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The Single Files

A New York survey shows that the city’s unattached find dating daunting and sex elusive -- except for the third who got lucky at the office.


No doubt about it: New York is a tough dating town. But is it really harder to meet someone -- or someone who meets your standards -- here than in, say, Seattle? To find out how unattached New Yorkers are faring in the dating and mating wars, New York and the polling firm of Penn, Schoen & Berland conducted a comprehensive telephone survey of 1,000 New Yorkers between 21 and 40 -- straight and gay -- who said they weren’t in a serious relationship. We asked more than 100 questions about how they meet prospective partners, where they go on dates, how often they have sex, and how they feel about their prospects.

Among our key findings

  • Only a third of those surveyed (31 percent) said they were looking for a serious relationship; another third (38 percent) said they were happily single and dating. More than a quarter of the unattached said they were either not dating at all (22 percent) or panicked about their prospects (4 percent).

  • Even those who are dating have plenty of time for television: Only half went on more than ten dates in the past year.

  • But long-held stereotypes are not holding up: More men (38 percent) are looking for a serious relationship than women (25 percent). And more single gays (40 percent) are interested in commitment than single heterosexuals (32 percent).

  • Women in their thirties have cooled on the dating scene. Thirty-three percent are not currently dating, and 29 percent don’t want to get married. One in five hasn’t had sex in over a year. One in ten women respondents in their thirties claimed to be panic-stricken about their prospects, compared with 3 percent of men in their thirties.

  • Aggressive new sexual-harassment laws hardly seem to have put a damper on office romance: 39 percent of those surveyed said they had had sex with a co-worker.

  • Despite the city’s overheated image, New Yorkers without steady partners have surprisingly tame sex lives. On average, single New Yorkers in our survey claimed to have had only about five partners during their lifetimes.

  • At the same time, a very small group of New Yorkers is happily taking up the slack. Two percent of New Yorkers have sex more than 30 times per month. Four percent -- almost 80 percent male -- have already racked up more than 100 partners.

  • At the other extreme, more than half (53 percent) of those surveyed said they never engage in one-night stands and half (48 percent) said they never have sex on the first date.

  • Slightly more than one in ten New Yorkers has suffered from a sexually transmitted disease, a number that rises to 20 percent for men aged 30 to 40. Gonorrhea and chlamydia, taken together, account for 49 percent of the total.

  • On the whole, gay and lesbian New Yorkers are more likely to be happy with the romantic opportunities here than their heterosexual counterparts. Although 49 percent of heterosexuals surveyed complained that finding a mate is more difficult in the city than elsewhere, 44 percent of homosexuals said meeting someone in New York is less difficult.

  • Almost a third of single women surveyed (29 percent) said they have had an abortion, including 45 percent of single black women.

  • New Yorkers in our survey said that race and religion are not important factors for them in deciding whom to date: 71 percent of single New Yorkers have dated someone outside their race, and 71 percent have dated outside their religion. An astounding 68 percent would marry outside their race, and 67 percent outside their religion.

  • The distinctions between homosexuality and heterosexuality are not as clear as one might think. Seventy percent of those who say they are gay have had sexual relations with a member of the opposite sex, and 7 percent of those who describe themselves as heterosexual have had gay sex.

The Landscape

How do New Yorkers classify themselves in the dating pool? About a third are seriously seeking a mate, and more than a third are happily shopping around, but there are some notable differences between men and women. Forty-three percent of men are happy to continue dating as free agents indefinitely, but only 34 percent of women agreed. And a lot more women than men are content simply not to date at all: 28 percent compared with 17 percent.

Among those surveyed who are not happily playing the field, 3 percent of men admitted to being panic-stricken, along with 5 percent of women.

The dropout rate goes up with age: 33 percent of women respondents in their thirties said they’re not dating, and 9 percent admitted to panicking.

As prone to panic as single New Yorkers may be, they are not exactly modest: When respondents were asked to describe how attractive they are on a scale of one to five -- with five being extremely attractive -- 20 percent gave themselves a five, and 39 percent a four.

The Meet Market

Though most New Yorkers feel inherently superior to people anywhere else, nearly half (49 percent) of respondents who have dated in other cities said they think it’s more difficult to meet someone here. But an optimistic 37 percent contended that hooking up in New York is less difficult. Women in their thirties find the prospects particularly bleak: Fifty-six percent complained that it is harder to meet someone in New York, compared with 47 percent of men.

Gay men and lesbians were more sanguine (not surprising if you’ve ever checked out the gay scene in, say, Tulsa): Only 27 percent find dating in New York more difficult than in other cities, and 44 percent find it easier.

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