The Single Files

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.

High Anxiety

Of course, meeting a prospective mate is only half the battle. Once they manage to snag a partner, almost half of the New Yorkers surveyed complained, maintaining a relationship here is harder than elsewhere (in part because New Yorkers are less committed to monogamy). When it comes to maintaining relationships, gays are as skeptical as straights.

What’s the biggest obstacle to finding a mate? A third of the unattached (34 percent) complained that they can’t meet the right kind of people; a fifth (21 percent) said they just don’t have time to look.

Women in their thirties are especially skeptical. Thirty-three percent have given up on dating. And 19 percent haven’t had sex in the past year.

For New Yorkers, and especially for women in their thirties, marriage is less important – or less obtainable – than it has traditionally been. Overall, nearly one in five single New Yorkers don’t want to get married, including 29 percent of women in their thirties and 23 percent of men in their thirties.

Men and women respondents in their twenties, however, are still overwhelmingly interested in marriage. Only 16 percent of them said they don’t want to get married.

The Hunt

If the preferred way to meet someone during the swinging seventies was in a bar or a nightclub, those looking for Mr. Goodbar these days would be better off planting themselves seductively by the water cooler at work.

To determine how New Yorkers typically meet, we asked respondents where they met the last person they dated and where they generally meet the people they end up dating. Thirty percent of all respondents said they meet dates through friends. Women in their twenties are the most likely to take that route.

But 19 percent of our sample said they met the last person they dated through work. And there’s clearly more than number-crunching and networking going on: 39 percent said they’ve had sex with a co-worker.

The statistic may not seem quite so surprising when you learn that to a great many New Yorkers, a good career is as essential as a good love life. Why not combine the two? When asked what is more important to them, a good job or a good partner, respondents were almost evenly divided. Forty-six percent favor a good partner, compared with 44 percent who said their top priority is a good job.

But not everyone is meeting at the company cafeteria. Singles reported some success at bars and clubs (17 percent met their last date at one). Those who can’t afford the cover charge at Life may do almost as well heading to the nearest IRT station. For younger people, even the most casual encounters can lead to dates and relationships. One in ten 21-to-29-year-old New Yorkers met the last person they dated on the subway or the street, compared with just 4 percent of those over 30.

For souls who lack the will (or the stomach) to cruise the No. 6 train, blind dates are a popular alternative: 43 percent of our sample have embarked on one. Fifty-two percent of them described the results as “a good experience”; 42 percent called it a bad one.

In addition, 7 percent of New Yorkers have placed a personal ad, though men are four times more likely to have done so than women. Overall, 10 percent of all respondents have answered a personal ad, but older singles are the most reliable devotees of the classifieds. Twenty-one percent of men in their thirties have answered them, compared with just 6 percent of younger males; 4 percent of young females have answered the call, as have 8 percent of older women.

Despite the proliferation of Internet services, few respondents said they met potential partners online, perhaps because the Web is more conducive to highly specialized erotic encounters (“Married foot fetishist seeks chubby ballerina,” read one memorable recent posting) than to long-lasting relationships.

The Right Stuff

What do New Yorkers look for in a prospective partner? Well, uh, personality, of course, which rated highest among single men and women of all ages. It comes as no surprise that for a significant majority of women, a man’s profession (82 percent), his attire (66 percent), and his income (58 percent) are big priorities, while men place more emphasis on a woman’s looks (65 percent) and her body (65 percent).

Perhaps more notable is how few respondents said race and religion are important factors; in fact, race and ethnicity ranked near the bottom of our list, mentioned as important by only about a third. In fact, by an almost two-to-one margin, New Yorkers are more concerned with a potential date’s attire than with his or her religion or race.

This is borne out by the fact that 71 percent of single New Yorkers surveyed said they have dated someone outside their race; 71 percent have also dated someone outside their religion.

The Rules

Once you’ve managed to land a likely prospect and set up a date, there is a whole new set of concerns. Where do you go? Restaurants (58 percent) and movies (44 percent) are the activities of choice, with clubs (17 percent) and bars (13 percent) the closest competitors.

In this post-Steinem, post-Roiphe era, who pays for dates? Seventy-one percent said the man; a pathetic 2 percent said the woman; 15 percent alternate the fiscal duties. Our survey also provided some answers to the age-old question of when exactly two people who’ve recently met should begin to have sex. Though 45 percent of single New Yorkers surveyed admitted to occasionally having sex on the first date, few believe that it is appropriate to do so. To be sure, men are more in favor of a quick resolution than women, but the gap between the sexes on this issue is not substantial.

