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Do People Actually Meet at Bars Anymore?

I have a few theories as to why I’m inclined to say no

11.01.16
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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.”

Okay. Whatever.

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.

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  • Meagan

    “Because Sam made hummus and Caroline is bringing her dog” made me laugh out loud/are really good reasons to attend a party

  • Ashley F.

    Is punch buggy like slug bug? Thats what we call it 👊

    • Amelia Diamond

      hahah yes i like slug bug

  • in response to the Boston situation: MAYBE GIRLS AREN’T SO FRIENDLY IN BOSTON BECAUSE THEY ARE SO JADED FROM ALL THE ASSHOLE BOSTON MEN WHO RUINED THEM FOREVER. Is your friend still in Boston? Where does he hang out? WHERE DO THE NICE BOSTON BOYS HANG OUT!!!!
    but the rest of all of this i totally agree with. im so over it all. so so over it. so what do we doooooooo? i can only pet caroline’s dog for so long and even hummus gets stale!!

    • Vi Huynh

      As a woman from Boston I can attest to this

    • Amelia Diamond

      NICE BOSTON BOYS CAN DR CJ GET AN UPVOTE OR WHAT

    • Lindsay D

      try crossfit! I was dragged there on a business trip. All the guys there were super nice, only negative was well the work out

      • me in crossfit = how to lose a guy in 10 burpees.

        • SChase

          Ha! Incredible

  • A lot of the younger generation are choosing to stay single, I think that might be part of it! There’s less pressure to be settling down with someone, it’s more socially acceptable to be single, yay!

    Amber Love Blog

    • Amelia Diamond

      for sure!

  • Anni

    I think people still meet in clubs where you can have that instant attraction/ instant physical contact combo but bars are just obsolete now that you have phones. Not all bars have dancing, most bars don’t so you nurse your drink while looking furtively around and trying to make awkward eye contact and then when you do you try to have a casual conversation while shouting loudly over music. It’s a lot easier to do that over the phone whereas texting a bunch of eggplants or whatever does not simulate anything close to grinding in a club.

    *sidenote: If you are a queer person, I still find a lot of queer hook ups via the denoted gay bar scenes but I think that’s more of a virtue of going to a place where atleast you are mostly sure the people there are attracted to your gender.

    • Amelia Diamond

      “. It’s a lot easier to do that over the phone whereas texting a bunch of eggplants or whatever does not simulate anything close to grinding in a club.” aahahhaa

  • Molly D

    All of this is true

  • Rafaela R. Sanchez

    I met my boyfriend on an airplane.

    • Amelia Diamond

      TELL ME MORE

      • Rafaela R. Sanchez

        Haha! I always thought this would make a good “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” if I ever became a well-known . . . anybody. BUT, here it goes:

        In March of 2015 I convinced my dad to let me visit my best friend in New York during my spring break (I lived in Florida and it was my senior year of college). He allowed me to go with the condition that I make SOME effort to get a job or at least land an interview. Fine. About 3/4 of the way from Miami to New York, a man with curly long locks asked me about the book I was reading (Love in a Time of Cholera), and though he denies he ever said this he proceeded to say, “It’s nice to meet a girl who doesn’t just read…The Atlantic…or something.”

        We had a nice little chat. He too was from Florida, but attended and graduated from NYU, so had been in New York for about 5 years. Being from South Florida we did the whole “Do you know so-and-so…” thing. We talked about our travels, and our respective heritages. It was lovely and refreshing to not feel stuck next to an overly-talkative human on an airplane. I thought he was cute and intelligent but I wasn’t necessarily “hooked”. I should probably mention I was in a 2.5 year relationship at the time that I knew would be ending soon . . . but still . . . I was loyal.

        Being the dork that I am (and following the conditions by dad set for my trip) I had not one, not two, but ten copies of my resume in my backpack. There I was sitting next to an “older”, cute, working man who seemed to find me smart, so I took it as a networking opportunity. I handed him my resume and asked him to let me know if his company or if any of his friends were looking to hire, as I was graduating in two months. I also knew that this was the least aggressive and least obvious way of giving him my number.

