There’s been a lot of talk recently about how millennials have a serious dating problem. And when it comes to the root of the current dating desert—which includes decreased marriage rates and very little sex—people tend to point fingers toward social media and, in particular, dating apps. Many single folks have found themselves yearning for the courtship practices before smartphones and Tinder. And now, a new company is doing just that. Perchance is taking dating offline again and back to the basics of human connection.
“Dating apps have created a lot of unintended consequences and in many ways have made finding a compatible partner harder,” Perchance co-founder Rachel Breitenwischer, 31, told Best Life. “The endless pool of options has created a paradox of choice— it’s harder than ever to settle on someone because there’s always the lingering question of whether there might be someone better for you if you just keep swiping.”
That’s how she and co-founder, Lyndsey Wheeler, 28, came up with the idea of Perchance, which is “on a mission to get people off of their phones and bring back the excitement of meeting in person.” Yes, the hot new thing in dating is the old thing: going offline.
Breitenwischer feels like apps have “dehumanized the process of dating,” reducing everyone to a photo and a job title when “we are all complex, multifaceted human beings.” On top of that, there’s no accounting for chemistry online, seeing as a brief bio and a series of photos can’t yield the same sparks that an in-person connection can. And, to echo the complaints of baby boomers, the apps have made us lose some pretty valuable social skills.
“This is especially true amongst younger generations who were raised on texting and social media,” said Breitenwischer. “Bars, which have always been places to meet new people, are now filled with people glued to their phones. It seems like people have forgotten how to talk to strangers completely.”
Perchance kicked off its first “live dating experience” in April 2019, and they currently host weekly offline dating gatherings at different venues in New York City in three formats: intimate dinners, parties, and signature mixers.
They also have a variety of rules to combat some of the social ineptitude of the modern era. Firstly, you’re not allowed to have your phone out, and they give you a cover to place on it if your smartphone addiction is so bad you can’t physically bear to put it away. Secondly, there’s no “work talk” allowed, since Perchance’s co-founders believe we are too often evaluated solely by what we do. And lastly, you can only order drinks at the open bar for another person, an attempt to restore a bit of the gallantry to dating that we’ve lost.
I attended one of Perchance’s signature mixers as a member of the press on October 2nd and was pleasantly surprised by the crowd they drew in. Most of the guests were friends of friends who knew the founders in some way, which gave it a cozy but elegant house party kind of vibe. Anyone outside of this circle needs to apply online, given that this is a community of “curious, values-driven, ambitious singles between 24-40.”
It sounds a bit snobby, sure, but Wheeler and Breitenwischer’s goal is to create an atmosphere of “like-minded individuals” who have the best chance of connecting. They’re also committed to curating the “optimal alchemy of people,” since the initial meet-and-greet is followed by group sessions intended to give you the opportunity to talk to every single human being there.
Each station during the group sessions has a set of cards with questions on them designed to foment meaningful conversation, like, “What are you most afraid of?” and “What is your most embarrassing memory?” But no one that I talked to needed the cards. We all had the same question: Why does an event like this feel so necessary? How have we gotten to a point where we need rules and games in order to talk to people?
Many blamed dating apps and, more broadly, our phones. Several people at the mixer even said they’ve started using the iPhone feature that notifies you when you’ve exceeded whatever screen time limit you set for yourself, which is further proof that Perchance has arrived at just the right moment. There’s also been a recent backlash against social media influencers and the way they’ve sucked us into a world that isn’t real. And we’ve all seen the headlines about the mental health issues and anxiety that come from being constantly overstimulated by our phones and social media.
But when it comes to dating today, there’s another issue that many men at the Perchance mixer brought up: the fear of being dubbed a “sexual harasser.” “I want to be ‘one of the good guys,’” David, 27, said in a group discussion. “Last week, I asked a girl if I could kiss her, and, afterwards, all of my female friends told me that’s a major turn-off. But isn’t that what I’m supposed to do for consent?”
His question led to a larger conversation about the importance of listening to tone and reading body language cues, which eventually turned into David asking if it’s OK to hit on a woman at the gym.
“Never hit on a woman at the gym,” one woman said. “She’s not there for that.” I disagreed. If I’m out of the house, I am open to human communication. And if you’re into me when I look like I’ve just crawled out of a swamp, I would say that bodes well for a budding relationship.
We eventually settled on the agreement that if a woman has her headphones in and looks like she’s had a rough day, it’s best to stay away, but if she seems interested and engaged, then why not? It’s a reasonable conclusion to draw, but it’s one we had to have a heated debate about to get to.
In that moment, I realized there are so few—if any—situations when I get to have conversations like this with people outside of my immediate inner circle. And that’s the biggest benefit of Perchance: It didn’t place any particular pressure on romantic connection; it was just about connecting in general. In today’s day and age, we need that more than ever.
And for more of the recent science on relationships, check out New Study Highlights Why So Many Americans Are Still Single.
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