Unhappy Hours

A young woman goes to a bar, sits alone, and meets no one. That’s the gist of this non-story story (my favorite kind) in the New York Observer. It’s a little sad, in a way: Will anyone go talk to the young woman sitting at the bar by herself? But let’s think about this for a minute. Was there ever a time when a lonely bar-goer could reliably count on meeting someone nice and new? It’s always seemed to me that most bar meetings involve groups — a couple cadres of girls and guys out on the prowl, wingmen and wingwomen. Or, more likely, you show up to meet some friends and they’ve brought along a few folks from work. It’s the social networking concept, meeting friends of friends, for the pre-digital era (who even remembers such a time?).

The piece takes this digital-era anxiety into account, finishing by wondering out loud how we’ll survive in a future dominated by Craig’s List and internet dating:

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?

This is a legitimate concern, but again, I wonder: Was it ever truly common to move to a new city, know no one, show up at a bar by yourself and suddenly have a whole neighborhood full of new friends? If anything, I suspect web-based friend-making has fostered faster connection-making. The old wisdom, as I recall, said it should take two years to settle into a new city. Now, I think, a socially motivated person can easily expect to find a communal niche in a few months. There are still problems in small towns, and the extremely shy people of the world will no doubt continue to have difficulty. But the web seems to be a great aid in navigating the social connections of large and, increasingly, medium-sized urban areas. In the past, the problem has always been one of self-definition and selective association. Now it’s easy to fly your flag and look for others who show the same colors. The costs in time are lower, and even more importantly, the impersonal nature of the web reduces the fear of rejection. Everything’s up front, out in the open, making decision making simple. As with retail, friend-making has moved away from loud-mouthed lying and haggling and toward a modern, price-posted environment. What a bargain!