Still Single? It’s Not You, It’s Your Market

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Still Single? It's Not You, It's Your Market

If you can’t find someone to date, it might not be you. It might be where you are.

In our research for our book Mate: Become The Man Women Want, we heard from more people like you (in their late 20s) than any other single age group. In many instances, the tone of their questions or their emails was frustrated, bordering on desperately fed-up. They’ve got decent jobs, nice places to live, but they’re still painfully single and it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier.

Every single person we talk to feels like they’re struggling with something that is unique to them—or uniquely their fault. In a sense they’re right, but only inasmuch as the single, central issue that underpins nearly all their frustrations manifests itself a little differently for everyone (i.e. their solution is unique to them).

The issue is their mating market.

Your first question, if you’re anything like them, is probably “WTF is a mating market?”

Imagine a map of all the single people around you, wherever you are. The women are pink dots and the men are blue dots. Each person has a certain “dating radius” — the maximum distance they’re willing to go for a date. If they have to walk, that might be two miles; if they have a car, it might be twenty miles. Each person’s dating radius marks out a roughly circular territory— their pink or blue “dating zone.”

That is your local mating market: the set of all the single women and men whose dating zones overlap with yours. It’s a giant Venn diagram full of boners and beer specials.

If you generally have your shit together in your life, but you are still struggling to meet good people you’re attracted to, then chances are you’re shopping in a bad market (at least for you).

But what makes a market ‘bad’?

Think about it like this: If you’re shipwrecked on a small island with just one other person of the opposite sex, your mating market is just two people: one pink dot and one blue dot in the same tropical dating zone. Your only option is to mate with each other, or spend your days making sex dolls out of coconuts and palm leaves. Your prospects on the mainland might have been mediocre, but here, they’ve suddenly become pretty damn good.

But if you add one more guy to the island, now the woman has options, and the first guy’s prospects might drop, if the other guy’s good-looking, physically healthy, or not a crazy person making sex dolls out of vegetation.

On the other hand, if you add one more woman to the island, now the guy has options, and the two women will probably compete harder for his attention. He’ll have even higher mate value, and more bargaining power to get what he wants from either woman.

Most modern mating markets are much bigger than an island, but the principles are the same. About 1.6 million people live in Manhattan, for example, and all of the single ones make up one big mating market. Whether they live in an NYU dorm, a Tribeca loft, or an Upper East Side penthouse, they’re all within fairly easy walking, subway, or taxi distance of each other. They’d all prefer not to date someone who lives up in the Bronx (a long subway ride) or, god forbid, Staten Island (a ferry ride). They’re all sort of stuck with each other.

Even if they never meet more than 1 percent of the opposite sex, everybody’s relative mate value is influenced by everybody else’s mating options. And since there are 30 percent more college-educated single women than college-educated single men in Manhattan, the quality guys are in short supply and can get away with acting like they’re lords of an island harem. This is the actual behavioral science that explains what’s going on in a place like Manhattan that continually gets misconstrued and poorly analyzed, like in that ridiculous Vanity Fair article from last month called “Tinder and the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse.” All those people freaking the fuck out about the death of the dating world are shopping in a bad market.

Your goal as a single person is to put yourself into situations where the sex ratio is in your favor (a good market) and avoid those where it isn’t (a bad market).
This is where it seems to get tricky for most of you, because there is this idea out there that you’re kind of stuck where you are and you have to live with the cards you’re dealt-— like you’re a medieval serf tied to the land.

That is bullshit. If where you’re living isn’t working for you and finding a healthy, rewarding relationship is important to you, there is a solution:


If you’re a smart, good looking black guy who likes rap and art and is looking for someone who shares some of your experiences and points of view, maybe Utah and New Mexico aren’t the best places for you.

When we told a successful, decent-looking, late-20s Asian guy who was struggling even to get dates that maybe he should get the fuck out of Boston, he looked at us like we had two heads and both of them were spitting on his mother’s grave.

Both guys were like, “you mean just…move?”


When we say that, though, we don’t necessarily mean you have to change time zones or continents. There are lots of mating markets at intermediate scales between the tiny desert island and the vastness of a city like New York or Boston. The practicalities of meeting, dating, and travel shape how this works. Mating markets can be tiny and transient (the twenty single people at one party, for one evening) or larger and relatively fixed (a dorm floor, a law school class, a residential neighborhood).

As you go about your day, you move freely into and out of these markets without knowing it, and you should be able to move just as freely once you know whether or not they are advantageous to you, based on your relationship goals.

Generally speaking, mating markets operate in concentric circles from big to small, and permanent to temporary. They look like this:

1) The country you live in
2) The city you live in
3) The neighborhood you live in
4) The school and/or work you go to
5) The social groups you belong to
6) The leisure activities you like to do
7) The online dating sites you use

While almost none of us chose the country or the city where we grew up, and many of us didn’t really think about which school to go to for the best sex ratio, as 20-somethings with jobs and prospects, you do have a choice with every place on that list.

It might not feel like a choice, or the trade-offs may be too great, but changing any one of those mating markets is entirely within your control if you’re sick and fucking tired of being single and you can’t figure out why.

Before you do that, the first thing you have to do is figure out what kind of people you’re attracted to and what kind of relationship you are looking for. There is obviously no right answer here, this is about what you want for yourself at this moment in time. The key is to be honest and be specific.

Your mom might want you to get married “before she’s too old to walk down the aisle under her own power blah blah blah,” but if what you want is to date around because you’re not quite sure what your ideal mate looks like, then that’s what you should do.

At the same time, you can’t just say, “I’m attracted to hot girls who are sweet and nice” or “I like tall handsome good guys.” That’s way too general and will really get you nowhere when it comes to finding the best mating markets for you.

Once you’ve been honest about what you want and specific about who you want, next you have to figure out where those people spend their time. Which cities do they live in? In those cities, which neighborhoods do they generally concentrate in? What kinds of things do they do for work? What do they study in school? What groups do they join and activities do they do? Are they more likely to be on Tinder? Plenty of Fish? OKCupid? J-Date?

Knowing with some degree of specificity what and who you’re attracted to will help you find more accurate answers to these questions, which will help you figure out if you’re anywhere near any of these fucking people. Do you live where they live? Do you do some of the same things they do? How much time do you spend in the places where they spend time? Are you grinding it out on Tinder while they’re over on OKCupid?

If picking up your life and moving it 3,000 miles away feels too drastic to find the most optimal place for your goals, you can start smaller and see if that helps, gradually increasing the magnitude of change outward to the larger and more permanent of the concentric circles that make up your mating market.

Just be prepared to exist outside your comfort zone for a while, which shouldn’t be too hard if you’re serious about finding someone, because that comfort zone can get pretty fucking lonely.

Image via Shutterstock

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