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The new dating app in SF is a singles ad flyer on a telephone pole

A ‘date my friend’ poster turns into an Instagram craze and a party in the park. But will there be love?

Four partygoers are laughing and enjoying a sunny day in a park, with drinks in their hands and a backdrop of lush greenery and a distant building.
Surrounded by interested women, Matt Wheeler jumps for joy at his “50 First Dates”-themed party at Fort Mason last Saturday. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

The campaign to find Matt Wheeler a girlfriend began as an April Fools’ joke. On the night before the holiday, Wheeler’s friend, Summer Kennedy, threw on Rollerblades and zipped around the Marina plastering a couple dozen flyers on telephone poles, trees and walls. 

The posters—which described the 37-year-old startup recruiter as “very tall,” “hot” and “emotionally secure”—soon took on a life of their own. They infiltrated local Instagram feeds and group chats, and eventually, Kennedy’s email inbox filled with more applications for the role of Wheeler’s girlfriend than she could handle. 

“I started reviewing them, and then I just started getting more and more,” she said. “By the time I went through 10, I had 10 more emails. This became a full-time job.” 

A woman photographs another lying on a white sheet covered in colorful round balls outdoors, with bystanders standing around and a photographer's reflector tilted toward the subject.
Lisa Shoenstein, 30, poses in the “Annie Leibosluts” photo booth at the “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” party. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard
Four joyful individuals run under a colorful, large parachute on a sunny day at a lively outdoor event while holding drinks.
Partygoers run inside the “compliment circle,” where they huddle and give one another compliments until it becomes awkward at the “50 First Dates”-themed event. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Rather than doling out dates one by one, Wheeler and Kennedy decided to throw a party and invite all the interested women, plus any of their single friends (both male and female), to join the festivities. It all led to last Saturday’s 50 First Dates-themed I Believe in a Thing Called Love” party at Fort Mason, attended by around 100 people who came to flirt over White Claws, rub shoulders underneath a “compliment circle” (a large parachute, the kind you used to play with in preschool) and test their compatibility over thumb wars and mural making. 

“I can’t date over 100 people,” said Wheeler in a phone call ahead of the party, which also doubled as his 37th birthday bash. “The very least I could do is just throw a big mixer and invite all my single guy friends and just have a big party, so I can say thank you to everyone.”  

The partygoers came with a range of expectations and intentions last Saturday—from wingmen and -women lending their support for Wheeler to curious singles who wound up there after falling into an Instagram rabbit hole. Many found the quirky games and setups for possible meet-cutes preferable to the endless doom swiping of Tinder, Hinge and Bumble.  

“I think everyone is so desperate to not be on dating apps right now,” said Bianca, a 27-year-old lawyer whose friends threw her hat in the ring for Matt’s heart. “Any chance to meet people in person … is really nice.”  

“I also think that it’s kind of a humorous way that people can be imaginative,” added Nick, a 42-year-old funemployed video game art director who took some dating profile pics at the “Annie Leibosluts” pop-up photo booth. “Like, I can just be a part of this and not really have to feel anxious.”

A rom-com vision of love—or just a prank? 

As Bumble comes off a major fumble with its anti-celibacy billboard campaign and 1,000-word “date-me docs” and “vouched” friend referrals become popular alternatives to dating apps, in San Francisco, an even more old-school type of personal ad is on the rise. Here, friends—and sometimes complete strangers—have been papering the city with posters plugging their single pals to a random pool of passersby. A little retro and a little San Francisco weird, the love posters are turning heads in the city—and maybe even making a match or two along the way.   

The image shows various humorous flyers posted in public spaces, each advertising a person as a potential date using quirky slogans and personal trivia.
Over the past few months, dating posters plugging eligible San Franciscans have appeared across the city. At bottom left, an unsolicited flyer created for Standard reporter Christina Campodonico is posted near a crosswalk. | Source: Courtesy Summer Kennedy and the Mehran Girlfriend Taskforce

In mid-February, not long after Valentine’s Day, flyers emblazoned with the slogan “I Want You To Date Mehran,” with an image of a young man’s head Photoshopped on the body of Uncle Sam, popped up on poles around North Beach and the Financial District. (The Standard confirmed that Mehran is a real person; he asked that his last name not be revealed.) It was all part of a half-serious campaign by some friends to help the 21-year-old techie—who fooled New York’s foodie elite into thinking he ran a rave-reviewed steakhouse last year—find an equally quirky girlfriend. 

Mehran’s friend Danielle, a 25-year-old tech worker, spearheaded the poster campaign and is the spokesperson for what became known among friends as the “Mehran Girlfriend Taskforce.” 

