In early February, I noticed something different about my OkCupid homepage. Besides the photo roll call of people I might want to check out and the “recently updated profiles” list (aka, a tool I never found useful), there was a box inviting me to an OKCupid MeetUp. Yep, the online dating site was encouraging me (and other San Francisco singles) to get out in the real world and meet potential partners.
I booked two tickets immediately.
Then, I did some research. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some OkCupid, but I know they can’t be rolling in the dough. Putting on an event at the Banana Republic flagship store, complete with free appetizers and free booze (yes, free hard alcohol, beer and wine) and goodie bags (because even adults love goodie bags) couldn’t possibly be just a cheap lark they’d thrown together. In my Google efforts, I realized I’d forgotten that OkC had been purchased by Match a few years ago, and lo and behold, Match was holding a MeetUp at the same time and place. It would seem not enough people had RSVP’d, so spots had opened up for OkCupid users.
The whole endeavor sounded kind of neat. Not only would there be special sales at the store, but it was promised there would be an equal number of men to women. Being that this was San Francisco, there must have been some qualifier about gay and straight too, but I honestly can’t recall. What I do remember clearly is it took some coaxing to convince my best friend Angie to attend the soiree with me. She finally agreed, and we arrived early.
Arriving early at a single’s event doesn’t do much for you, not even ensure you don’t have to stand in line. Angie and I loitered awkwardly outside the venue with two other women, who kept looking around in a manner that screamed “I hope no one I know wanders by in a drunken stupor and queries me loudly about what I’m doing here.” They were either embarrassed to admit they were in Union Square, or that they were attending an event with the express purpose of meeting Mr. Right Now (or Mr. Right).
The party picked up quickly. By the time Angie and I had taken photos with the bartender (because why not? Besides, I was Instagramming the whole thing) and gotten drinks, we turned around to see Banana Republic bubbling with people. We were approached by a moustached man who was hard to hear through the growing din, and both Angie and I were confused by his presence. He moved on, and was replaced by another man, this one of undertall stature and who walked in like he was Frank Sinatra, sharply dressed and oozing confidence. Pressing his palm into ours he introduced himself and smoothly moved into small talk. Again, Angie and I felt bemused, and we chatted only briefly before I made a polite excuse and pulled her into the purse section.
“Wait, I get it,” I told her. “This is a single’s event. They’re supposed to be talking to us.”
“Oh my God,” she replied. “You’re right.”
I went pounded my drink, grabbed another one and then made a stop in the lady’s room. Another woman was there, staring intently in the mirror while she took a long sip on her drink. I smiled, trying to look friendly, and she grimaced back.
“Angie,” I said when I met up with her again, “it occurs to me everyone here is anxious.”
That bubbling I thought I’d felt before? That was pure freaked outedness pulsing through every person in the room, filling up space and feeling like it was almost suffocating. Sure, there were people. But on second look, there weren’t a lot. This wasn’t Taylor Swift concert populated (or even Tori Amos concert).
Angie and I did a slow crawl of the store’s perimeter, almost as though we were blind and making sure we knew were every single wall was. I watched as single men pretended to be interested in petite women’s fashion because that’s where a huddle of women were. I tried making silly conversation with the guy behind me in the drink line which he did not seem impressed by. I noticed him gazing at a girl behind me.
It was weird to simultaneously feel like a piece of chewy, delicious, tender meat, being lapped up by half the room, and also feel like spit on a cracker to the other half of the room. We were locked into a life-portrait of the reality that everyone is attractive to someone. Which was both comforting and anxiety inducing at the same time. What the hell were we doing here? Why was the getting hit-on scene so not weird at a bar, and so bat-shoot bizarre when spelled out for what it was? Was it because a single’s event felt a lot like an arranged marriage, which our culture tends to abhor, and a bar at least feels like your own volition?
Before I could turn into a full blown sociological freaked out single, Angie and I exchanged a random quip with a guy and a gal near a row of bracelets. Whatever we said didn’t matter as much as the fact that there was a connection between the four of us. Talk of the fact that the event actually felt a bit like a bar with a group of guys standing along the railing holding drinks, not talking to one another and not talking to women, turned to talk of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Talk of Star Trek turned to talk of the fact these people were putting on a role playing game that involved acting out being on the bridge of the Enterprise, all that turned into another round of drinks and soon the four of us were simply enjoying one another, occasionally being interrupted when another single tried to break into our group and segment off one of us.
Would I recommend a single’s meetup? Hmmm. Only if you go in genuinely very open to a room full of anxious people who, due to their anxiety, are sure to be acting a little out of character and out of social norms. Which really isn’t anyone’s best foot to be put forward.