Dating takes lots of forms in New York City, from scrolling apps in bed until your eyes bleed to falling so hard in love with the sister of a rival street gang that you have to dance fight about it. One form of dating that got some attention recently is a relatively new one: socialist speed dating, a politically conscious meet-up from the Democratic Socialists of America. After debuting last year, the event is returning next week in time for Valentine’s Day.
With the return of that event came expected jokes from right-wing people online whose greatest aspiration is apparently to be in the Greg Gutfeld writers’ room. And sure, it’s easy to envision a room full of earnest, pale young men whose only game is answering the “name a woman” prompt with Naomi Klein. Except that is apparently not what happens: the events are reportedly full of women, while the straight socialist suitors are scarce:
The socialist women have lots of comrades in this department. Ask anyone who runs a speed dating, meet up, dating game show or other single-and-ready-to-mingle hangout in the city and they’ll tell you these events are often light on one important factor: straight men. While tickets to queer events can sell in seconds, organizers trying to help the ol’ fashioned hetero binary (the focus of our story today) happen IRL can struggle.
“The women slots sell out within a day of posting about it,” said Celeste Kaufman, who helps organize a speed-dating event called Booking for Love at the Center for Fiction in Brooklyn. “But getting both straight men and people for the men-for-men group has been historically a little tougher.”
That event, where participants are encouraged to bring a book to discuss, eventually balanced out over the two years it’s been running. But in one instance, organizers had to refund tickets to women until they got down to a roughly equal gender split. (The socialist speed dating event did end up selling out, though the final gender breakdown is unclear.)
Reports of the gender disparity in New York dating are not new and date back decades, spanning at least three presidential administrations, three mayors and one pandemic that led to an epidemic of loneliness, an era ranging from the end of Sex and the City to the reboot of Sex and the City, with the issue even appearing once as a cover story on the Village Voice when such a thing was not only possible but momentous.
So why — in a city where most people are, by in large, hot and interesting — has this been such a persistent problem?
“I think men don’t necessarily choose a new or different option when considering things to do, and are much more accustomed to frequenting an old stomping ground like their local bar,” said Carly Ann Filbin, a comedian who has hosted the Young Hot Sluts dating show for seven years. “They’re comfortable there, and I suspect men don’t have a high tolerance of being uncomfortable like women do.”
Filbin’s show is in the style of The Dating Game, except, you know, sluttier; she tries to pair people of all sexual preferences, but only has one slot for a straight guy.
“Because there’s no way I’d get three,” she said.
Maxine Williams founded We Met IRL two years ago to give young people of color a dating option and to balance out some of the stodgier-looking events she was seeing advertised. (“They just didn’t look cool,” she told The Groove.)
She had similar gender balance problems: women’s tickets “sell out in like milliseconds,” while men’s slots take a week to fill up.
“In the beginning, it was super hard to get men,” she said. “I was pounding the pavement to get the word out to men. It seemed like women were much more open to that idea.”
Other organizers have pounded the pavement so hard it’s surely cracked open now and led to 311 complaints.
“I stumbled on a speed dating in a hotel lobby in Manhattan when checking in,” one Reddit user wrote, “and I overheard the front desk telling a bellhop the group running it would pay them $20 to sit in on it because like two guys had shown up and there were like 20+ women there.”
I’m no longer single, but I did plenty of shifts in the dating mines of New York City as a straight guy. I even went to a few of these kind of meet-market events in the 2010s and did, for lack of a better phrase, clean up. I also watched young ladies walk through the door of one such event at the Bell House, seeing the eager smiles fade from their faces as they calculated the ratio in the room. Speed dating quickly turned into speed hating their decision to attend.
Team Groove’s representative of Singles Nation, Virginia, noted that the dating events are often marketed to women because they’re more likely to expend time and money on that kind of stuff.
“We're not the ones in the middle of an endlessly-trend-pieced loneliness crisis, what gives???” she said to me on Slack. “Also there's a lot of catastrophically bad communication out there in the dating world, which I guess isn't shocking if you can't even articulate to a neutral third party that you care enough to sign up for a dating event.”
The marketing does seem to be a problem for Dan, a single, 35-year-old therapist in Brooklyn who dates women, and one of the guys who isn’t attending these events.
"My first thought is: there's something corny or embarrassing about going to a ‘singles’ event,” he told us.
