Credit Jessica Northridge

Blind-dating for friends

This semester has seen the introduction of a new, unusual society which has already garnered unprecedented popularity on campus. Our writer, Bruno, catches up with the committee of Dinner with a Stranger Society.  

For Juliette Sartori, October began with a coffee afternoon with four strangers.

“It went really well!” Juliette enthused. “We ended up hanging out for an hour and a half.”

Juliette is the President of the new Dinner with a Stranger (DWAS) Society. Founded earlier this semester, it gives people  the opportunity to have a blind friendship date with a stranger, whom they are matched up with based on a personality quiz distributed to members at the start of every month. Prospective “dinner-mates” are asked questions ranging from their favourite sports, seasons, to their preferred on-campus study space. The committee then facilitates the exchange of members’ contact details, who then plan the meetup between themselves. “It has been incredibly successful”, DWAS’s Vice President Ore Komolafe said. “At first we were expecting maybe 30 people would sign up, but I think we ended up getting around 198. We were very, very shocked.”

The members told The Glasgow Guardian that DWAS was inspired by influencer Jessie Wright, who moved to Melbourne before lockdown with her boyfriend, only to go through a breakup not long after. She, then, used social media to make new connections, hoping that her following would allow her to fill her Thursday nights with – you guessed it – dinners with strangers.

In the first video of her series, Wright says, “People have their people,” bemoaning the difficulties of making friends as an adult – a sentiment that, judging by DWAS receiving hundreds of responses to their first questionnaire, university students seem to share.

Juliette recalls, “In my experience, especially with sports teams, a lot of people were already established in their own groups. Even though a lot of my friends came to the social, I ended up hanging out with a lot of people – everyone wants to go from group to group.” However, the society endeavours to break this status quo – a goal which they have succeeded at so far. Juliette adds, “at our first social, a lot of people went by themselves, which shocked me. Everyone was really open to getting to know each other, and it wasn’t very clique-y, which I liked.” 

This sort of triumph was somewhat unexpected for Juliette, who runs the society with her flatmates. Speaking about the thought process behind DWAS’ formation, she tells us, “one day I just randomly floated the idea in the kitchen, and I was like, ‘would it be weird if we started this society?’” She explains that, at first, she assumed people would find the idea strange, and her flatmates wouldn’t be interested in it. Contrary to her expectations, however, her flatmates took a shine to the idea, with almost all of them getting involved. “The committee is just me and my flatmates hanging out in  a professional setting,” Juliette said, laughing.

Since then, the society has already matched up their first cohort of blind friendship dates. “It took a lot longer to pair people up than we thought, because we didn’t expect these numbers,” Ore admitted. Nevertheless, the numbers and the feedback the committee has received has been a testament to DWAS’s success. “We got a lot of messages through the Instagram from people saying they had a lot of fun, and even that they’re hanging out in their pairs again!” For those more reluctant to have a one-on-one “friendship first-date,” there’s even the option to meet in a group instead. 

So, who are the students most keen to have dinner with a stranger? According to the committee members, most are either postgraduates or students in their first, second and third years, with fewer fourth and fifth years registering. “We’re assuming that you’re pretty settled in your degree at that point,” Juliette offered as an explanation for the numbers.

Making sure students are settling into their degrees while making social connections is fast becoming an issue: recent research has indicated that as many as 92% of students report feeling loneliness at some point during their time in university. Societies like this could be part of the solution. “A lot of people feel lonely coming into such a massive environment, not being around the people you’re so used to seeing all the time: your friends, your family and your closest friends at home.”  “I think this is quite a good way not to go into a massive room and instead just meet one or two people,” Ore said.  It’s a good way to make a close friend out of someone you’ve never met before.”

Having a blind friendship date may not be for everyone, but isolation is definitely for no one. Societies like DWAS could help individual experiences of social isolation, but they will not create structural or social change. Arguably, the relative inaugural success of the DWAS society highlights why higher education institutions like the University of Glasgow should implement programs which fundamentally change how students interact with the University, its support services, and their degree programs, to ensure students feel supported. Although student societies can’t be expected to affect wider change, they can act as a stopgap to make sure that students have the option of feeling more included and meeting peers who are likely going through similar experiences with isolation and loneliness. As both Ore and Juliette said towards the end of the interview, DWAS is for “anyone and everyone.”

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