami is adding jobs in the professional, financial, and business sectors at higher margins than the rest of the country, prompting an influx of new young professionals. This means your dating pool is growing.
I wish you the best of luck in your dating adventures. Stay strong, stay optimistic, and keep swiping. I mean, “Hey, you never know,” right?