"I've never made out with him," Lauren Leto told me last week, between puffs of a Parliament Light. The 24-year old brunette, rocking a little black dress and flat boots, was debunking my suspicions that she might be romancing her notoriously cute business partner, Patrick Moberg, the talented artist perhaps best known for making the website NewYorkGirlofMyDreams.com in 2008.
Leto and Moberg recently launched the well-funded start-up BNTER, a site that stores the best conversations between users and their friends. BNTER comes on the heels of Leto's big Internet hit, TextsFromLastNight.com, the website that earned her two book contracts, a TV deal, and, reportedly, lots of money. But back to girl talk: "It's the same with [Texts co-founder] Ben [Bator]," she explained. "I picked such attractive co-founders, people assume we must all be dating. But, no, no, no. We're co-employees! And the thing people don't understand is that when you're, like, writing checks with someone — when money is involved — you become so sexually unattractive to that person." She exhaled. "This is why I can never get married."
Leto was smoking outside an East Village apartment playing host to the Silicon Alley version of a singles mixer — a meet-up for users of HowAboutWe.com, the dating website Brian Schechter co-founded on Valentine's Day in 2010. Users suggest date ideas or contact people whose ideas they like. "How about we go to an underground supper club?" was among the site's most popular date ideas during its first year, so Andy and Ashley — a couple who met on How About We — decided to throw the soiree, and Apt. No. 4, a traveling group of foodie friends, worked the kitchen, supplying lobster bisque and teriyaki char and drinks. Leto was a featured single on How About We this month: She answered every question with a quote from the Kelis song "Bossy"; she said she was at the party to support Schechter and not necessarily to find a man.
Nick Gray, the quick-witted Williamsburg party boy, would have it otherwise, though. "Lauren and I haven't dated yet, but I'm trying," he told us. When Leto offered no reply, Gray joked, "Awkward ..."
How About We's Schechter, meanwhile, admitted that online dating might always carry a stigma: "People say [the stigma's] decreasing, and soon there won't be any," he told us. "But when you go onto an online dating site, in some way you're confessing, 'I don't have what I want,' which is not necessarily an attractive thing. People tend to find someone attractive who has what they want. So I wonder if it's actually a psychological or cultural or almost biological thing: 'I want the one who doesn't need.'" He added: "I do think it will become increasingly normal. It's efficient. And a site that's about having fun and not confessing, necessarily, that you don't have something you want, is more likely to attract people. You're just saying, 'I want to try new restaurants!' Etcetera." Schechter has a girlfriend who he didn't meet over the Internet, but he said he still gets several e-mails a day with the subject line "How about we ...?"
Gray is one fan of the site who hasn't had much success on it yet: "I think my date ideas are intimidating to some people," he told us. "I used to think that I was a real catch, and now I've only had three people who wanted to go on my dates. Some people write, 'How about we get high and eat pizza?' and they get, like, one hundred people interested. And I write, 'Let's go to Rio for New Year's Eve!' Or, 'Let's go to Greece and open a falafel stand!' And people are like, 'Eh. Weirdo.'"
Leto claims she doesn't send many late-night texts of her own anymore because she gets up at six every morning, "so nervous" that something might have happened overnight. Telling us she still "lives poorly," she admitted she recently got an apartment of her own in Brooklyn. "I bought furniture, and I'm an adult," she added. But of dating in New York, Leto lamented: "Everyone wants something from you."
What she wanted from me, at least half-seriously, was less attention. At one point, she pretended to have stolen my tape recorder so that I couldn't report on her any further. And when I asked too many questions, she said: "This is going to seem like navel-gazing for myself. No navel-gazing allowed!" But she's just so good at all this, I informed her, as at least half the men at the party tracked her across the room. On cue, with a seemingly legitimate confusion, she asked, "Good at what?"