At least, not until the second date. That’s because 43 percent of male respondents believe that sex should occur somewhere between the first and third date, while only 16 percent of women agree. The majority of women (51 percent) believe couples should wait between four and ten dates before engaging in sex. After a long, sexless month, however, many men and women seem to grow frustrated. Forty-two percent of men and 37 percent of women said they would break up a relationship if it hadn’t been consummated within 30 days. Even Con Ed gives you a longer grace period.

Mild Kingdom

New Yorkers are supposed to be braggarts, but they’re surprisingly modest when it comes to talking about the frequency with which they’re having sex.

Single New Yorkers of all races in all five boroughs reported having roughly the same amount of sex, though Staten Island residents seem to be a smidgen behind everybody else. (Too much time on the ferry?)

The largest percentage of the singles we surveyed, 38 percent, claimed to be having sex only one to four times per month. Twenty-five percent of New Yorkers have sex five to fourteen times a month, and 16 percent have sex more than fifteen times a month. Six percent of respondents claimed they’ve never had sex.

AIDS and other STDs may have forced many New Yorkers to limit their number of partners (12 percent of our sample admitted that fear of disease caused them to stop having sex altogether), but a small group of energetic singles seems intent on keeping up the average: Two percent of those surveyed claimed to have sex more than 30 times a month, and 4 percent claimed they’ve had more than 100 sexual partners in their lives. Among these frequent flyers, men outnumber women by four to one.

Overall, men are also more likely to engage in unorthodox sex practices than women. Twenty-one percent of single men and 4 percent of single women have had sex with a prostitute. Sixteen percent of men and 7 percent of women have called a phone-sex line, and 19 percent of men have had group sex.

Love Hurts (And Burns)

Among the most alarming findings in the survey is that 11 percent of our respondents acknowledged having had a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Given that people are famously unwilling to acknowledge venereal disease and that many STDs go undetected, the actual number is likely to be considerably higher.

Not surprisingly, more older men and women reported having had an STD than younger men and women. Twenty percent of men in their thirties and 11 percent of women in their thirties said they’ve had an STD. By contrast, 8 percent of 21-to-29-year-old men and 9 percent of 21-to-29-year-old women admitted to having had an STD.

Gonorrhea and chlamydia, taken together, account for 49 percent of all the STDs infecting New Yorkers. For younger women, chlamydia is the most commonly contracted STD; for older men, it’s gonorrhea.

Among New Yorkers who have had an STD, 19 percent have had chlamydia, 30 percent have had gonorrhea, and 6 percent have HIV or aids.

Part of the reason for these high infection rates may be the failure of many New Yorkers to regularly use protection. Twenty-seven percent of respondents admitted to never using condoms. Three quarters of all respondents indicated that they have had sex without one at least once in the past year.

The bottom line: If you’re having sex in New York, there’s at least a one in ten chance your partner has had an STD. If your sexual partner is a 30-to-40-year-old man, there’s a one in five chance.


For New York women, abortion is an everyday reality: 29 percent have had one, and the percentage among poorer women is considerably higher. Thirty-four percent of women earning under $35,000 have had an abortion, compared with 22 percent of women earning more than that. Forty-five percent of single black women surveyed reported having had an abortion, compared with 22 percent of white respondents.

The borough with the highest number of abortions among single women is Manhattan; Queens has the lowest number.

The Methodology

The sample used in this survey was selected randomly and represents the demographic mix of New York City singles. Our sample consisted of more than 1,000 individuals between the ages of 21 and 40 who said they were not involved in a serious relationship. All five boroughs were proportionally represented. Telephone interviewing guaranteed respondents anonymity in answering a detailed battery of questions.

When it came time to analyze results, respondents were grouped by gender, race, age, sexual orientation, and income. Our sample consisted of 51 percent men and 49 percent women. Men aged 21 to 29 made up 27 percent of the total sample; men 30 to 40, 21 percent. Women 21 to 29 made up 28 percent of the total sample; women 30 to 40, 18 percent. Blacks constituted 26 percent of the whole, whites 39 percent, Latinos 16 percent, and Asians 7 percent. Gay men and women were 8 percent of the sample, self-described bisexuals 3 percent.

The Single Files