Vancouver has a lot of things going for it: beautiful scenery, coffee shops on every corner, and some fantastic local foods. But as my regular readers know, Vancouver also has undesirable characteristics: it’s ridiculously expensive, socially polarized and inward-looking. It’s also notoriously difficult for young singles to meet potential mates in this town. So when The Tyee‘s Vanessa Richmond asked, “What the heck is wrong with men in this town?” I couldn’t resist responding.
There’s a fair amount of Vancouver-bashing going on now that the Canucks have made it to their first Stanley Cup finals in 17 years. Most of the talk indicates the lukewarm attitudes the rest of Canada has towards “the most livable city in the world”.
“The fact is, as cities go, many Canadians view Vancouver as effete, a metropolis made up of snotty, latte swilling, cargo-shorts wearing, too-cool-for-school yuppies for whom pleasure and real estate remain their only abiding concerns.” Gary Mason, Can Canucks really be Canada’s hockey team?, Globe and Mail, May 18, 2011)
“We are yuppie, expensive and shallow. Look at the place! We’d be stupid not to be yuppie, expensive and shallow. I’m writing this column in my hot tub while sipping a clever little Okanagan Pinot Gris. Life is good here.” Pete McMartin, “Dear rest of Canada, please get your own hockey team”, Vancouver Sun, May 12, 2011)
Vancouverites know that it’s more than geography that separates them from the rest of Canada, and they’re proud of this cultural distinctness in the same way Alaskans revel in their separation from “the lower 48″. But there are specific characteristics that make it difficult for singles to hook up in VanCity (depending on what your definition of “hookup” is):
- Strict Prohibition-era liquor laws make it more expensive to drink here and enforce earlier closing hours for Vancouver bars outside of the Granville Street club strip. When I moved here in 2005, I was shocked to discover that last call for bars and restaurants here is midnight…I mean come on, even in London, Ontario it’s 1:30am. It’s even illegal to take BC wines across the Alberta border, as a local radio reporter demonstrated recently (noted: I’m about to embark on a road trip to Calgary, so I guess we’ll have to stock up once we cross the border).
- The weather. Canadians in Toronto and Montreal somehow manage to socialize in the rain and snow, but 8 months of rain per year literally dampens Vancouver’s social scene.
- Urban planning. Metro Vancouver’s segmented land mass joined by precious few bridges makes socializing in the (tiny) downtown much more difficult than in other cities, where the downtown blends seamlessly into inner suburban neighbourhoods. It’s still a relatively small city (1.8 million for the entire region) and still largely suburban: people retreat to their homes after work, rather than sharing in the traditional urban pastime of after-work drinks that spill into dinner. And it’s still a relatively young city, so neighbourhoods don’t really have their own local bar/restaurant scenes. Vancouver still doesn’t feel like a vibrant urban centre.
- Culture. Urban planner Gordon Price, quoted in Richmond’s article, notes that aloof behavior is “embedded in the cultural bedrock upon which this place was founded”. This British reserve means that men don’t approach women in bars, social hangouts, or even online dating sites: Richmond calls this “the eternal shyness of the VanCity man”.
- Transience. Vancouver has a reputation that draws people from all over the country, and increasingly, all over the world. This creates a relatively transient population: many stay in Vancouver, but lots choose to return home when housing prices and incessant rain start to make them miserable. Many of my single friends have complained that the men they’ve dated weren’t into anything serious because they didn’t intend to stay here.
In other cities, singles aren’t hard up for hookups…how does anyone ever meet in VanCity? When I moved here for grad school, those of us from out of town quickly realized that the “townies” didn’t really socialize with us. They had their well-established networks of friends and family, and didn’t have the time or desire to add more. A classmate of mine who had moved here for work several years earlier told us how difficult it was to make friends here, and several of my friends have shared their own struggles in Vancouver’s social scene. One friend recently mentioned that her husband has had a tough time making guy friends. “You think it’s hard for women to make friends here?” she asked. “It’s ten times harder for men.” Even after living in Vancouver for six years, most of my friends are from out of town, and many from out of province. (Lest I be outed as “anti-Vancouver”, my husband and I noticed the same social phenomenon in Ottawa, where we lived for three years). This difficulty making friends in Vancouver inevitably extends to other social activities like dating.
I don’t know what the solution is any more than Richmond does; even her suggestion that women be more assertive in approaching men might be problematic in Vancouver (the men in her article are rebuffed when they approach women, so who’s to know how they would react if a woman were to make the first move?) All I can say is that Vancouver’s social scene is markedly different from Montreal’s, where waiters at restaurants flirt with every woman in sight, and Toronto’s (I dare you to find a Toronto friend who hasn’t gone out for after-work drinks in the last month).