Correction to This Article
This article on group beach houses misstated Beverly Farrand's profession. She is a writer and the president of Eastern Direct Marketing, a direct-mail company.

A Social Splash

By Brigid Schulte
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Mary Lou, Sue, Deirdre, Paull, Joe, Judith and Roy share a group beach house for singles on the Eastern Shore. But it's not what you think.

This is how the world sees group beach houses: ratty shag carpets and drunken 20-somethings passed out under beer pong tables. Boozy pickups and one-night stands.

This is life at the Cottage, as Mary Lou and the others have dubbed their well-appointed house: tennis matches in the morning and cocktails on the beach in the late afternoon. Their first party this year was a black-tie affair, and a recent dinner featured grilled swordfish steaks and pinot grigio, accompanied by gazpacho served in chilled martini glasses.

And the singles? They're all over 50. Some are way over 50, though they'd rather not be more specific. " Nobody knows how old I am," Cottage member Joe Herbert said.

The Cottage is one of about 10 singles beach houses in Rehoboth and Dewey Beach for the "mature" set. They have names like the Heartbreakers, the Bird House, Sunsations and Summer Dreams. The singles host progressive gourmet dinner parties and take turns throwing the weekly, invitation-only cocktail party.

"When one of my tennis friends asked me to join a group beach house, I thought, 'Oh no, I'm much too old for that.' I imagined people swinging from chandeliers," said Deirdre Murray, relaxing at the Cottage after an invigorating tennis game. "I didn't know about these houses for people my age. I didn't know it would be this much fun. This has been wonderful for my social life."

Members are recruited by word of mouth and vetted thoroughly. They work for the federal government, big corporations or defense contractors. They are college professors, economists, political consultants. Many are at the top of their game professionally. And many say the beach house scene is like a salve. Because life can be, well, lonely.

Some call themselves "re-singled" by divorce or the death of a spouse. Others just never found the right one. That's part of what brings them back to the beach each weekend.

"Maybe you'll find the person you've been looking for," said George Seymour, the retired Army colonel who runs Summer Dreams. "At least you won't be sitting home alone."

Some houses cater to curl-up-with-a-book types. "In our house, we have a bottle of vodka that's been in there two or three years," said David Mann, who runs the Bird House for singles with his wife, Bonnie. "I would say the biggest problem we have is not people coming in drunk. It's snoring."

Others tend to be on the wilder side. "At the beach, it's not your age or what you do that's important," said Hank Robinson, who ran the Mardi Gras house for 18 years until recently. "It's what you drink. I drink Captain Morgan and ginger."

But all the houses have rules. Everyone gets their own bed. No in-house dating. If you like someone, wait until after Labor Day to start a relationship. If you're interested in someone, hand out a card with your first name, the name of your house and the house phone number.

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