I went Meetup mad. I logged a nearly five-mile run in the shadow of the monuments, took a lesson from veteran salsa dancers in the subtle art of working it, shed my usual heels and hit the hiking trails — I even rode a party bus — all with complete strangers. With my little experiment, I’d intended to prove that I could fill my calendar with meetup after meetup, but with it came an altogether different result: With each outing, I grew more confident; I could fly solo and have a great time doing it.
Meetup.com was launched 10 years ago in New York in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. An open invitation to defy the instinct to hide out in our homes, it gave mommies and rock climbers and techsters a way to find one another outside of chat rooms and instead plan play dates, expeditions and happy hours. “Every Meetup,” co-founder Scott Heiferman wrote in an e-mail to users last month, “starts with people simply saying hello to neighbors.”
In Washington, described so often as a “transient city” that one wonders if it isn’t printed on all plane tickets to Reagan National Airport, the most frequented Meetup gatherings are social ones, revolving around networking, making friends or bringing together singles. With such a thriving Meetup community — the sixth most active in the nation — it’s possible to scratch just about any itch, whether you’re a geography buff (for whom there is the GeoNerds DC Meetup), a Francophile (try the very active DC French Meetup) or simply slay at board games (see: VA/DC Social Boardgame Meetup). Often, it’s as easy as searching for an interest, clicking to RSVP and then showing up — and not only is it acceptable to arrive solo, it’s the norm.
“Meetup lends itself to people coming out on their own, without having the need to drag someone along,” says J.T. Yaung, a lead organizer in the area’s most populous Meetup group, the 20s & 30s Going Out Group.
Yaung’s group — one of the five I visited in my meetup-filled week — draws a mix of singles and classic transients, 20-somethings who have landed their first big job in a new city (or are looking). But others attract an incredibly diverse mix of people, ranging from longtime locals rethinking their social circles as their friends couple up to empty-nesters trying new hobbies.
What follows is the lowdown on how some of the area’s most popular Meetups groups have managed to help people find their niche.
“The stories — people getting married, people finding great buddies — it’s so uplifting,” says Kellie Carlisle, who in 2007 founded the Mid-Atlantic Hiking Group and has since seen the group transform into a network of thousands of outdoors enthusiasts. “That’s the story of Meetup. We don’t have little cliques to shut people out.”