First dates are pretty much the most awkward thing ever. You're either texting your friends commentary throughout or regretting that you spent a Friday evening with Bad Breath McGee instead of your chums.
Grouper, an online "social club" launched more than a year ago in New York City, has the answer: Bring your friends with you! Say to Mystery Dude, borrowing the famous lyrics of Notorious B.I.G., "Tell your friends to get with my friends. And we can be friends."
Grouper, which has also been connecting folks in San Francisco and Washington D.C. for a few months now, expanded this month to include 10 more cities: Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia and Seattle. It's currently accepting applications from potential members in those cities.
"We're trying to re-create the way that people meet organically, in casual social settings or through friends," Michael Waxman, founder of the site, told The Huffington Post.
If a romantic match happens, it happens -- and your chances are higher, the more people you meet. If it doesn't happen, maybe friendship sparks will still fly. Because it's also hard to make friends, especially in a new city.
How does it work? Signing up takes about a minute because the site creates a profile for you by pulling information from your Facebook page. (Don’t worry: It doesn't post back to Facebook.) Then you send an email inviting two friends to be your wingmen or wingwomen.
Lastly, you answer five questions on a sliding scale. For example, would you rather go to a dive bar or a fancy club or some place between those two? Would you rather talk about "Jersey Shore" or philosophy or something more middlebrow?
Then you wait two to three weeks for an email from Grouper. There's a waiting list because matches are determined by staff members in addition to a computer algorithm, according to the company.
The email sets the location for your meeting and offers various times for you and your friends to choose from. The identities of your potential suitor and the suitor's two friends are completely hidden. Each of the six people must pay $20, which goes to pay for the first round of drinks and the site's fee. (Grouper receives a discount on drinks from local bars with which it partners.)
Waxman, 25, founded Grouper in July 2011 after he moved to New York post-breakup and was looking to meet new people. He noted he met his current girlfriend at a Grouper get-together.
Waxman was very insistent that his "social club" is not a dating site. Dating sites, he said, have "a dehumanizing aspect of shopping for people through profiles. It's very contrived and forced -- someone messages you because they want to date you."
Grouper is more effective and enjoyable, he said, because "when you're with your friends, you're going to behave more comfortably and naturally." He added, "There aren’t any labels or expectations."
Plus, what's the worst that can happen? "If you don't hit it off, you're already with your buddies, you're a round deep, and now you have a funny story to tell," Waxman said.
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