Hobo Jim entertains the crowd during a performance at BJ's in Soldotna. The club scene is one option for singles on the troll.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
There are some choice sayings about dating in Alaska.
About the men: The odds are good but the goods are odd. About the women: You don’t lose your girlfriend, just your place in line.
We repeat cliches for a reason, but what is the real possibility of meeting your one true love on the Kenai Peninsula? Are you looking for a casual date or a person with whom to spend eternity? As Valentine’s Day approaches, what is the state of dating on the Kenai Peninsula?
Start with the numbers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent numbers, the median age of residents in the Kenai Peninsula Borough in 2000 was 36.3, and 67.7 percent of the population was 20 or older. The percentage of males was 52, while the percentage of females was 48.
Determining how many of these people were single in 2000 is a more complicated calculation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The available data breaks down by “Relationship” and “Household.” Two numbers indicate single, adult households: the “Female householder, no husband present” and the “Nonfamily household.” The combined percentage of these two statistics was 40 percent in 2000.
So what does it mean for a dater? Dr. Kathleen Dinius, a licensed psychologist who’s worked with individuals, couples and families for almost 40 years has some words of advice for the romantically inclined:
“People feel like because we’re a small community,‘I’ll never meet someone to date.’” Dinius said.
“You have to meet them and then you have to be open,” she said.
But how to meet people?
One option is the nightlife. Rebekah Bearup is in her mid-20s and met barback Josh Freeman at Hooligan’s in Soldotna.
“I’ve been coming here pretty much since I moved here ... pretty much the only place to meet anybody is the bar.” she said. “I got hit on a lot ... I don’t date people that I meet in the bar.”
But she got to know Freeman because he was nice and they would talk while he was at work.
“We started hanging out as friends and it turned into something more,” she said.
Though it worked for Bearup, Dinius recommends venues other than bars to meet someone compatible. For those seeking someone with similar values, a church is one option.
Church gatherins, like this Mardi Gras party at Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church in Kenai a couple of years ago, can be good places to meet single people.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Sister Joyce Ross of Our Lady of the Angels Roman Catholic Church in Kenai said the parish doesn’t have any specifically singles-oriented activities but it does have many community gatherings outside of services.
“We have Mardi Gras coming up. And someone could go downstairs (to the church hall) any Sunday after Mass to talk with people,” Ross said.
“It’s a good place to meet ... . It’s somebody who has the same values.” she said.
Like many denominations, the Catholic Church also offers premarital counseling.
“We ask them to come and not set a date until they come to the preparation course,” Ross said.
The preparation course begins with a diagnostic. “They measure the areas of agreement and disagreement ... couples are so honest. ...It emphasizes the value of good communication. It’s important that they know how the other feels.” she said.
Not all relationships lead to premarital counseling, however. According to Dinius, that’s a good thing.
“Anywhere along the way to commitment if it doesn’t work, you don’t have to stay there ... . It’s good if you can look at relationships as a learning experience, a growing experience.”
There are some uniquely Alaskan challenges on the path to commitment for are daters, beyond meeting someone and testing compatibility.
Deb Jenkins manages Moosequito’s bar and the Naptowne Inn in Sterling. She related a story she observed.
“There’s a couple that meets her a couple times a month. She lives in Soldotna, he lives in Cooper Landing, so its a halfway point.”
Jenkins is a single working mother of three. She came to Alaska a year ago from Delaware. She’d like to be able to date interesting men without jumping right into a relationship. She must plan her social life carefully between work and family, but it seems to her that everyone is looking for serious commitment too fast.
“I’d like someone to ask me to dinner for next week, take me home and drop me off and say ‘I’ll call you this week.’ And then call. You know, casual,” she said.
She’s had some obstacles to overcome in the way she thinks about dating.
“People go away for work. It’s a really different environment than I’m used to.” she said.
