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Joe Simmons knows she is out there, the girl he will marry. He just hasn't found her yet, but not for lack of trying.

Simmons, 26, is not bashful or boring. He gets out there - the bars, the ball games, the parties, the malls. He has even participated in a reality TV dating show.

And he has been in love four times. Each time, for one reason or another, the match fell apart.

"I'm in a state of limbo right now," Simmons says.

But he is far from discouraged. He maneuvers through the dating scene with ease and says he gets "a lot of interest." And see, there is this woman he met this summer . . .

Not to worry, indeed.

Regardless of what happens with Miss Possibility, Simmons' dating days are likely numbered based on what the U.S. census has to say about being single in Utah.

By age 29, just 31 percent of men in Utah have never been married. The rate is even lower for women at that age: 21 percent.

Utah is the most marrying state in the nation, and single status, at least in the first half of life, is short-lived for most residents.

Utahns marry young, in great numbers and enjoy economic advantages associated with being married, says Pam Perlich, a senior research economist with the Bureau of Economic & Business Research at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Perlich analyzed census data for The Salt Lake Tribune (see graphics).

And that presents both an opportunity and a conundrum for those who do not want to remain single.

"Because we are a marrying place, it can be difficult for those who would like to be married and aren't," says Tom Holman, a professor of marriage, family and human development at Brigham Young University in Provo.

On the other hand, "because there are so many singles and there is homogeneity in race, religion and social status, to some extent, in the state, there is a lot of opportunity for dating, for getting together and for having a very enjoyable singlehood."

In Utah, as elsewhere, shifting societal norms complicate the relationship search. Matchmaking has moved into uncharted territory - out of the purview of family, beyond high school and even college.

Marriage now comes after those first, career-starter jobs. Nationally, the median age of first marriage for men is 27 and for women 25. The same trend is pushing up the median marrying age in Utah, though first marriages still take place much earlier here (24 for men, 22 for women, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey).

The hooking up/hanging out culture, where group dates are the norm and intimate interactions have little to do with commitment, also has eroded the dating culture.

Today's dating scene is "full of chaos and confusion. No one knows what the rules, conventions or accepted practices are," writes Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, in her book Why There Are No Good Men Left.

Our expectations are high, too; everyone is looking for a soul mate and awaiting the appearance of that effortless relationship that signals true love.


"It is pretty clear that over the past 50 to 60 years, attitudes have changed and become much more individualistic," Holman says. "We are much more concerned about seeing marriage as something that is for us, rather than something we do for another person."

So while Utahns tend to be marriage-minded, finding Mr. or Miss Right can still be daunting, particularly in certain circumstances.

People 30-something or older who move here will find the dating pool is limited; so will those who, because of divorce or death, become single again later in life - particularly women.

"Some 80 to 90 percent of men ages 50 through 80 are married," notes Perlich. "That doesn't leave very many men out there on the 'marriage market.' "

Another of Utah's peculiar demographic quirks that effects the dating scene: two-year service missions that typically begin at age 19 for men who belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Their two-year absence creates what Perlich calls the "missionary cave" - a measurable decline in the numbers of single males those ages.

Religious affiliation and race also can deplete the dating ranks for those who aren't interested in crossing over into the Mormon and white majorities, as well as those who are.

Annette Daley, 42, a Salt Lake City government employee, moved to Utah five years ago after divorcing. Daley, originally from England, expected it to be a good place for an LDS woman to start over and find a new relationship, even as a person of color.

"I know statistically there are more women than men, but I thought, 'Well, you're divorced, other people are divorced, you share the same faith, there will be more of you looking for people like you,'" she says. "But that hasn't been the case for me."

She's given online services a shot, tried the dances and the church services specifically for singles, all to no avail.

"Now I've decided I am such an anomaly here in Utah being a person of color and LDS that I am not interested in dating someone who is LDS," says Daley, whose children live with their father in Michigan. "So I'm looking outside the box."

The singles ranks are far more diverse today, too, made up of young and old never-marrieds, the divorced, the widowed; that, hand-in-hand with changing societal norms, has spurred demand for new ways to meet: classified ads, online matchmaking services, speed dating forums and organized social events aimed at special interest groups, among them.

After her divorce six years ago, Anne DeArmon developed a new social life through the Multistake Singles of Utah Valley, which counts between 5,000 and 10,000 never-married or newly single members of the LDS Church. The group sponsors dances, conferences and a multitude of other activities.

DeArmon went on a lot of "one-date wonders," a blind date or two and had one long-term relationship. Last spring, she finally met a keeper the old-fashioned way: at work. The couple are engaged, but haven't set a date yet.

"It is kind of like feast or famine," says DeArmon, 41, who is co-authoring a book on the LDS singles culture. "Each age group has its own trials."

And face it: the Provo-Orem area may be a happy valley for singles, but Salt Lake City is no Denver when it comes to the single life.

Earlier this summer, Forbes Magazine ranked the Denver-Boulder area as the No. 1 place for singles out of 40 metropolitan centers based on culture, nightlife, number of singles, job growth, living costs and coolness - the latter a measure of diversity and concentration of creative workers.

Salt Lake City came in at No. 24. The city got low marks for nightlife (30th out of 40) and coolness (35th).

In a survey, the magazine found access to other singles, career prospects and nightlife offerings important attributes of cities for singles.

"If I had single friends, I wouldn't tell them to come to Utah to date," says Daley. "There are great people here, I've met amazing people here, but my single friends say the same thing - it's really hard to find them."

That's what led Holly Janney to start her Dining To Meet You service nearly 15 years ago, when she was in her mid-30s. The idea was to provide an informal and nonpressured setting to meet others. For a fee, singles are invited to dinner gatherings where they can mingle with other unattached professionals. The service has an evolving membership of about 300, Janney says, who range in age from 25 to 60.

"The good people who know what they want, they disappear quickly," says Janney, 49. She says that to date, 65 couples have moved from the dining table to the altar.

Simmons has not yet resorted to an organized dating service, though he did recently film an episode of "Elimidate" that is scheduled to air in January. No, he didn't find that special someone on the reality TV show, instead choosing to eliminate himself when he realized neither of two remaining contestants appealed to him.

He is, he says, still in the hunt.


Today's stories are the first in an ongoing exploration of being single and dating in Utah. As part of that, we want to hear from the experts. Want to participate? Contact Brooke Adams at or 801-257-8724.