The New Wave Of Dating

by Sonal Batavia

I am not a dating guru. In fact I’m really just a boring serial monogamist with an unnaturally low interest in entertaining casual dating because I find most of it extremely awkward, tiresome and used. I don’t have any desires to go out and seek a companion and the thought of online dating makes me want to fall into a tiny hole and stay there forever.

However, in light of the fact that I’ve recently been pushed back into the dating pool, I decided rather than commiserate, I would do something productive, because despite my pessimism I really just want a couch companion. So I’ve attempted to do some navigating in this world in hopes of finding a better way for all of you who share the struggle with me of meeting great people.

My dating story

It started in my early twenties. After finally giving six years of continuous long-term relationship life a break, I began to entertain casual dinners. Admittedly the first taste of it was kind of exhilarating. Each night out was something different; new restaurants to try, Broadway shows, cool bars and clubs, events around the city. I never knew what was coming next and I loved it because it kept surprising me.

Over time though, I started to see it as cheap thrills that were quickly beginning to wear off as I focused more on the quality of the company. What was once intriguing to me had become a game of mastering poker faces; I nodded when I was supposed to nod, laughed when I was supposed to laugh, awkwardly hugged and rushed home to write a confessional ‘I can’t do this anymore’ email.

I realize that’s not the way it usually goes, but I never had the heart in me to carry on with something I knew wouldn’t go anywhere. Sometimes I entertained it a tad longer, convincing myself I was young and ought live in the moment. But, it felt unnatural and I wasn’t interested in ‘alternative’ types of relationships. I wanted it all or nothing.

For the next few years I found myself stuck in this cycle of one or two casual dinners and topline conversations with the exception of one short-lived promising prospect. I started to become reluctant to continue trying, but at the same time I was struggling with an aching loneliness.

It wasn’t even that there weren’t plenty of fish out there, it was just that a lot of them sucked. Even when I had the time to let someone wine and dine me, I’d choose eating dinner at a fancy restaurant alone rather than subpar conversations and food that began to taste worse in bad man aura. Although I recognized the attitude was a problem and I may have had something to do with being caught in this nasty cycle, it suited my ego to consider myself as ‘intelligently selective.’

Just when I was about to retreat to a hole this time around, a friend of mine messaged me out of the blue. It turned out that were some new developments in dating world, one in particular that sparked some curiosity in me again….

Dating 3.0: The Grouper Movement

It was a few weeks back when my dating connoisseur friend frantically messaged me – there was an emergency. The emergency being one of her wing women cancelled for her first group date.

No, that’s not a typo. Group dating, this is what we’re doing in 2013. If you haven’t heard about the latest rage of the New York born movement and you’re still sitting in Friday nights watching re-reruns of "Sex And The City" and drinking bad wine, it's time to get online.

The logistics: You sign up via Facebook (don’t worry it's all private, no one else can see), and the only information you need to provide is your height. The organizers make initial contact and once they’ve found a good match, you receive an e-mail with a proposed day for your date. All you need to do is recruit two of your pals to be your wing people. Once the three of you are set and fees are paid ($20/person), the time and location for where to meet your blind dates -- three others who go through the same process -– is sent a day or two before.

How is the other party selected? The organizers (signer uppers on both ends) get matched based on variables found via Facebook. No information is revealed to either party before and therefore no pre-screening is possible. The fee gets everyone the first round of drinks at the bar. Last minute cancellations will black list you and poor manners will earn you a bad critique, jeopardizing your chances to be re-matched via Grouper.

Before you turn on your skeptical radar, no I am not an undercover spokesperson or secretly about to go work for this movement or their PR person (although I probably should be). My only affiliation with Grouper is being a participant, and better yet a disgruntled one from the get go. I described my first group date experience as comparable to a bad MTV reality show; I got into a verbal argument about Rihanna and Chris with a jean vester, and I introduced myself as an emotionally damaged professional traveler. It was not good.

I swore I’d never do it again, and yet here I am three group dates later and now writing about it to you. How did I get to the second and third ones? Well, let's just say I’m an awesome friend, gifted with perpetual curiosity and their marketing is extremely convincing. It’s that personal gracious type that you just can’t find a reason to say no to, kind of like the hot woman at the gym who coaxes you into a life membership. Fortunately it’s much easier to opt in and out.

If you need another way to look at it, consider the Grouper experience as a sort of lottery system. The initial investment is low and the potential stakes high; you may meet awful strangers, but you also may meet the coolest ones who you become BFFs with or even a hottie potatie you put a ring on. Worst-case scenario: you’re underwhelmed by your dates, so instead you turn to your friends and it becomes another night out at the bar. Best of all, you never have to do it again or apologize to anyone for it.

My happily ever after

This is not the part where I tell you about a prince charming that came from Grouper, but it is the part where I tell you my own ‘happily ever after’ ending.

Honestly, I am not an eternal optimist. I have more emotional baggage than the average human being and seriously convoluted ideas about romance. I’m just a twenty something year old gal trying to kick it with someone who doesn’t make me nauseated and bored. Out of the nine strangers I’ve met to date, none have made me see twinkle stars or go bat sh*t cray gaga but, they have provided me with something else.

Admittedly, I was disgruntled on my first outing, but in the second one I leaned in, and the third one I leaned in a bit more; it got better and better with each try.

Being out there again is always daunting at first, but the group setting took away the pressure of awkward first date norms. I felt relaxed enough to just be myself, which isn’t always easy without a considerable amount of alcohol.

Better yet, I was that exciting young adult that I was once was in university; hitting up random bars, talking to strangers, yelling obnoxious things, making semi-irresponsible decisions. The sporadic nature of it reminded that even though more strands of my hair are turning greyer by the minute and my midsection has begun to resemble the Michelin man, the fun person in me hasn’t died -- it just needed reviving.

Somewhere between dates one and three, the possibility of being with someone new again no longer frightened me. Perhaps I won’t jump right back into it, but opening my door with a positive attitude is a start. Truthfully it still isn’t my favorite reality to be back in the dating pool rather than nesting up with an awesome companion and watching "Seinfeld" re-runs, but it definitely beats commiserating about the last person who wronged me.

The reality is we all have stories of tragedy but in the words of Sweet Brown “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” You aren’t getting any younger so you may as well get out there and start filling your life with better stories from your twenties than passing out on your couch with morning drool. Because one day your hair will be all grey, you will be the Michelin man and all you’ll have are the memories of the days you were once young, foolish and free, so you better make them count for the listeners.

Sonal Batavia | Elite.