Dating app fatigue has led to a flurry of IRL singles events


two people sitting across from each other at speed dating, pixels dissolving at the bottom of their bodies

Young professionals in Los Angeles are queuing up — not to access an exclusive concert or the drop of a new Supreme sneaker, but simply to meet other single people. They piled into a recent comedy show that promised to match people based on “vibes” (assessed by three stand-up comedians) instead of dating app algorithms. But they’re also going retro with three-minute speed dates in bars. They’re even sitting down in front of a blank canvas with a glass of wine and trying to make conversation with strangers.

While these events vary widely, the attendees agreed on one thing: they were ready to try something — anything, really — to avoid one more online date. Singles are sick of dating apps, so they’re turning to a growing number of offline events to find love.

Dating app fatigue and frustration 

Though mobile dating apps have only been mainstream for a little over a decade — a mere blink in the long history of romance — their ubiquity in dating culture has left many singles feeling frustrated.  

Perhaps that’s why the cracks in profitability are starting to show. Over the last three years, sales growth at Bumble has slowed from 31 percent in 2021 to only 9 percent today. To say that Bumble’s latest marketing push failed to reverse this trend is an understatement. The ad campaign included billboards with phrases like, “A vow of celibacy is not the answer.” That unleashed palpable anger from women online that prompted an apology from Bumble this May. The same month,  Bumble founder Whitney Wolfe Herd painted an even more disturbing picture: a future where your AI avatar (trained to know your personality and preferences) will go on dates with someone else’s avatar to determine your compatibility. Reactions online were overwhelmingly negative.

Bumble previously told Mashable, “We will stay relevant through our fundamental belief that by making the world better for women, we are making the world better for everyone, and that includes continuing to empower women in every aspect of their life.”

Disaffection with the apps may also be attributed to new fees for previously free services. Although most have a free membership option, dating apps have basically dropped the pretense that this will lead to a love connection. Hinge, for example, has a new way to monetize love: only the highest tier membership (HingeX, available at $149.99 for 6 months as of publication) promises “access to your type.” In other words, the Hinge algorithm has found the people with whom you would be most compatible. Without paying up, however, you’ll only be allowed to access the less-than-ideal matches. If you use the basic model or Hinge+, you’ll receive only one “rose” per week to contact your “standout” matches. If you want to reach out to more than one, it’ll cost you about $1.50 for each additional person. Unless you’re willing to shell out some cash, these magical, ideal partners sit in what TikTok users have dubbed “Rose Jail.”

“Hinge is intentionally designed with one goal: to help all daters find each other and get out on great dates. Every feature is designed to help daters be more intentional about who they are, who they like, and why they like them. Our free membership and cost-effective subscriptions offer daters one of the most valuable experiences in the industry,” a Hinge spokesperson told Mashable. “Hinge’s intentional app design makes it easier for daters to express themselves and more quickly connect with people they’re compatible with through detailed profiles built around Prompts (short questions that allow people to showcase who they are). And it’s working. Currently, we’re setting up a date every two seconds.”

An ongoing lawsuit alleges that Match Group, which owns Hinge, Tinder, and others, aims to turn users into “addicts” instead of helping them find a love match.

The surge of IRL dating events

With so much dating app dissatisfaction,  it’s no wonder that people are looking for alternatives — and event planners are responding with creativity. Mackenzie Zoppi and Stephanie Scheele, for example, created LA Singles Only Social Club (or LA SOSO CLUB) after hearing about their friends’ dating app fatigue. People weren’t meeting suitable partners, were getting tired of trying, and the pandemic had only heightened their loneliness.

Scheele and Zoppi partner with local brands to throw mixers, organize speed dating, and host events like happy hours, beach tennis tournaments, or backgammon nights. Before long, “exclusive” dating app The League started sharing SOSO events with members; that’s when they knew they were really onto something. The League “knew that people wanted in-person meetups, but they didn’t have the bandwidth to host them,” said Zoppi. After operating for one year, SOSO Club already boasts five committed relationships and countless first dates that have resulted from their soirees. 

Megan Weks, a dating and relationship coach, sees the rise of in-person dating options as a signal that the culture around dating is changing. “There is so much hope for commitment-minded singles, as motivated entrepreneurs are inspired to create opportunities for single people to meet the one,” she said. Unfortunately, online dating has lessened our collective comfort with striking up conversations. “People are shy, unskilled, and even afraid of approaching others in real life.”

Mike Falzone, creator of the aforementioned Human Romance comedy show, noticed that viewers of his advice-driven YouTube channel often asked about dating (or even about making friends as adults). Like Weks, he’s seen how people are hesitant to startsingl IRL conversations. “We’re all so insular now,” he said. “The pandemic has made people unable to communicate with each other.” 

Falzone’s solution? A comedy show where three comedians interview audience members, match the ones who seem compatible, and then watch them go on a ten-minute date, live on stage. “Comedians can read people,” Falzone said, and their ability to assess an audience via “crowdwork” gives them insight into who might have a spark.

