Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Through Group Dating, Getting to Know You (and You and You)

Nicole Weiss, 25, an aspiring singer, songwriter and actress who lives in Astoria, Queens, showed a smartphone photo of herself working as a clown for children’s parties to Matt Hunziker, a bearded 28-year-old writer and improv comedy performer who lives in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, who shook his fists in apparent delight. Laura McDonald, 25, an actress living in the financial district, told Mike Greene, a 27-year-old architect living in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, that “I’m pretty well known for my Kristen Stewart impressions.”

And Alex Blum, 25, a law student living in the East Village, bought a second round of drinks and spoke to Julie Sygiel, 25, who has a start-up lingerie line and lives in Midtown, about his family’s hardware business.

Discussing alma maters, odd jobs and Zooey Deschanel, the six seemed surprisingly comfortable, considering that none had met before. They had been set up by the Dating Ring, a matchmaking service that facilitates group dating.

“Traditional online dating takes too much time,” said Lauren Kay, 24, a founder of the Dating Ring, which is headquartered in Dumbo, Brooklyn, and started last spring. She requires potential daters to meet with an in-house matchmaker, Emma Tessler, 25, before being set up, at the cost of $20 a date, in groups of three single men and women (with smaller groups of four for gay members, in response to their feedback, Ms. Kay said).

“A group maximizes the chances that you’ll hit it off with someone,” Ms. Kay said. “If you’re not attracted to anyone, it’s a good night and you try it again.”

The Dating Ring is one of several companies banking on the idea that getting to know people in small clusters is more intuitive and less awkward and pressure-filled than meeting one-on-one.

This is because group dating is simply a version of general night life, said Abel Acuña, 25, a founder of Martini, a group-dating service in New York, Paris, London and Seoul, South Korea.

“My friends go out in groups together,” he said. “It makes sense for services to replicate what they’re seeing in real life.”

Part of the appeal, participants say, is that these services make fewer claims about arranging romance, promising only the low-stress opportunity of hanging out — or as Mr. Acuña puts it, “the joy of meeting up” — whether one is interested in friendship, networking or something more.

“It leaves less of a scripted experience,” said Matt Hamilton, a 24-year-old software engineer who lives in the meatpacking district and met his girlfriend via the Dating Ring. “You have more freedom, you go with the flow of conversation.”

And even if the night is a bust, at least sometimes you will walk away with a full stomach: Dating in Groups, in Washington, D.C., and Grubwithus, in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Venice, offer their users prepackaged dates at restaurants.

Grouper, a company in SoHo, goes further, billing itself as a social club, somewhat de-emphasizing romantic connections. Each user signing up for the service, which also costs $20, is matched with another user; both participants commit to bringing two friends to the date.

“The breakdown is kind of like a bar; the vast majority is single but there are roommates and co-workers who might not be single but are there for moral support,” said Grouper’s chief executive, Michael Waxman, 26, who said he met his girlfriend of two years on a Grouper date. “We’ve seen engagements and serious relationships to friend groups merging together.”

Mary Leigh Bliss, 30, the trends editor at Ypulse, a youth-oriented research firm, said that such organizations make sense to what is known as the millennial generation.

“They are team-oriented individuals who would much rather cultivate experiences together than on their own,” she said. “They want to be around each other in real life and have experiences that are really collaborative. The digital is the means to the ends, which is the in-person meet-up.”

Some larger, more traditional online dating companies are also discovering the allure of the crowd.

“We are less excited about small groups and more excited about groups that are 12 and higher,” said Sam Yagan, 36, a founder of and the chief executive of

Match, which is the world’s largest dating site, holds events called Stir, at which users meet for activities like sushi-making classes or D.J. lessons. These events have two advantages, Mr. Yagan said.

“You’re more likely to have fun even with no romantic spark,” he said. “And there’s a context and something to focus the time around.”

He said group dating offers a different appeal to men and women.

“Women like to be with other women,” Mr. Yagan said. “Men just like the volume.”

If nothing else, group dating offers safety in numbers, both physical and mental.

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