But as someone in his mid 30s, he realized they do, in principle, make more sense than the apps.
“A big thing is I don't have the awareness that there are such events,” he said. (See, this is why you subscribe to The New York Groove to learn about these things).
Full disclosure: when I was single, speed dating was never quite my thing either. We often jokingly talk about meeting someone in the wild as a “free-range” hookup compared to the apps, so these events feel like just “cage-free” at best to me. But one event always seemed like the slammest of dunks for meeting babes, and it was comedian Jo Firestone’s I Like Your Glasses, which she held a few times at Housing Works in the 2010s. The venue — and Firestone's sweet, talented charm — attracted an eager fan base of well-read women, but they were often stuck picking from the equivalent of the bookstore’s $1 discount rack.
“Straight guys were definitely rare at these events,” Firestone said. “I figured it was a lost cause and just kept doing these events with very few straight men.”
Firestone also hosted a show called Friends of Single People around that time, in which your friend would represent you in a Dating Game-style show on stage. Dave represented me at this once and told the friend-of-the-single-girl that I smelled like stale beer (It was more like what was your ‘essence’ Also I panicked, sue me - Ed.), so she didn’t pick me. But I did hear a woman walking through the crowd afterwards asking “wait, which guy was the vegan alcoholic?” so that’s the level of desperation we’re working with here.
The demographics of New York City might not help: women outnumber men 52 to 48%, according to census data, even as the wage gap still favors men. I’ve laid all these data out to my single guy friends over the years, shaking the favorable odds in their faces like dating Sabermetrics, but few ever took my simple advice to just go to the places where the single women literally paid money to try to meet you.
“It’s cool to say you want the thing, but it’s not cool to look like you’re trying too hard,” Williams said. “I think people love the idea of it being effortless to find someone.”
Kaufman advises men to get over their hesitation and get their asses on some dates.
“They're silly and don’t know where women are,” she said. “I think it just might be some kind of stigma still associated with speed dating and the types of people who would go to speed dating, which I hope is counteracted by this kind of event.”
I searched around for any type of dating event that broke this pattern. Queer dating events, not shockingly, sell out quickly. But there is at least one redoubt where single dudes are plentiful: board game speed dating.
“We have not had that issue,” said Mike Manship, who organizes board-game and pub-crawl speed dating for Quirk Events.
Sometimes more women will sign up than men, or the other way around, but it’s not consistently an imbalance.
“Board games are fairly universal,” he said. “As a result, these sort of events attract a lot of different types of people.”
The company helps keep the balance by offering a discount: bring a friend of the opposite gender and their ticket is half off.
Elsewhere, women are clearly getting bored of all these dating games.
“We are all very busy and it seems like people want to do what’s most convenient for them on a day they don’t have anything else going on,” said one Crown Heights yoga teacher, who wanted to remain anonymous, as dating men in New York is embarrassing enough already. “Which I absolutely understand, but I’m dating to find a partner, not just for something social to do.”
The gender disparity at these events was no surprise to her.
“That requires a level of emotional vulnerability I don’t often see lol and also a level of planning and commitment," she said.
Firestone suggested that maybe the men of the city are just cowards.
“It takes a lot of bravery to date in New York, and when you add a live comedy show component, it really becomes a self-selecting group of people who are interested in that specific type of humiliation,” she said.
That said, at least four couples formed from her dozen or so shows over the years, and at least two of them got engaged.
“Did they get married? I'm not sure,” she said, “but all anyone really wants is a fiancé, right?”
📚 Booking For Love: Literary Speed Dating at the Center for Fiction in Fort Greene, Brooklyn is on Feb. 9. Tickets are still available – but only for men.
🔥 Carly Ann Filbin’s long-running Young Hot Sluts game show returns to Littlefield in Gowanus on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14.
⁉️ Down the street also that night, comedian Marie Faustin’s next Why Are You Single? game show takes the stage at Bell House. 🤝
🤝We Met IRL has POC-focused mixers, parties and speed dating coming up in February.
🎲 Quirk Events is hosting speed dating of different shapes in Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn through April: board games, pub crawls, and even Family Feud-style.
☭ Sorry, Socialist Speed Dating is sold out, but keep an eye out for more events, including queer dating hangs, on the DSA Instagram.