After writing a book about the breakdown of dating in the hands of technology, I would never have dreamed of seeing the return of the single bar. They flourished in the 1970s as a backdrop to the sexual revolution, courting female clientele with pina colada, Bahamas mom and wine sprinklers. Not the internet or even the horrible pickup lines led to their decline; they are plagued by a bad reputation with the rise in cocaine use in the 1980s, before being wiped out by fear of AIDS. (Gay bars continue to play an important role in the LGBTQ community, although many have unfortunately closed in the last decade.)
Today, most singles are not as skinny as annoying. The most painful event I attended (and there is fierce competition for this title) was the quiet quick meetings, which advertised eye contact as a quick path to intimacy. I can’t say which was more uncomfortable, the racing game with strangers or icebreakers (salon games like music chairs), but when our evening MC shouted, “Cross the room if you’re wearing your favorite pants!” I had to beat the hasty retreat.
But the unattached bar seems to be back: from Brixton to Brooklyn, twenty-thirty have lined up around the block to attend weekly non-affiliated cocktail bar events. Meetings are aimed at people who are fed up with fruitless scrolling through dating apps and online conversations that lead nowhere; but, perhaps inevitably, they are organized through a dating app, Thursday, which encourages face-to-face meetings. After making the app’s “match, chat,” meeting more effective by limiting user access to one day a week, it launched real-life events in a handful of cities in the United Kingdom and New York; the company plans to expand to 20 cities in the United States soon.
Thursday’s point is old school: “Just a bar. Like any other bar, “reads an invitation to a drink party at Notting Hill. What is remarkable about its popularity (the app had nearly 86,000 downloads last month) is that the tapes have been there all along; all the singles lacked was the courage to talk.
After they began meeting in London, it didn’t take long to realize that the British required large amounts of alcohol to make a move. In our ongoing pursuit of frictionless existence, dating apps have evolved in part to mitigate the risk of rejection: Tinder’s paradigm shift feature was “dual inclusion,” which allows users to send messages only after both parties have indicated their interest by swiping to the right.
But while technology is emerging to solve a problem (ie finding people to date), it invariably creates new ones in turn (you have to get up from the couch to meet them). Thanks to the dark arts of addictive design, with a dopamine shock when you match, most of the matches remain unconsumed, with a little more exchanged than semi-rear “hey”. A study by the Center for Human Technology found that both Tinder and Grindr are included in the top 10 applications that make people sad, with more than half of users dissatisfied with dragging.
Like so many aspects of our lives, the pandemic has only brought those familiar deeper into technological dependence. Dating app traffic increased during the blockade, ushering in a new era of video dating as offline dating opportunities decreased. Although many users say they will continue to use video as a way to check people out, in my humble opinion, sharing a glass of wine online has very little to recommend.
Although subtle mathematical minds dig into user data, algorithms fail to break the compatibility code. Dating apps exaggerate the importance of looks, which turn out to be much less important than you think. If you put the people I’ve had the best relationship with in an app, I’ll probably run my finger over most of them. Face-to-face flirting offers a much deeper arsenal of tools than texting, including body language, voice, and that elusive chemistry. In a study of unattached bar pulling, researchers observed 109 different “attraction tactics,” from turning hair and swelling breasts to “seductive straw sucking.”
There is a certain irony that the return to the analog format of attracting glances through a bar, fueled by alcohol for the courage to start a conversation, is achieved through. . . application. Do we need more technology to solve the problems caused by technology? And why not just go to the local pub every old night of the week?
For a cohort that is not trained to risk rejection and is concerned about consent after #MeToo, a big advantage of special singles events is the knowledge that people are available and open to contact. Security could also be part of Thursday’s call: membership is based on uploading proof of identity to minimize catfish catches.
We may think that smartphones simplify our lives, but for many applications do not optimize the path to intimacy. As some companies double up in the multiverse, including TikTok-like videos and “shared digital experiences”, there is something encouraging in the idea that Gens Y and Z can find their way to each other in person. And for those who do, one piece of advice from Gene Smith, a social anthropologist, with whom I was lucky enough to take a “fearless flirtation” course before turning to professional coaching. Smith warns you not to waste time thinking about a lift line: if someone is interested, they will never remember how you started the conversation. After all, the simple “Hello, how are you” has been spreading the species for centuries.
Mia Levitin is a cultural and literary critic. She is the author of The Future of Seduction
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