A Single’s Guide to Real Connection

The month of February might remind you of how nice it could be to be in love. If you’re looking for something beyond that string of unsuccessful first dates, an intentionally structured experience might be for you.

Photo by Jeff Hobson

It’s Sunday afternoon as people begin to file into a small black box theater. Cheery music plays, name tags are donned, and seats begin to fill. The faces in the theater represent a wide range of ages and identities, all outwardly different but with a few things in common: They’re single and looking for love. 

If walking into this theater sounds like a worst-case-scenario that makes you want to run screaming for the hills, you’re not alone. Even those who signed up for the two-hour event, entitled “The Not Creepy Gathering for People Who are Single and Want to Fall in Love,” seem apprehensive, despite the room’s cheerful mood.

But the tension is dissolved from the space with the arrival of event founder Jenna Bean Veatch, whose warm, bubbly energy gives everyone a reason to relax. She carries her baby on one hip; he has a giddy smile that mimics his mother’s. 

A few minutes later, the music stops, and the event begins. 

The Not Creepy Gathering for People Who are Single and Want to Fall in Love got started in 2015, when Veatch, a multidisciplinary performing artist, had an idea to bring people together to encourage authentic connection between total strangers. 

“I was doing my MFA in interdisciplinary art, and part of that process was making a dance and theater show about the desire for human connection,” said Veatch, 38. “The show attempted to create connection in the moment by having the audience participate. I had an idea to take that concept beyond the show.” 

Veatch contacted a small venue in Bellingham, where she lives, and booked a date for the first iteration of what is now The Not Creepy Gathering. 

The crowd that showed up went beyond the space’s capacity. 

“It seemed clear that I had stumbled upon something that people wanted, that I was filling a need that wasn’t being met in other ways,” Veatch said.  

The two-hour event asks people to take off the armor that many of us spend our days wearing, and mostly involves talking with other people in the group — usually averaging around 50 people, according to Veatch — in pairs and groups of three and four. 

There also are moments for self-reflection and for silliness: Participants are asked to draw a creature on a notecard with their nondominant hand and write a thought they had on the way over to the event in a speech bubble, then put the notecard on the wall where others can see. At one point, everyone sits and writes an anonymous love note to an hypothesized someone who needs encouragement. Those are then passed around several times until each person has a note from a stranger to keep. And a free-writing component allows attendees to reflect on the question, “What do you want?” 

All of these elements are strategically designed to counteract the kind of dating culture that has evolved from so many websites and apps that, in Veatch’s opinion, can feel dehumanizing. 

“(Apps) set up to have people make snap decisions about other people solely based on physical appearance,” Veatch said. “It doesn’t encourage us to think about the lives of the people represented by each of their photos.” 

Since starting the event five years ago, Veatch has hosted The Not Creepy Gathering in Seattle — on roughly a monthly basis — Bellingham, Tacoma, Olympia, Boise, Oakland, San Francisco, and more. 

And at each gathering, whether the result is finding a date, a new friend, or just having the opportunity to practice being vulnerable, Veatch encourages attendees to stay open-minded.

“Stay open to the possibility of connecting with anyone in any way,” Veatch told the people in the black box theater that Sunday. “Don’t write someone off just because they’re clearly not who you came here looking to meet. Try to see the humanity and the value of every person in the room.” 

At the end of the event, Veatch said her hope is not necessarily that everyone has found love, but that everyone leaves feeling proud of themselves for showing up. 

“I think it can be fairly rare in a dating space,” Veatch said, “that people get to feel good about themselves when they leave.” 

Other Experiences to Try

Events and Adventures 

For more than three decades, Events and Adventures has served as a way for singles to meet new people. Now with more than 40,000 members in 10 cities across the country, the Bellevue-based company is dedicated to the idea of taking dating back off-line by organizing fun experiences for its members to try. 

And there’s no shortage of things to do in this off-line dating model. After joining as a member — which includes an interview process and a monthly fee — as many as 50 local events each month open up to try, including things like horseback riding, wine tasting, skydiving, and taking a hot air balloon ride. There are even options to travel the world with a group, be it to Europe, Hawaii, or India. 

Seattle Dating App 

This new app designed specifically for the greater Seattle area — spanning down to Tacoma and up to Everett — wants to take some of the headache out of swiping. With busy schedules and traffic-laden commutes, dating can be tricky, but the Seattle Dating App lets users include in their profile typical availability and neighborhood preferences. They also can list what kind of relationship they’re looking for, whether they want kids, and more. Who knows: It might be one way to melt the freeze. 

Wowzer 

If you’re a single and your main companion is a dog, you’re definitely not alone. Now, your four-legged friend can help you find your human through a new app called Wowzer, which allows users to create a profile for themselves and their dogs, noting breed, age, interests, and more. Match with other dog-lovers and let your pups break the ice for you. 

Go Solo 

Being single isn’t a bad thing. It actually can be incredibly formative — it’s a chance to better get to know yourself, and to stop and think about what it is you really want, both from yourself and from a future partner. Maybe this month can serve as a reminder to continue to invest in yourself (Valentine’s wine and dine for one, anyone?) and to learn more about all the things that are lovely and simple about being alone.

photos courtesy their respective sites; bottom: photo by Sasha Freemind via unsplash

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is an assistant editor at 425 magazine.
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