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I deleted Tinder and tried meeting new people in person

SNARK WITH HEART (The Philippine Star) - March 11, 2016 - 9:00am

I recently deleted my Tinder — mostly because I had lost the patience to sift through mountains of garbage per quality find. I also felt that having the app at my disposal made me less aware of how much (or how little) I was actually out there doing things. I downloaded it precisely because I was too lazy to do the legwork it took to keep meeting new people. And while I’m still lazy and am positively an introvert, this year I resolved to travel more, try new things, and get a little bit more lost. An app triggering my brain’s reward system every time I got a match (even while vegetating on the couch) seemed to mess with that.

As if on cue, a few days after I deleted Tinder, I got an email invite to a private event that promised a handpicked group of 20 attendees.

Singles mixers are virtually unheard of in the Philippines. I’ve walked into a room of strangers and made new friends countless times. But each of these times, I had a “good, solid reason” for being there. I was either there for work, there to attend a seminar/workshop, there for a friend’s birthday party, or any of the other standard event formats. Meet-ups can be anxiety-inducing because they strip you of these fronts. You’re there to socialize and meet the people in the room. Making connections (even though this is what tends to mean the most, in the end) are no longer mere byproducts of your activities. You lose a certain “cool” factor.

I was told that I could bring a guest. Convincing any of my friends to come, however, was another matter entirely. Responses ranged from “I don’t know if I’ll be comfortable,” “Let’s meet for coffee na lang,” to outright *Seen*. The lack of “yes people” was a downer, but I also knew exactly where they were coming from.

Comfortable Company

I’m typically Filipino in that I like being surrounded by comfortable company. I don’t strike up conversations with strangers unless necessary, or if common friends make it possible. I fear not having anything to say to new people and turning into a wallflower as a result. I fear so many things, I have to wonder how I actually show up.

I also wasn’t sure how to felt about a curated crowd in the Makati area. On one hand, I had been wishing for a jejemon filter on Tinder to save time. But then, I also didn’t want a room full of conyos feeling themselves up (I was still shaking off the gross “see and be seen” vibes that engulfed me at a popular Makati bar a couple of weeks back). The only way to find out was to go.

Although, when it comes to meeting new people, I find that it barely matters who they are. Your brain will always invent a reason to be scared. Makati people are too sosyal. QC people are too real and will see through your bullshit. Whip-smart gay men will think you’re a basic bitch.

Social Hub Vs. Awkward Mixer

Deanna Rubiano and Anku Chibb, founders of the private members events club, Catch 88, understand this trepidation, which is why they create experiences at their events. They give people something to interact with and talk about, helping them to drive the conversation. “It is the sharing and contributing factor that we want to emphasize,” Deanna says.

As a social and dating hub, Catch 88 aims to bring together a community of Manila’s sociable and driven singles from different backgrounds — film, fashion, advertising, music, art and media among others. Ranging from 20 to late 40-year-olds, Deanna and Anku seek out well-educated, open-minded and fun individuals who have a passion for what they do. “Our first 100 founding members will personally be selected by Anku and I during our events and networking nights. Once we have 100 members, the community will be the ones referring other members.” All profiles are hidden, so you don’t have to worry about friends and office-mates knowing you’re searching — a common Tinder concern.

On the day of the event itself, I had half the mind to invent a “work emergency” (media practitioners are expected to have a lot of these, right?). I procrastinated for about an hour since arriving in the area. And when I finally caught sight of the crowd and heard their lively chatter, my heart leapt to my throat.

It actually happens

But the interesting thing about these events is that, no matter how nerve-wracking they may seem prior, once you actually walk into the room and have to make good on your choice to be there, the overthinking stops, and it actually happens. You say hi and find something to say to the person who happens to be standing next to you. You talk to a few more people. Not all conversations hit a sweet spot, but you also get that that happens. You get a drink in your hand. If you’re like me, you eventually find your “comfort people” in the new crowd (in my case it was — surprise, surprise — a gay man).

There’s a certain feeling of accomplishment to be had when you find that you’re not as socially inept as you thought. And an environment that drives you to connect in the moment is rare in the digital age. On online dating apps there is a tendency to feel all small-talked-out after chatting up a hundred matches. It’s easy to get lazy, assume the other person is boring, and wonder how much you and other Tinder users are missing out on as a result of this dynamic. In comparison, attending a meet-up takes more effort and brings in much less quantity. But when you’re there, you’re there.

Catch 88’s small, closed-door event was enhanced by the gritty blues of Mikki Gozon, British-Filipina singer Skint Eastwood, and DJ Mikhail Schemm; as well as the culinary genius of Junior Sous Chef at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon Singapore, Miko Calo. As the cherry on top, members of Manila Burlesque covered themselves in all white and gave guests free rein to paint over their bodies. The aim is to have three to four events per month, allowing members to select based on their schedules and preferences. “We can’t give away details of our future events, but what you experienced is only 10 percent of what’s to come,” Deanna tells us.

There’s a part of me that’s skeptical of this approach, because I know Filipino culture to be cliquish and not very outgoing socially. I did, however, predict the same fate for Tinder and other online dating apps. But now they’re so common, even my most conservative and self-conscious friends have gotten dates through it. So I won’t rain on this parade. If it means breaking down walls that no longer serve our current society, then I’m all for it.

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Like Catch_88 on Facebook and tweet the author @catedeleon.

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