In the past year alone, I’ve been on what feels like 100 “meh” first dates. As a sex and dating editor, I feel like I’ve seen it all when when it comes to trying out dating apps, flirting, texting, and going on dates. I’ll be the first to say I think dating apps are great, but admittedly, going through profiles, making small talk, planning dates, and working up the energy to meet someone IRL over and over again can be exhausting. So when I got invited to attend a Perchance singles’ mixer, my curiosity was piqued. An opportunity to be in a room full of men who’ve paid money to be there because they’re open to dating? Sign me up.
I’ll be honest, I was nervous. I imagined a speed-dating situation in a bar that smelled like Clorox and tater tots, where I’d have to awkwardly make small talk with a guy wearing a “My Name Is” sticker. But when I thought about the dating experiences I’ve had in the past few years, I realized I had nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain by attending this mixer. The truth is, when it comes to dating IRL, I’ve always been hesitant to go up to someone first, introduce myself, and make conversation. Part of it is fear of rejection, for sure, but I’m also deeply attached to my comfort zone. Why would I put myself in the path of rejection when dating apps make dating so simple?
In an effort to tear myself away from my comfort zone, I said yes when Perchance invited me to a singles mixer in New York City. Perchance is a company that organizes “curated gatherings” for single people to meet, flirt, and hopefully hit it off. When I got invited to one of their gatherings for straight-identifying individuals (they host different gatherings for people of all genders and sexualities), I was a little confused. Via email, they described the event as a “magical, in-person dating experience,” which while exciting, also made me feel a little skeptical. How magical could an in-person dating experience really be?
Considering how many couples are meeting online these days, very. A 2017 Stanford University study surveyed 3,510 heterosexual couples and found that 39% of them met online, which makes sense to me when compared to the experiences of my friends and I. Most of the women I know meet new people on dating apps or Instagram, which can make connecting with someone IRL feel rare, and therefore, extra special. That’s why I wanted to give myself the opportunity to be in a room full of people who had paid money and essentially put stake into finding a partner, not just hook up or date around. It was this thought alone that drove me to fill out the online application, which asked me for my name, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, occupation, a photo of myself, and to check off the values that were most important to me in a match from a long list that included options like “ambition,” “kindness,” and “creativity.”
On the evening of the event, I Ubered to the trendy studio in Manhattan where the mixer was taking place. The Perchance staff asked me to place a sticker on my iPhone screen so I couldn’t use it as a comfort mechanism whenever I felt awkward. Then they guided me to a round table full of name-tag stickers. But instead of the “My Name Is” design from my nightmare, each sticker had a different word on it, ranging from from “Kind” and “LOL” to “Vitamins” and “Creamy.” The idea was that you’d pick a few that caught your attention and place them on your shirt to serve as conversation starters. I went with “Kind” and “LOL” because kindness and humor are both qualities I look for in the people I date. (Also because I usually lean into bad jokes when I feel awkward.)
After the sticker station, you’re encouraged to take advantage of the open (thank God) bar and mingle as people start rolling in. The room was filled (but not overly crowded) with 24 people — 12 men and 12 women — of all different races and sizes. Co-founder Rachel Breitenwischer tells Elite Daily participants are usually between the ages of 25 and 36. When I asked about how they select participants for each event, Breitenwischer and co-founder Lyndsey Wheeler said they look at several factors, including “personal values, age, diversity of background, career, and social sphere,” meaning they probably wouldn’t allow an entire friend group to attend the same event “to optimize for new connections being made.”
Another one of Perchance’s rules is that you’re not allowed to ask anyone what they do for work, largely because talking about work can get pretty robotic, and someone’s job isn’t always super indicative of who they really are. However, I was out of practice and feeling way too rigid to flirt, so during my first conversation with a friendly man, I defaulted. “So, what do you do for work?” I asked. I knew I was breaking the rules, but I did it anyway because the conversation felt so awkward. He laughed nervously and changed the subject because he is clearly a rule-follower and a much better person than me.
As we went through our standard small-talk conversation, I (and I’m not exaggerating) wanted to rip all my hairs out one by one. It just felt so forced and kind of like exactly what you picture when you think about a bad date. Somehow, I managed to scurry over to the bar and force myself into a group convo that was much easier and more animated.
After an hour of mingling, staff members went around the room and handed every participant a scratch-off card on which we’d find our “map” for the evening. The map would lead us through conversations with different groups of four people, and each group was provided a stack of conversation starter cards. Everyone’s map was different, but the idea was that every woman would get to talk to every man and almost every woman at least once. Perchance gives attendees the opportunity to talk to everyone, regardless of gender, so that they can meet friends in addition to potential partners.
At this point, I felt myself easing up. Every rotation lasted about 10-ish minutes, and thanks to the conversation cards, we had plenty to talk about. I started to really pay attention to every guy in front of me and took a mental note of the connections that felt natural, as well as the women I could see myself being friends with. I didn’t default to asking about work anymore, nor did I feel like I had to look at my phone to check the time. In fact, I wished I’d had more time with each group.
The final four rounds were “one-on-ones,” and if you read that in Chris Harrison’s voice, I don’t blame you. It’s essentially the same thing you’d see on The Bachelorette except you’re assigned a partner and there’s no fancy food in front of you. At this point, I felt myself making easy, breezy conversation with all four of my one-on-ones. I felt relaxed, optimistic, and didn’t even notice that the night was quickly coming to a close. At the end of the last round, the host thanked everyone for coming and formally concluded the event. I re-visited a few conversations with people I really vibed with during the rotations, thanked the staff for inviting me, and made my way home.
The next day, Perchance sent me a survey with a list of everyone’s name and an accompanying photo, asking me to indicate every person I felt a connection with. The survey gave me the chance to mark platonic connections, in addition to romantic ones. I marked several women and a few men who I had easy, friendly conversations with as “friendship connections.” As for “romantic connections,” I indicated three guys I felt attracted to. Maybe I should’ve cast a wider net, but I really wanted to be intentional with my picks and only mark down people I genuinely found attractive and could see myself dating.
A few days later, Perchance connected me with my matches via email. Although I didn’t match with the three guys I liked, I did match with four people I felt friendly connections with, and I was stoked. Even though New York City is home to more than eight million people from all over the world, it can be surprisingly difficult to make new friends. And while part of me was a little peeved about not matching with the guys I liked, at the end of the day, I didn’t feel like I wasted my time. The open bar, cool venue, and the opportunity to prove to myself that I haven’t forgotten how to flirt IRL made the experience worth it.
Now that it’s been a few weeks since the mixer, I’ve been in contact with some of my platonic matches — we’ve exchanged phone numbers and made tentative plans to get drinks. While friendship wasn’t really what I was looking for when I signed up for this experience, I ended up getting something way more valuable than a date out of the whole thing: I remembered what I’m capable of. Dating apps are designed to make dating easier, but I’ve gotten so comfortable on my phone that I’ve forgotten how to shoot my shot IRL. Whether it’s in elevators, bars, or my morning bagel shop, I convinced myself that making conversation isn’t going to result in anything other than awkwardness. Now, I know I need to give myself a little bit more credit. The world isn’t going to implode if I go up to someone and say hi, and ultimately, even though this mixer didn’t help me find the love of my life, it did help me find the confidence I need to keep looking.