Natural selection: Outfitter, matchmaker hook up

Posted: Friday, September 27, 2002

SEATTLE -- Singles tired of looking for soul mates in bars and on blind dates are scheduling time with the great outdoors in hopes that they may find love on the wildside.

The popular Seattle-based outfitter Recreational Equipment Inc. has teamed up with online dating service Match.com in an alliance to help play love doctor to the adventurous. The two companies announced the arrangement earlier this month.

The success of an initial trip to Costa Rica in April led Match.com to believe singles were tired of the traditional dating haunts and wanted another tool for meeting people.

''A shared love of the outdoors is a great base for any relationship,'' said Tim Sullivan, president of Match.com. ''The popularity of the initial trips demonstrates there are a lot of single members looking to meet others with an interest in nature and the outdoors.''

Most people sign up through the Internet for the trips because they want to travel to exotic places, such as Costa Rica, Ireland or Hawaii. They're doctors, lawyers and accountants looking for adventure, a chance to relax and maybe have the added perk of meeting someone they can date.

''A trip like that puts you in a scenario where you're doing something you really enjoy and you're in a small group of people that enjoy the same things,'' said 50-year-old Diane Murray of Portland, Ore.

A business systems analyst, Murray said she loves to travel and was drawn to Match.com's ''Cycle the Emerald Isle'' advertisements of people trekking through Ireland's countryside on bicycles.

She also said she liked that the trip all but guaranteed she would be with her peers: people who -- if they can afford the nearly $1,200 to $1,600 price tag of the seven- to 10-day trips -- are likely more credible than someone she meets through traditional dating tactics.

''People who participate in outdoor activities are more prone to be more successful in their personal lives and more successful in their professional lives, as opposed to someone who bellies up to the bar and drinks scotch all night,'' Murray said.

Paul Mehlin, of Rockaway, N.J., liked the idea of the trips because it meant he'd be with a group of singles, and wouldn't have to deal with the usual ''third wheel'' feeling associated with other couples' oriented trips.

''You wouldn't be with a bunch of couples, so there's other people to do things with,'' said Mehlin, a 48-year-old insurance auditor who went on the Costa Rica trip.

The group dynamic plays a large part of having a pleasant experience.

The adventure trips are made up of 12 to 16 single people, with an equal balance of men and women, led by two REI guides who have the entire adventure planned -- how far they'll travel, where they'll eat and where they should bed down for the night.

Even if there isn't a successful love match -- it appears most people end up friends instead of lovers -- vacationers are at least guaranteed a good time. Match.com surveys its members about what their goals, interests and likes and dislikes are, therefore each group has common interests, said Kathleen Roldan, director of dating for Dallas-based company.

Cindy Allen, who also attended the nine-day Ireland trip, said she was ''recovering from a broken heart'' and didn't think twice about signing up for the trip.

''I thought, well, you never know, you might just meet somebody,'' said Allen, 45 of Irvine, Calif. ''I didn't really have any expectations about that, though.''

Instead, the trips give people the opportunity to relax, not just from the working environment, but also from the traditional confines of dating.

The focus is on the activity and not the people, so that nervous first introduction is far outweighed by just trying to stay in the boat when rafting through choppy rivers in Costa Rica or trying to traverse a narrow, rocky bike path in Ireland.

''There's no pressure, nobody was hitting on anybody else,'' Allen said. ''It wasn't like anyone was trying to put on airs.''



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