Digital Life
6:00 pm
Thu March 14, 2013

Modern Dating Is A Group Sport For The Hashtag Generation

Originally published on Fri March 15, 2013 2:22 pm

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.)

Measured Expectations

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.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Online dating is constantly evolving. Match.com launched way back in 1995, and it's still a major player. But another dating site that's drawing today's 20-somethings is Grouper. It uses Facebook profiles to set up group dates of six people.

NPR's Sam Sanders tagged along on a Grouper date in Los Angeles. He has this report on how the hashtag generation approaches love in the age of social media.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Here's how it works. You sign up for Grouper through Facebook. Grouper 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 bucks to make sure you show up. And the day of, you get a text with a time and a place.

I tagged along on one of these dates, with a group of six all in their early 20s; at a bar called the Virgil, on Santa Monica Boulevard in L.A. 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.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I hope they're good looking, and I hope they're not acnified and sweaty.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: The fun part about it, though, is if they're awkward or acnified, we have each other. Hence...

SANDERS: I caught the three guys - Alex, Max and Josh - outside at a taco truck, before they went in the bar.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I expect to find three relatively fun girls.

SANDERS: What's your ideal?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: My ideal is that they're very attractive, and they have great personalities, and they probably want to hook up.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Uh - I'm looking to find true love.

SANDERS: A little after 8 p.m., game on.

(SOUNDBITE OF GROUPER DATE CONVERSATION)

...Hi guys...

...Hi...

...I'm Max...

...I'm Katie...

...Where are you from?

...I'm from here...

...I'm from here...

...Echo Park? Is this Echo Park?

...No. This is...

...Technically, it's Silver Lake, technically...

...We ride horses together, and I went to high school with her...

(LAUGHTER)

...So what do you guys do?

...I used to have a bellybutton ring...

...I did, too..

...So did she...

...I used to...

(LAUGHTER)

...My favorite band to see, before they were famous, was Kings of Leon...

...Oh, yeah...

...back when they were folk...

...I told the office that I'm going to live tweet the Grouper...

...Well, he told all of Twitter that he is because you tweeted it, so...

SANDERS: SANDERS: So yeah, a typical date times three, except it's not. This is not a date. Do not call it a date.

MICHAEL WAXMAN: We just call them Groupers and in fact, we have a policy of not using the D-word internally or externally.

SANDERS: That's Michael Waxman. He's the CEO of Grouper, based in New York. He actually met his long-term girlfriend on a Grouper date. He says his company is all about leaving labels at the door. And the label of date can be absolutely terrifying for 20-somethings these days. There's another label that Grouper helps you avoid: reject.

WAXMAN: For a generation of people who grew up with participation trophies, rejection is a hard thing.

SANDERS: With a Grouper date, no one likes anyone, so what? You're there with your friends. The heck with love. Shots all around. OK. Back to the date.

(SOUNDBITE OF GROUPER DATE CONVERSATION)

...Groupergram...

...Groupergram...

...Instagram it for the Groupergram to win free drinks...

...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...

...At least a free drink.

...A free round of drinks...

SANDERS: SANDERS: This, the Groupergram, took at least half an hour.

UNIDENTIFIED BARTENDER: You need to be on your knees. I need you right here. I need you to look right down at this guy. So I need you right here-ish.

SANDERS: Intricate poses, props, a bartender who became a set director; and then the sharing, the captioning.

(SOUNDBITE OF GROUPER DATE CONVERSATION)

Wait, wait, he's adding text, right?

SANDERS: SANDERS: The editing.

(SOUNDBITE OF GROUPER DATE CONVERSATION)

Are we using this one? This is the best one...

SANDERS: SANDERS: This is modern nondating. If you can't like it, tweet it, share it or hashtag it, then it's just a tree falling in the woods by itself - or something. A few hours in, things got real with a popular but vulgar drinking game.

(SOUNDBITE OF GROUPER DATE CONVERSATION)

Um, I think I would kill you...

Wow. (bleep)...

...and marry you...

SANDERS: SANDERS: A group date, at its essence, is downright Darwinian. At some point, someone loses. So around 10 p.m., I separated the boys from the girls, to see where things stood.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: So I feel like it was super exciting, at first. And then as their charm started to wear and they got a little more comfortable, they became a little more boring.

SANDERS: Which guy is not liked?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I think the guy that's not liked is the skinny one. What's his name?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I'm enjoying myself.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yeah, it was fun.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: They're fun girls. We all agree that two out of the three girls are very - are attractive.

SANDERS: And the third is?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Sweet.

SANDERS: So yeah, no love connection. I left around 10:30. From what I heard the next day, the six went to another bar for a few more drinks, and that was it - which is fine. Michael Waxman says a successful Grouper can be many things; making new friends, reconnecting with old ones, or just having a good night of drinking. But more than anything that stood out that night was that the hashtag generation would almost be fine doing nothing alone, ever again. Here's Chloe and Alex.

CHLOE: 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 is always in a group these days.

ALEX: Desperation, I feel like if you're alone, it's - you're becoming desperate, yeah.

SANDERS: Grouper's got them covered, and they're moving to where just about everything is going these days: your smartphone. The company plans to debut a mobile app later this spring. It may be the only way to stay current in a sea of dating sites and apps. With the Grouper app, you and your friends will be able to set up Grouper rendezvous almost immediately. So you can move from quiet night alone to hashtag Groupergram, in no time. And all of your friends can see. Modern love is a group sport. And the stadium - the stadium is all of the Internet.

Sam Sanders, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.