Love in the age of social media is a many-splendored thing. It's moved past the traditional first date, past the boring dinner and a movie, and whooshed right on by your run-of-the-mill dating website hookup. Modern dating is now a group sport.
And, according to Michael Waxman, you probably shouldn't even call them "dates" anymore.
"We just call them groupers," he says. "And in fact, we have a policy of not using the d-word internally or externally."
Waxman is the CEO of Grouper, an online dating website that uses Facebook profiles to set up blind dates of six. Yes. Six. "Grouper" is what the company has named these dates.
Waxman thinks Groupers work for the hashtag generation for a number of reasons. He says that people in their 20s are used to experiencing and sharing things through social media. They're turned off by labels like "dates." And, perhaps most importantly, they hate being rejected.
"For a generation of people who grew up with participation trophies, rejection is a hard thing," he says.
And if at a Grouper date no one hits it off with anyone, that's not an issue — you're still there with your friends. It may be a strikeout on love, but you can still have a round of shots with people you already like.
The 'Grouper' Date
So, here's how it works.
You sign up for Grouper through Facebook. And it uses your Facebook profile to match you up with a blind date. Next, you recruit two of your friends. The blind date does the same. And then, Grouper sends all six of you on a group date.
Everyone pays $20 — to make sure you show up, as well as cover the first round of drinks. The day of, you get a text with a time and a place.
One recent evening a group of partakers met a bar called the Virgil, on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles.
(NPR agreed to the group's request to use only first names in this story; we all know how dicey first dates can be.)
Before the date, the three ladies — Chloe, Daphne and Katie — had set the bar pretty low: "I hope they're good looking and I hope they're not 'acnefied' and sweaty," one of the women said.
Her friend replied, "The fun part about it though is if they're sweaty and 'acnefied,' we have each other!"
The three guys — Alex, Max and Josh — gathered outside at a taco truck before they went in the bar.
One of them was kind of hopeful. "I expect to find three relatively fun girls. My ideal is that they're very attractive, and they have great personalities, and they're probably looking to hook up," he said.
Another wanted something more: "I'm looking to find true love."
The date began a little after 8 p.m., with the usual pleasantries; the where are you froms, where'd you go to school, do we have any mutual friends type-conversations. Drinks were imbibed. But about an hour in, all energy became focused on the Groupergram.
"A Groupergram is when you and your Grouper groupies take a photo and you post it on Instagram. But the best Grouper photo of the night gets a free round of drinks," one of the women explain.
It's simple, and perhaps ingenious. The Groupergram is instant advertising for Grouper, and an instant bonding experience for the six people on the date. This gang's Groupergram took a village, and at least half an hour. They used intricate poses and props, a bartender who became a set director and even borrowed knives from the kitchen.
And then the captioning. And the editing. And the cropping and retouching and sharing.
This is modern non-dating. If you can't like it, tweet it, share it or use a hashtag, it's just a tree falling in the woods by itself.
A group blind date — at its essence — is down-right Darwinian. At a point, someone loses. Now, who fell flat this particular night? So around 10 p.m., the boys were separated from the girls, to see where things stood.
From the ladies:
"I feel like it was superexciting at first. And then, as their charm started to wear, and they got a little more comfortable, they became a little more boring."
I asked which one they weren't into. The response: "I think the guy that's not liked is the skinny one."
From the guys:
"I'm enjoying myself. They're fun girls. We all agree that two out of the three girls are attractive." And they dubbed the third as "sweet."
A few in the group said the next day that numbers were exchanged. And there was talk of hanging out at a party the next time. And they all would "try" to keep in touch.
But there was no love connection, which is fine.
Just Fun, No Love
Waxman says a "successful" Grouper can be many things: Making new friends, reconnecting with old ones or just having a good night of drinking — which makes sense. More than anything that stood out of that night's Grouper date was that the hashtag generation would almost be fine doing nothing alone, ever again.
Two of the night's Grouper participants summed it up best.
"Of course I would go out on my own if I knew other people were going to be out on their own as well. And I wouldn't be the awkward person alone at the bar, desperate. But everyone's always in a group these days," Chloe says.
"Desperation. I feel like if you're alone, you're like becoming desperate," Alex said.
Grouper's got them covered. And they're moving to where everything is headed these days — your smartphone. The company plans to debut a mobile app later this spring. Soon, you and your friends will be able to set up Grouper rendezvous almost immediately.
You'll be able to move from a night alone to #Groupergram in no time. And all of your friends will be able to see.
Yes, modern love is a group sport. And the stadium is all of the Internet.