Confessions of a Charlotte matchmaker

Plus: Recapping a busy week — Mecklenburg Covid directive, school closures, sports seasons halted, vaccine distribution changes, longtime council member resigns

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Covid has made dating in Charlotte a challenge. But love finds a way.

THE DATING GAME: Singles looking to forge connections in real life came to this Blind Date Night event at Suffolk Punch last August. (Photo courtesy of Alexis Kaiser)

By Alexis Kaiser

Covid has been a lonely and isolating time for many singles, but not everyone has sworn off love.

I should know — I’ve set up 86 dates around Charlotte in the past 15 months.

I’m a 27-year-old commercial real estate associate by day, but my side hustle is as a matchmaker, through a service I started called Blind Date Night. It matches up singles during speed-dating-esque events and individual blind dates.

I’ve always been a networker and connector of people. In 2018, I started a Charlotte 30s-and-under tennis league that’s grown three times in size. While I’m not single myself, starting Blind Date Night has given me an insider’s view to all things dating in Charlotte.

Typical dates: The typical first date I see these days is grabbing a drink at a brewery — this allows both parties an easy out if things aren’t going great and opens the door for a second date to go to dinner for something new.

My go-to’s for where to send couples? Suffolk Punch, Craft and Olde Mecklenburg Brewery. I’ve seen a lot of couples on picnics at Freedom Park during Covid, which allows people to be outside and bring their new pandemic puppy.

Pre-Covid, I’d see a lot more wine dates at cozy places indoors. But now, singles usually meet up outside. Before last spring, couples would wind up at someone’s place after a couple of dates. But with Covid, now you’re seeing people hold off on that a little longer. It complicates things if there’s a roommate who works in healthcare, for example, who won’t be able to go to work if there’s a Covid exposure.

Covid dating timeline: If I had to write a dating timeline during Covid, it would go something like this:

  • Spring: At the start of the lockdown, when we all thought this may last two weeks and then we’d go back to normal, people downloaded the dating apps and decided that maybe quarantining as a couple together wasn’t so bad and a great way to get to know someone.

  • Summer: Some people who were in long-term relationships grew weary of each other. I started hearing about more and more serious couples calling it quits. People missed their old routines of seeing people at the office, then meeting up for dinner in the evenings and hanging out with friends and groups of people on weekends. These were the couples I thought were the strongest, and it was shocking to see quarantine break them.

  • Fall: The end of the summer signaled the annual arrival of what’s become known as “cuffing season” — the cool months when people are more motivated to couple up. More people were looking for someone to potentially bring home for the holidays. The typical date spots of breweries in South End, NoDa and Plaza-Midwood were still crowded with 20-somethings.

Dating challenges during Covid: Not surprisingly, Covid has thrown new challenges into the dating scene.

When ordering a drink at a bar and waiting in line, masks make it tough to tell who’s cute, how someone is feeling, or who they’re with. It’s hard to meet new people with masks on and tables spread six feet apart. At some spots on weekends, though, it feels almost like Covid isn’t a thing — until last call happens at the early hour of 8:45 p.m. and everyone is home by 10.

Looking for connection: As the pandemic started, I noticed that many people took stock of goals they’d been putting off — maybe starting a book they wanted to write, or finally getting in shape. But as it progressed, I could sense a residual feeling that many desired more connection — especially love.

National reports confirmed that. More singles were turning to dating apps during Covid. Bumble reported a 26% rise in the number of messages sent on its platform. Tinder saw the length of conversations rise by 10-30%.

I’ve seen demand for Blind Date Night grow, too. Here’s how it works: Singles fill out extensive questionnaires that I send them, pay between $10 and $40, and I match them up during events I host at local spots around town or for individual blind dates. Sometimes I arrange blind double dates, which some people find less stressful and more fun.

It seems to be working: By my count, some 33% of singles who were set up on a date or came to one of my events were in a relationship within 6 weeks.

More open hearts, less ‘Netflix and chill’: In my circles, I see that Covid has for many created an increased sense of loneliness and a desire to find a partner. “Netflix and chill” is no longer endearing (if it ever was), and the weight of seeing other people’s engagement photos and pregnancy announcements hits a little bit differently these days.

