After our debut issue, we got a couple of requests to cover groups that are trying to make it easier for busy Hobokenites to interact in real time. Translation: Meet people to hang out with.
Mike Stenzler, founder of Hoboken Social Sandbox (hobokensocialsandbox.com), has been planning events around Hoboken for years.
Stenzler moved to Hoboken right after college. “I walked down the street one spring day and noticed it was a good college town and the perfect combination of having access to the city but not in it,” he says.
Hoboken is a perfect place for the Social Sandbox. “People are moving a lot,” Stenzler says. “They don’t know anyone, and they don’t have a lot of time to meet people they click with. They don’t have the tools to filter groups.”
Member Alexis Walling says it’s a way to bring people “off the Internet and into bars and restaurants.”
But it’s more than just eating and drinking. Group outings include kayacking on the Hudson, fundraisers, bike rides, hiking, ice skating, picnics, movies, and comedy nights. In keeping with its offline—not online—gestalt, the group has planned game nights that feature old-fashioned, hands-on games like Scrabble.
“A guy who had just moved here attended his first event three hours after he got his keys to his new apartment,” Walling says. But it’s not just for newcomers. “I already knew people when I moved here,” Walling says, “but I was looking to make new friends.”
Though Social Sandbox attracts people in their 20s and 30s, it is not just for singles looking to partner up. “People have dated, but it’s not focused on that,” Walling says. “You can come alone or bring a friend.”
OK, technically, Social Sandbox is not a dating group, but let’s get real. Stenzler says of the group’s events: “Men don’t realize it’s the best place to meet women. High-class women join the groups, and it’s the best way to meet them.”
In real time. “A critical mass of people wants to meet other singles,” Stenzler says. “They want a venue to meet people naturally without being at a singles event or a meat market kind of thing. It’s the strongest desire for a single person to get out of the house.”
The group has about 1,600 registered members, some 85 percent of whom are single, ranging in age from 22 to 45. Anywhere from 20 to 60 people typically attend the events. Most are women.
“They won’t say it up front,” Stenzler says, “but they want to meet guys.”
LGBT folks are, of course, welcome, according to Stenzler, but if they are looking for partners, they probably won’t find them in this group. “We don’t discriminate,” he says.
But he’s not opposed to offering a learning experience. “The original idea was one big happy family,” he says, “but we have an array of levels of social adeptness. Some are socially awkward, and some outgoing, and the outgoing get turned off by the socially awkward. The adept are adept at finding the adept, and the awkward, the awkward.”
But there’s hope. “People have grown and become better through these groups,” Stenzler says. “They practice being social,” and their skill at “meeting people has improved.”
Singles aren’t the only ones looking to make new friends. A couples group (http://www.meetup.com/Hoboken-Couples/) is helping partnered people find like-minded Hobokenites to socialize with.
Jason and Balle, who married in 2006, have both lived in Hoboken for more than a decade. They started running the group about 18 months ago.
They plan several events a month. “We pick and choose events and try to get a feel for what people are looking for,” Jason says. “There are plenty of singles-type things in Hoboken—it’s a longtime singles town—but there are more couples than there used to be, staying even after having kids.”
Historically, he says, people came to Hoboken right out of college, but that’s changed. “A lot of people come as couples to town,” he says, “and they don’t know anybody. They come for work or other reasons, and it’s hard to meet people.”
There are about 40 couples in the group, and a typical event will include about five couples. If they’re going to a restaurant or a comedy club, he says, you can’t just bring 80 people, so the first five couples who sign up get to go.
Other events include bowling, game nights, Trivia, picnics, movie and pizza nights, happy hours, brunches, and wine tastings.
The age range is 25-40, and kids are not allowed to come to the events. “Dogs maybe but not kids,” Jason says. And they’re not too specific when it comes to defining “couples.” Says Jason: “You don’t have to be married. You can be engaged or dating or gay. We don’t ask too many questions. They are couples if that’s what they consider themselves.”
Why have a couples group? “There’s no drama,” Jason says. “It’s just people who have common interests. They tend to have the same issues and concerns. It’s a forum to talk to like-minded people. There’s no pressure, no worry about what someone does or does not think about them—quite different from what a single person might encounter.”
Folks who are dating or engaged can get advice from the married set. “If they have questions about weddings, it’s a perfect forum for that,” Jason says. “They’re talking to people who are married and have gone through it.”
Scheduling is more of a challenge for couples than for singles because you have to juggle the busy lives of two people instead of just one. And there can be a couples version of drama. “There are couples who don’t like each other,” Jason says. “Not everybody loves everybody. We don’t kick anybody out, but some people have left the group.”
More common, says Jason, is that “couples click with each other and hang out together. That’s the more likely scenario.”—Kate Rounds