On a recent Saturday night, I did a little experiment: I broke the rules of youthful social engagement and went to a bar by myself. I sat in the dimly lit courtyard behind Union Pool in Williamsburg. I made myself available, quietly sipping a pint of Blue Moon.
By 11, small groups had perched themselves all around me on wooden benches chatting about their lives, jobs and families. A group of three pretty ladies gossiped vehemently about their film industry jobs. I sat nearby in my frilly dress eavesdropping. After an hour of enjoying the warm weather, and having not made any new acquaintances, I made my way to sit at the bar. Again, no luck.
Rarely are Brooklyn’s local watering holes a place to meet new people these days. The age-old complaint of post-college social isolation was now fresh in my mind.
While advising me about my love life, my mother always likes to tell stories about her youthful evenings spent at her local singles bar. The rules of engagement are much different now. It’s been a long time since there were social mores about which gender approaches the other, pays for dates or makes the first move on a first date. A cursory glance at Craigslist’s missed connections section proves that many 25- to 35-year-olds, especially recent transplants, don’t necessarily have the stones to introduce themselves in person.
“Especially in a bar scenario chicks automatically think you’re a creep more often than not,” said one of my 27-year-old guy friends about approaching women at bars. “I’ve got a couple of minutes, if I’m lucky, to show how smart and funny I am and prove that I’m legitimate.”
While Manhattan and even some choice Brooklyn spots (see Union Hall or Metropolitan on weekends) might still have the meat market label, for the most part Brooklyn bars have a far more low-key tone. For the dating 20- and 30-somethings, that low-key tone still makes it difficult to meet a mate, or even make a friend.
Beyond the velvet curtains framing the doorway at Flatbush Farm, a barbecue restaurant and bar with a beautiful backyard, there isn’t much of a pick-up scene for its 25- to 45-year-old demographic. “So often there’s two guys and two girls sitting at the bar but they don’t usually talk to each other,” said bartender Jason on a recent afternoon. Or, he says, people meet for first dates where “it seems like they’ve talked on the phone but never met in person.”
Jason offered up a story about how he had been chatting with a female patron who awaited her date’s arrival. He was late. They had never met before. Jason ran downstairs as the gentleman walked in, and upon his return to the bar, the date was gone. The woman had sent him away. He wasn’t her type. Why waste time? On to the next date.
Meeting people in bars, especially one’s local watering hole, is indeed a rare occurrence these days. “You’re not going to find the person,” offered Lem, Jason’s 36-year-old bartending counterpart. “It’s going to be a hookup.”
Since the days of the singles bar, meeting people socially has gone virtual in the form of various Internet dating and networking sites. Increasingly, Craigslist has become the dirty little secret introducing young couples. One recent headline even asks point blank: Are you willing to lie about how we met? That’s not really news, but Craigslist is increasingly the destination for young people (and a few olds) to make new friends and meet new lovers. Perhaps Craigslist is more convenient than the days of singles bars, as it allows one to sift through various pictures, desires and hobbies until a match is made. And besides, many have found apartments and jobs through the site, so why not love or friendship?
Another friend recently moved to Seattle and admitted having to place a Craigslist ad to make new friends. Already in a relationship, and employed in a job with much older co-workers, she had no outlet for meeting new people in a new city.
With the still-unwritten laws of Internet dating, it can be tough to navigate making new friends. No longer in a setting like college, teeming with potential new friends, late-20-somethings are awkwardly emerging from long-term college relationships and wondering what the next step is. Where, exactly, do they find new people, and more importantly, where do they find new people with whom they’ll actually have something in common?
Back at Union Pool, ennui eventually set in. I started text-messaging friends for real, live human engagement. Though there had been a few other single people at the bar, nobody found reason to strike up a conversation. I finished a second beer and headed to a house party nearby. Surrounded by friends, finally, I was poured a shot of sake by the host and introductions to new guys were suddenly fluid and simple. And then I realized they were all gay.