A little over a year ago, Dick Bordenkircher pulled up stakes from San Diego and accepted a job offer in Newbury Park. He came, he said, with an open mind, a positive outlook and the belief he would soon hook up with other single people.
Within a few months, the 35-year-old engineer wondered if he had made a mistake.
"There aren't nearly as many single people as in San Diego, and I really wasn't meeting anyone," said Bordenkircher, who recently moved again from Thousand Oaks to Camarillo.
"My impression of Thousand Oaks, for example, was that it's a nice community for older people or people with families, but that was it. Single people here seemed to be kind of left out in the cold."
It seems that Bordenkircher simply wasn't looking in the right places.
In May, he heard from a friend about a singles group called 25-Plus. A few weeks ago, he became engaged to a woman he met there.
"I think the majority of people who come to the group do want to eventually get married, but it's also because they're tired of being isolated," said Gail Slate, Bordenkircher's fiancee. "Of course, now that we're engaged we probably won't be very involved with it anymore."
Despite the growing number of singles groups in the county--there are now more than 20 support and social organizations--their existence is one of the area's best-kept secrets.
Many members said they stumbled upon the groups by chance, usually after hearing of them from family or friends. Others said they only began a serious search for organizations to meet people when they burned out on personal advertisements or struck out in the nightclub scene.
"I found out about the group I'm in," said Doris Pollock-Macague, "when I was out riding my bike with a friend." Pollock-Macague is divorced and works as a community services specialist with Oxnard College. Last year, she joined the Gold Coast Ski club, which during the summer and spring organizes several bike tours. "They almost ran over me with their bicycles," she said with a laugh.
Finding out about the groups isn't always so dangerous, but often it can be just as hit or miss. One reason, some people say, is that few singles groups advertise in anything but neighborhood bulletins with limited circulation.
Also, membership tends to fluctuate in many of the groups--either because members, such as Bordenkircher, get married, or they join other groups. The dropout rates are high, and most of the groups are not listed in the phone book.
"One woman looked me in the eye and said she knew every single guy in Ventura County," said Stephen Frueh, a Simi Valley therapist. Frueh leads seminars on forming healthy relationships and currently is involved in forming a singles co-op that would help groups in the county network with each other.
"There is a lot of that feeling around, and a lot of it is because people just don't know where to go," Frueh added. "Also, you have a lot of people who moved here with their families and then got divorced. So you have all of these people looking around and asking, 'Where are all the unmarried people?' "
Granted, the county may be known for attracting a healthy number of families. But a good number of single people also can be found.
According to the U. S. Census Bureau, nearly a third of the county's marriage-age people are single, a figure significantly lower than the national average of 42%. But the numbers fluctuate from city to city. In Ventura, for example, nearly half (47%) of the city's marriage-age residents are unmarried.
But numbers aren't enough to persuade some single people that the world isn't completely coupled.
"No matter where it is, everyone is always convinced that their town is the worst to be single in. But the truth is, Ventura County is a hotbed for singles activities," said Rich Gosse, author of "Singles Guide to the L. A. Area."
Gosse, who also is president of American Singles, a nationwide nonprofit organization based in Northern California, will be the keynote speaker at the Ventura Singles Convention on Sunday at the Doubletree Hotel in Ventura. His topic: "Looking for Love in All the Right Places."
The convention will feature several workshops, including "Flirting With Magic," "What Men and Women Really Want in Each Other" and "The Ventura County Singles Scene." Representatives from numerous singles organizations throughout the county also will be on hand to discuss the activities and membership of their groups.
One of them will be Gaspar Hernandez, a 30-year-old New Yorker who moved to Simi Valley a few years ago and saw the county's demographics and absence of information as a perfect combination.
"I'm single, and when I first arrived I had no idea what was going on here," said Hernandez. "Then I noticed that no one else knew what was going on, either."
To help solve the problem, Hernandez began to publish a monthly magazine for singles last year called the Ventura County Singles Circular. Each issue contains a feature about one of the county's singles groups, as well as lists of upcoming activities and pages of personal ads that subscribers can place for free.
From the look of things, though, the magazine has only had a limited effect. People, Hernandez said, are still lost in the singles wilderness.
"They are still going to nightclubs and bars hoping to meet people," he said, shaking his head. "When you consider how many alternatives are out there, it's pretty amazing."
Tired of waiting for the phone to ring? Below is a partial list of the county's singles groups, and how to get more information.
The 25-Plus Group was designed to be more of a social group than a support group. Members meet at restaurants and individuals' homes during the week, and get together on weekends for outdoor sports and picnics. For more information, call 388-1474 or 983-6993.
One Again Inc., is primarily for single people who are divorced or widowed, but also welcomes married people who are separated. The group meets in Ventura. For more information, call 653-6466.
The Conejo Valley Singles Club has a membership of people primarily in their mid-30s to mid-50s. The group focuses on social activities, such as dinners and weekend get-togethers, rather than emotional support. For information, call 497-0668
Parents Without Partners is a nationwide support and activities organization for single parents. Each month, the organization plans about 15 activities throughout Ventura County, including outings, picnics, camping trips and art projects. For more information, call 644-6683.
Sierra Singles is an arm of the Sierra Club that offers weekend hikes throughout the county. There is no fee and non-members are welcome. For more information, call 482-0958.
The Group for Widowed and Divorced Catholics is a support group designed to help men and women who are recently single. People of other faiths also are welcome. The group meets in Camarillo. For more information, call 484-1982.
The Singles Dinner Club is a Ventura group that meets on weeknights and weekends at different locations. For more information, call 984-4642.
Ventura Jewish Singles is a group of men and women in their 20s and 30s that plans parties, brunches, dances and Chabbats. For more information, call 486-6964.
Conejo Valley Church Singles is a Christian group in Thousand Oaks that gets together for dinners, dances and weekend sports or hikes. For more information, call 497-0668.
Channel Island Singles is more focused on activities and get-togethers than providing members with emotional support. The group meets on weeknights and weekends at different locations. For more information, call 984-1982.
The Gold Coast Ski Club welcomes singles who are interested in skiing, biking and other sports. For more information, call 482-8058.
The First Baptist Church Christian Singles is for people ages 35-60 and meets in Ventura. The group also a offers a divorce-recovery workshop. For more information, call 642-3244.
WIN is a national recreational-vehicle club for singles born after 1927. Members camp together, share hobbies, get together for morning coffees and potluck dinners. For more information, call 983-8802.
Ventura 50-Plus Club is a social group for singles over age 50. For more information, call 647-3820.
The Ventura County Singles Convention, to be held Sunday at the Doubletree Hotel in Ventura, will offer several workshops for singles from 1-5 p.m. Representatives from numerous singles groups also will be on hand to answer questions. At 7 p.m., there will be a formal ball until midnight. Cost of the program is $15 for the workshops only, and $25 for the seminars and dance. For information, call 582-0105.