While the whole thing was meant to be “another funny bit,” à la the steakhouse gag, there are some stakes to the stunt. “We have a bet that if I find him his future wife, I get to be the best man at his wedding,” Danielle said. She also believes a personalized poster ad made by one’s friends could be preferable to otherwise bland and boring dating apps. 

A man smiles while holding a large, sailfish mount at an outdoor event with people and a giant white sheet in the background.
“I Believe in a Thing Called Love" party host Matt Wheeler poses with a mounted sailfish at the “Annie Leibosluts” photo booth last Saturday at Fort Mason. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard
People play a Connect Four game at a sunny park gathering, with a city skyline in the background. Drinks and snacks are on the table.
Partygoers play Connect 4 and down Red Bulls at the party at Fort Mason. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

“Not everyone is going to be comfortable with, you know, having their flyer out there and saying this crazy stuff on it,” she said. “But I think like attracts like.” 

In total, the “I Want You To Date Mehran” campaign—which included a QR code that linked to a Google Form with a lot of steak jokes and a hotline number—received 100 QR scans, 10 voicemails and 12 Google Form submissions, including one from this reporter. 

While my initial query fell on deaf ears, the reporting trail did turn weird after a mystery woman hand-delivered a folded “Win a Date With Mehran!!” flyer to me at a public event where I happened to cross paths with members of Mehran’s social circle. A few weeks later, posters made by the task force plugging me as an eligible bachelorette popped up around The Standard’s office in SoMa. I received two applications from suitors asking if they could take me out. 

Did I agree to a date with any interested applicants? I did, but that’s for another story …

A person in sunglasses and baseball cap riding a Muni bus holds a humorous flyer urging readers to date a journalist named Christina.
During a nighttime Muni ride, a mystery woman, part of the Mehran Girlfriend Taskforce, holds up dating flyers featuring a Standard reporter. | Source: Courtesy Mehran Girlfriend Taskforce

Meanwhile, back in the Marina

As Wheeler’s party got more lively over the afternoon, singles and their wing-people continued to pose for profile pics, face off over games of Connect 4 and channel their inner artists at a mural-painting station. 

Everything was going great, it seemed, until two U.S. park rangers showed up. Citing the love fest for breaking a variety of park rules—playing music too loudly, not having a permit for a gathering of over 20, possession of an open beer keg—the officials shut the whole thing down. 

A joyful woman sits on grass behind a sign that reads "Vibrant masculinity workshop" that's adorned with colorful stickers.
Party attendee Becky straddles a “vibrant masculinity workshop” sign at Wheeler's “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” party. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard
Four young people sit on grass, decorating a long banner with colorful markers, under a sunny sky. Their banner says "happy summer!" with artwork.
Partygoers draw at the mural station during the singles mixer. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

But this being the Marina, not even the law could stop the party. Wheeler grabbed a bullhorn to announce to the crowd that the party would continue on to karaoke bar Silver Cloud on Lombard Street.

After strolling over to the bar, attendees waited around while the man of the hour (easily identified by his bright green kimono shawl over an Ace Ventura: Pet Detective T-shirt) dealt with the rangers and cleaned up the party mess.   

Mary, a 31-year-old tech worker, came to Wheeler’s party for “maybe a connection or maybe just a good story,” she said. She had experimented with her own analog dating campaign last year. Instead of sending regular Christmas cards, she sent out literal calling cards containing her number and a request: “Know any nice, normal dudes? Have them call me.” 

A diverse crowd of people gathered in a grassy area socialize and enjoy a sunny day outdoors. Some hold drinks.
The singles were mingling at Matt Wheeler's “50 First Dates”-themed event last Saturday. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard
A man in a party hat and colorful shawl speaks into a megaphone at a sunny park, flanked by uniformed officers near a patrol car.
Matt Wheeler uses a megaphone to tell participants to head to another location—karaoke bar Silver Cloud on Lombard Street—after U.S. park rangers broke up the party. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Unfortunately, her friends didn’t come through with referrals, but when Wheeler’s poster went up, some of them submitted an application on her behalf. Mary thought that she and Wheeler might vibe over their affinity for paper goods and unconventional dating strategies. 

“We talked for, like, two minutes, so stay tuned,” she said before Wheeler finally arrived at the karaoke bar. He came over to give her a big hug and ask for her number. 

As for Wheeler, when The Standard asked if the rangers’ raid had rained on his parade, he took it in stride. 

“My love parade has been every day of my whole life,” he said. “There’s no stopping it.”