“Is IRL romance dead? I spent a month going to ‘singles parties’ to see if they’re better than dating apps”

“Is IRL romance dead? I spent a month going to ‘singles parties’ to see if they’re better than dating apps”

Red lipstick applied and gold hoops in, I round the corner to the bar. It’s a sunny evening and I’m arm-in-arm with my friend, on our way to The Exhibit in Balham. After getting our pink wristbands, we take our G&Ts to the terrace and look around the Thursday evening crowd. Music mingles with the relaxed chatter of the small groups sitting across the terrace, but I’m nervous.

I’ve been for cocktails with my friend many, many times before, but tonight is different. We’re not just scoping out the drinks menu, but the men as well. This night is actually part of a new dating trend – a singles event run by dating app Thursday, where everyone in the room is unattached and looking for love. After two years (and counting) of video dates and socially distanced walks, IRL singles parties and events are gaining huge popularity around the country, as evidenced by Thursday’s 120,000 active users.

And they’re not the only company getting in on the action. Alongside Thursday, there’s Inner Circle, who aim to get people dating ‘better’ by encouraging users to put more effort into their profiles and screening every member. They’ve just thrown their 500th party for their 5 million members, so something’s working. Then there’s POM (Power of Music) for music-focused events, Oh Queer Cupid for LGBTQ+ speed dating comedy nights and mixers for Sikhs and Hindus with Matched by Sukh Kaur and more.

With recent research by Inner Circle showing that 81% of single people have ‘meeting someone’ at the top of their to-do list, it’s no surprise that singles parties are booming. Pre-pandemic, only 45% of those looking for love would head to a dating event. Now, that figure stands at an appropriately raunchy 69%. Psychotherapist Nova Cobban isn’t shocked that we’re eager to get back out there, explaining how dating apps don’t give us all the information we need to decide if someone is a match. “In person, we consciously and subconsciously notice body language, like how relaxed people are and little quirks that can be endearing. All these cues help us make a much quicker assessment of if we’re attracted to someone.”

Even digital-first apps are getting in on the action, with Bumble hosting a Summer Social and rolling out in-person events across America

I loved my ex-boyfriend, but we were incompatible – he wanted to stay in, I wanted to be sociable. He wasn’t sure where he was going in life, I was laser-focused on my ambitions. Breaking up with him was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do and I’m definitely not ready for a serious relationship, but at 29 years old and for the first time in my life, I’m excited to date for fun.

Before my most recent ex, I was single for six years after my first heartbreak. I caught my boyfriend cheating and the break-up demolished my confidence. Feeling totally unlovable, I took dating far too seriously after that, analysing every right swipe for long-term relationship potential and dismissing profiles too soon. Now I’m more open and confident, but that nagging voice telling me that I’m not fun or sexy enough is still there. Singles parties terrify me, but you never know when you might meet the next great love (or night) of your life.

I’ve been single for five months after ending an 18-month relationship

In the name of love, I set out to try a range of dating events to see if finding romance in the real world is possible. Have things changed since I was last single? Are online conversations that drag on for months a thing of the past? To put this to the test, I’m adding as many types of singles events as possible to my calendar, starting with Thursday’s weekly singles parties.

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