Ying Wang found herself at Rosebud in Somerville’s Davis Square on a recent Wednesday evening. The restaurant’s bar area was bejeweled with a disco ball and sparkling heart streamers. Each of the tables had a different ice breaker activity: card games, crafting stations and bowls filled with questions.

“Still Single?,” billed as “a social event for singles in their thirties(ish),” brought together about 70 young daters all seeking authentic connections.

“It’s tough to find organic ways to have conversation without dating apps — so that also drew me to this event,” Wang said.

Since the pandemic upended social life, many daters have grown tired of swiping — if not forgoing the apps completely. They’re hungry for more opportunities to make authentic connections IRL (in real life), from speed dating to live comedy shows, to dating coaches and matchmakers.

Emily Caulfield, a graphic designer and owner of Still Cute Vintage pop-up shop, had no idea what to expect when she started planning the sold-out “Still Single?” event two weeks before the dozens of singles met in Rosebud. But she thought it was a good idea, given her own dating experiences.

“I know online dating is the way to go for most people, but it doesn’t work for me,” she said.

As people streamed into the bar, Caulfield warmly welcomed them and handed everyone a goodie bag — filled with vintage Looney Tunes valentines, Rosebud lip balm, Hershey kisses, gum and matchbooks — and encouraged them to pick a prompt out of the question bowls.

“I’m hoping this sparks the start of a conversation,” she said.

Ditching the apps

Many daters say that COVID-19 changed the social scene, when people felt like the apps were their only option. According to a Pew Research poll, about two-thirds of single adults say that dating became harder after the pandemic.

Michael Ramsingh, who was at the Somerville event, said he has noticed a change.

“The pandemic definitely changed the dynamic a lot,” he said.

Veronica Page, who was also at the Somerville event, said that online dating feels “gamified” with so many options. She tries to meet people at events like comedy shows or sporting events.

“Dating in general is challenging in this day and age because we have so much choice online,” she said. “It’s fun, but it’s becoming a game of swiping. Even when you match, it’s hard to keep people’s attention spans.”

Speed dating and mixers are nothing new on the dating scene, but in-person events seem to be having a moment post-pandemic.

“It is insane how much of a demand there is,” said Joe Fenti, local comedian and popular TikTok creator. Fenti is hosting two sold-out speed dating events this week at bars in the Seaport and Fenway.

“I think what speed dating does is it gives you a forced opportunity to get to know someone,” he said. “Like, if you're going to a speed-dating thing, you’re saying, ‘I’m open to being conversed with by strangers.’”

“It’s becoming a game of swiping. Even when you match, it’s hard to keep people’s attention spans.”
Veronica Page, who attended the “Still Single?” event in Somerville

New styles of matchmaking

Some community groups are also helping local singles find a match.

The Wenham Street Cinema in Jamaica Plain is a free community theater operated out of Matt Shuman’s garage in the warmer months of the year. Winter is often quieter for their social media account — until Shuman had an idea.

Shuman has a pretty good track record of setting people up. He said he and his wife have successfully matched at least two couples who have gotten married, and decided to make the process more public through the cinema’s Instagram account.

“I think the cinema attracts people who are interested in knowing their neighbors and existing in community with one another, and are perhaps slightly more-than-average open to novel experiences,” Shuman said — including novel dating experiences.

This is the second year they advertised their service on Instagram. The call-out encourages folks to “take a risk.”

Nallieli, who asked GBH only to use her first name, shared her bio on the account. She said it was scary to try something “nontraditional,” but exciting to put herself out there.

“I just thought it would be a good first filter to find someone who was also into creating relationships with the people they live around and friendships,” she said.

‘Nothing to lose’

Last week in Allston, four daters took a bold move to put themselves out there: They went on a blind date in front of a crowd of nearly 100 people. The two men and two women, all strangers, volunteered to take part in the “It’s a Date” show created and hosted by local comedian Jaylene Tran at HAN nightclub.

At each show, the four people answer questions, prompted by audience members, about their hobbies, romantic history, love languages and their celebrity crushes. Then, the audience votes on which two couples should be paired to go on a live date, as everyone watches.

This night’s theme was Lunar New Year, complete with a lion dance. Tran also hosts versions of the event focused on queer and poly daters.

Sophie G., who asked to not use her full last name, was one of those daters. While she said there was no spark with her date, who couldn’t keep up with her energy — and the audience could tell — she’s still glad she took the plunge.

“He’s, like, super nice, super sweet. But I feel like I scarred him — but it was fun,” she said.

Sophie is 27 and lives in Jamaica Plain. She said that she signed up because she “had nothing to lose” and has gotten tired of the apps and the scene in Boston.

Gouthami Sunku went to the event for a girls night out. She said that online dating has been challenging.

“I think often dating when you’re a different race can be really hard,” she said. “I know being Indian, like, there’s so many different expectations from different directions that can make using apps really difficult because it's, like, really hard to explain it. And then it puts a lot of pressure on my first dates.”

Sunku’s friend Dominique Miles is taking a different approach. She recently started working with a dating coach and plans to work with a matchmaker soon “just to figure out what it is that I’m looking for and have more of a strategy,” she said. “But I think it’s worth it. I’m 34, though. Like, you’ve got to make that investment.”