Dating 101: Where to Meet People

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by Randall S. Frederick

Q: Randall, where do I go to meet people?! I feel like there isn’t anyone available in my current circle. I don’t want to meet people at a bar and I’m not really one for “going out” just to meet strangers. Should I sign up for an online dating profile or what? Help!

A: Well, first off, online dating is a fun and easy, low-impact way to meet people. You can do some reconnaissance on them once you get their name and Facebook profile. Scout around and see what they’re about; I don’t really think of that as “cyber stalking.” The Internet is like your friend, so “ask around” about this person and get some details. Use the tools you have at your disposal to stay safe and develop some personalized questions. Some good (free!) dating sites would be OkCupid, Coffee Meets Bagel, Tinder, Plenty of Fish, or the more high profile (and pricey) eHarmony, or the religiously-inclined JDate and ChristianMingle. There’s even sites like Ashley Madison (for no strings “on the side”) and FetLife which cater to sexual preferences, if you’re looking for something less “datey” and more “sexy.” Hey. No judge here!

Sidenote: In a future article, I might talk about how to date successfully online (ex: keep your profile updated, only photos from the last two months, give info but nothing that could jeopardize your safety, etc) but for now, I want to focus on dating in person. Things are a little different when you (literally and metaphorically) have a screen between you.

But it sounds like your dating woes go beyond the question of whether or not to join a dating site. Really, my first thought was that you might be a bit more introverted or even a homebody because you say “going out” and hanging around at bars until someone approaches you doesn’t sound like a good suggestion. It also sounds like you’ve exhausted your “current circle” of available people.

More than anything, it sounds like you feel things are desperate. That doesn’t mean you are desperate. It means that you feel the situation is desperate. May I normalize that? Many 20-somethings and 30-somethings feel the same way you do right now. You’re starting your life after finishing college and internships, and hopefully you’ve wised up and started focusing on a career rather than “just a job.” Now that you look around, everyone is married or having kids, and that adds to the pressure. It can feel like a pretty emotional time, but again – you are not alone.

My concern for you is that because things feel desperate, you might be closing off some potential avenues. As the ancient Chinese proverb says, when you stub your toe, you don’t see the hummingbird at the window. (I totally just made that up, could you tell?) So let’s talk about some places to meet people and maybe try to think about these locations in new ways.

Basically, start by thinking about where you already are and move out from there. If you go to church twice a week, then chances are church is a good place for you. If you do Happy Hour with your workmates every other Tuesday, then hey! Start paying attention to other groups of professionals who are there with you. Next, there’s something I really want you to think about – the person you are is the person you attract. If you’re looking for something different and dating against type, one of the best ways to do that is to change your style and “match” your new interest, but that cover only works for so long. Embrace who you are and you’re more likely to attract someone you’re actually compatible with. Third, remember that where you meet someone says a lot about you. On some level, you’re probably already aware of this but may not have fully acknowledged it. For example, you sound reluctant to meet someone at a bar. I’m guessing this is because you are worried about being seen as an alcoholic. You’re looking for someone who shares interests, but again, where you meet someone says a lot about you and your potential as a couple.

Everyday Places to Meet People

The first few are no-brainers and probably avenues you’ve already used to meet people, get some numbers (or give yours out) and they’re the standard places because, in general, they usually work. It’s really about going where there are large crowds of people, making yourself seem approachable, and staying true to who you are.

  • Parties
  • School
  • Work
  • Bars
  • Singles mixers
  • Neighbors
  • Happy Hour
  • Church/synagogue/places of worship
  • Gym
  • Laundromats
  • Bookstores
  • Friends
  • Relatives
  • Other (cruises, restaurants, airplanes, coffeeshops, bus stops) – I group these together because, by now, you’re probably already thinking of a hundred places, right? But not all of them are good fits for you. Keep them in mind, but if it doesn’t feel right, that’s fine. Keep going for some more ideas.

New Ideas for Where and How to Meet

These next few are for the more serious dater who wants to step up their game, step outside of their comfort zones a little bit, and really diversify their dating experience. Most of these, yes, I’ve tried (and they work or I wouldn’t suggest them), but some of them were a stretch for me. Challenge yourself to be comfortable in new settings and surroundings.

