Why Does Dating on Hilton Head "Suck"
Author: Becca Edwards
Scene: I’m having drinks with a friend who is celebrating her quasi-amicable divorce. I ask her how she’s doing and then in an effort to empower her say, “You should start dating again,” to which she first laughs/chokes on her wine and then replies, “Date on Hilton Head? No thank you. It sucks dating here.”
Growing up on the island and having gone the fairytale route of marrying my favorite neighbors’ son (and subsequently also my parents’ best friends’ son), I am struck by her response. Why does dating here “suck”? Has it always been a lackluster endeavor? Or is this a more recent development?
As it turns out, dating on Hilton Head Island, poses many challenges for many reasons.
With an approximate year-round population of 39,400, the male-to-female ratio on Hilton Head Island is roughly 19,300 to 20,100. Eighty-five percent of the population is married, while 15 percent are single. That means that more or less 2,895 men and 3,015 women comprise the Hilton Head dating circuit. Numerically, this seems high—if you are a single male, you have over 3,000 available women to court. But statistically, once you consider variables like age, occupation, belief systems and economic status, this seems super low.
“When it comes to dating here, I don’t really play well with others,” joked Fiona Fitzgerald. “For starters I’m a vegetarian. I can’t tell you how many times I meet a guy and he says, ‘You mean you don’t eat chicken?’ I nod and then he’ll ask, ‘What about fish?’ and then I just have to laugh and say, ‘No, if it has eyes or parents, I don’t eat it.’”
Fitzgerald has lived on the island off and on for 15 years. In her 20s, she sailed through the local dating pool and married an islander. Now divorced, she’s in her 30s and once again navigating through “bachelorette-dom.” But this time she’s dating not just as a single woman, but as a single mother who works fulltime and has high standards when it comes to finding companionship.
“Of course when you’re in your early 20s, everything is higher and tighter and your criteria for dating someone is, ‘He’s super-hot and I’ve been drunk for a month,’” Fitzgerald said laughing. “But at 37, and with two small children, I find myself asking, ‘Would I leave this guy with my children? Would he pick up his socks?’” Fitzgerald also talked about the Peter Pan syndrome and admitted, “I’m not going out with someone who hasn’t grown up yet.”
It’s no big secret that Hilton Head has a unique demographic composition. Making up a good percentage of the working population is the food and beverage industry, which is often stereotyped as Peter-Pan-ish and criticized for living by the “work hard, play harder” credo. (Note: Everyone who contributed to this article agreed there were exceptions to this perception.)
“I’m not interested in starting my night off at 12 a.m.,” Emerson Scott said. “Plus, by Friday, I am fried. I just want to go out to dinner, have some wine, go home and watch a movie.” Scott is a widower of 17 years and relatively new to the island. He’s an eligible bachelor with several attractive qualities. He’s worldly, educated, and a successful professional in the finance industry. He comes across as compassionate, witty and genuine. And at 58, he is more fit than people half, or even a third his age.
But like Fitzgerald, Scott is doubtful about dating locally. “I haven’t found too many women my age who are as active as I am. I don’t want to come across wrong, but a walk on the beach just doesn’t cut it for me,” Scott said. “Though islanders in general are fit, I still think we have different definitions of fitness.”
Scott, who says he tends to be analytical, is hesitant to go out with younger women because “at some point you are going to leave that person by themselves,” and he is respectful of the opposite sex at any age. “You only have so much time, so casual dating doesn’t seem fair to me,” he said. “Think about someone who has been married 20-plus years, gets divorced and is suddenly single, and they have to sift through the maze of people to find someone they can connect with.”
As a solution, many singles—whether they have been married before or not—turn to online dating as a time and energy saver. According to a Pew Research Center survey, “In 2005, most Americans had little exposure to online dating or to the people who use it, and they tended to view it as a subpar way of meeting people.
Today, almost half of the public knows someone who uses online dating or who has met a spouse or partner via online dating—and their attitudes towards online dating have grown progressively more positive.”
“I’ve tried going out and meeting people at first, but my current strategy is going online,” said Fitzgerald, who prefers Tinder.
Scott agrees. “In Chicago, I started to use Match.com, but a friend of mine told me it was just a hook-up site. So then I tried eHarmony. But when I moved here, I realized it was not as popular and it kept trying to connect me with people in Charleston, Sumter and Savannah… I would prefer to meet someone here.”
And though online dating is convenient, there are drawbacks to interacting computer-to-computer versus face-to-face. The “Attraction Doctor” (it’s okay to laugh) Jeremy Nicholson MSW, Ph.D. addresses two key issues: 1) Pro: “Online dating provides individuals with access to many more potential partners than they could often find in their daily lives. Con: “The choices of partners can become confusing and overwhelming.
” 2) Pro: “Online dating offers a number of ways to get to know a potential date before meeting in person. Such computer-mediated communication allows for safe and convenient interaction, without much risk or time commitment.” Con: “Communication through computers is lacking some of the information provided in face-to-face interaction. As a result, it is harder to evaluate a potential match online.”
Both Fitzgerald and Scott say this can make an already awkward situation like dating even more awkward. “Now people are texting all the time, and it’s hard to know how much is too much texting. Since it’s constant back and forth, I wonder if we were meant to talk all day, because you’re not really saying anything important. Yes, you’re getting to know each other, but there’s no, ‘Hey let’s talk about real stuff,’” Fitzgerald said.
“You send out and e-mail and then you get a two-word response. How do you work with that? Do you go for funny or should you go ahead and tell your life story?” Scott asked.
Given this soft ground to make what should be a firm commitment, why do people feel compelled to make the effort to find quality companionship?
Scott summed it up: “Having someone special in your life is healthy on multiple levels—physically, mentally and spiritually. But what happens is, as time passes, I guess you get set in your ways and it is probably difficult to merge.”
His words remind me of Fitzgerald, and others who contributed to this piece. In the end, we’re all looking for someone who can complement us. We all deserve a happy ending. But is Prince Charming or Sleeping Beauty really here? Only time will tell.
Note: The names of the interviewees have been changed to protect their privacy—and their dating potential.
Top 5 Complaints about Dating on Hilton Head Island:
1. Because the island is small, people are hesitant to date in fear that, if it doesn’t work out, they will feel awkward if they bump into the other person.
2. Young professionals are in the minority.
3. Many people are gun shy about pulling the trigger and going out with someone in the food and beverage industry.
4. There are few places and/or opportunities to meet people.
5. Everybody knows everybody—and their business.
10 Funny Online dating terms:
AFK: Away From Keyboard
DDF: Drug and Disease Free
F2F: Face to Face (Which is not to be confused with F4F which means “Female for Female.”)
LS: Light Smoker (Or Legally Separated)
NB: No Baggage (Children, ex-spouses)
NIFOC: Nude in Front of Computer
RL: Real Life
SWAK: Sealed with a Kiss
XOXO: Hugs & Kisses
Tips For Dating in the area:
1. When setting up a date, take advantage of the Lowcountry: a sunset boat ride, mountain biking via hidden island spots, or a trip to Daufuskie.
2. When dating online, avoid men pictured with dead fish, in camouflage or shirtless—or with wordless profiles.
3. Remember we live in a small town. Don’t worry about gossip but don’t be the reason for gossip, either.
4. Be fair and upfront with people.
5. Though opposites tend to attract, make sure you date someone with similar interests and goals.