        So then we landed, we walked off the plane together, and he did not ask me to share a cab to the city. Oh well. He did immediately loop me into an email with someone though. . . I don’t know what ever happened to that. Later that week he texted me and met me and my friends at a show at Black Bear in Brooklyn. I was cautious . . . since I had a boyfriend and all . . .but was in no mood to go home. The night proceeded and eventually all of my friends went home. It ended up being just us two at 2 a.m. at Kinfolk drinking gin-and-tonics. It was also snowing heavily outside. I knew I had to go home. As we made our way in the direction of the L train he invited me up to his apartment for a bottle of red wine. “A BOTTLE?!”, I thought. I still didn’t want to mention I had a boyfriend for some reason . . . so all I said was, “I can’t”. He then tried to kiss me, and again all I could say was, “I can’t”.

        And that was it for a while. I went back to Florida, I graduated from college, I went home to parents house and began applying to teach English abroad, as one does when they’re unemployed and scared of the world. Ironically, as I was completing my application a text message pops up on my screen saying, “Hey Raf! Are you still planning on moving to the city?” A company airplane-boy (as my friends began to know him as) shared an office with in SoHo was looking for a summer intern and he wanted to pass along my resume. I said sure, immediately received an email from this company, and scheduled an interview for the following week, when I conveniently would be in New York for my sister’s 21st birthday. I got the job, flew home to Florida, packed by bags and moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Williamsburg which I shared with my sister and my two best friends who were interning for the summer.

        When I first started my job, I’d broken up with my previous boyfriend but was kind of “talking” to another dude. I kind of avoided airplane boy for a while. After all, the last time we saw one another he tried kissing me, and now here we were not working for the same company, but sharing a small office in SoHo, working within 10 feet of one another every single day. I didn’t want things to be weird. Throughout my first year in New York I ran into airplane boy EVERYWHERE. At the Met, blacked out on Avenue A with a pizza in my hand and on the verge of tears, on the train, and again on Avenue B meeting my friend for drink after the ballet.

        I promise this is ending soon— you asked, haha.

        So in February our companies had a belated-holiday / new-office-space celebration party. I’d begun to see airplane boy in a whole new light over the past two months for some reason, and spent a lot of time (and a lot of beers) talking to him at that party. I began flirting and making jokes about how I never thanked him for helping me land a job, and told him I would buy him a drink soon. He kind of laughed and brushed off my proposal. He claims now that he was “sick of me” ignoring him at the office at that point, and had given up on me. He wasn’t going to make any moves in holding me to this offer. However, a couple of weeks later I asked him to get drinks with me and he agreed. It was a Monday in March, a year almost to the day that we met on the airplane. I should probably mention AGAIN that I was dating that boy that I was “kind of talking to” the previous summer. It was long-distance though, and that was dwindling for a while.

        A one-glass-of-wine “I owe you” turned into a four hour date which involved a lot of wine, lobster rolls, oysters, and french fries. I’d kind of always been in long-distance relationships and remember thinking, “Is this what a date feels like?”. At 12 a.m. we both realized that it was only Monday and we had to go to work the next day. I smiled the entire subway ride home, and I swear to the moon that I woke up smiling too. I broke up with my boyfriend two days later.

        I started making up excuses to see him again, and he’d agree. Everything happened when I showed up a day early to a jazz concert that I’d planned to attend with my father on a Friday. As a result, I had an extra ticket since my dad was leaving town. He invited himself.

        This time around, he asked me to come up to his apartment for a drink and I said yes. Now he’s my boyfriend.

        I apologize for the lengthy story, but I think we can agree that the moral of the story is to always bring your resume with you on a flight.

        • SO

          What an awesome story <3 I should stop mean muggin' people on flights (and trains, and buses, and everywhere).

        • Natty

          This just gave me life. Thanks for sharing and writing it out so beautifully.

        • SChase

          I read the whole thing! Love it!

        • I love this story.

