July 28, 2005

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A survival guide for being single in Issaquah

By James Lafond Sutter

Janet Pearce, Cupid.com speed-dating coordinator, describes the format of speed dating to 20 participants at Issaquah Brewhouse during a recent event./ Photo by Greg Farrar.
“An Issaquah singles scene?” scoffs single Sammamish resident Ryan Zielonka. “There isn’t one. If you want that, you go to Seattle.”

Chiropractor Terry Cottrell, 50, echoes the statement.

“I don’t even go there as far as Issy’s concerned,” he says. “I’ve lived in Issaquah for 18 years, raised a family, and can tell you there just isn’t a singles scene — it’s a family-oriented town. That’s why we moved here in the first place.”

It is, unfortunately, a common sentiment — in a community built primarily around families, finding ways for the underrepresented single adults to mix and mingle can be a daunting task. When questioned about such opportunities, Cathy Jones of the Issaquah Community Center just laughs.

“We have open-gym basketball and volleyball, both of which are cheap, co-ed and attract a younger crowd,” she notes. “But other than that….”

Yet while trendy bars, dance clubs and hip hangouts may still be the exclusive domain of the big city, Issaquah residents shouldn’t lose heart — even out here, there remain a few local savannahs where the age-old hunt for love continues.

For the religiously inclined, a local church can be a powerful tool for both meeting other singles and getting over the shock of being single again due to death or divorce. St. Joseph’s Catholic Church is currently in the process of putting together a singles group, and the Plateau’s Mary Queen of Peace, while not host to a group of its own, refers interested parishioners to St. Louise’s Support Group for Re-Singled and Singles in Bellevue.

At St. Louise, single Christians band together for a veritable treasure trove of networking opportunities. In addition to its “Bereavement” and “Divorce and Beyond” support groups, the church helps organize everything from singles dances to hikes, ice cream socials to house-building trips for the less fortunate in Tijuana.

With close to 15 events per month, not counting the regular support-group meetings, singles clued in to the goings-on at St. Louise can quickly find themselves with more fun, upbeat social opportunities than they know what to do with.

For the nonreligious, things get a bit harder. While it’s always possible to take your chances with the bar scene — Front Street’s Room 38 and the Gaslamp Bar & Grill appear to be generating the most buzz — many singles prefer to take a more direct approach. That’s where Janet M.A. Pearce and Cupid.com/PreDating Inc. step in.

PreDating, a trademarked term for an activity more widely known as “speed dating,” is a simple concept. Working with between 15 and 30 adults matching a target age range and set of interests, events coordinators like Pearce set up a series of up to a dozen six-minute-long “speed dates” at a local bar, café or restaurant.

Afterward, participants make note of any other individuals that interested them, with mutual interest resulting in both parties’ receiving the others’ contact information, allowing them to set up their first “real” date. Of those who participate, over two-thirds receive at least one match.

“I’ve been doing this for over three years now, and I just love it,” says Pearce, who ran the first Issaquah PreDating event in quite a while at the Issaquah Brewery on June 7. Ultimately, Pearce hopes to make the Issaquah sessions a monthly affair.

For more customized dating help, singles like local computer analyst William Feely look to actress-turned-matchmaker Alma Rubenstein. Her company, The Professional Dater, is a Seattle-based organization embodying old-time matchmaker values and offering everything from speed dating and date coaching to “wingman/wingwoman” services, in which a client hires an outgoing “friend” by the hour to help introduce him or her to people and make him or her look good.

“Alma and I met a few times,” says Feely, 56. “I had a lot of inhibitions, and she coached me on meeting people and introducing myself. She even went into Great Expectations, the dating service I had been using without success, and re-did my profile and pictures with me, which really helped.”

A lot of Issaquah singles run into the same problems, Rubenstein said.

“Most of the people I work with are divorced and in the suburbs with no idea what to do,” Rubenstein explains. “They need to figure out what their interests are outside of the couple — many might not even be used to buying their own clothes.

“We tell them the dos and don’ts of dating — yes, we’re here to introduce our clients to people, but we’re also here to work on whatever’s holding them back. We’re a support system.”

A support system, it should be noted, with a hefty price tag — fees for The Professional Dater’s customized matchmaking can run anywhere from $300 to $4,000. The company’s speed-dating events cost about $30 each — slightly cheaper than PreDating’s $39-$44.

Yet for those who’d rather shop from home, the Internet offers a bevy of convenient dating services that allow you to browse other users’ profiles while posting your own pictures and personal information. While there are thousands of services to choose from, one company stands head and shoulders above the competition where Issaquah is concerned.

At Yahoo! Personals, a single click brings profiles from literally hundreds of singles in Issaquah and Sammamish, with the inclusion of cities such as Redmond and Bellevue increasing the selection exponentially.

More importantly, all ages and lifestyles are represented en masse — whether you’re straight or gay, 18 or 80, there’s undoubtedly an Issaquah resident worth checking out on Yahoo! Personals. Though creating a profile and browsing others is free, e-mailing and instant messaging said singles costs anywhere from $20 a month to $80 a year.

A word of warning, however: while most online dating services are a pay-to-play venture, there are also free alternatives that offer almost identical opportunities, sometimes with even greater results.

Myspace.com, for instance, is a completely free networking service that allows individuals to post profiles with pictures, bios, Web blogs and more, and the service’s “browse” feature allows members to search profiles by age, location, keywords — and relationship status.

When a Myspace search for Issaquah-area singles interested in dating returns over 500 hits for free, it’s hard to imagine paying $80 for a service like Yahoo! Personals. For the slightly more adventurous, free classified-ad sites like Craigslist.org boast indescribably huge readerships in the Seattle area, as well as ad forums ranging from “strictly platonic” to the risqué “casual encounters.”

In the end, Zielonka and Cottrell are probably right — a town like Issaquah will never have the same singles scene as a city like Seattle. But maybe that’s not so bad. Let the big cities keep their cover charges and two-drink minimums, their greasy clubs and snobby brushoffs.

We’ve got other options.

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