Online dating sites sponsor offline social events for singles

| Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, 8:24 p.m.

Online dating sites are using everything from bowling nights to bourbon-tasting to book swaps to get singles out from behind their computers and into social situations.

What seems like a return to the old days of singles mixers and blind dates is actually a move among companies to improve user experiences, industry insiders say. Sites are organizing group outings that let users get to know each other in casual settings and alleviate the pressure that can accompany one-on-one first dates.

“The goal has always been to bridge the online dating with the offline world,” says Cayla Gebhardt, spokeswoman. “People really just meet online. The goal is to get out and see how singles interact in real life.”

To that end, Match, the largest online dating site with 1.8 million active members, launched The Stir, a campaign aimed at getting singles together at group outings. Stir events can include everything from happy hours with more than 100 people to smaller happenings like wine-tastings or rock-climbing outings that accommodate no more than 50. members can bring nonmember friends to the events with them, Gebhardt says.

“We noticed a lot of women just don't go places by themselves very often,” she says.

Since launching The Stir, there have been 1,500 events held in 80 markets. In Pittsburgh, happy hours are held at popular restaurants such as Savoy and Bar Louie.

Match surveys attendees after each event. Eighty percent say they'd go to another one, Gebhardt says.

“They can meet people with the same background,” she says. “They're not walking into a bar wondering who is single and who is not. You don't have to guess people's intentions.”

Julie Spira, online-dating expert and author of “The Perils of Cyber-Dating: Confessions of a Hopeful Romantic Looking for Love Online” (Morgan James Publishing, $16.95), says offline events are win-win for sites and users.

“The ultimate goal is to meet somebody in the real world,” Spira says. “Otherwise, you end up with a digital pen pal.”

Spira, who attends Stir events, says group settings create a great opportunity for people to meet their online crushes in a casual way.

“Maybe you have your eye on someone. You can say, ‘By the way, I noticed your profile on or Plenty of Fish.' It's a really great ice breaker,” she says. “It takes the intimidation factor out.”

Meeting a person who's seen your profile can occasionally backfire, Spira admits.

“They might say, ‘I wrote to you five times, and you never wrote back,' ” she says. “If someone's a jerk online, they're going to be a jerk offline.”

Free site OkCupid has been organizing events such as karaoke, painting classes and trivia nights for site users in the New York City area since July. The site makes sure attendees at each event are compatible matches.

Last month, the site launched a mobile app for smartphones called Crazy Blind Date. Users choose which night they'd like to go on dates and pick their favorite bar or coffee shop. The app searches for a compatible date, then sends a confirmation to both parties.

The goal of online-dating sites is to get people out into the dating world, says Justine Sacco, OkCupid spokeswoman.

“It adds another element of user engagement and interaction,” she says. “It adds something very valuable to their social lives.”

Some Pittsburgh-area offline group events have been gaining popularity. Leslie Ferrari, 53, of Mars has been organizing singles dances on select Saturday nights at the West View VFW for five years for singles age 40 and older. Each event draws around 300 people, a third of whom are new each time, she says.

“Some are widows or widowers, divorced or people who are just single and want to get out with their peers,” Ferrari says.

The dances draw people from Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, who enjoy a variety of music ranging from Top 40 to line-dancing. The dances have led to at least 50 couples getting engaged or married, Ferrari says.

Some have used online-dating sites and still do, but she says most prefer the casual group setting the event provides.

“They develop a camaraderie,” she says. “In person, they can make a connection, but it doesn't hurt to start online.”

Sandy Bizon, 52, of West Deer has tried online sites, but prefers meeting people in person at the dances.

“You're not going back and forth forever,” she says.

Tim Kakascik, 65, of Steubenville, Ohio, says the group setting mingled with the dancing makes meeting new people easy.

“You won't be stuck with someone more than a three-minute slow dance,” he says. “If you don't like them, you can walk away. There is safety in numbers.”

Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or

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