One bright spot is that singles now come to my events with more open hearts. There is never a guarantee that everyone will leave finding that special someone, but we are one step closer as a community when people are honest and vulnerable.

I remember riding the light rail to work on a packed train pre-Covid and overhearing a conversation between two friends. A guy was congratulating a girl on getting engaged, and when she asked him: “Anyone special in your life?” he replied: “OMG no. This town is the most engaged town ever.”

That exchange has stuck with me, and I hope that one day I overhear someone saying, “OMG, yes! We met on a blind date, actually!”

Alexis Kaiser is a steadfast believer in helping people find love and is the founder of Blind Date Night. To sign up for the next event on Feb. 6, head to Blind Date Night’s Instagram.



Today’s supporting sponsor is Soni Brendle:


This week in Charlotte

On Saturdays, The Ledger sifts through the local news of the week and links to the top articles — even if they appeared somewhere else. We’ll help you get caught up. That’s what Saturdays are for.

Politics

  • City councilman resigns: (Ledger) James Mitchell, one of Charlotte’s longest-serving and best-known city council members, resigned Monday after questions arose about potential conflicts of interest from his new role as president and part-owner of a construction company that has major contracts with the city. WFAE and The Ledger examined those potential conflicts in an article last week (🔒). Since he was first elected to the City Council in 1999, Mitchell helped steer many economic projects to Charlotte.

  • N.C. impeachment votes: (Observer) The U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday to impeach President Donald Trump for the second time, for “incitement of insurrection.” North Carolina’s representatives were split down party lines, with Republicans voting against and Democrats voting in favor of impeachment. There will be no Senate trial until after President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in on Wednesday.

Education

  • CMS extends virtual learning: (Ledger, WFAE) After Mecklenburg County Health Department Director Gibbie Harris issued a new non-binding directive to try to reduce rising Covid numbers, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board delayed students’ return to in-person classes until mid-February. The new plan calls for students in grades preK-5 and in K-8 schools to return to buildings starting Feb. 15, with middle and high schoolers going back Feb. 22. CMS in-person sports, marching band and club activities are also canceled until Feb. 15.

  • Did health director flip-flop on schools? (Ledger 🔒) County health director Gibbie Harris told the media on Monday afternoon that “we believe that schools are in reasonable shape to be able to handle the number of children that they were seeing in December. … We understand the importance of our children’s ability to be in a school setting to learn as well as they can learn. We support that.” A little over 24 hours later, on Tuesday afternoon just hours before a key school board meeting, she issued an advisory directive recommending schools keep classrooms closed. In two subsequent news conferences, she denied any inconsistency: “Not much changed, from my perspective,” she said Wednesday. “Our recommendation to the school system when we talked to them on Monday was that they not reopen. … I’m hoping this is what I said on Monday.”

Local news

  • New county Covid directive: (Ledger 🔒) Mecklenburg County issued a non-binding 9-point Covid directive Tuesday calling for businesses and schools to go remote if at all possible for the next three weeks. It caused some private schools to cancel classes on Wednesday and had some business leaders struggling to figure out how they should respond. At least six museums closed their doors for three weeks, and libraries and recreational facilities also closed or trimmed their schedules.

  • N.C. opens vaccine distribution to 65+: (Ledger) North Carolina cleared healthcare providers to begin administering the Covid vaccine to patients aged 65 and up. In Mecklenburg County, that means about 79,000 people are newly able to get the shots. Atrium and Novant have started taking appointments for the vaccine, and the county health department hopes to do so soon — but appointments are mostly weeks away.

  • ASC president resigns: (Ledger) The Arts & Science Council announced this week that Jeep Bryant will step down as president on Jan. 29 after 15 months on the job. His tenure came at a tough time for arts groups, with voters striking down a quarter-cent sales tax in November 2019 that would have boosted arts funding, and then the pandemic which heightened financial woes for the arts.

  • Rent and mortgage assistance program runs dry: (WCNC) Eight months after it began, Charlotte’s Rental Mortgage Assist Program (RAMP CLT) has run out of money, leaving some 2,000 people with bills in need of paying. The city is awaiting further federal funding that it hopes would come with a new stimulus package.

Business

  • What is a ‘directive’? (Ledger, WFAE) Many businesses scrambled to try to understand this week’s Covid directive from the county health department — and most seemed to conclude they did not need to change their practices, since it is non-binding.

