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May 27, 2011

Vancouver: a hookup nightmare?

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).

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  1. Good article, all transplants to Vancouver should read this. I would only add that the inward, antisocial reputation of Vancouver described here is also in other Pacific northwest cities Portland, Oregon and Seattle. In fact, Seattle has a long standing, totally established reputation as an extremely difficult place to relocate to. There is even a name for it: “the Seattle freeze”, which means well intentioned transplants to Seattle who are gregarious extroverts find their efforts to reach out and connect fall on deaf ears time and time and time again. Its the same in Portland. And here. Tough cities, all to move to and become connected. The author is also very correct that its especially hard for men. Why? Unlike women who naturally tend to network and form social support structures with other women, men are (by nature or nurture) wired to be ‘rugged individualists’ who can ‘take care of themselves’, etc. Men reaching out to other men is seen as a sign of weakness, like you’re a loser or a fag. Long story short most men end up very much alone, or isolated when they transplant to tough cities like Vancouver or Seattle. Drugs, alcohol and mindless diversions replace what should be a healthy network of friends. No easy solution for these problems other than constant networking and finding activity partners to do stuff with. Even that is difficult here LOL.

  2. Hi there,

    I agree with the sentiments expressed by the other posts. I do agree that it is extremely hard to hook up in Vancouver. In fact, when I was in my 30s, I wasted an entire decade trying to find the woman of my dreams. I am now happily married, but I know many friends in their forties who are still looking for their soul mates. It is extremely hard to find a decent woman in Vancouver. I believe I lucked out and found a great woman. I wish all of you old and young singles out there, the best of luck.

    I also feel for the guys who get the cold shoulder everytime they approach a Vancouver woman for conversation. It is a byproduct of a paranoid society. But having said all that, I also think that people are looking for guys/girls in all the wrong places. For instance, if the quality of the people we meet has a direct correlation between the quality of the establishment where we met them. If one goes to pubs, nightclubs, and bars to hook up….then well you won’t have much luck in securing a meaningful long term relationship. In my view, university, coffee shops, and malls may be better options for singles out there who are tired of being single. I met my wife at a conference 7 years ago. 🙂

  3. Hook-ups? I would just like to make a few friends. I have lived in Vancouver for nearly 10 years and although I have met a lot of people I have yet to make a few regular friends – male or female. If my experiences are any indication of what is also happening in the dating scene – I feel for anyone looking for love in Vancouver. It’s a beautiful town but the people aren’t much about having a chat and a laugh. It’s a lonely place if you aren’t rooted here with family and old school chums.

  4. I don’t get it. I was out west in Vancouver, but while I loved my trip and running the marathon, I didn’t feel any warmth from the locals. I’d love to live there because I’ve never seen a more walkable downtown but I already live in a city with few friends, no dating prospects and rudeness in NW Ontario for a third of the price.

    I was expecting…I don’t know…Vancouver to be like San Francisco, Haight/Ashbury or Los Angeles or Phoenix with the laid back culture of the west that we think is still abound in North Americas West Coast; in reality, those days are long gone. I talked to two friends, one who lived out in Los Angeles and one who stayed in San Francisco, who told me those laid-back, eclectic people who smoke bud and hand you a flower and smile have been gone since at least 1972; the culture changed, extreme wealth and hard drugs moved in deeper, making it a very rich or skid row lifestyle, all within walking distance of each other. The hippies, artists, counterculture activists and such were priced out in the 70’s. But most of us, 40 years later, still have that image of the West Coast (‘just get it done whenever’). Those seeking hippie heaven are finding it today in the least-imagined places that are very inexpensive, but have a beautiful natural landscape and greenspace (first place I found a whole colony of new-generation artists and fun loving folks was in Duluth, Minnesota; three hours south of Thunder Bay, this city of 200,000 has a gorgeous hillside with sweeping vistas of Lake Superior, greenspace, community and rooftop gardens, but an urban culture welcoming of any race, religion, sexual orientation and age. I’ve also seen similar places scattered across the US and Canada, but now you have to look hard. Buffalo, with it’s Albright-Knox Art Gallery, is another unlikely place. The commonalities: acceptance of all differences. Commitment to a sustainable environment. Very cheap housing – but safe downtowns. Not many kids, so plenty of focus on things to do for single adults.

