“Here” is a warehouse space on Hanover Place NW, a dead-end street in Truxton Circle that used to be an open-air drug market in the 1980s. Now it’s a hip spot to host a party, complete with twinkle lights and GIF-making photo booth. “This” is the one-year anniversary party of the Offline Society, a D.C. social club that’s all about getting singles off their phones and connecting in person.
Mason, a 29-year-old software account executive, heard about the Offline Society by way of her new friend Paris Scott, who’s so over online dating. “I sent out 10 messages on Bumble today, and got like two back,” Scott says, referring to the dating app where women have to make the first move.
Scott joined the Offline Society a year ago. “I’ve been on all the other dating apps,” she says. “Why not try the non-app?” She hasn’t made any love connections through the club’s parties, but one of her friends did.
There are so many ways to meet someone and yet so much malaise. Online, singles swipe, match and message. Then mayyybeeee they’ll meet up. It’s a lot of work for connections that often don’t stick. This is the problem Rebecca Yarbrough, the 29-year-old founder of the Offline Society, is trying to solve. “People use technology so much, but there’s fatigue with it. They’re tired of dating apps or refusing to use them in general.” And then there’s the fact that it can feel so impersonal. “People treat each other like you wouldn’t face to face,” Yarbrough says. “There’s a lot of misplaced emotion.”
Take, for example, Yarbrough’s boyfriend. They were friends before they started dating — he came to one of the club’s first events last year — and she says she would’ve swiped right past him if he’d popped up on a dating app. “It’s easy to forget how certain traits and qualities make you feel in real life,” she says. Like her boyfriend’s straightforward nature.
By inviting members to events that might align with their interests — such as whiskey tastings or intimate dinners — Yarbrough is trying to create connections that feel more natural than a dating app. And though the events, with $20 to $30 entrance fees, are specifically for singles ages 22 to 36, they lack the meat-market atmosphere of a speed-dating event or a club. It’s more like a party where everyone just happens to be single. It’s free to join the Offline Society; there’s an online signup sheet that resembles what it’s like to register for a dating app. The fees come in only when members sign up to attend an event.
But shhh, maybe don’t say the S-word. “We don’t say single because I feel like it has, not a negative connotation, but it’s a very narrow word,” Yarbrough says. Instead she brands Offline Society events for “romantically unattached men and women who are interested in the opposite gender.” Once the group’s membership grows a bit more — it’s now at around 600 members — Yarbrough says she’ll add LGBTQ events as well.
Though the Offline Society bills itself as an alternative to online dating, it isn’t completely no-tech. Yarbrough is testing a tool that’s part dating app, part party guest list. It allows members to indicate interest in one another and then sends that information back to Yarbrough, who can curate events specifically for people who might hit it off in person.
The members who show up seem to appreciate that they’re getting a unique experience: a party where at least they know everyone is single and ready to mingle. Where popping into a group of people to introduce yourself is more expected than intrusive.
Su Saan, a 36-year-old man in attendance, calls the Offline Society parties “a little low-key, a little off-key.” He’s done with 14th Street. “Being older, you want to go to the unknown places, because the kiddies go to the known places” such as Policy, Griffin, Lost Society, Marvin’s and more. “You can go to a bar and hook up. But if you’re looking for something real, something genuine … you want to go to more niche places.”
“Unknown is a little sexier,” he says.