A friend of mine who lives in Boston once told me that straight guys from Boston loved girls from New York City because they were so much friendlier at bars. He acted out a scene for me where he used an oddly low voice for himself and an impressively high, piercing voice for the girl (such vocal range!) that went something like…
Him (super low voice): Hey, how’s your night going?
Him as hypothetical girl (super high voice): Ew, get away from me.
My question that followed was something accusatory along the lines of, “What the hell did you do to her?”
“Nothing,” he promised. “Girls just don’t want to meet guys at bars here.”
About a month later, I went to visit a friend in Boston. We were talking with her roommate when Uber Pool came up. They launched into how annoying it is, “because you’re just trying to get to work but instead some guy hits on you.”
Again, I said, “What do you mean, are they aggressive? That’s terrible!” And they responded, “Not at all, just like, don’t ask me out on a date if I don’t know you, you know?”
(…Yes, but also no.)
Then, back in New York, more than one guy friend told me that he didn’t go out anymore to meet women.
The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon — or “frequency illusion” — is when you suddenly start seeing something that someone pointed out to you everywhere, out of nowhere. I always give the Punch Buggy example. Start playing Punch Buggy and boom, VW Bugs all over the damn place. This is called selective attention. You’re looking for something that you previously glazed over. At the same time, confirmation bias makes your brain think that each new spotting is proof that this THING you’re now noticing popped up out of nowhere. So to keep an open mind here, all of that could explain what happened next.
I started noticing a rash of people not wanting to meet anybody. Guys were not interested in picking up girls. They wanted to hang with each other, alone, or platonically with their larger mixed group. A huge majority of my friends weren’t going out to meet guys anymore, and guys were not breaking from their group to say hi to us. An innocent intro, regardless of sex, was often met with a polite “hey,” followed by a turn back toward one’s friends and, “So anyway…” No one was looking around. People stood in tight circles, talked and laughed, and then left with the people they came with. Girls weren’t “doing laps.” (Oh my god, I hate doing laps.) And regardless of how “lame” the bar seemed upon entry, people stayed. There was none of the itchy bar hopping that happens when someone in the crew is on the hunt.
What gives? A few theories. One is as I stated above, that nothing gives. Maybe this is all part of the Baader-Meinof phenomenon and people are still meeting at bars just as much as they ever were before. Two is that dating apps have made us lazy. We’re used to the mindset of, “I’ll probably see that person on an app anyway,” where potential rejection is cushioned and less overall effort is required. Why put on a clean shirt to go out to maybe attract someone else when you could instead just not give a fuck with your friends?
The irony is that everyone’s taking dating apps less seriously, too. Using them less. Caring less. The Atlantic just published an article about this called “The Rise of Dating-App Fatigue.” It provides some interesting numbers, but you don’t need them: think about what you already know. Doesn’t it seem like everyone around you is “getting off” of them?
The third theory sits where so many of mine seem to these days: in age. We’ve done the apps. We’ve done the partying. We’ve done the dumb nights and the marathon dating and we’ve all had so many “things” with people that everyone’s stopped using labels. Our friends are starting to get married, maybe some of them have babies (sorry if you’re 16 and reading this like “back off crazy!”). We former kids now in our late twenties to earlier thirties just aren’t going out as much. The scene is old, and so is that bright-eyed, anything-can-happen-tonight possibility of meeting someone new. We’re a little bit jaded. We’re also way more confident in exactly what/who we want, and we’re better at logical math; statistically, for us to lock eyes and meet The Correct One (as opposed to Good Enough for Now, or a Few Dates, or Meh) in this busy bar so packed that no one can even get a drink, well, it’s not gonna happen. Perhaps most terrifying is that set-ups — previously THE WORST idea in the world — suddenly don’t sound so bad. A friend of mine started meeting with a real-life matchmaker.
Whatever the reasoning, the bright spot is that we seem to be turning back hard toward our friends. How nice to go out as we did in college, for no reason other than to get weird with one another. How refreshing to attend a party not because “cute guys will be there” but because Sam made hummus and Caroline is bringing her dog. I forgot how funny some of my friends are because it’s been a while since we just stood in a circle together, sipped beers and ignored the world around us. It’s not being unfriendly. It’s relieving. In some ways, I think this is what they mean when they talk about being present. To quote that Talking Heads lyric in every single dating app bio (Baader-Meinof again?): “this must be the place.”
Photo by Peter Bischoff/Getty Images.