Last summer, my mom hired Bobby on TaskRabbit to reassemble furniture when I moved apartments in Arlington, Virginia. As he returned items to his toolbox, getting ready to leave, my mom made a suggestion: “Why don’t you guys stay in touch?”
Bobby punched his number into my phone, and my cheeks reddened. He built my bed that day, and months later, I texted him out of the blue. We started dating.
Tinder and Bumble get all the attention when talking about dating in the age of smartphones, but there’s something to be said for the apps that bring people together for other reasons, and occasionally lead to love nonetheless. Think Uber, Lyft, or TaskRabbit—components of the gig economy where it’s perfectly normal to meet someone new.
Take the example of Prabarna Ganguly and Eric Wistman. They first met as riders sharing an UberPool in January 2018 in Boston. Over the course of their 15-minute ride, the two talked about Wistman’s work as a math teacher, bonded over their disdain toward mixed fractions, and discussed Tom Brady.
“Before I get out of the car, I was like, ‘she’s cute and it seems like we’ve had a connection,’” Wistman told CityLab. “I wondered if I should ask for her number, and then I just thought that’d be too ridiculous and too forward.”
Ganguly added, “In that moment, I obviously didn’t want him to leave. But at the same time I knew how ridiculous the whole situation was.”
After Wistman left the car to watch the Patriots game with friends, Ganguly chatted with the Uber driver. “I have never met two people who can be this compatible,” she recalled the Uber driver telling her. She told the driver that it would be nice to connect with this guy, but she was never going to see him again.
About 20 minutes after Wistman exited the Uber, he received an alert on his phone saying an item was left behind. He texted the driver, who Wistman remembered responding: “Dude, I don’t want to get into your personal business, but I think you and that girl had a connection. I think it would be a shame if nothing were to ever happen. She said her name is Prabarna and that she’s the only person in the world with that name, so that should be a good place to start if you’re trying to find her.”
Wistman took the driver’s advice, looked up Prabarna online, and sent an email to the address listed on her grad student profile. More than a year after their serendipitous encounter, they’re still dating.
Ed Santos met his wife after he shared an UberPool ride with her best friend. He was riding in New York City with his fellow passenger, Rachel, who connected him to her friend Jill after their ride in late 2015. They got married in March 2018. Jill was surprised, but decided to go on a date with Ed because she trusted her friend’s judgement and figured it would be a “funny story regardless of how it works out.”
“I never thought I’d marry a man through Uber,” Jill Santos said.
Of course, not everyone should expect to find love when they hail a ride (for one thing, the industry’s harassment problem is real, and can’t be overlooked.) But these stories reveal a sliver of where the old and new orders overlap in today’s dating scene. Apps like Tinder have been blamed for ushering in the “dating apocalypse,” with Vanity Fair writing in 2015 that, “People used to meet their partners through proximity, through family and friends, but now Internet meeting is surpassing every other form.”
On Tinder, users famously go back and forth for days or weeks without ever meeting the person on the other end. If there’s any advantage to being in an Uber or Lyft, it might just be the chance for a serendipitous meet-cute, plus a third party to play Cupid, as Wistman and Ganguly’s Uber driver, Jill Santos’ best friend, and my mom all did.
Ganguly contrasted the more spontaneous meet-up in an Uber with the level of curating that happens in dating apps “so that somebody else might find it appealing,” she said. “This kind of story made us a little bit more sensitive towards… finding the beauty in things that can be lost because of the way that technology is harnessing love.”
In many ways, the conversation around modern dating involves the same concerns that have been around for generations. As Moira Weigel explained in her book Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating, Americans didn’t really date until 1900, and ever since, “experts have constantly declared that dating was dead or dying.”
And while app-based services might feel new, they’re also reinventions of the old. People have been meeting in cabs for ages, after all.
“It’s weird to say that meeting in the back of an Uber feels old-fashioned,” Wistman said, “but the idea of meeting somebody in the world and sensing a connection and then acting on that connection, I think, is something that’s not as common anymore.”