Ask anyone who’s ever dated in Providence and you'll probably hear the same thing: that there are unique challenges to dating in a city this size. They might say there aren’t enough singles, and everyone who is single is one degree of separation from you, anyway. They’ve heard stories. You’ve heard stories. You’re hesitant to put yourself out there because of them.
It’s easy for people to be pessimistic about dating in Providence. A little too easy. Especially when Forbes and Travel + Leisure go and place us among the best cities in America for singles. We don’t really have one dedicated part of town where singles past a certain age congregate, and we don’t have a huge network of singles-based events.
The thing is, haters gonna hate. Those inclined to criticize the dating scene in Providence would probably be just as inclined to criticize the dating scene anywhere. The truth is that there are fantastic singles in this city. They just aren’t sitting around waiting to be asked out. And if you haven’t found them yet, you might not be looking hard enough.
This year’s Most Eligible are all great catches: fun, successful, vivacious, intelligent... and, let’s face it, easy on the eyes. But part of what makes them so appealing is how much they have going on in their lives: they’re working hard, they’re out on the town, they’re certainly not sitting at home waiting for something to happen.
Take, for example, Jay Davani. At 32, the girl is a force to be reckoned with: beautiful, successful, funny, determined yet down to earth. By day, she’s an events planner at Brown University; at night, she co-owns Suede, a vintage and thrift apparel company that brings pop up shops to events. “Music, theater, movies, fashion, art and design fuel my creative mind,” Jay says. “I believe in giving back and stay very active in various community networks. I really enjoy trying anything new.”
Originally from Iran by way of Kentucky (don’t ask), she gave Providence a shot almost a decade ago and has been here ever since. “Living in this Renaissance City means constant growth and rebirth of the people and places in Providence, which then in turn offers up endless opportunities. I am so in love with Providence. Maybe that’s why I’m single – it has my heart. All of it.”
There’s no doubt she’s a catch, and she’s clear about who and what she’s looking for. “I am Persian and have a keen sense of style and a mad gift for swagger – so that pretty much makes me the Shah of Providence’s Sunset, right? I never sit still long enough to get bored. I’m an open book. I really need someone who isn’t afraid to go outside of his comfort zone but remembers to put us first. Someone who isn’t intimidated by my success because, well, he has his own success story.”
Even with all of that going on, or maybe because of it, she’s realistic about dating in this city. “Providence is the biggest city, but in the smallest state,” says Jay. “Everyone will eventually know everyone... and that means trying to form your own opinion without the influence of someone else’s voice.”
“It seems that it isn’t really easy to find the singles scene in Providence,” she says. “Most people I know have met on dating sites like OKCupid or Match.com. I’m putting that off for now and hoping to meet someone the old fashioned way (and I don’t mean in a bar). ‘I can’t even hear you right now’ isn’t my pick up preference. Someone once told me, do what you love; focus on your passions; surround yourself with people who help you grow; and your best match will appear naturally there.”
The hope that your passions draw you to the right person, rather than just finding someone on the town and making a connection, is a common one. It’s what Jason Sweet is also hoping for. “I’m looking for the ‘girl next door’ type. Someone who’s more into the outdoors or catching a movie than the bar or club scene,” he says. The 36-year-old environmental consultant spends a lot of time traveling for work, and when he’s home, he doesn’t want to be out on the prowl – and love isn’t likely to be waiting on the next bar stool.
“I work very hard at being the best person I can be,” Jason says. “I’m extremely honest, loyal and dependable. I live a very clean lifestyle and try to be as active as possible. They say that kids and animals can tell the kind of person you are inside, and I’ve been very successful working with both, so I guess that says something about my character.”
More than hoping a chance encounter will lead to something bigger, Jason is focused on his own life, including renovating the lakefront home he just purchased. “Right now I’m looking to meet people, but I’m definitely interested in finding that one special girl. I’m definitely more of a relationship type of person.”
So, what do you do when you’re looking to expand your social circle? Events like speed dating and singles-only mixers have faded in popularity and don’t happen so often anymore (though they do still happen sometimes at Vanity and Waterplace restaurants). Those, though, have a lot of intent behind them, and tend to attract people who are looking for serious relationships.
For people who are just looking to have fun and meet people – and, hey, if that goes somewhere, then great – there’s The Providence Collective. It’s a social group through MeetUp.com with 1500 local members who can attend frequent events organized by the group. It’s free, open to everyone and a really good option for people who are looking to see some new faces.
The group isn’t about dating. It’s designed to help people meet people, whether that be for friendship or more. It’s a pressure-free environment and can save you from the single person’s classic refrain of “Oh? That place? I’ve been meaning to go try it out.” Every Monday, The Providence Collective hosts Monday Night Meetup, which gathers people at a local bar to mix and mingle.
Recent spots have included The Eddy, Ladder 133 and KitchenBar. There are also plenty of non-cocktail oriented offerings, like group outings to Fête to see live music, or to the Bank of America City Center for ice skating.
