The Rhythm of Love (Marin Style)

It can be all of these: blind, a bed of roses, a battlefield. And with Valentine’s Day approaching, love is on our minds and in our hearts. In a county that many would consider one of the most bucolic in the country — with locales like Point Bonita Lighthouse, Mount Tam, Bolinas Ridge and Cataract Falls, just to name a few  — you’d think romance would be blossoming. Taking the pulse of a few hearts, we got a closer look at just what the state of love is in Marin.

More Than a Feeling

When Adam Chassin, senior director of strategic business development for Yahoo (who then lived in New York City), proposed to Alison, a communications manager at Shell and now his wife of six years (who grew up in Marin), he chose the top of Mount Tam to pop the question. “I married Alison because of Mill Valley — it was the perfect antidote to Manhattan,” Adam jokes.

During the year they courted long-distance, Adam frequently flew from New York to spend time with her in her hometown and “proposed on Mount Tam to mark those early visits at the beginning of our relationship,” recalls Alison.

While the Chassins have become a nice statistic with three children under five years old and two incomes, touting Marin as “a great place to be in a relationship” for singles looking for love, the county doesn’t have the appeal, much less the reputation, of a hopping dating scene. Almost 60 percent of Marin’s adult population is married, and of those 111,525 wedded residents, 42 percent have children under 18. “So even as a married couple, you feel like you need a dog at the very least to be here,” quips San Anselmo mother of two and writer Ariana Amini. “No one moves to Marin for the purpose of finding a mate.”

So for the remaining 40 percent who are single (54 percent of whom are female) living in a county where a typical “date” involves two toddlers in the sandbox, where can one find love these days? Sure, Piazza D’Angelo in Mill Valley is teeming with chatty cougars on any given Thursday or Friday night, and Sunday brunch at Sam’s in Tiburon seats more than its share of confirmed bachelors wrapping up a one-night stand, but those looking for deeper, more meaningful connections may be hard-pressed to find them here.

I Want to Know What Love Is

With technology in the last decade replacing the need to frequent bars to get a date, resources such as eHarmony and seem ideal for meeting “the one.” But just how many Marinites are looking online for his or her soul mate is anyone’s guess. While both companies were tight-lipped about statistics relative to Marin, they offered clues to the online scene nationally: Among an even split of male and female registered users, the majority range between ages 25 and 55 (although eHarmony is seeing a growing number of baby boomers, an indication that perhaps empty-nesters are back on the market for another stab at love); on average, out of 20 million registered users, 542 people a year who met on eHarmony got married, and, notes’s home page, “one in five relationships start online.” Hardly compelling statistics.

Those who seek traditional matchmaking companies such as Sausalito-based Kelleher International may fare better given the 25-year-old company’s high success rate of about 85 percent for long-term relationships leading toward marriage. But isn’t going to a matchmaker a little, well, desperate? Not so, judging from Kelleher’s Rolodex of 25,000 eligible singles around the country and the hundreds of weddings in Marin alone that resulted from Kelleher’s services. “People are strategic in their business life, so why not bring that same sensibility to your love life?” says co-CEO and cofounder Amber Kelleher-Andrews, who chalks up a good match to a combination of shared values and morals, interests, education, lifestyle and, of course, chemistry. “If the couple closes down a restaurant or stops calling us after a few dates,” adds cofounder and co-CEO Jill Kelleher, “they’re off to a good start and we’ve made a good match.”

Tiburon-based matchmaker Marsha Winer, founder of Introductions by Marsha, a 28-year-old dating service, adds that a good match also relies on comparable intellect, senses of humor and levels of patience. Case in point: One client who had been used to a high standard of living from her first marriage came to Winer fed up with a relationship where she had to foot most of the bills. While wealth topped her list of criteria for a suitable suitor, Winer’s client surprised herself by falling for — and eventually marrying — a Petaluma gentleman who, though not wealthy, won her over with his killer sense of humor. “They are both incredibly smart, and it just took putting them together to make the chemistry happen,” says Winer. “As a matchmaker, sometimes it’s that ‘hunch’ that they will have a good time together.”

Sometimes chemistry is right around the corner: After a high-profile CEO living in the county joined Kelleher International, he met a woman who “was exactly as described: attractive, warm, engaging,” notes the client, who wants to remain anonymous. “She has a rich, full life, yet she is emotionally available and, most of all, I can tell that she is truly authentic and looking to share her life with someone.”

Not only did this woman fit all the client’s criteria, but she also just happened to live two blocks away from him. “When these two first sit down to talk, they’re not going to be introducing themselves,” says Kelleher-Andrews ahead of the couple’s first date. “They will be talking about how she loves horseback riding and he has a ranch in Texas, how she loves to ski and he was on the U.S. Ski Team, and oh, by the way, how come they’ve never met until now?”

The Wind Beneath My Wings

As obvious as it sounds, commonalities remain integral to long-term happiness. If you can turn a blind eye to those recent reports of spouse-swapping parties hosted by some clearly bored married folk (which, for the record, is so 1970s — just pick up a copy of The Serial for a good chuckle), those who are still married have stayed strong through child-rearing and sleepless nights, deaths of parents, and worse — working together.

