Giving up your cellphone in a room full of strangers is, in almost every way, a horrifying demand. But it's the first thing requested at one of Perchance's events, where social crutches — like phones — are all removed to create the ultimate anti-dating app mixer. Co-founded with Lyndsey Wheeler, the startup prides itself as being a "direct response to digitally-driven loneliness" by curating in-person gatherings intended to foster "authentic connection."

Perchance's first mixer for gay and queer men was hosted this summer at Recess IRL in Soho, and promised the silver lining of complementary CBD cocktails — something to at least fill the space in your grip where a phone would otherwise be glued for safety. The open bar, however, was just as strategic: you could only order someone else a drink, never one for yourself. And their rules continued from there: No work talk, and name tags were traded out for stickers printed with conversation starters. I chose two: "Prince" and "Lizzo," because taste.

During the speed dating portion, after I'd targeted at least two prospects to order me panic drinks, Perchance guests were grouped into even/odd numbers. This is how they organized the five-minute one-on-one sessions, where we scratched a card with a penny to reveal a question. First, those who got odd numbers moved seats, and then evens. In some cases, five minutes wasn't enough time to get to know someone; in others, it felt too long, and became the perfect opportunity to request another cocktail.

Beyond match-making, the Perchance mixer doubled as a validating social experiment. Without using our careers to flash in a stranger's face, a room levels out. It becomes impossible to gauge someone's success or determine their 'worth' based on a perceived salary you'd typically attach to a job title. Without our cellphones, you're forced to make eye contact and strike up conversation — and fill any in-between alone time with real human interaction, rather than opening Instagram or checking emails.

After every event, Perchance emails a list with all the guests that attended your particular mixer, inviting you to choose anyone you matched with on both a romantic and friendship level. If the feeling is mutual, they'll send a separate email connecting the two, and encourage both to set up time to meet within the following week. In a world of app-driven communication, this format is intentional — just like the rest of Perchance's tactics. I matched with one of each, and hung out with them both soon after as instructed. With this shared singular experience, we already had something in common, and in the case of my romantic match, we'd already knocked out that awkward first date in five minutes.

Below, Wheeler breaks down Perchance's formula and their mission to bring "belonging, community, connection and love to people everywhere." For more information on how to apply to a Perchance event, visit meetperchance.com.

What was your original goal in creating Perchance?

We started Perchance earlier this year as a direct response to digitally-driven loneliness. While we're living in the most technologically connected time in history, people feel more isolated, depressed and anxious than ever, which is largely due to an unhealthy relationship with smart phones, social media and dating apps. Perchance is on a mission to bring belonging, community, connection and love to people everywhere and dating is our first frontier.

How do you view the modern dating scene?

When you break down the dating scene today, people have a handful of not so great options. Option one is to head to the apps and start swiping — an addictive experience that is gamified to keep you on your phone rather than out in the world on dates. While apps give you a greater volume of possible matches, the downsides are inefficiency, inauthenticity and an inability to feel chemistry and personality in your partner. Option two is is walking into a bar and crossing your fingers that there are cool, interesting and interested singles there who are looking for the same thing that you are. There are matchmakers — usually high cost and a more niche way to meet people. And then there are a variety of singles events out there that are uncurated and often feel cheesy and uncool.

"While we're living in the most technologically connected time in history, people feel more isolated, depressed and anxious than ever."

How do you think Perchance is helping solve these problems?

Perchance is a better alternative that takes meeting and dating into the real world and brings back the magic of meeting in person. Rather than swiping endlessly, we curate groups of exceptional people for in-person gatherings in unique places around the city. No two events are the same — due to a unique alchemy of people, place and moment in time. People come to Perchance because they're sick of the apps, sick of their existing social circles and are looking for fun, authentic ways to meet amazing people. Our gatherings are welcoming, warm, fun and lighthearted. The bottom line is to have fun, meet some awesome people. If they make a new friend or find a romantic partner, even better.

Every element of the Perchance experience is considered. How do you go about curating these experiences?

There are a few key ingredients to the Perchance experience. Step one is creating a container for the experience to unfold. We set rules (i.e. taking away phones and limiting work talk) for our gatherings so that everyone is on the same page and primed to connect. We are very intentional with space and ambiance — opting for venues that are warm, inviting, and unique. People often overlook small elements like music choices, volume and lighting, but these are key in creating an environment that is ripe for connection so we pay attention to these details.

In terms of format and flow, we balance structured and unstructured activities to allow for different personality types to thrive. Activities can help break the ice for those feeling more reserved and the mingle time can give freedom to those who want it. People are the most important element of the experience and our guest list is also curated. We try to bring in a great mix of personality types and backgrounds, while selecting for certain shared attributes. A great group dynamic is the most essential element of any gathering.

"Rather than swiping endlessly, we curate groups of exceptional people for in-person gatherings in unique places around the city."

Why do you think it's important to remove phones?

Both rules are designed to form more authentic connections between guests. It's no secret that phones are a distraction and provide an escape from reality. When it comes to making genuine connection, phones can be a huge obstacle — even on a subconscious level. When you're nervous or uncomfortable, rather than introducing yourself to a stranger you're likely to pull out your phone and busy yourself with email or Instagram. When you're mid-conversation and the phone in your back pocket buzzes, it's impossible to focus on your conversation and your mind races to the dozens of other things that are going on in your digital world. We've actually been really impressed with how excited people are to hand over the phones for the evening and submit themselves fully to the experience. And by not having their phones for the evening, people end up being more present and lingering longer afterwards.

And limiting work talk?

We encourage guests to talk about topics other than work for a few reasons. In cities like New York, people often wrap their entire identity up in their professions. In reality they are complex, interesting and unique people with so much more to offer than just their job. Not allowing people to talk about work removes a big identity crutch and as a result helps people open up and be more vulnerable faster. It also leaves a bit of mystery and intrigue — something for people to wonder about and discover later after the initial match. Perchance isn't a networking event and we don't want people attending with ulterior motives (i.e. finding a job). Everyone is there for the same reasons, which is why the events are so successful.

"Not allowing people to talk about work removes a big identity crutch and as a result helps people open up and be more vulnerable faster."

At the end, you connect matches over email — another anti-app step in the process. Why?

When building Perchance, we didn't just reject apps outright — we wanted to incorporate aspects of online dating that actually work (and facilitate consent). We love that dating apps have a mutual match process — both parties have to indicate interest to be matched. The same goes for Perchance. The matching process involves guests completing a survey to indicate anyone they felt a spark with — either romantic or friendly. If the feelings were mutual we connect them together on an email thread to continue the conversation. The process isn't as quick as a dating app, but is more intentional.

What does the future of Perchance look like?

Being a human connection company, we envision a future in which we aren't just creating romantic relationships but relationships of all types and for all life stages. We're already seeing this with friendships at our existing events. Each gathering produces nearly double the number of friendly matches then romantic ones, which is really exciting. This also means continuing to host more LGBTQIA+ events, as we believe that every person deserves to feel connection and belonging.

To make this possible, we're also building technology to help facilitate IRL connection. We believe that when built ethically and intentionally, technology can actually help us supercharge magical gatherings, get more people gathering, and helping to connect them after the fact. We are excited to expand our reach and help people find joyful and fulfilling relationships all over the world.

Photo via Getty

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