But there is now San Francisco’s Used Date Party, a 150-person quarterly mixer where every attendee brings a “date” they have no interest in actually dating. It's like giving a “used” single person a stamp of approval and moving them along to the next available partner.
Fans of Sex and the City may remember a similar soiree thrown by the TV show’s ever-on-the-lookout gallerina Charlotte York to expand her dating pool. On a Thursday night near Valentine’s Day, it came back to life at North Beach’s Lillie Coit’s, with snippets of the show playing on a wall in the background.
The IRL version of Charlotte’s Used Date concept is the brainchild of marketer Lauren Magboo, who began hosting these SATC-inspired singles mixers about a year ago.
“They say for those who cannot date, we matchmake,” Magboo said as her co-host DJ Bisi Obateru worked the packed room, enthusiastically nudging folks together.
“I’ve been doing live matchmaking!” Obateru enthused.
While the concept of setting up single friends with one another is not new, the practice of pairing up pals with pals—or pals of pals—is coming back into vogue in the city as tired-out singles turn away from dating apps and try new ways to find significant others.
“It’s like they’re already vetted because they’re a friend of a friend,” said 42-year-old party attendee Crystal Bravate, who has practically given up on online dating due to sheer exhaustion. “With online dating, men can get really creepy very fast. I think just in general if it's a group and it's in person, it does feel a little bit safer.”
“Most people are probably presenting something close to true,” added Justin, a 38-year-old IT manager for a satellite startup. “Not that I think people online are lying. But you know nobody is here trying to two-time somebody because they’re here with people who know them.”
For Derek, a 38-year-old facilitator, coach and live events producer, the event not only presented the opportunity to find a possible connection but also to talk up his shy friend, who just happens to be “an incredible pianist.”
“It’s part of diversification of opportunity, right?” he said. “The dating apps reduce a certain amount of social friction and enables you to connect with people that you probably ordinarily wouldn't at a bar, so that serves one purpose. It's also a pit of despair in which people are flaky and they don't ever respond to you.”
Vouching for friends on Facebook
Like Magboo’s Used Dating Party, Vouched Dating relies on the power of friends of friends to help people find matches. In the more than 9,000-strong, women-only Facebook group, members post photo-heavy digital personal ads about themselves or write pep-talky referrals for their single male friends, brothers, co-workers or cousins, “vouching” for them as relationship material.
The posts range from sales-y pitches (“discover your perfect match today!”, “hottie alert!”) to gushing with sincerity (“Hi Ladies, Introducing my friend Derrick. … He’s a great guy, funny, sweet, a complete gentleman, … plays guitar and piano, and has a sweet little golden retriever.”)
While few success stories are reported in the group, Maelynn Le, a 22-year-old student teacher studying at San Francisco State, said she’s been exclusively dating a man she met through Vouched for the past month.
After a friend told her about Vouched, Le posted a personal ad in the group in December with the traits she desires in a long-term partner. Soon after, she was DMing with a guy one of the group’s women recommended. After a few fun dates and weeks of talking, the couple was calling it exclusive over ice skating in Union Square near the start of the year. Le said it's too soon to call her new man her “boyfriend,” but said the experience of meeting him through Vouched felt safer and more natural than meeting someone through Bumble or Tinder.
“I just appreciate that it's semi-organic versus dating apps,” Le said. “It's a little easier for real people, not bots to match you up.”
Bring in the hype squad
Esha Reddy, a 28-year-old designer at Ideo, was similarly alienated by online dating when she developed the prototype for HypeFest at Mendocino County's 2022 Solaura musical festival. Two years later, the new live dating show will officially debut at the Faight Collective in Lower Haight on Thursday, bringing 20 groups of friends, or “hype squads,” onstage to talk up their single buds to a 100-person crowd looking for love or platonic connections.
Squads can answer Reddy's questions, such as “What are your friend's red or green flags?” or go off their own pitch script. The vouched-for friend can join the squad on stage, stay in the audience and wave, or remain anonymous until a friend intros them to an interested party. Attendees then indicate up to three people they're interested in after the show, which breaks out into a deejayed party.
The aim is to create a dating event that feels less like an isolating interview process and more like a communal experience.
“Personally, I think where the apps fall short is it's focused on a lot of one-on-one connection,” Reddy said. “I just want a space where you don't have to only go to dating events alone, that you can bring your friends with you, and you can have them wing-person you. This is kind of a dating event that I always wish I had.”
Miela Mayer, 27, who participated in an earlier HypeFest and won a picnic-pool party date after the show, didn’t end up seeing her match again. But she found HypeFest's concept less "negative" and “toxic” than the dating apps, which she currently avoids like the plague.
“I like the network effect,” Mayer said. “It’s much more likely you find someone who you have something in common with, so it feels like even if you don't walk away with a partner, you're probably gonna walk away with a bunch of new friends from a fun crossover.”
“That's the real focus is, ‘Can I get a quorum of like-minded people in one space enough to connect with each other?’” said Reddy, who plans to host HypeFest every two months. “I think as long as one person over the course of this year finds a connection, I feel like I've already succeeded.”
‘It’s a little retro’
Ultimately, crowdsourced concepts like the Used Date Party, feel strangely familiar to some San Francisco singles like Justin, the 38-year-old IT manager, who showed up at the party for a change of pace.
While he only exchanged his Instagram handle with one person at the party, the whole experience reminded him of dating back in his 20s, when “it was a lot more going to bars and meeting people than getting on apps and meeting people.”
“It wasn’t a Tinder date or Hinge or Bumble,” he said. “It’s a little retro, which is kind of the most San Francisco thing ever.”