The show’s crowd skewed towards single women in their late 20s, many of whom said that they were, “unfortunately,” using dating apps. Eleni*, a 28-year-old architect, said of digital dating, “In the beginning it’s kind of fun and exciting, but after a while you’re like, ‘I could just be out with my friends right now. Why am I here with this man?'” Neither Eleni nor her friend Meghan (a 29-year-old content creator) had attended any singles’ events before. Bri, 28, a retired athlete-turned-data analytics student, likes that dating apps provide a way to meet people. But she said “the desperation to find companionship,” both from herself and from others, made things uncomfortable.

Bri was picked out of the crowd and paired with Bridget, a 29-year-old TV production secretary. During the show, Falzone and his fellow hosts Rachel Scanlon and Luke Mones posed such questions as, “If you went on a road trip, who would drive and who would handle the aux cord?” (Bridget prefers to take the wheel, so Bri would be happy to DJ.) “If this were a real date, who would be paying?” (Bri would definitely pay, but she’d be annoyed if Bridget didn’t try to fight for the check.)

Based on audience applause, Bri and Bridget won the prize for best couple — $50 out of Falzone’s own pocket to pay for their second date. Undeterred by the distance between them (Bri lives in Riverside, an hour-and-a-half drive from Bridget’s place in central LA), the two were excited to have a real meet-up. “We’ve exchanged Instagrams, and… We’ll see what happens,” said Bridget with a flirtatious smile.

My journey into the jungle of offline dating events

Fueled by my own app burnout, I unsubscribed from Hinge+ a few months ago and decided to spend my money on in-person events. The first was an LA SOSO cold plunge singles’ mixer in Venice Beach. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised to see that most of the attendees, who’d shown up in bathing suits and flitted from ice cold baths to saunas and sweat lodges, seemed inhumanly fit and gorgeous. I had great conversations with many of the women, but my “average”-to-“curvy” body seemed to prevent me from even registering as female on the radars of these muscled SoCal Adonises. I chatted with a lot of them, but none asked for my number.

I had more luck at speed dating, where I made a few connections. Maybe it was because the hopeful romantics at these events seemed a bit sheepish about trying this twentieth-century dating method, but found strength in numbers. The men and women I met at CitySwoon’s algorithm-based speed dating night (you receive texts telling you which of the attendees you should talk to next based on compatibility) shared a sense of vulnerability and openness — after all, we were all there for the same reason. Many of the people I spoke to said speed dating seemed more “humane” than swiping on an app. 

A singles’ Paint and Sip event, organized by event space and podcast studio BSPOKE/LA, wine brand Besa Mi Vino, and app First Round’s On Me, drew a crowd, but many of the attendees weren’t aware the event was directed at singles at all. Teresa, a 29-year-old production manager, is in a relationship, but thought the Paint and Sip would be a good way to make friends. Selena Sevenler and Natalie Drelles, creative director and assistant creative director of BSPOKE/LA respectively, agreed that people are starved for connection, both romantic and platonic. “All we want is to make sure that the people around us actually have a heartbeat,” said Drelles, who added that online communities feel disconnected from reality.

First Round’s On Me (FROME) is a dating app, but it’s one that encourages users to get together in-person by giving them only one match per day and 12 hours to plan a date with them. (The concept is not too dissimilar from HowAboutWe, a now-defunct dating app that emphasized meet-ups.) The 22-year-old painting instructor, Fredo Gillis, said that he’d noticed people coming solo to Paint and Sips that he’d facilitated before. It seemed like a natural “collaborative, social singles event.” (Fredo is single and has Tinder, but said he meets most of his potential partners at modeling casting calls.) Besa Mi Vino head of events Jessie Goodall, who also works part time for FROME, wasn’t surprised that all the painters were laughing and joking about their painting skills (or lack thereof.) “All it really takes is something to break the ice,” she said. 

Shockingly, I turned out to be one of the only straight single women at the FROME Paint and Sip. I left with a mediocre painting of an LA skyline, Instagram accounts of two cute guys, and budding friendships with other artistically-challenged women.

When it comes to choosing events, Weks said that the hardest part can be making sure they attract potential partners who meet your qualifications. She advised daters to look for event companies that are a little more niche, rather than casting a wide net. “Whether it’s people who value their careers, have a certain level of success, or love dogs, you’ll save time by attending events that match your interests.” If you get stuck in a conversation you’re not enjoying, Weks also reminded us that, “It’s okay to gently excuse yourself. You can always pick up the conversation later or let them approach you again if they are motivated.” 

If you’re afraid of approaching strangers in-person, Weks said it might help to not focus too much on romantic potential at the beginning of an interaction. “The basis of flirting can stem from genuine curiosity about others,” she said. “Cultivate the habit of growing curiosity about others and practice chit-chatting for no other reason than to express curiosity or create a shared feel-good moment.” 

As for me, I haven’t deleted “the apps,” but meeting people in the wild felt like a nice change from mindless (and fruitless) swiping. Only time will tell if this trend will last, or if our Whitney Wolfe Herd AI avatars will soon be handling all our dating for us in the Metaverse. For now, I’ll probably just skip the events that require bathing suits. 

* Daters requested to go by their first-names only for privacy reasons.

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