In an age where around 40 million Americans are looking for that special someone on online dating sites, members of the Boomers Singles Group in Flathead Valley still prefer the “old-fashioned” version of socializing.
The group doesn’t offer flashy gimmicks – their only advertisement has been a weekly spot in the Mountain Trader classifieds for nine years. There’s no compatibility tests, “scientific matching techniques” or even promises of finding your “one, true love.” In fact, group members say you’ll probably be disappointed if you join with the goal of finding a romantic mate.
“People who are coming in thinking, ‘I’m going to find true love,’ usually don’t stick around,” Barbara Kish, one of the group’s founders, said. “I think it’s just a mindset; if you’re looking for that, you walk in, cruise the room, think there’s no guys I want to date here and you’re gone. But, if someone comes in looking for friendship and people to enjoy doing things with, they stay. That’s the need we satisfy.”
Kish and co-founder Debbie Arnold had both recently moved to the area when they had the idea to start the group nine years ago. They weren’t looking for a dating service, just a social network of other singles their age. So they set up an activities-based group – no awkward one-on-one’s or timed speed-dating, just varied events where people could enjoy each other’s company.
Seventeen people attended the first meeting; today, the group has around 100 members.
That’s not to say some members don’t couple up: “You put men and women together who are all single and of course that will happen,” Kish said. The group’s produced some 14 marriages and several serious relationships.
Kari Klehm and Mike Collins met in the group in 2005 while “trapped in the car together” on a daylong scenic trip. They married about a year later.
Klehm jokes that meeting Collins was “icing on the cake,” not her reason for joining the group. “I’m a Kalispell native so I had a large group of friends here, but I was the only divorced person of my friends and was tired of being the third and fifth wheel. I was looking for other single people I could go and play with basically, not a relationship.”
Several members of the group gave similar reasons for joining, saying a divorce or a spouse’s death left them without an obvious companion for activities and looking for single friends. Or, like the group’s founders, several said they had moved to the valley and wanted to meet people and get involved in the community.
Once there, members give the same answer for what kept them in the group: “It feels like family.” Whether it’s helping someone move or showing support at a funeral, members take pride in the group’s reputation for being there for each other. The atmosphere is laid back and welcoming at a weekly volleyball gathering; the group barely pauses before welcoming this reporter to jump in the game.
“I went into my first meeting with a girlfriend with our knees knocking and our eyes like saucers, the look of newbies,” Klehm said. “A guy walked right up to us and said, ‘You don’t have to be afraid. This isn’t a meat market.’ He just instantly recognized our fear and addressed it right away.”
A wide-ranging membership of boomers mostly in their 50s and 60s makes for a varied events schedule. Members volunteer to host activities ranging from poker to skiing, filling February’s calendar with an event on all but four days. Their monthly planning, dinner and dancing meeting generally held on the last Friday of each month, is a good opportunity for new people to join, Kish said.
Rick Ryder and Linda Robinson hit it off when hosting a party together at Robinson’s home. Robinson’s plan was to set Ryder, a then self-described “happy single who was intending to stay that way,” up with her friend. “I wasn’t looking for myself, but you can’t always control those things,” she said.
“The best part about this group though is that it gives people a comfortable place to go and make really wonderful friendships,” Robinson said.
For more information on the group, call Gary 756-1519 and Gerri 756-0720.
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