The New York dating scene is dismal.
As a single woman in New York, I can't go more than a few hours without hearing a dating horror story from a friend -- or living through a nightmare myself. "He said he couldn't have another drink at the bar because he was really congested. But if I came back to his place, he could use his nose spray and we could crack open a bottle of wine there!" Or: "He said he needed to get more comfortable. That's when he took off his pants." Or even the classic: "He introduced me to his wife, whom I had not realized existed."
On top of that, we single city women are up against a numbers game. There are 150,000 more single women in dateable ages in the city than single dudes. The odds are never in our favor.
That's why Lauren Kay, the 24-year-old founder of The Dating Ring, decided to try something new. Typically, the startup uses modern-day matchmakers to set up hopeful singles on both one-on-one and group dates, using individual feedback to improve future matches. This time, she wanted to try something more drastic, and "Cross-Country Love: Help Fly NY Women to SF" was launched on a crowdsourced funding site.
As donations poured in ($10,222 to be exact), Kay rounded up 16 single New York women -- myself included -- who agreed to fly across the country in the hopes of finding love...or at least a date who didn't make our skin crawl.
The tone of the trip was nervous at first -- and not without reason. We participants had already been pigeonholed into a specific category of unsavory women, and the trip itself was being watched by the media with scrutiny. Before taking off, we had been likened to WWII "comfort women," "skanks who want to marry millionaires," and women who "will travel for hookup." The headlines were all fresh in our minds when we deplaned.
The author (bottom row, second from left) with 12 of the 15 other women in SF.
The First Night
As we all piled jet-lagged into our hotel rooms, I surveyed the group of women I'd be spending the weekend with. We were photogenic and diverse to be sure -- ranging from early-20s to mid-30s, with careers from actress to firefighter and speech therapist to yoga instructor. Some were looking for love, some for fun, and some were simply looking for whatever the west coast had to offer. I fell squarely in the last camp.
In spite of just having met that morning, we had already sunken into the territory of well-worn friendship: makeup-less, sweats-clad, splayed out on the floor and starving. As food arrived, we ransacked five pizzas and salads alike -- all with our bare hands. Comfort women, we most certainly were not. Professional escorts would have been appalled at our lack of dining tact.
But with cheese hanging from our mouths, it slowly dawned on us: we were just a normal group of women, and we were about to be thrown into one of the most bizarre social experiments of our lives.
The Dating Ring had promised each of us two pre-arranged, totally blind dates to take place on Thursday and Friday nights. On Saturday, we were left to our own devices, mingling at a private party both for donors and then all of TDR's San Fran network.
Here, San Francisco prevailed. I was not fed cheesy lines or back-handed compliments, wasn't insulted, stood up and not a single man surprised me by getting naked mid-date. Honestly, each of my nights was fantastic in its own right.
One of the other women on a Dating Ring date in SF.
It was on Saturday at the open party, though, that I came the closest to finding #crosscountrylove. As soon as Archer* walked in the door, I noticed him. Tall and fit with a movie star smile, he was wearing a button-down flannel (swoon). We connected instantly, eventually moving (with a group our combined friends) to a bar where we could dance. As the night wore on, he asked if I wanted to get out of there -- and I did. Having already revealed my love of nature, he took me to a place in the city filled with stars like I'd never been able to see in the big apple. We laid down in the grass, cuddled, laughed and looked up -- all while I tried to ignore how obnoxiously picturesque this moment was, especially remembering how I had (literally) landed there.
Our Return -- or Backlash, Pt. 2
The dating world is changing -- and rapidly, at that. Nearly 40 percent of singles today have used an online dating site and the stigma of Internet dating is disappearing fast: Just eight years ago, one-third of the population called online daters desperate. Barely one-fifth agrees with that today.
It's in this ever-morphing vein that the reaction to The Dating Ring's San Francisco trip feels outdated, insulting even. It's as though the 24-hour news cycle simply needed another salacious headline to fill the hours, and what better way than to paint us as sex, marriage and and money-crazed?
Case in point: Upon our return, Business Insider penned, "A Bunch Of New York Women Paid To Go To Silicon Valley To Find Millionaires And Ended Up In Tears." And during one interview, a female correspondent asked me -- specifically and unabashedly -- whether I had sex in San Francisco.
In the past, relationships have been defined by physical location. Today, with the help of technology, this no longer has to be the case. This trip to San Francisco was brave and bold -- not only for The Dating Ring, but for each of us on the trip.
So to all of the talking heads, the Business Insiders, the Valleywaggers out there -- did I have sex on this trip? My answer, unflinchingly, is that it's none of your business. This trip was a way for a group of women, disenchanted with our dating lives, to take control and feel empowered again. To break the cycle of bad dates and open up to new experiences.
Was the trip a success? That depends on how you define it. What I do know, though, is that I made some fabulous new girlfriends, went on one of the best dates of my adult life and restored some faith that Mr. Right is out there -- maybe just a plane ride away.
*Not his real name!
Lisa Hoehn is the founder of Profile Polish -- a kickass online dating profile makeover service -- and the author of an upcoming book on dating.