  • Coffee shops – This was a big one for me in grad school. I could set up my laptop and reading material, scope out interesting people when they came in, and casually get up for a restroom break or napkins as an “excuse” to get in their line of vision, smile, and see if they smiled back. Just remember though – coffee is not a date. Ever. It’s just It is not, I repeat not, a date.
  • Weddings – Wine. Dancing. Perfect time for a meet cute.
  • Community dinners – I’m a big fan of these because they are like low-key parties. You’re able to show off your cooking and baking skills (or at least where you grocery shop), you’re able to sit down and talk, and if there’s chemistry you’re able to segue with an easy, “Hey, I’m about to go but it was nice meeting you. Let’s hang out some time. What are you doing this week?” Maybe your friends host a weekly dinner, or maybe there’s a monthly one in your apartment complex. Wherever they are, just go and see what happens.
  • Yoga – OMG, are you kidding me? You’re both showing off your fitness and going through heart rate acceleration at the same time. It’s the closest form to legally-allowed sex in public. Ask for their number already, dummy!
  • Grocery store – Most people are in their own world and guarded at the grocery store, they’re not really receptive to meeting someone there. But with more stores (like Whole Foods) building small tables for mini-restaurants and minibars for wine tastings, things are starting to change a bit. When I want to be, I can really be personable and feel there’s no reason why you can’t approach someone in an aisle or in the vegetable section, start chatting, and see where it leads.
  • Volunteer activities – Habitat for Humanity, coaching, camp counselors, volunteer activities are low-impact and usually have lots of “free time” (because hey, they ain’t payin’ you by the hour!) to chat each other up.
  • Political campaigns/community meetings – I briefly went out with a community organizer and while we didn’t meet at a rally, it was pretty obvious that they would make a good place to meet new, interesting, passionate, talkative people. Word of warning, though. Don’t go just to meet potential dates. If you don’t believe in the cause, stay away. But if you’re able to share important interests, this is a great way to meet.
  • Exes – Believe it or not? Yeah. This can work. Your ex knows you already, knows what you’re like in a relationship, and if the two of you are still friendly (Laura, just admit you were a terrible person and we can get past this), they are able to talk about you to people they know will be a better fit for you then they ever were. Or are. Whatever is still happening between the two of you.
  • The beach – My mother lives on the Gulf Coast. Like, right on the coast. Her front yard is a beach. And there have been summers where all I have to do is walk 30ft outside her door, set down my sunchair near people and start chatting them up. One time, I got invited to stay and join a bonfire, which is equal parts awesome and romantic. Complete strangers who I never saw again? Thank you for that July invite.
  • Sports/Neighborhood leagues – Are you even serious right now? This is mecca for the single crowd. Joining a league is the ultimate date couponbook. You will have every excuse and reason possible for “Drinks after?” and “Hey, Thursday I’m doing a thing. Want to come?” that you could possibly ask for. Join a league. Trust me. If your family doesn’t know what to buy you for your birthday? Tell them to pay, beg them to pay, cry out to the heavens for them to pay for your membership in a local league. Not even joking right now.
  • Speed dating events – When I was in grad school, I tried to organize a speed dating event but the school was afraid there might be… ya know… people who started dating. The whole experience (when it is done correctly) is fun, allows you to really test out your flirting abilities and it’s only nerve-wracking for the first 3 minutes. After that, you’re thinking on your feet and having fun.
  • Art exhibits/concerts – I love creative women. It’s a thing. One time, a poet wrote a whole chapbook about me. Another time, a musician started singing about our sex life during a show. Another time, I commissioned an artist to paint something for me and when we met up to talk about how the piece was going, we kinda put the commission to the side and just started going out. I never did get that painting off her, but I sure had a good three year run with her.
  • Street fairs/Green Markets – When I lived in Silver Lake, there was a Green Market about seven blocks away from my apartment that I would walk to every Saturday just to buy a loaf of bread… Well, okay… to be honest, it was the cute Jewish girl who made bread that kept me coming back. We never went out (she was a lesbian), but I wasn’t shy about telling her how cute she was, how I was “a sucker for women who bake” and we started trading music interests. Not exactly a “win”, but still a good place to meet people and catch a date where you can find it.
  • Group camping/cabin – Not everyone enjoys camping. With the right people, it’s one of my favorite things to do, but maybe renting a cabin is more your style. Some friends of mine all pitched in a rented a cabin last year, but not everyone knew each other. By the end of the weekend, they knew everything about each other… some of them even knew the color of their new “friend’s” underwear. Roll at your own pace, but scenic forests and cuddly fireplaces sure do make great places to chat up some friends-of-a-friend.
  • Hiking – Once you’re at the top of a mountain or trail, you’re going to stop and catch your breath to take in the view. That’s just a fact. It’s a fact of healthy human experience. So while you’re sitting there wheezing, you’re going to see the hottie in the sweaty T-shirt and, ya know, your primal instincts are going to go craaazzzzy (like they do) and you’ll want to kiss the sweat off their upper lip. This too is a fact. Go say hello, get their number, and when you meet up again, you can talk about the color of your Camelpaks. Or what a great ass they have. Whatever feels right at that moment.

A friend of mine, when I told them about answering your question, said the title should be “Where to Pick up Chicks or Catch some Dicks.” Either way, hope these ideas helped!

Keep reading the “Dating 101” series here on Sexuality & the City, then follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

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