Welcome to It’s Complicated, stories on the sometimes frustrating, sometimes confusing, always engrossing subject of modern relationships. (Want to share yours? Email pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Since the moment I saw that heart-melting lip bite at the royal wedding, I’ve been thinking about the setup. Or, more specifically, mourning it. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, after all, got together after being set up by friends — and while I’d never want to marry into a family that forced me to wear nude tights whenever I left the house, I can’t say I’m not the tiniest bit bitter that my own friends have never done me the same favor.
That’s not to say that they’re useless when it comes to helping me through my dating life. The opposite, in fact: Some of my friends are great for restaurant recommendations, and others are pretty skilled at decoding all the various possible meanings of the “yeah” in a text message. But lately, as I’ve become more and more disillusioned with the idea of dating apps, I’ve been wondering why the setup seems to be going extinct. My parents met on a setup, and they’ve been happily married for nearly 30 years.
To date, only one friend has attempted to facilitate a meeting between me and a date, but it wasn’t exactly the romantic idea of a setup that I’d grown up with. The guy had seen my photo on a site I used to write for, searched for me on the internet, saw that we had mutual friends, and then asked said mutual friends to introduce us. It wasn’t like said friends had the brilliant idea to match us on their own. And anyway, it didn’t work out.
Experts in these things say that, as with most things that are terrible about modern dating life, we can blame technology. Asking what happened to the setup is “like asking why we don’t communicate via smoke signals anymore,” says Rachel Sussman, a couples counselor and licensed clinical social worker who — twist! — met her partner through a setup. “Technology has made it easier to meet people, so the setup has become less and less the norm.” We’ve become autonomous in our dating lives: We swipe, we slide into DMs, and we creepily watch Instagram stories. We don’t need our friends to intervene anymore.
Except, in my opinion, we do. I may be biased, but this is a hill I’m prepared to die on: I still think that the setup is the perfect way to meet a person. There’s already a natural point of connection, and since you’ve got people in common, it’s safe to say that you’ll likely have other things in common, too. And you’ve already met one another’s friends, so there’s no “is it too early to introduce him?” stress.
Best of all, it helps eliminate the exhaustion that tends to come with first dates with people you meet on apps. Those encounters always feel like they take so much effort just to find something you can both talk about, even though you can tell within the first five minutes whether or not a second date is in the cards for you and the person sitting across from you. And if that answer is no, then you’re stuck listening to them rattle on about their Twitter threads for at least one full drink.
With a setup, on the other hand, it’s like you get the preinterview out of the way before you’ve even met the person. They’ve been vetted by someone who knows you, meaning there’s a better chance that they’re (a) normal, and (b) maybe even compatible with you. Not only do our friends tend to see us better than we see ourselves, but they’re also able to spot connections where we might not be able to. A setup, in other words, is basically insurance against a terrible date — it may not be a lasting connection, but at least the friend playing matchmaker can already attest to the fact that we’ll likely have things in common.
All of which is to say that I would love to hand my dating life off to someone else to manage for a little while. In return, I’ll keep my expectations realistic: I don’t need a Prince Harry, but a cute guy with a stellar record collection would be a good place to start.