  • Brooke

    Wow, you put this into writing perfectly. Also “doing laps” = the sad truth haha

  • Mariana

    Age factor is a problem in the “meeting new people” equation. You reach a point where you tend to go out with the same friends, even if you have 2 or 3 different groups (college friends, work friends, home friends). I don’t want to be pessimistic but I find it very hard to find nice, available, interesting people nowadays, maybe because I circle around the same friends and places or maybe because I just don’t like to waste time with meh-people anymore (but I might be missing something good because of a wrong first impression).

    • Amelia Diamond

      right, which is why I guess — if you WANT to meet someone — it’s good to start expanding circles and doing new things and going for walks.. is that what people do? go for walks? NORA EPHRON I NEED YOU

      • Mariana

        I hope it is not walks, I am so lazy! I hope it is a great guy showing up at my door and realizing I am his lost soul mate. That would be very convenient ahhah
        Ok, I know… expanding circles and stuff, put myself out there with a mind and open heart for the good ones and an armour against douchebags.

      • lol I think I ‘do laps’ in my real life…I work evenings so during the day I get dressed nicely and walk down the street to run an errand and read at a coffee shop and ‘be seen.’ Odds of meeting a nice guy are surely a little higher during daylight hours, right??
        But at the same time, and as I remind my mother, I am also one of those ‘people at the bar.’ So maybe I haven’t met my soulmate there yet, but lovely people like to drink in bars too.

  • MG

    very good. idk, this is so cliche but I met my partner in a bar at nearly the exact moment I thought I was choosing to be single forever. I do not know what that means but it seems relevant. Everyone tires of bars, and scenes and shaving legs and arm pits only to be disappointed in potential partners but there is so much fun to finding new partners and while I wouldn’t trade where I am, EVERYONE WHO STILL CAN NEEDS TO ENJOY IT BECAUSE IT IS EXHAUSTING AND FUN. Also, there is not right outcome, just outcomes and there is a whole other vat of problems waiting for you at that outcome. So, basically, to Amelia’s point, this is the place. Enjoy it. Also, you don’t have to shave anything- no one seems to really care about that.

    • Amelia Diamond

      Amen to the shaving. And please tell me your “how we met” story!!

    • I met my boyfriend when I gave up too, but we met at a party. Murphy’s Law I guess. But if I were single I don’t think I’d mind meeting a guy at a bar, as long as he acted nicely. My boyfriend and I actually talked about this a while ago. He never knew that all girls want is a normal conversation. From his perspective, he said that guys just get nervous/overexcited and want to try to do or say something really special to impress the girl. To us it just seems creepy.

      • SChase

        I ALSO met someone v important when I stopped being interested in dating. I won’t say quit – but I did opt out of the BS. So when someone was interested, I actually said look I’m like A+ right now and you don’t get to mess with that. And he said “got it” and it’s been A++ status ever since.

    • molly_maureen

      My “how we met” story is similar. I met my husband at a honky tonk after deciding to swear off men for a while… We bonded over our distaste for the bar and our appreciation for Miley Cyrus. Needless to say, I consider myself VERY lucky to have met him when I did. Dating fatigue hadn’t set in yet and I was young and naive enough to believe good people existed in bars. So basically the only advice I have is just talk about normal shit. Stop trying so hard to impress and just start a conversation with someone, like, about Miley Cyrus, for example… Oh, and I’d give the classic mom advice which is “you’ll meet someone when you least expect it.”

  • Krusty the Kat

    I highly recommend Aziz Ansari’s book ‘Modern Romance’, if you haven’t read it yet. Super funny and relevant to this conversation.

    With regards to meeting people in bars, here’s my two cents: You meet people in bars who use bars to meet people. If that’s your jam, perfect! If not, try one of the myriad other options available for having interactions with new people in low-pressure social situations (athletics! book club! church thing!). Then, keep showing up. Meet people. Make some friends. Meet their friends. Trust your instincts and don’t waste your time, but also, give some people a little more time. At the very worst, you’ll have made some new friends.

    All that is to say, you can’t do any of the above in 30 seconds of eyeballing someone in a bar. I think the readers (and writers!) of this blog know that, and that’s why we aren’t meeting people in bars anymore.

