In a world dominated by digital interactions, the idea of meeting someone without swiping left or right may seem like a lost art. However, stepping away from dating apps can open up new avenues for genuine connections — good news for those of us who find the apps frustrating, alienating, or not conducive to really getting to know people. But what other options are there in 2024? People still lead offline lives, and it’s still possible to meet them there — here’s how.
Get over your fear of doing things alone
People love telling singles that we need to “get out there,” and if you’re committed to meeting people without dating apps, then this has to mean literally. It’s imperative to leave your house and do, attend, and join things in shared spaces — but for many of us, this is something we only feel comfortable doing with a buddy (or two, or four).
There’s nothing wrong with exploring new places or activities with friends, but if your willingness to become a citizen of shared public life is entirely dependent upon your friends’ schedules, you likely won’t get very far. Even if your friends are willing to join you, are you set up for success in meeting new people if you’re with your friends? Do you usually approach people who are clearly in the middle of spending time with a friend — or someone you might perceive as a partner — to get to know them?
This doesn’t need to mean attending fancy galas or house parties where you know no one all by yourself — at least not at first. Here are a few solo outings to try on for size:
+ Reading in a café or park
+ Visiting a museum or exhibit
+ Attending a reading or lecture
+ Going on a guided tour or walk
+ Visiting a dog park with your pet
+ Joining a group fitness class, run or bike ride
Once you feel comfortable doing those activities semiregularly by yourself, you can try visiting spaces that are more traditionally “social” on your own — like taking your book to read at a bar rather than a café. Once you’re no longer freaked out by it, it can be a win/win scenario — either you get to enjoy reading your book undisturbed, or you meet someone new. When you do meet someone you want to date, you may be surprised to realize that the comfort you’ve developed with spending time on your own makes you more secure, balanced and healthy in a relationship.
Re-invest in your friendships
Western culture, especially for women, tends to imagine friendships and relationships as an either/or — it expects that you spend time with friends when you’re single, but tend to withdraw a bit from those when you’re in a relationship. This binary is unfortunate — in an ideal world, we’d have a range of healthy relationships of different kinds forming a rich ecosystem.
Staying connected to our friends helps us stay connected to our broader communities and our worlds. That’s part of why we often feel so disoriented and disconnected after a breakup — when we gave up our friendships we also gave up a relationship with the social worlds our friends are part of.
Want to meet new people? Reach out to the ones you already know — schedule coffees and drinks to catch up, start hosting a weekly dinner. Soon enough, you’ll also be getting invites to their friends’ parties, book launches, housewarmings, barbecues and more. Just make sure not to drop these friends once you meet a new boo at their birthday dinner party.
Re-invest in your community and explore third spaces
If you feel like you’ve already met all your friends’ friends and been left wanting, there’s a broader world out there to connect to. Especially if you’re in a new area or don’t have a deep network of personal connections, getting plugged in to the people around you is a great step.
What does it mean to be connected to community? One way is to focus on shared public life — finding “third spaces” where people socialize in low-stakes ways, like cafés, libraries, churches, bookstores, gyms, and dog parks. Now that you’re comfortable showing up to places like this alone, you can think about what it means to become truly involved in them. If you’re a regular at your local dog park, consider joining the group of volunteers that probably helps run it and keep it clean. If you’re on good terms with the local cafe owner, ask whether you can host a monthly meetup there for letter-writing to your representatives.
We often imagine we’ll get to know people just through proximity, and then are disappointed when just seeing the same people doesn’t mean we become close with them. The secret is that people build acquaintances through proximity, but build connections through shared experiences — doing things together. That’s the value of getting involved in real action in your community — the people you meet while doing so are people primed to build something real with you.
Consider professional matchmaking
Are you fearlessly stepping out into the world, connected to a rich network of friends, and involved in many different parts of your community, but still not meeting the person you’ve been dreaming of? Don’t blame yourself — it’s not easy! If you feel you’ve exhausted your options, it may be time to give a professional matchmaker a chance. You can’t meet someone who isn’t in your network — but with the help of a professional, you aren’t limited by your network or anything else.