By COREY LEVITAN
I spend way too much time on Facebook conversing with people I don’t know in real life. So I decided, why not try to change that?
Via a series of updates, I invited my Facebook friends to dinner—but only those I’d never met in person. This resulted in what had to have been the strangest party ever to descend upon the private events room of my local Mimi’s Café.
Showing up, mostly alone, were five hardline conservatives, two liberal New York Jews, a vegan, a stunning ex-Mormon real-estate agent standing 6-foot-1, and a 5-foot man wearing a shirt that read “gay short bald atheist and VERY HAPPY.”
(One of the conservatives happened to have been a constable, carrying handcuffs that he showed me, in case things got out of hand.)
There was awkward silence at first, so I filled it in with some pre-scripted jokes and Corona Light beers. Not since my bar mitzvah have expectations run so high on me to perform during a dinner.
I had everyone don nametags and introduce themselves around the table. I wished them all a proactive happy birthday, because there’s no way I’m doing it on Facebook on their actual birthdays.
And I informed them of the marital problems they were causing me, since my wife already thought I spent too much time on Facebook before I invited Facebook out to dinner without her. (This couldn’t be farther from true, since her high tolerance for my hijinks is one of the reasons I married her.)
By the time the appetizers arrived, we were all comfortable enough to broach Donald Trump, Jesus Christ, and other topics people are never supposed to discuss over any dinner—much less one with total strangers.
It felt surprisingly like a Facebook thread. Except in real life and without trolling.
I even tried igniting the kind of arguments I see every day on Facebook—starring some of the very same people—but none would have it. When you’re looking at a real person, in the eyes, you want to find common ground, not call them an idiot and block them.
In fact, my Facebook strangers’ dinner reached a consensus on many important issues. We all had the same problems with Mark Zuckerberg’s algorithm (our average updates reaching only 12% of our friends), processed food (corporations lacing it with sugar to keep you addicted), and with vegans who argue. (Stephanie, the vegan, is a member of a FB group actually titled Vegans Who Don’t Argue.)
I believe I may have unlocked the true potential of the Internet: Using it to coax people away from the Internet, and their philosophical comfort zones, and into real-life exchanges of ideas.
As a matter of fact, if we all spent more real time together over spinach and artichoke dip, wouldn’t the world be a more productive place?
But even if you’re not into that hippie crap, here’s reason enough for you to try this immediately at home: Denise, the 6-foot-1 knockout, told me I might have had a shot with her in my single days. (Her precise reply? “Maybe.”)
Denise just got out of a relationship when she saw my invite on her newsfeed, and it sounded just crazy enough for her to try out, since she’s looking to meet the kind of interesting and creative guys she never seems to find by online dating.
Denise is someone I never interacted with, by the way, or even noticed online. Upon what is her secret admiration entirely based? “I just think your updates are hysterical,” she replied when I asked.
Let me translate: Unless you’re a moron, there’s probably a good chance that some Denise is out there on your friends list, secretly digging your mind. Why not make it your business to introduce her to your body?
By the way, I encouraged my three new single, straight, real-life male friends—Pat, Lee, and Sean—to ask Denise out, since even “maybe” going for me meant that she could probably go for anyone. Unfortunately, all seemed too intimidated.
In addition, should I ever desire to bat for the other team, my Facebook friend/real-life stranger David made it clear that his answer to me would be more than “maybe.”
I told him I was flattered, and then tried out one of his apps that list all the gay men around you who are open to a sexual encounter. (We discovered one user, BgDcks, who was only 247 feet away from our table, but he never replied to my messages.)
The next morning, nearly every attendee flooded my timeline with how much fun the dinner was, wondering when we can do it again.
“I love civil, friendly debates with intelligent people,” wrote Gary, the conservative constable, who drove 200 miles round-trip with his wife, Melissa, to attend. “Add in an intelligent, beautiful, 6’1″ bombshell sitting next to me, and I’ll drive 200 miles to do it again.”
Here’s the thing about that, though: These people no longer qualify for my next Facebook strangers’ dinner, because they’re all my new real-life friends. And I never bother seeing any of my real-life friends.