On a Friday night in downtown Palo Alto — just a stone's throw from Stanford University, office buildings and the technology hub of San Jose — the college bars and vegan restaurants lining its streets teemed with single men. But at Nola, a Creole-themed bar with notoriously bad service, Erika, 25, wasn't having much luck meeting single guys.
"I ordered my drink, and my girlfriend and I threw out glances and smiles to many men we were interested in. However, none of the maybe 30 men surrounding us were eager to start a conversation," Erika, who lives in nearby San Jose, told Mic. "I would come up to them directly, only to languish in their lack of conversation skills."
In most urban areas like New York City, Philadelphia and Washington D.C., where single women handily outnumber men, such a scene would be wholly unfamiliar. But it's par for the course in the sunny suburban sprawl of San Jose and the surrounding Bay Area cities, home to technology giants like Facebook, Google and Cisco, where college-educated single men outnumber women.
A 2014 Pew Research Center poll found there are 114 employed men per 100 women among unmarried adults ages 25 to 34, and that 57% are unmarried, resulting in breathless claims that San Jose is one of the best cities in the country for women looking to marry.
Silicon Valley's reputation as a haven for single women was recently cemented with the publication of the book DATE-ONOMICS: How Dating Became A Lopsided Numbers Game, which purports that hookup culture is caused by a nationwide shortage of marriageable, college-educated men. Author Jon Birger cited San Jose (or "Man Jose," as it's called) as one of the few cities in America where women can afford to be "more picky" due to a surfeit of eligible single men.
But behind the statistics lies a very different story. Despite being outnumbered by men who possess all the stereotypical "marriage material" qualifications, such as a college education and a job, women in San Jose told Mic that dating isn't actually any easier there than anywhere else. Even in a so-called single woman's "paradise," the quest to find a real connection is just as arduous as ever.
Hookup culture is just as active. Even in a city where women are in short supply, which theoretically should lead to a greater focus on serious dating, casual, short-term dating is just as common among millennials in San Jose as it is in cities like New York.
"I would say the 'going out' scene is a little crazy nowadays," Mayra, 26, told Mic. "It seems like most people just go out to get drunk and see who they can hook up with."
Kristen*, 25, also admitted to Mic that due to the rise of dating apps and the skewed gender ratio, she feels like she's spoiled for choice, which makes her hesitant to settle down.
"The ease of meeting new people makes it easier to be picky. Not a bad thing, but definitely more filtering and sifting," she said.
Bay Area executive coach and psychologist Christina Villarreal told Mic that many women she encounters moved to the Bay Area for two main reasons: advance their careers and meet their life partners. While these women arrive thinking the odds are in their favor, they eventually realize the local dating culture doesn't prioritize marriage as they had hoped.
"I think many men and women in the Bay Area have come to feel satisfied with 'friends with benefits' situations," Villarreal said, "and find this easier than putting in the necessary time and effort it takes to maintain a long term monogamous, committed relationship. ... While there tends to be adequate opportunity for 'dating' experiences, some women complain about how difficult it can be to shift from serial dating to settling down with someone in a committed relationship."
Delaying marriage isn't a trend limited to Silicon Valley. Studies show that college-educated adults, which in 2012 made up 45% of San Jose's population (one of the highest concentrations in the nation), tend to marry later than their less-educated counterparts.
Sure, there are more men, but they're not all easy to date. Most of the women Mic spoke with said there are a lot of smart, successful men in San Jose, and it's not difficult to meet them. In fact, the biggest advantage women cited was the wide variety of men in the city, from "tech nerds" to jocks to career-minded businessmen.
But just because there are more potential partners out there doesn't mean it's any easier to find a compatible match. And in the tech capitol of the United States, many women said there is a higher concentration of socially inept men than in other cities.
Alexandra, 25, told Mic that, in her experience, there's some truth to the awkward "tech guy" stereotype.
"Since it's the tech area, unfortunately that means that a lot of the guys feel entitled — they are so cool because they work here and make this much — or they're not very good at dating yet," she said. "In fact, sometimes [the gender imbalance] makes it harder to find the good guys, because you have to weed through more of the bad ones."
On the other end of the spectrum is a subset of club-going men who troll for hookups in bars and are "pushy," according to Kristen. Casey, 23, hypothesized that the gender imbalance is to blame for this behavior: With fewer women around, competition increases, resulting in a higher-than-average proportion of hyper-determined, sexually frustrated men on the prowl.
"When I go out for the night, there's a pretty high chance that I'm going to get hit on, which is nice, but a lot of times guys can be overly persistent," Casey told Mic. "With a large number of men in the area, the odds are skewed that it's going to happen more frequently."
Women aren't even necessarily trying to date. But the main reason why Silicon Valley is far from a bachelorette's paradise has nothing to do with the gender ratio. It has to do with the fact that many women aren't even actively pursuing relationships to begin with, preferring to focus on careers, graduate school and friendships rather than settling down.
That's in part because technology workers are also notorious for spending long hours at the office, where many personal needs like meals, the gym and even laundry are catered to onsite. That means that the women and men who work in these industries have to make an effort to go out and find those dateable singles, and it's not necessarily effort they're willing to expend.
Nancy, 25, said when she's with her male friends and colleagues, the focus is on having a good time, not dating each other.
"Owing to the ratio, and to a lot of shared interests, we'd rather do something nerdy or adventurous [than go on dates] most of the time," Nancy said. "The intent is usually to just have some fun."
Dating is just as difficult anywhere you go. If nothing else, single women's struggles in San Jose prove that even when women are literally knee-deep in eligible bachelors, they still have the same dating difficulties — balancing work with play, fending off creeps and dealing with commitment-phobes — as other singles around the country.
Even if experts would have us believe otherwise, dating is not a numbers game. Making a true connection takes time, dedication, openness, social skills and perhaps a bit of luck, no matter how many statistics tell us where the best city to find a spouse is.
In the end, gender ratios don't matter nearly as much as the other factors that go into finding love. Chemistry, personality, lifestyle, situation, values and timing still have to sync up, and none of that can be boiled down to numbers.
"Even with the higher men-to-women ratio, I feel like dating is no different than any other area. People still have to be willing to put themselves out there and take risks," Karen*, 25, from San Jose, told Mic. "If they can't do that, their dating lives will remain stagnant."