For Millie and Ed Zinman, a Sausalito couple who have worked side-by-side in his law practice for 31 of the 34 years they’ve been married, a little romance keeps boredom at bay. “Never lose sight of that with each other,” advises Millie, who also attributes much of their marriage’s success to Ed’s patience and selflessness. (Husbands, take note: Ed keeps passion alive by penning a love poem to his wife every year for her birthday.) While the couple enjoys developing their shared appreciation for art, independence is paramount for the Zinmans, which carries over to their relationship at work: “I don’t tell her how to do the books, and she doesn’t tell me how be a lawyer,” laughs Ed. “And we never have lunch together,” adds Millie. Similar rules apply to keeping office matters out of their home: Millie sets very defined limits on when and where they can talk shop. “Halfway over the Golden Gate Bridge going home we stop, and half way in each morning we can resume.”

The night Kentfield residents John and Maureen Landers locked eyes across a room at a party their senior year of college, John knew he had found the woman he was going to marry. Two proposal attempts and three engagement cancellations later, the couple left the East Coast and moved to the Bay Area, an adventure they agree brought them closer. “We grew up together because we didn’t know anyone, it was just us,” recalls Maureen. Now with four kids and two high-powered careers under their belts, the Landers still enjoy each other’s company, conversing several times a day, regularly playing golf and tennis, and traveling extensively together. “You have to look beyond the short-term stresses that accompany any marriage and focus on the long-term commitment,” says John, who admits that neither he nor Maureen ever imagined their 32-year union would be anything short of permanent.

Stresses like, say, a crying newborn? Absolutely, agrees Amini, whose near-12-year marriage to Alight Planning Marketing and Sales Vice President Ben Lamorte began 25 years ago while the two still attended Branson in Ross. As if lifted from the script of When Harry Met Sally, the friends became close on a high school trip to Paris, conveniently got lost and wound up exploring the romantic city’s nooks. That first promenade evolved into a ritual during college when the pair frequently met for long walks and counseled each other through relationship woes with other people. “Eventually, we realized that what we really wanted was to be with each other,” recalls Amini, debunking Billy Crystal’s character’s theory that men and women cannot be friends.

Heartbreak Hotel

While such love stories offer hope that marriage endures the test of time, statistically more than 57 percent of Marin couples will file for the Big D at some point in their lives. Between 2006 and 2011 alone, an average of 875 divorces were filed annually here —more than half the average of 1,537 marriage licenses issued in Marin. National averages aren’t any better: About 41 percent of first marriages, 60 percent of second marriages and 73 percent of third marriages end. But before you lay a buzz saw to her Biedermeier dresser or entertain thoughts about shredding his prized Hermès tie collection, consider a more peaceful end to a life you had built together.

According to Marin-based pioneer in collaborative divorce Pauline H. Tesler of Tesler, Sandmann & Fishman, an amicable end is attainable and increasingly popular, considering the hundreds of clients she’s counseled and thousands of professionals she’s taught internationally since setting up the first group of collaborative lawyers in San Francisco in 1993. “Divorces handled in court or ‘on the courthouse steps’ proceed on the unstated assumption that for every issue there is always a winner and a loser,” says Tesler. “Traditional divorce lawyers measure their success by how much their client gets,” from property to time with the kids. “It takes a while for lawyers to realize that their client is equally miserable whether you won, lost or settled.”

Through the collaborative divorce process, both parties must agree to work in good faith with an integrated team of lawyers; therapists (called “coaches”); neutral certified divorce financial planners; and child specialists, who advocate the children’s perspective — which may be a big step if one side isn’t willing to call it quits peacefully. “The clients who come to me want to be able to say that whatever happened, they behaved with integrity and did the best they could for everyone in their family,” says Tesler.

All information relating to the divorce is shared with the team, who provide equal support services to both parties, facilitating communication to keep emotions in check. “We listen to the whole narrative, and when people are listened to deeply and they’ve got skillful mental health coaches at their side, people can come to terms with why the marriage is ending,” explains Tesler, adding that the insight gleaned from financial planners and child specialists is incredibly game-changing: “Custody battles disappear; we stop fighting about basic financial facts — arguments that would otherwise waste huge sums of money, time and emotions in court.”

Unlike many drawn-out settlements and revised custody plans, collaborative divorce provides closure. At the end of one client’s painful divorce, she requested that Tesler hold a final meeting with her ex-husband and both lawyers. Over a small ceremony, the client apologized for cheating on him and forgave him for the resentment she harbored for his lack of attention over the years. He in turn apologized and forgave her. “You’d never get that in court,” says Tesler. “Here we can make room for that final face-to-face conversation in a way that is meaningful.” So even if you never want to lay eyes on your ex again, at least you’ll both walk away knowing you ended it as best you could for everyone involved.

Unchained Melody

Despite the fact that the divorce rate in Marin is on par with the rest of the country and statistics prove that if you’re single here you are in the minority, couples like the Chassins and Lamortes prove that finding love is possible, and the Zinmans and Landers that it can be sustainable — and romantic and fun — for the long haul. But one thing’s for sure, none of that can happen before a first date, so if you are single you needn’t join the Lonely Hearts Club Band. Dust off those dancing shoes and get out there — you never know whom you might find.