    • Amelia Diamond

      Totally, bars are not the only place to meet people. It’s just so funny because for a while, before apps, that was the EASIEST way, I think. When I go to grocery stores I basically crawl around on my hands and knees so that I don’t run into humans over the age of 4.

  • Adrianna

    I just can’t with group dynamics and the Mean Girl tendencies that intentionally or unintentionally pop up among both genders.

    I have lost track of how many bars I’ve gone to or parties I’ve attended through an invitation from one friend, only to discover that their friends will have no interest in meeting me or including me in their conversations because I was an outsider. It’s so difficult to penetrate people’s histories. My boyfriend and I spent two years arguing about how I didn’t want to hang out with his college friends, and how I felt completely iced out by them.

    Most people don’t want to experience social anxiety or awkward conversations if they already feel fulfilled by their current friendships.

    • Amelia Diamond

      This is a deep quote my friend “It’s so difficult to penetrate people’s histories.”

  • Melissa

    Totally second everything you said. Also how much of this can be attributed to “stranger danger”? I asked a guy friend once why I’ve never been asked our by a guy in a bar in this city (Sydney) and he said no one is going to go up to a random girl at the bar and ask her out because she is going to think he’s a serial killer as in this day and age only serial killers approach random people to start a conversation. Granted my super overprotective parents have always warned me about talking to people I don’t know. My best friend only swipes right on Tinder if there’s more than 20 common connections because that means people actually know him and can vouch that he’s not a serial killer.

    And while I completely understand this, I don’t date friends because that complicates life so where does that leave me?

    • Amelia Diamond

      Some people might feel this way…????… Our brains make everything so complicated

    • Mariana

      My “don’t talk to strangers” / “don’t accept drinks from strangers” education and my mentality where I thought I was always one corner away of being kidnapped as a child (really, i didn’t walk back in the day, i just ran from one place to another lol) made me a very conscious adult, more than I should or needed to. My friends say I am the worst when it comes of randoms guys trying to make a conversation with me at a bar or something, because my bitch-face-game gets automatically in action. But it is involuntary, is like a defensive mechanism because I know that I would enjoy a conversation with a nice guy (who doesn’t like the excitment of meeting a new possibility?), but my not-very-good-gut-instint is like “he could be a serial killer, protect yaaaseeellff”.

  • John

    But the welcome return of friendship slips away again once we get into marriage phase, and it’s really game over once they have kids…I wish we could just have friendships as the highest level relationship, and romantic relationships as secondary. The traditional family structure definitely makes that hard tho

  • Andy

    Ugh – I live in Australia and its so hard to meet guys at bars. Here its about meeting “friends of friends” and the dating pool is so, so limited. I’m in despair at what romance in Australia is coming to!

  • sin_plomo

    What is “doing laps”?

  • Lindsay D

    I miss the days of doing laps!!!! Seriously though I met my BF on an app and it took me some time to believe I met a normal!

  • doublecurl

    kind of tangential but does MR have a piece on dating in NYC in general? I’m moving to the city and made the horrible mistake of googling “dating in NYC” and now I’m TERRIFIED. help!

  • Abby

    The only guy I ever met in a bar turned out to be a complete wacko, so there’s that.

  • tmm16

    I won’t lie, I’ve been Ms. Pessimistic lately when it comes to men and dating so this article reaaaaally spoke to me. I’m over Tinder and Bumble, but meeting men at bars or just ANYWHERE seems basically impossible. Philadelphia isn’t any better. I wouldn’t say men here are as rough around the edges like Boston or NYC, but I’ve also just realized it’s the culture we live in; We want to meet someone and we want it now, and we don’t want to wait for it. And as cliched as it sounds, most of us will meet someone when we least expect it..(okay, I just threw up in my mouth a lil bit) but it’s true!

  • LizW

    I live in Toronto and I don’t know how anybody meets anyone. A thing I find is people in their late 20s turn into Jerry Seinfelds. They have the friends they like and don’t want to meet other people. So when they go out it is to see friends period . Another thing is that no one dates. My friends have either been single for years or in big time,serious relationships for 5+ years. I’ve always met my exes trough work. People are forced to get to know you.

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