  • Belk in trouble: (Observer) Charlotte-based department store Belk, once a regional retail powerhouse, is in severe financial crisis. The company was struggling before the pandemic, and Covid has only made things worse.

  • Charlotte’s rosy real estate market: (Agenda) Early predictions for Charlotte real estate have it as the No. 3 housing market in the country for 2021. Average home prices increased throughout last year, and as the city moves out of the pandemic, there should be a boom in sales.

Sports

  • CMS cancels high school sports through mid-February: (Observer) Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools canceled most high school sports until at least Feb. 15 — a decision that’s disappointing some student-athletes, because many districts across the state are still playing. CMS made exceptions for teams that are competing for regional or statewide titles. A Myers Park High basketball player, whose team played its first game this week, told WBTV: “You don’t really realize how much you miss it until you’re finally, like, doing it and on the bus and with the team. It’s just so much fun, and it stinks that we got just a tiny glimpse of what that felt like, and then it was all taken away.”

  • Panthers hire new general manager: (ESPN) The Carolina Panthers on Thursday announced that Scott Fitterer, vice president of football operations for the Seattle Seahawks, will be the team’s new general manager. He’ll replace Marty Hurney, who was fired in mid-December.

Good reads

  • Was Queen Charlotte Black? (Washington Post) The hit new Netflix period drama “Bridgerton” has captivated audiences with its portrayal of British monarchs in a multi-racial context. Some scholars have wondered if its take on Queen Charlotte — the German princess who married King George III and inspired the name of our city — is actually portrayed accurately as Black, given her possible Portuguese and African ancestry.

  • No vaccine for some doctors: (Friday 🔒) Charlotte-area physicians who see Covid patients are having trouble getting the vaccine if they don’t work for Novant or Atrium. They say the distribution for independent physicians is going slowly, while the major hospital systems are vaccinating dermatologists and plastic surgeons.

  • Covid havoc at nursing homes: (Observer) Olde Knox Commons did everything right to weather the initial surge of Covid cases, becoming one of the few nursing and retirement homes not to record a single case. The second wave hasn’t been so kind, already infecting 83 people and causing two deaths.

  • Finding a lost drone: (CLT is Creative) When the 5 and 2 Project’s Kevin Young saw signs taped up around town of a young boy who had lost his new drone on Christmas Day, he knew he had to help.

Ledger originals

  • SouthPark apartment tower scuttled (Friday 🔒) Plans for a 15-story apartment tower in SouthPark have changed, with a new buyer and a different vision for a prime spot on Fairview Road across from SouthPark Mall.

  • Luxury sports seating: The Charlotte Hornets are exploring adding what they are calling “loge boxes” to the Spectrum Center, which are envisioned as pricey but perk-filled additions, according to a fan survey sent last week (Monday). And not to be outdone, the Carolina Panthers have started offering tours of ultra-luxury ground-level suites and a club called “The Gallery.” (Friday 🔒)

  • Kings market co-owner dies: (Wednesday) David Simpson, beloved co-owner of the company that runs the Kings Drive farmers market, died of Covid on Jan. 5. He is remembered as a friendly, personable presence by all who knew him.

  • Writing tips: (Wednesday 🔒) Need to improve your writing? Author Tommy Tomlinson shows you how with his addition to the Ledger’s 2021 “A Better You in 2021” series.

  • Get organized: (Friday 🔒) Put time back in your day with a few simple tips from local organization pro Brie Chrisman.

  • Futuristic shuttle: (Wednesday 🔒) Centene and the city of Charlotte are talking about a driverless shuttle to link the company’s new campus and a light rail station.

  • Thinking of life after Covid: (Monday) With vaccine on the way, an 86-year-old resident of a Matthews retirement community says she’s looking forward to in-person visits and games with friends.

  • Happy birthday, Holly: (Monday) A misdirected birthday email wound up in thousands of Wells Fargo inboxes — and so did all the reply-alls.

    Compiled by David Griffith


Programming note: Because of Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, the next regular edition of The Ledger will be on Wednesday.


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Executive editorTony MeciaManaging editorCristina BollingContributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN AdvisoryReporting intern: David Griffith