    Whatever you’re looking for its out there, but you have to alter your expectations. The artsy-chic people have left Vancouver and will probably never come back. Too bad. Those are the people who made Vancouver and all of the west coast such interesting lifeblood to attract so many people.

    1. I agree with the points made about Vancouver. When out of towners arrive in Vancouver initially they do marvel at the beautiful lush evergreen vegetation, great wonderdul vistas-sunsets ( seen some nice ones down at Third Beach – Stanley Park) and seascape intertwinded with the low density urban conurbation .

      However lets face it, when you really live here, without any family, or all your attempts at extending your network of friends get rebuffed by locals, you do realize Vancouver in reality is nothing more than a rain drenched empty shell. People need to feel connected to other humans, regardless of where they live. I have lived here long enoungh to be able observe that.

      Unfortunatley Vancouverites still live off the myth that this “place” is something “special” and “diverse”. Special and diverse ? No kidding please !!!

      Look around and observe demographic composition of the city: 50 % of Vancouver is made up of Asians , whose main or only interest ( since floodding into this town after 1990, or since Hong Kong reverted back into China’s orbit) is to make $, buy property, set up a restaurant business to make more $ and invest into their kids, indulge in consumption.

      This is in no way contributes to cultural enrichment but makes the city boring.
      Say what you will about Montreal and Toronto, at least you have a wide array of cultural activities and entertainment options, Vancouver by comparison feels like a provincial backwater.

      If Vancouver is so diverse, as Vancourities always claim, why isnt here a vibrant arts – cultural scene, why aren’t any sizeable communities of Westindians,Africans, Arabs, Germans, Southerm or Eastern Europeans in this city. The only Arabs I have seen are the rich sons – daughters of thse loaded oil sheiks who readily pay Top Dollar for their spiled offspring to come here to attend some English language school, same for Brazilians no different.

      So what does that say ? In fact it means to the city is primarily focused on milking others for $ it has no cosmopolitan vision . For those who can afford the NYC prices in Vancouver, and who spend their time mostly surfing or on snowboarding or going downhill on the ski slopes, of course Vancouver resembles some kinda outdoor paradise, but these people aren’t representative, most who are in Vancouver who can barely survive, with rock bottom wages (if they are lucky enough to get a job at all) will tell you that if they had an opportunity elsewhere they’d leave in a heartbeart.

      You may find the occassional stoned students and fun minded characters , who are friendly and approachable but in spite of hedonistic Wreck Beach, beautiful Spanish Banks etc , Vancouver has no laid back feel, it just likes to market itself to the world on that false premise,so people can come and spend their $ here.

  5. well the problem is men are not men in anyway here, they are scared of everything (rain,violence, being yelled at, authority and approaching women) where I come from in Ontario is a lot more respectable, Men are in no way scared to approach a woman or hit someone for making a scene on the bus. Vancouver is simply too laid back.

  6. I’m born & raised here and I could’nt care less what the other side of the Rockies thinks.
    Keep the Ontarians out so Vancouver can refine itself without cultural cross examination from cities half a world away.

  7. I was born and raised here and ever since the late 1970’s Vancouver has been the most difficult place to meet women. The weather sucks for 8 months of the year and it is too expensive to live here. Half the population doesn’t speak English and they shut the city down at midnight. Thirty or so years ago, it was a much more exciting place to live. Now all the people do is sit around eating their cold porridge and sipping cold tea wondering where they are going to scrape together their next rent or mortgage payment. Other than the nice natural attractions, Vancouver sucks on many levels.

  8. Thought I would just share this, as it pertains to the weirdness of Vancouver and possibly the kind of people the city attracts.
    I was taking some Continuing Studies classes and one evening before class about 6 of us were standing in the hall waiting for someone to let us in to the classroom. Forced to speak, we all went around and did a little informal introduction – most of us were not originally from the Vancouver area. So the subject turns to making friends and meeting people in the city and everyone had the same complaint, “It’s impossible to meet people here.” So, I suggest we exchange information – maybe meet for coffee to study for the class and see what happens from there. Everyone looked at me like I had just grown a second nose. So, there is part of the problem right there! lol

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