I meet people everywhere,” says Karina Holyoak Wood. “Providence is full of fascinating known and yet-to-be-known places, people and happenings.” The 44-year-old director of the Rhode Island Tobacco Control Network is a vivacious, fun-loving woman about town.
“I’ve lived in Providence since 1996 and I love it here,” Karina says. The mother of two girls, ages 11 and 13, is originally from Birmingham, England. Involvement with her adopted home is one of her top priorities. “Improving public schools and getting more people engaged in politics and civic life, are passions of mine,” she says. Later this month, she’s captaining a team of friends in the annual One Financial Plaza climb for the American Lung Association. “I’m a socialite. I genuinely enjoy people, and I love to go out to eat, drink and cut up a dance floor.” (She has also broken into an Air Force Base and been stung by venomous spines from a coral reef on a Tahiti beach, but she’ll tell you those stories another time.)
Karina definitely doesn’t have trouble finding new places and faces – but, she says, “I really have no idea what the ‘singles scene’ is. I don’t even know the first thing about dating. I think it’s mostly about being open. It’s your attitude and the energy you put out there. Life is what you make of it.”
But, then, is there such a thing as having too many good things in your life? That can be just as much of a hindrance to meeting new people as anything else. How often do you hear single people comment that they have too much going on with work, family and friends to get out there?
“I’ve got three amazing children,” says Scott Grace. “They’re my passion. Between homework, little league and Boy Scouts, their activities tend to become my hobbies. I make a mean pinewood derby racer.”
An EMT and firefighter in East Providence, Scott’s time is consumed by work, family and the home he’s currently rebuilding from the ground up. Then, there are his personal pursuits: he’s a triathlete and musician, having played in several local bands. “I’m a pretty good singer and guitar player,” he says. “I play gigs at local bars when I can, and I’m always up to jam with friends or catch a live show.”
So, after all that, where’s the time to go out and meet people? “Regardless of long-term goals, the most important thing for me when I’m meeting anyone is that initial connection,” he says. “If there’s a spark, I know it’s worth pursuing. If that leads to a relationship that we can build on, I’m open to it.”
“The city is such mix of cultures,” Scott says. “I can’t see how it could fail to be a great place to be single. If you can’t find something to love somewhere between a Wickenden Street bar, Roger Williams Zoo and the RISD Museum, you’re the problem, not Providence.”
The obvious answer to complaints about meeting people, especially now, when our attachment to technology is stronger than ever, is online dating. It’s easy to see your options that way. Whereas Match.com is a paid service that’s more oriented towards helping people find relationships, OKCupid.com and PlentyofFish.com are free, and tend to attract people who are more interested in having fun than making a serious commitment quickly. They’re great options, and are helping people make more connections than ever. Chances are you know a couple that met and married through one of them. But, according to a recent article in The Atlantic Monthly, those sites are changing the way people are dating – maybe for the worse.
The article, “A Million First Dates,” asserts that the vast and seemingly unending dating options online make people less interested in monogamy, not more. With the next Mr. or Ms. Right just a click away, more people are exploring more options, and less are thinking seriously about marriage. That’s clearly up for debate, but it’s something to think about in the age of Internet 2.0.
“The good thing about being single in the city is you have many options where you can go to meet people,” says Christina Carvalho. “The bad thing about being single in the city is that most people out there aren’t looking for a commitment.”
At 34, Christina has a good idea of who she is and what she wants. A human resources benefits coordinator for natural foods company UNFI, she loves culture in all forms: theatre, ballet, movies, concerts, museums and sketching. Fun, charming and funny, she’s a gal about town who wants to make the most of where she lives. “I go to events such as Chifferobe, concerts or my favorite bar, Local 121, to meet people,” says Christina.
Family is also paramount to Christina. “I am passionate about my Portuguese culture and language,” she says. “I travel almost every year to Portugal.” She wants to find someone likeminded to get serious with. “The most important thing is finding someone with values and traditions that align with mine,” she says. “I am looking for my prince to spend the rest of my life with.”
It’s sometimes too easy to let those desires get in the way of the dating process, though. “When dating, I’m looking for living in the moment versus living in the past,” says Bobby Kayrouz. “I find that too many dates are centered on a past life. That’s a big turn off for me. I want to know about my date and what’s going on with her in February of 2013. Dates should be fun, spontaneous and adventurous. Let the art of getting to know each other breathe on its own and come to fruition at its own natural pace.”
A 34-year-old mortgage broker, Bobby is smart and successful. He’s also a really sweet guy who’s rumored to be a great cook and is looking forward to treating the right woman well. “Without question I’m a man of family,” he says. “I love kids and look forward to raising a family with that special someone one day soon. But that will come to fruition when it’s meant to be and especially with that right person.”