Dinius advises that potential daters be open with each other about this issue. North Slope or other work schedules that require long absences can be difficult to manage at the beginning of a relationship.
“You have to be aware that it could happen. You just prepare yourself that it’s going to be that way,” Dinius said.
And how do couples deal with it?
“With cell phones. You can learn a lot about someone through phone interaction,” Dinius said.
Summer relationships or long-distance Internet dating are possibilities, but can be hazardous, as well. Dinius has seen the situation in her practice. Someone visits the state for work or vacation, they make a connection and one partner moves up here to live. She indicated that this happens most often when one partner is needy and looking for a rescuer. It could be an indication of a person who isn’t happy and healthy.
“Needy people don’t make good dating partners or marriage partners. You want to help a needy person, but that gets old ... . Rescuing doesn’t work,” she said.
When people correspond over the Internet and aren’t able to meet face-to-face because of Alaska’s isolation, it can lead to difficult situations.
“Some really good matches can happen there. One thing to be aware of is that a person doesn’t have to tell you the truth over the Internet,” Dinius said.
Online dating sites offer one-stop shopping anda chance to share information without making any commitments.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
For those looking for love connections online, there are several sites available. Match.com is a quick and easy way to start a conversation. A user goes on the site, fills out some basic information and can post a picture. A user also can start searching immediately for matches in the area. eHarmony.com is another option. The process for participating on the Web site is more involved than match.com. Participants are matched with other daters, whether they purchase subscriptions or not. In order to begin a conversation, however, users must subscribe. Both Web sites offer dating advice, including online safety tips.
Dinius advises that in-person interaction can’t be beat. She gave examples of such interactions in the community, including joining a club, such as a local ski club; participating in civic activities, like joining the board of a community organization; volunteering, or taking a class at Kenai Peninsula College.
“You can take any class where discussions happen,” Dinius suggested.
According to KPC counselor Stan Vogel, one of the challenges for KPC as a social network is it isn’t a completely traditional college population. There is a large commuter population that attends the college. Many go to class and then must run off to work or family commitments. The possibilities for interaction within a wide range of ages might be considered a positive for those who aren’t in the traditional 19-24 college age range. The college has been working to make the campus more reflective of the entire community.
“This place is growing. It’s a viable social network for young people,” Vogel said.
Diane Taylor is the coordinator of the Learning Center at KPC and advisor for Phi Theta Kappa, the college honor society. Clubs and societies help people mix and mingle, she said.
“It’s really a mix of students ... most people that I’ve met are just wanting to be around people, do things,” Taylor said.
She said the students are seeing that need and working to fill it, as well. A sometimes student at KPC, Shawna Shields and her husband, Micah, purchased Coffee Roasters, a coffee shop in the Red Diamond Center on Kalifornsky Beach Road in large part because they wanted to provide a place for students to get together, socialize and study.
The couple just celebrated their five-year anniversary. Their story is a good example of peninsula dating.
“We met in a gravel pit,” Shawna Shields said. “We got hired for the same position, but I got there first.”
The company felt bad about promising Micah a job in construction and not delivering, so they kept him on doing odd jobs as needed. Shawna and Micah began dating.
Shields has friends who are trying to date in the area but who have difficulty finding somewhere to go for an unofficial first date. What could be less threatening than a coffee date? So Coffee Roasters has started an informal gathering of young adults for coffee, games and live music on Sunday afternoons from 1:30 to around 4 p.m.
“We had about 30 people the first time around, in their 20s and 30s, mostly.” Shields said. “There was probably about three or four different groups to start ... . People started mingling in the other groups ... . I didn’t know there were so many other people my age around.”
It might surprise some to know there are people out there looking for dating opportunities, and might not surprise them that there are challenges, too. Dinius gives daters a few things to remember:
“Be the most healthy person you can be and be yourself. Be open. Keep an open mind in the beginning. Be a good listener. You’re more likely to be able to connect with somebody if you have good communication skills and good listening,” she said.
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