Meeting people is hard. Meeting people as a millennial in the Midwest is harder — or easier.
It depends on whom you ask and what apps they use.
Minnesotans are notorious for keeping others, particularly non-Minnesotans, at arm's length. They're not cold (the winters are cold enough), but you won't beat anyone away with a stick if you're enjoying a craft beer by yourself at a bar.
In that moment of solitude, you might download Tinder, the dating app once accused of simply being a hookup connection. With a reported 50 million-plus users, it has become one of the dominant dating apps among young people. Users browse people's bios (mainly photos) and swipe left or right ("no" or "yes," respectively) to match with strangers nearby.
The app is blamed for sparking a "dating apocalypse" (Vanity Fair's words) among "Generation Tinder" (the app's words).
Now, Tinder has introduced the next evolution in app-based dating. Unveiled in July, Tinder Social allows you to make a temporary group from your Facebook friends who have also signed up, then achieve "ultimate squad goals" for one night only. Or at least, that's one of the options. With up to three other Tinder users, you choose between about 27 taglines, such as "surf's up" (in the Midwest?) or "girls night out," a favorite among men.
But does it work? There are already multiple apps to let you meet friends/dates/creeps one on one. We wanted to put Tinder's shiny new group feature to the test. So after inviting my crew (read: my roommate), this East Coaster hit the Tinder Social scene on a recent Saturday night in downtown Minneapolis.
5:20 p.m. Meeting strangers in the night
I had planned to wait until 9 p.m. to set up Tinder Social on my phone, but I can't shake the "I'm going to get picked last in kickball" feeling. I open up the app, opt in to the Tinder Social feature and then form a group with my roomie, Natalie.
"I've started the panic," I text her. I swipe right so often in the first two-minute period that the app fails.
7:30 p.m. Pleasantries — too strong a word?
On Tinder Social, the men seem cuter than on regular Tinder, and most of the groups we see are that — men. In the hundred-plus groups, we e-meet only one true "girls night out."
To make a match, one person from each group has to "like" the other group, and one member can override another member's "no."
Do we want to party in a Marriott hotel suite? two men ask. Nope. Do we like (omitted due to vulgarity) play? Patrick asks. Goodbye.
Akshay Bindra and Gautam Pandey are the first to say "yes" to meeting up with us (and appearing in this story). They pick a time and place.
10:20 p.m. Entering bro central at Sneaky Pete's
"This is the Midwestern lumbersexual Jersey Shore," Natalie says.
At Sneaky Pete's in downtown Minneapolis, there are not one, but two men shrouding their dad bods in short-sleeve plaid button-ups rubbing their backs on stripper poles in what may be dancing but looks more like bears scratching themselves.
Bachelorette parties abound, the brides' wedding veils fluttering as they shimmy to remixes of rap jams and top 40 hits.
Akshay and Gautam are late but apologetic. As a conversation starter on the patio, Ashkay pulls out the e-book of "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child," which is a move I could almost respect until he says to me:
"You're like Rita Skeeter."
Rita Skeeter is the tabloid-trash journalist who makes Harry Potter out to be a liar. Not nice! Sad!
11:15 p.m. Cowboy Jack's, third floor by an unlit fire pit
I'm endlessly surprised that this town is big enough for several Western-themed party bars.
Our second group is a Tinder trifecta: a couple who met through a right swipe and now play hype team for their third member.
Michael Durand, the single one, had been on Tinder for two years, in which he made eight matches. He had downloaded Bumble, another dating app, at this very bar underneath a decorative tree — dating sucks.
On his first night of Tinder Social, he and wingwoman Erin Reichow had six matches in two hours.
Michael's Tinder pictures included one of him and his mom (Erin's doing) and one of him cooking bacon shirtless (to Erin's dismay).
"What are you trying to convey?" Natalie asks.
"I'll cook breakfast," Michael says. "Bacon is going to splatter, and it's going to splatter all over me."
We leave them and bring the rodeo downstairs.
Midnight. Finding the bull by its horns
On to the next one. If we can find it.
The third group is playing blend-in-and-seek. Its unofficial leader, Zac Totten, sends a picture of member Josh DeWys by a large cattle skull as a clue.
They are four white guys who do things like love their moms and play hockey together. In Cowboy Jack's, it's like searching for four specific pieces of hay in a haystack.
I navigate the barn wood and flip through their profiles, physically holding up Tinder to random people's faces. Is it you? Is it you? Is it you?
Once together, we learn that three of the guys are visiting Devan Dunneback, an intern in the city and their old high school bud.
With Tinder Social, "you are searching for the same thing you do normally when you arrive to the bar," Josh says. "We would not have the same interaction without that because we already broke down some of those barriers."
12:30 a.m. Shots, shots, shots
Zac leads us in a toast of cheap whiskey shots to friendship — and the future girlfriends and wives they may meet on a dating app someday.
We "woo" and flit about. It's genuinely fun, and everyone is nice, not just Minnesota Nice.
A blond bearded man tells Zac the "Duck Dynasty" arcade game has $14 on it. I'd ask how he decided to spend $14 that way, but I'm wallpaper to him. They cheer with drinks, then part ways as Zac returns to whatever we were talking about.
"What are we doing?" I ask. "Are we just going to ignore the free 'Duck Dynasty'?"
Moments later, Zac and I are shooting mallards and beavers. I'm winning. Then, I'm losing. We're both laughing.
This is the most stereotypical "date night" moment I've had since high school, and it's not even a date. While marriages have bloomed from right swipes, the majority of Tinder users log in to "meet friends."
Regardless of whether Tinder is truly an apocalypse, we take a Snapchat to immortalize our last moments.
The day after
Natalie and I awake to that noxious feeling of "What did I say to strangers last night?" only to meet new Tinder Social messages trying to make Sunday Funday happen. We ignore them.
"Let's get lunch" pops up from another Tinder hopeful. We ignore that, too.
Finally, around 1 p.m., our group "expires." I open Tinder to watch the groups roll past and march out of my messages as the app deletes them.
The ball has ended. The clock rings, and two Tinderellas retire for the weekend.
Danielle Fox • 612-673-4525