All my life I have dreamed of distilling my rich and complex being into a set of seven photographs and ~43 words’ worth of witticisms. Just kidding! The idea of creating a dating app profile makes me want to die, and when I got out of a long-term relationship, I was not that keen to truck with all that. It didn’t seem as fun as, say, stabbing a puppy in the eye (I would never).
One night, I was meeting a friend for drinks and she texted, “I’m with my friend who’s a cute single guy. Want me to bring him?” Could it be that easy to sidestep digital romantic humiliation? “lol sure,” I texted back, like an adult. “I’m Manazon Priming you,” she wrote.
A cartoon ding went off in my head. This was how dating should go: My friends do all the work, and I do nothing at all! The real pro was that “Manazon Priming” seemed less serious than a “set-up.” A set-up implies some kind of Jane Austen–style, Millionaire Matchmaker–level scheming: You BOTH want to own toy poodles and understand cryptocurrencies! She’s always WANTED a partner who was 6″1′, had four sisters, and could whip up a mean chateaubriand! That’s too much pressure! I’m not Prince Harry.
But this seemed fine. What if there was a version of blind dating with pretty much any decent person? No expectations, no pressure. I asked five of my friends to deliver me someone I could pleasantly have two drinks with—no overthinking or matchmaking necessary—and checked with dating expert Erin Tillman, the “Dating Advice Girl” about the pros and cons. Here’s how it went.
Will,* or, Dating Someone You Know Nothing About
Pro (the process, not the person, I’m not a monster): I would never have met Will if I hadn’t put out the bat signal. He was a friend of a friend of a friend, who had a start-up in an industry I’m not 100 percent sure I understand or even was previously aware of. Instead of trying to do personality math in my head beforehand, I just turned up ready to talk to whoever my date might be.
Con: Since I had supplied absolutely no criteria, compatibility was a crapshoot. I realized this mostly when he said he loved Burning Man. (What? Dust is my enemy.)
The expert says: “Keep your expectations low and make fun your goal on the date!” says Tillman. “If your goal is to have a fun time with someone new, there is less of a chance of disappointment. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of meeting “The One,” but those kinds of high expectations can kill the potential for actually having a fun time and can also cloud judgement when it comes to deciding if your date is someone who would be a good fit.”
Rafi, or, Dating Someone Who Has to Be Nice to You
Pro: I feel super relaxed when meeting Rafi, because I know our friend thinks we’ll get along, and he is equally low-key. “I tried all the dating apps a few months ago. For the most part the dates weren’t good,” he said. “I would bet that friend set-ups have more substantive conversations than Tinder dates.” It’s true that I don’t feel particularly shy, and start asking him nosy questions straight away; he doesn’t seem to mind.
Con: Friends of friends have a social obligation to be nice to you, and there’s literally nothing bad about that. But it does raise the question of whether the person is actually interested—or just being polite.
The expert says: “Your set-up date will most likely want to make a good impression since they are friends with your friend,” according to Tillman. “So they’ll have a real-life reason to have good manners, compared to a random person on an app who has nothing to lose.”
Chi, or, Dating Only People Your Friends Know
Pro: This is really a tribute to my friend Whitney. I emailed her as follows:
She immediately wrote back, asking, “Do you have any other parameters? Tall? Athletic? Nerdy? etc.” I replied, “Um…dark hair (??????)” and she briskly conveyed me a dossier of her selections titled “Whitney’s Friends, The Bachelorette Gmail Style” (incidentally, a show I would watch). To which I said:
Con: A lot of my friends shrugged their shoulders and said they didn’t know anyone they “could in good conscience recommend.” Logically, the social pool must end somewhere; the odds are small that a) there are a lot of eligible people around and b) that any of them are people you’d both want to bone and talk to (an incredible combination). On the other hand, apps are like bottomless mimosas of possibility.
The expert says: “You are meeting someone outside of your usual social circles and this person has been vetted by a friend or someone you trust,” says Tillman. “That means you will not be going on a date with a complete stranger you have nothing in common with, or who might not have your best interests at heart.”
Spencer, or “Is This Just Way Too Embarrassing?”
Pro: “Is this like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days?” asked Spencer when we met for a drink downtown. He was amused, but I realized I did actually have an advantage in this whole experiment: Rom-coms have led the regular person to believe that all magazine editors do is shoehorn their lives into ridiculous conceits, in pursuit of The Story.
Con: When I asked if he’d ever been set up before, he said no. “It seems kind of…embarrassing? Like you can’t get a date on your own,” he admitted, which was a relatable point. Would I have corralled my pals into delivering men to my (figurative) door if I didn’t have a secondary professional purpose, and would people be so keen to hang if it hadn’t been “for an article”?
The expert says: “People can feel embarrassed by the idea of being set up,” says Tillman, “but if you haven’t met anyone you click with in a while, why not try? There is no shame in it—it’s simply someone who cares about you, introducing you to someone they think could be a good fit.”
Lee, or, Dating With Nowhere to Hide
Pro: Lee and I had a few friends in common, and it felt way more comfortable making plans to meet IRL than I would have felt using an app. I knew my friends liked him enough to think we’d have fun, and knew we’d have enough to talk about.
Con: Running in similar social circles has a flipside; I did feel like I had a bunch of aunties breathing down my neck (not that anybody was actually nosy or weird). Lee agreed: “There is a kind of pressure,” he said, “knowing you might always be somewhat socially connected with the other person. It could limit how much you open up because you’re worried about looking like a fool in front of your friends—or getting rejected and knowing there’s a decent chance you might run into that person.”
The expert says: “The hope is that you are more likely to be able to trust that this person is a decent human being,” Tillman notes. “On an app, you don’t have anyone vouching for the people you match with.”
*All pseudonyms—I’m not a monster.
If you would like some kind of tidy upshot, I sure can’t give it to you. This was a whimsical experiment, not a scientific study. But I will say this: Je ne regrette rien. Honestly, this was fun. You should try it! Getting your friends to Manazon Prime you costs nothing (except a couple of drinks and a smidgen of dignity) and the fun-to-investment ratio is high. Let me know how it goes, ya minx.