I Went to an In-Person Dating Event—And It Actually Went Well

“I’m so sick of online love,” croons Chappell Roan in what happened to be my most-streamed song of 2023, “Femininomenon.” Like most 20-somethings, I have a constantly roiling relationship with navigating online love and dating apps. I love the ease dating apps present for meeting new people and making new connections, but there are also times when they feel sort of depressing. Coming up with a great one-liner to start a conversation on an app is easy for me, yet repeating that on the massive scale apps present can get a little monotonous and occasionally overwhelming. In the modern age, a healthy putting-yourself-out-there dating life includes a balance of digital dating and real-life mingling… but what does real-life mingling really even mean these days?

Out of a classic combination of dating-app-induced boredom and pure journalistic curiosity, I took a chance on an Instagram ad and attended an in-person dating event in Chicago. I had absolutely no idea what to expect from the event, and as someone accustomed to seeing a full profile before meeting potential suitors in person, going to an IRL dating event was way out of my comfort zone. But alas, I did it anyway, and I ended up having a great time?! So, if you, too, are sick of online love, I’m sharing the honest takeaways I gleaned from heading to an in-person dating event in 2024.

Getting ready feels like getting ready for a blind date

First-date jitters are something I’m all too familiar with. I have even crafted a fairly elaborate first-date routine to fend off the anxiety that comes before meeting a new person for the first time. However, getting ready to head to an in-person dating event felt different than getting ready for your average first date in that I had no idea exactly who I was going to connect with. In this way, it felt as though I was getting ready for a blind date. I couldn’t tailor my outfit or my state of mind or the conversation starters bouncing around in my brain to a specific person, so I had to put my best foot forward as me and trust that that would be enough.

As I prepared to go to the event, I realized that I’ve spent so much of my young adult dating life thinking about how I present on a Hinge profile or even on my Instagram feed. Rarely have I considered how I might come across to potential new dates in real life. Though nerve-wracking, this was also an incredibly refreshing feeling. If you’re considering heading to an in-person dating event yourself, give yourself a few extra moments to get ready and hype yourself up as if you were headed on a blind date. That way, you’ll walk into the room of strangers as your most confident self.

I had to put my best foot forward as me and trust that that would be enough.

You can expect to meet a wide age range of people

At 23, my biggest fear before going to an in-person dating event was that I would be significantly younger than everyone else there. After all, most of my friends my age are either in long-term relationships, on Hinge, or are so viscerally terrified of the dating scene that they avoid it altogether. I feared vaguely uncomfortable situations in which I might make someone freaked out after revealing my age at the event, but luckily, I walked into a room with a visibly wide age range of adults upon entering the bar where the event was hosted.

There were singles in their 30s and 40s, as well as people who were just as young as I am—and these people tended to find each other in the crowd. I had conversations with multiple new people, all of whom turned out to be 25. Across the bar, though, I observed several groups of people who were older than me chatting with one another and forming new connections.

If you have a similar anxiety about attending one of these events, allow me to ease your mind: There’s no need to avoid an in-person dating event if you’re on the younger side. At the same time, if you are looking to date a bit older or meet someone more mature, this is definitely a great place to start (as opposed to raising your age range on an app, which can get a little dicey and occasionally creepy). This is also a good reminder that you can always date outside of your “comfort zone” and need not exclusively seek out romantic partnerships that are in your exact same demographic.

It took approximately three minutes after walking into the event space at the bar before I had a lively conversation with a stranger. Unlike hitting the town at a regular bar, the subtext of an in-person dating event is explicitly romantic. Attendees have an intention there: to meet and get to know someone new. This meant that I got to know the basics of several people’s lives in the hour and a half that I spent at the event, and quite frankly, it was lovely. I met a chiropractor, an executive assistant who does comedy on the side, an event planner, and a local theater director—and I had engaging conversations with all of them.

An in-person dating event is a great reminder that the most seemingly dull details of your life (what you do, where you’re from, and what neighborhood you live in) are way more interesting when you’re having an IRL conversation. Plus, seeing someone get animated talking about their life is about 400x more attractive than hearing it via the internet. So, if you’re scared that you’ll spend the entirety of the event sitting alone, don’t be. When the point of the event is to chat, people will chat.

It’s like a cross between a first date and going to a bar

The entire event was like a cross between a first date and going to a bar. I had deeper conversations than I normally would on a night out (where interactions are generally interrupted by dancing, friends, or a sporting event). But I had the ability to mingle that a one-on-one first date is incapable of providing. When you head on a first date with someone, you have to make conversation for at least an hour. I don’t know about you, but I’ve left many dates thinking how much fun I am and what a great conversationalist I am rather than feeling wowed by the other person. By contrast, when you meet someone at a bar, the subtext isn’t explicitly romantic. You can’t be totally sure whether you’re having a flirty conversation. The environment of a singles’ mixer eliminates both of these problems.

If you’re someone who tends to find yourself getting bored on first dates… or if you wish you could have deeper conversations than you do at an average bar, then an in-person dating event is definitely right for you. Conversations flowed easily, but moving away from one person and onto the next was expected. It doesn’t feel like ditching a date 20 minutes in. Thinking about the experience in this framework—as a cross between a first date and going to a bar—can also alleviate some of the anxiety surrounding the event. You’ve done both of those two things before, so doing both at the same time will be a breeze!

Getting out of a dating slump might be as simple as attending an IRL dating event.

It might just reinvigorate your dating life

The online dating world can often be a strange mutation of this loneliness, by which ghosting feels extremely personal but also bizarrely understandable. We forget that speed dating, blind dates, and setups were pre-internet staples for meeting significant others. But these in-person events are not (and should not be) lost to history. Getting out of a dating slump, especially if that slump is app-induced, might be as simple as attending an IRL dating event.

I would also recommend this experience to anyone feeling distinctly less-than-confident in their dating skills and particularly in their ability to hold a conversation with strangers. Chances are, you are more capable of flirting and mingling than you think. A dating event could be a chance to prove that fact to yourself. Finally, if you want to refresh your mindset about who is in your city, this is the activity for you. You’ll meet someone new and have a chat that you might not otherwise have if you’re visiting the same bar over and over.

Final thoughts

I may not have left the singles’ mixer with a first date on my calendar, but the experience was not a bust. I chatted with many interesting people, made valuable connections, and heard hilarious, fascinating stories from people I had never met. I’d attend one of these events again (whenever I’m ready to, you know, not date purely for content). I truly did meet several people who I felt a spark throughout the night. I left the experience feeling more confident approaching people in real life. Now, I feel like I could basically do anything in terms of getting out of my comfort zone in the dating world.

So if you, too, are so, so sick of online love, consider this your sign to pause your profile. Head to an in-person dating event in your city for once! You’ll meet some strangers, get out of your comfort zone, and build a little IRL confidence in the process. At worst, you’ll have a night out that’s a tiny bit flirtier than normal. At best, you’ll walk away with promising butterflies.

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