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The Evolution Of San Francisco's Dating Culture

From its bohemian roots to its hippie era to the most recent cyberculture, the Bay’s long-rooted culture of openness and idealism is influencing dating in surprising ways.

Writer and poet Allen Ginsberg came to San Francisco during the 1950s. He met a group of other poets who would eventually become the core of the Beat Generation. The “Beats” offered a sense of freedom and genuine curiosity unrivaled in postwar literature. And before long he put the city on the world’s counter-cultural map with his works being published alongside Jack Kerouac. The Beat poets encompassed all races, genders, religions, classes, and sexual preferences.

Following the Beat Generation were the hippies and subversive visionaries they inspired. Steve Jobs, a self-identified child of the sixties counterculture “borrowed” Kerouac’s writings for an Apple commercial. Jobs attributes much of his success to the Silicon Valley and San Francisco communities in which he spent his early years. 

Surprisingly, the romantic utopian culture of the 1960s, with its skepticisms about modernity and its mechanisms, is strongly linked to one of the biggest technological revolutions in the last century.

One of the people that bridged the gap between hippie communes and tech experimentation was Stewart Brand, creator of the Whole Earth Catalog, published in 1968.

His catalog was essentially a tool for organizing the world’s information. Even Jobs pointed out, “The Whole Earth Catalog … was one of the bibles of my generation … it was a sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along.” 

The idea of a new world in which information could cross barriers of geography and be shared with anyone, anywhere, was hugely inspiring to local computer scientists, specifically scientists at Stanford University who were working on developments in personal computing, laying the groundwork for the current Silicon Valley environment. Momentum carried into the dot com boom of 1998-2001 and hasn’t slowed since.

From The Whole Earth Catalog to Google, you will see the common thread between counterculture and cyberculture – the inspiration to change the world. Some say today's tech culture is a direct descendant of the hippy movement. The techies have much more wealth and don’t follow a counter-culture, but similar to hippies, they hold the same social mission to transform the world –– but with technology. Likewise, many of tech’s biggest leaders, such as Google, follow principles that guided the hippie movement – personal growth and a mix of work and play. 

How this relates to San Francisco’s dating culture

This culture continues to thrive today; people flock to San Francisco to be a part of the idealistic bubble that encompasses the city. Some hope to become the next generation of “disrupters.” This has spurred the influx of young, rich tech workers, founders, CEOs, and entrepreneurs working to “change the world.”

The injection of so many young people with impressive education and job titles, money to play with, and no family ties create a dating playground full of eligible bachelors and bachelorettes. They are searching for their equal, someone to fulfill the definition of a power couple, and they won’t settle for anything less. This is creating a collective mindset within San Francisco, that is, a certain way of thinking and behaving. 

The first collective mindset is, “Life is already fulfilling.” 

There is a common mindset shared between San Francisco’s singles. That is, “I don’t need a relationship; I want a relationship.” People already feel a great amount of contentment and satisfaction in their lives. They aren’t looking to fill a void, they’re looking for someone to complement their already fulfilling lives. As one person describes it, “I’m happy being single. And I much rather be happy and single, than be in a mediocre relationship.” Many other singles share that sediment, which is apparent in SF’s mostly single population, a whopping 58%.

The second collective mindset is, “There are too many choices.”

SF’s culture has historically been open-minded, and that envelops into its dating culture too. If you compare SF to other more traditional cultures, say the American Midwest or many Asian cultures, you’ll find San Franciscans are much more open in regards to religion, ethnicity, marital status, etc. In the 1000s of interviews conducted in Ambiance Matchmaking’s San Francisco office, we began to notice trends. For example, the majority do not have a religious preference. Their match could be spiritual, agnostic, or even a specific religion as long as they didn’t try to convert them (or raise their children that way). They are equally open on ethnicity, the majority saying they are open to “all ethnicities” but giving preference to caucasian, followed by Latin, Asian, Indian, and Middle-Eastern. But what happens when you’re presented with too many choices? “Choice overload” happens, leading to inaction.

The third collective mindset is, “I’m not settling.”

As we’ve seen throughout its history, San Francisco attracts a special breed, visionaries and overachievers. They envision spending their lives not just with anyone, but the perfect one. However, what happens when your expectations put you into an exclusive group of one? In other words, what happens when you set unrealistic expectations for a partner that simply does not exist? It causes an influx of singles so scared of “settling” that they don’t give a perfectly good date a chance if there aren’t immediate fireworks and confetti. Remember, chemistry doesn’t always happen on the first date. You might be pleasantly surprised on the second date.

Resources:

https://www.trulia.com/research/valentines-day-cities/

https://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/25/arts/25conn.html

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/23/is-san-francisco-losing-its-soul

https://censusreporter.org/profiles/16000US0667000-san-francisco-ca/

Taylor Wade

Taylor is one of the founders of Ambiance Matchmaking. She now dedicates her time to curating content for our community through her podcast and blog. Writing and podcasting is the art of great story-telling. As a relationship writer and editor, she has always sought to capture the reality of the dating experience, full of drama, friction, and joy. The best mind is an open mind, so she specializes in asking questions and approaching a story without preconceptions.

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