He very much emphasizes being in the moment, and loves to play and listen to music, to travel, and, Bobby says, “I like to put a smile on a face – it’s almost an addiction.”
Though he has big dreams for the future – when you’re helping people buy their dream homes, how could you not? – Bobby isn’t trying to push them into happening. He likes to let things happen organically. “Some of my favorite spots to take a woman out are a bunch of different places on the Hill and a couple of new places downtown. I tend to be more of a bar guy on a first date. Keep it loose. Some light apps, maybe a glass of wine or two, some good conversation. Sound good?”
The one common denominator among all of this year’s most eligible singles is that they don’t want to play games, and they don’t want them from other people. There’s no “dating game.” There’s just awesome people looking to have fun, meet other awesome people, and maybe make a connection. “It’s important for me to be myself when I date,” Jennifer Bifulco says. “I don’t understand how some people put on an act when they first date someone, and then they start to show their true colors after several dates. I think people should just be themselves. Then right off the bat, you can tell if you are compatible. It’s important to me to go on a date and be me.”
The 32-year-old elementary school teacher loves beauty – she’s passionate about travel and photography – but isn’t into artifice. “I have always been the type to look for deep connections with people,” she says. “If it’s not deep, it doesn’t hold my interest. If it’s really deep, the hope is that it will turn serious. I am not big into casual dating. On the other hand, I also have never been the type to have some fantasy dream wedding in my head. I take life as it comes and I’m not on some timeline of when things need to happen.”
Jennifer puts a lot of emphasis on being real – and is similarly realistic about dating in Providence. “The singles scene is never an easy scene,” she says. “People are out there with different intentions. You are vulnerable to a lot of judgment, but it can also be a lot of fun. The tough part of being single in Rhode Island is that everyone knows everyone, and there’s always some weird connection with everyone you meet. And if you are Italian, you need to check and make sure you aren’t dating some distant cousin. Gotta check the family tree.”
“I’m an easygoing, nice guy willing to give my best and worst to the person I’m with,” says Shawn Simmons. He’s a fun-loving, engaging, genuinely sweet person who, at 29, has had his fair share of adventure. Before his current career in StyleWeek Public Relations, Shawn travelled internationally, doing PR for the designer Ben Sherman. “I went to Dubai,” he says. “When I was there, I just got to see a lot of the Middle East, and I was able to speak to a lot of people. It was a crazy experience.”
A native of New Orleans, Shawn moved to Providence for college and decided to make it his home. “It’s a vibrant city that has so much to offer. I wanted a small city with a big city feel. I had a chance to move to San Diego, New York, DC, but I chose to stay here.” Now that he’s settled, Shawn is looking to find someone to share the city with. “I’m looking for someone who’s open minded, understanding and compassionate about what they do and who they are,” he says.
“The singles scene in Providence is tough,” Shawn says. Though in some ways the gay dating scene is easier because it’s more defined, he says, “It’s hard because there are a lot of people who have this criteria, and it doesn’t stray from that. If you don’t meet the criterion, you’re not going to make it. There are specific places that you go to, but it’s hard to read whether you should approach them or they should approach you. It’s an awesome scene, it can just be tough to read. But I feel like it’s tough everywhere.”
So the lesson in all of this? If you’re looking to meet a fabulous single, you need to get out there (maybe at our Mix and Mingle to meet the Most Eligibles), have fun, and let things happen naturally. It may sound trite, but it really might be true that the best way to attract positivity into your life is to like your life. “I have a great life,” Suzanne Valliere says. “I love to have fun – whether at a dinner table, on a dance floor or at home on the couch. As much as I like to play and have fun, I have a good balance between my social life, keeping healthy, my family and friends and my career. Family and friends are extremely important to me – they are one of my best qualities.”
Other great qualities? Her sense of humor, ability to throw together a dinner party and sparkling charm. Because she’s got so much going on – Suzanne is both a total professional and the first one to cut loose and have fun – she’s got a clear idea of what excites her in men. “I want a partner that appreciates me for who I am, who is honest, trustworthy and true,” she says. “Common interests are great, but I am always up for learning or trying something new. I want someone that has the same outlook on the future as I do, enjoys experiencing life, and believes that no matter how long you have been together, going on dates keeps the relationship new, exciting and passionate.”
“Providence isn’t the biggest dating pool to be swimming in,” Suzanne confesses. “Sometimes it can be frustrating when you hit the shallow end of that pool, or when you meet someone and find out that they are in way over their head.” But, true to form, she’s still positive about the possibilites. “The best thing about Providence is the people that I have met. I enjoy meeting my friends out for dinner and cocktails – you never know who your friend’s friend is going to be – every new face is a new chance to make a friend, an acquaintance or a potential date.”
Like what you see? Want to say hi to one of our Most Eligible? Drop a line to email@example.com, or meet them in person at our "Mix & Mingle" party. Tuesday, February 12 from 5:30-8:30pm at The Loft at Nylo.