Anchorage’s dating pool is so small, and the pandemic isn’t helping. How can I meet new people?

Dear Wayne and Wanda,

Well, we did it. My friends and I have officially viewed, and pretty much met, dated or outright rejected (thank u, next!), every person on every dating app out there. The dating pool in this town, Eagle River, the Valley and Girdwood, is so small, we’re all looking at the same “prospects” over and over. Some of these people seem like they’ve been on there forever and keep popping up again. If a new face ever appears, it’s practically a battle to the death to get their attention. Half the time they seem like fake accounts or people just passing through town looking for a hookup.

Our loose circle of friends ranges from mid-20s to mid-30s, mostly ladies, a few guys. We’ve shared our war stories about online dating, from really weird dates to meeting nice people but there just wasn’t a connection there. It’s really rough out there and most of us really do want a real relationship, not something casual. We’ve even started talking about looking out of town — Homer? Fairbanks? Seattle? Portland? At this point, I’d fly three hours to go on a date with someone interesting who hasn’t already virtually hit on one or all of my friends.

It feels like this is all worse than before COVID. Back then, it was easier meet new people in person. We were on dating apps too, but they weren’t our only chance. Now apps feel like our only window to potentially meet someone. Yes, nightlife is getting better, and we’re back at our favorite spots every weekend, but it just isn’t the same. Everyone seems cliqued up. Not as much mingling. So I’m looking for advice: With dating apps just disappointing us over and over, how can we meet and hopefully date new people?

Wanda says:

First of all, find some comfort in knowing you and your friends are not experiencing these desires and difficulties in isolation. A recent study of singles by Match points to a profound shift in what single people are seeking. Many predicted that as COVID-19 abated, we’d see spiking casual sex and reopened social venues overflowing with people starved for intermingling. That hasn’t necessarily happened.

The Match survey findings are pretty interesting. Simply put, a lot of single people experienced notable self-improvement, self-reflection and maturation as they came through the pandemic. And oh yeah, we remembered that crowded bars aren’t necessarily all they’re cracked up to be, with steep tabs, long lines and each and every cough and sneeze catching our anxious attention. The study found that more than before, people using dating app platforms are indeed looking for a serious partner, and that after a year-plus of being bubbled up and bored, true companionship is at a premium.

So don’t despair. Dating may feel harder now because after COVID, dang it, can’t it just be easier already? But dating has always been hard and most of us don’t stumble and luck into the perfect pairing right out of the gate.

Also, that half-joking idea you have about casting a wider net and looking beyond the Anchorage Bowl isn’t entirely nuts. You can use today’s technology to date beyond your backyard. Consider this: That same Match survey probed at video dates as a way to meet people which can help bridge distances for sure, with noted success. About 78% of singles felt chemistry during a video date, 63% felt more comfortable meeting in person after a preliminary video meetup and 34% even said they thought falling in love via a video platform is possible.

[Why do I keep choosing the wrong people to date — and how can I change?]

Wayne says:

#Alaskaproblems, amirite? Used to be the odds are good, but the goods are odd. Now dating here can be just plain odd.

Speaking of odds, I’m a firm believer that you make your own breaks in life. To give yourself the best chance of achieving any big-time goal, you have to be tireless and exhaust any and all resources available. In this case, dating apps and online dating sites can still play a valuable role in connecting you to potential partners and interesting people because they’re the biggest platforms placing your face and bio in the biggest dating pools. Do you let your dating life live and die by these apps anymore? No. In fact, do your best with your profiles and then use the apps casually instead of obsessively.

Now, how to date without dating apps? Well, first, start putting yourselves out there IRL again. Sounds like you’re back on the bar scene. Good start. And yes, while the crowds and concerts and mingling may be down, single people are still out there. Where else would they be? So, Dating 101: flirt! Say hi when you make eye contact in passing — even if you’re wearing a mask. Leave the comfort of your friends’ table bubble and venture over to compliment a stranger on their scarf, beard, mask, shoes, earrings, tattoos or whatever you’re into. The same rules apply at coffee shops, grocery stores, walking/running/hiking/skiing trails and just about anywhere else. People are craving attention and connection more than ever, so give it to them and maybe even get some back for yourself.

And if you’re really really serious, here’s an ace in the hole: There are professional matchmakers in Anchorage! Seriously! They’re experts at finding good dating fits, providing feedback on what you’re doing right and wrong in your dating adventures and increasing those odds.

[I started chatting with my ex during lockdown. Now I’ve slid into a full-blown virtual affair.]