There is a mantra among many young adults in the Wood River Valley: Dating here sucks. That isn’t just anecdotal.
Though the last official census was in 2010, population estimates since then indicate that about 3,360 people between 22 and 36 years old live in Blaine County.
More than 60 percent of that young-adult population is concentrated in Sun Valley, Ketchum and Hailey. That means about 2,044 adults between 22 and 36 are in those immediate areas.
However, as many around town have said, there seem to be more young men than women. If the percentage of young men to women stays the same from 2010, there would be a small surplus of young guys, making for a ratio of about 5.21 to 4.79.
Accounting for relationships, marriages, a chance of meeting and dating standards, the odds of finding “the one” aren’t great. Add Pew Research Center findings that about a quarter of unmarried adults are not actually looking for a romantic partner, and it can seem impossible.
An Idaho Mountain Express reporter collected local anecdotes by posting a message on the online dating app Tinder, and one responder said, “Ketchum dating for men: Where the odds are never in your favor. Ketchum dating for women: Where the odds are good, but the goods are odd.”
Others who responded to the message had similar things to say, adding that there’s “not that many young people,” and “it’s a tourist destination, so people tend to come and go.” Others described a dating pool so small that everyone has dated or knows who has dated everyone else.
Code name ‘Dave’
For those new to the valley, it can be hard finding a date, especially when service jobs have odd hours and younger residents don’t have much spare time outside of skiing and work.
“Dave,” 29, agreed.
His name was changed to protect his identity. He said the dating scene here is “terrible.”
After he and his wife of nearly two years divorced a few months ago, he started actively looking for a serious girlfriend, he said.
Dave said he’s from a Midwest city with a population greater than this state, and dating was easy and mostly for fun in college. Here, he said, it’s been difficult to find any social scene to meet women or even friends beyond the bars and Tinder.
Dave said the bars aren’t great for socializing and the superficiality of Tinder makes things even more difficult. If someone simply uses the wrong variation of “there” or “their” in a description on the app, he said, a date could be lost. Dave said that as a divorced man looking for a serious relationship, Tinder’s limited local scene can be brutal.
“It’s not as big of a deal in a bigger place,” he said, “But in this town, it eliminates me altogether.”
Acknowledging difficulties here, Dave said he’s looking to move to Boise, where there are more opportunities and more people.
The bar scene
Bartenders get to see the good, the bad and the ugly of any area’s dating scene. Ketchum is no exception.
Kristin Derrig owns The Cellar Pub in Ketchum, and between her and Cellar worker Max Kwok, they said they’ve seen it all: Tinder dates, casual encounters, cheating and lots of lone guys.
“Particularly in the months from April to early June,” Kwok said, “I probably see five dudes by themselves every night, and then one girl walks in and all their heads turn up like prairie dogs.”
Kwok described some of the local dating vocabulary. “Hunting season,” he said, is when locals go looking to hook up with the tourists. Meanwhile, “imports” are the significant others that locals brought into the area from elsewhere. He said locals, among themselves, have an interesting experience in dating, quoting a local mantra: “You don’t lose your girlfriend—you just lose your turn.”
“Living in this town is like living in a giant high school,” she said. “Everybody knows everything about everybody, so it’s a little tough to meet new people or people who haven’t gone out with one of your friends.”
Kwok said there is an upside to dating here: Cheating is nearly impossible and, unlike in a city, someone can’t go out on five Tinder dates in one night—everyone talks. He said he’s seen the most dating success in town through joining activities such as co-ed sports, outside of the local bar scene.
Cord Roth, 27, works at the Sawtooth Brewery Public House, and he said “importing” a girlfriend or boyfriend is the way to go.
“That just seems to be the best way to do it,” he said.
Roth said he’s currently single, but he doesn’t use dating websites or apps because he’s “more old school” and likes to meet people doing things he likes. He said he has taken dates rock climbing at the YMCA or up skiing.
“Chairlift rides are the best date in the world,” he said.
His advice for other young singles is to “just go for it.” Even if someone doesn’t want to date after being asked, he said, “if you get asked out, you feel special, and more of that needs to happen.”
James Largefowl, who works at Grumpy’s, agrees. He said he’s been working at the bar and restaurant for 21 years and is positive about people’s chances.
“I’ve seen a lot of people who have met here that are still together,” he said.
He said Grumpy’s may be different from some of the liquor bars in town, but he said he’s seen a lot, and there is opportunity. He said there is an “out-of-whack” ratio of men to women, but people just have to take initiative.
“[Make] nice conversation, small talk, not just gawking from a distance and trying to imagine what’s going through their mind or what they’re all about,” he said. “Sometimes you have to approach somebody and just be honest with them.”
There is hope
Many beat the dating odds, and Christine Juarez, 28, is one of them.
Juarez said she moved to the area in 2009 with her then-boyfriend. When that relationship ended, she said, she spent the better part of four years being single in this area. She said she understands how hard it can be and understands that feeling of just wanting “the forehead kisses and the butterflies and you want that Valentine’s crap.”
Still, she urges people to stay true to themselves, as cliché as it may sound. Juarez said it’s not worth dating someone who isn’t willing to accept all the quirks that make a person unique.
“You have to pull your self-esteem out of somewhere and dump him,” she said.
Juarez said that a few years ago, working for a local bank, she saw a guy walk in. She commented to a nearby teller about the cute guy, and it turned out to be the teller’s brother.
“Awkward,” she said.
Later on, she said, she’d see him a lot. His name was Rafael and he’d stop by the bank, usually going to another teller and speaking Spanish.
“I didn’t know he knew English,” she said. “He’s really shy.”
One night, when her sister was in town, Juarez said she saw Rafael at a bar in Hailey. She said he was standing by the jukebox and she asked her sister for a dollar to go pick out a song. Then, they talked—a lot. Or rather, she said, she talked.
“I talk a lot,” she said.
That night, she gave him her phone number.
Christine married Rafael Juarez at his family homestead in Hailey on Dec. 10. Christine said they had been dating nearly two years since that fateful night at the bar. She adores him.
“I don’t know how I got a guy like Rafael with my crazy hair and everything,” she said. “We don’t have the perfect relationship, but he’s perfect for me.”