Thursday, September 15, 2016

The On-Stage Blind Date

There’s an interesting thing about blind dates.  The unspoken trust of a third party to know you, or a piece of you, so deeply that they can connect you and another human as potential life mates is a widely overlooked aspect of the event.

This person, the matchmaker, thinks they have you figured out enough to test their knowledge with perhaps the most fickle of emotions – love…or lust or like.  Romantic interest.  The one emotion that even those involved often cannot explain.  (Of course, fiasco strikes when the match is so missed, it leaves you wondering what this matchmaking friend or family member actually thinks of you.)

Finding a mate, outside of the voyeurism of The Bachelorette, is a very personal endeavor.  It involves a vulnerability felt with few other people, an intimacy felt with arguably also a few other people, and the vague, but overarching possibility of “starting a life” with someone.  In the best of case scenarios. 

So, in this spirit of true human connection, I agreed to go on a blind date on stage, as part of an improv show, at Under the Gun Theater.

The show featured weekly couplings of strangers who would meet and date and hopefully find love live for a theater audience.  The show’s cast then improvised the couple’s future together based on their brief, but informative blind date.

Immediately upon agreeing to date in the show, the friend who had rallied my participation asked me some typical love-based questions: what were my deal-breakers, what did I find sexy and attractive, and what typically turned me off.  To him, the performance seemed secondary; he genuinely wanted to find me someone in whom I would find interest.

I showed up late to the show…date.  As I typically do.

“I hope you really like him,” my friend said, giddy.  “This is gonna be great.”

I waited backstage (which on a normal date I guess would be the kitchen) and stood behind a wall on the opposite side of the stage from my soon-to-be suitor.  My friend introduced the show and, generically, “the daters.” 

We walked onto the stage from opposite sides and our blind date began.  We shook hands and introduced ourselves in front of a room full of strangers who stared up at us as we navigated those awkward first ten minutes of any blind date (and in this case, nearly the entire date).

My future-bae carried an already-opened beer and waiting on a table that was adorably set to mirror a restaurant was a glass of red wine for me.  One minute into our conversation, a member of the cast dropped off fireball shots.  A few minutes after that, the same cast member dropped off “Ice Breaker” menus and donuts.

We didn’t use the menus and I didn’t eat my donut.  It took me several minutes to finish my shot.

My date was quiet, but it’s hard to tell if that was because it was a blind date or because it was a blind date taking place in front of a room full of people.  I can talk for days if necessary so his meekness was nearly irrelevant.   

In the half hour that I was on-stage dating, I think I became a slightly heightened version of myself.  I was hyperaware of the fact that people in the back of the theater wouldn't be able to hear me if I spoke with my “inside voice.”  I behaved mostly as I would on an actual date, but with less guilt for being “quirky” as I knew that would be far more entertaining on a stage than it would be in bed.  If I said something funny, a room of strangers, including my date, laughed.  If I felt an uncomfortable silence, so did a room full of strangers.  And my date.

The pressure to be engaging, or at least not horribly awkward, was equal to the pressure to be appealing as a potential mate.  I was responsible not just for finding a connection, but also for entertaining an audience. 

But is that very different?  Isn’t a first date just a show for an audience of one?

In a dating environment, well an everything environment, where things aren’t real until they’re online, I wonder how this public dating experience might have affected the outcome of the date itself.  Did having an audience affect his opinion of me?  Did it affect my opinion of him?  If he doesn’t think I’m funny, but everybody else laughs, will he question his own interest?  Does the audience’s acceptance of me affect his perception of how the date is going?  It would be naïve to assume, “no” in a culture that is reliant on social media, that caters to a group mentality, and that thrives on peer acceptance.

Is it even possible to be our complete selves knowing people are watching?

As the cast emerged and began playing out my future with this boy, I was forced to be even more aware of myself than I think I already was.  Everything I said was fair game for satire; being quoted back in hyperbole forced me to wonder how people actually see me.  Did this affect our opinions of each other?  Did the fantastical portrayal of us as a couple in 50 years further or hinder our desire to be that couple…any couple?

It was a social experiment, of which I was interested to be part.  I left the theater right after our “set” for a(nother) show and have not heard from nor seen my blind date since.  The team got a run of the same show and has asked me to return.  I continue pitching that they change the show name to “This is Why Jamie is Single” but, so far, to no avail.  I imagine they will soon come around.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Basketball Shorts

Everyone who knows me knows that I steal.  Not Winona Ryder style – straight-from-a-store-for-the-love-of-the-game stealing, but the kind of stealing that could questionably be considered “extended borrowing.”  It’s almost stealing that could be perceived as an item we both forgot I had.  Basically, at the very moment you loan me a sweatshirt or a pair of shorts, they belong to me. 

Over the years, I’ve drawn quite a collection of items, each one serving as a reminder of love lost, lust realized, or an old friendship. 

Keeping clothes that do not “rightfully” belong to me is not about owning more stuff.  In fact, that’s my least favorite part of the whole thing.  There’s just something comforting and nostalgic about throwing on a shirt or pair of shorts and fondly thinking of someone I once knew.  Or, even better, still know.  It’s an unsanctioned gift to me, from me.

Over the many years I have been slowly collecting other people’s personal items, only one has gotten away.  The shorts were a gift from the boy’s grandpa and meant a lot to him.  The question, “Well, why did you let me wear those?” fell on deaf ears.  I empathized, however, I could not bear the thought of returning a memory that I felt now belonged to me.  I left them in my apartment and had him retrieve them from my roommate at the time.  He’s engaged now.  I hope his fiancé enjoys those shorts. 

My wearable mementos have traveled with me from city to city, apartment to apartment.  They have been a constant among a whirlwind of changes, for which I am always ill-prepared.  They creepily serve as a consolation when I am feeling lonely or as a fond moment of pause when I systematically retrieve a pair in a rush.  They provide a topic of conversation/argument to an array of guys (romantic or platonic) who stay over and refuse to contain their junk in shorts that once contained someone else’s junk.  (The whole hang up makes no sense to me…but then again, I still wear a pair of underwear I took from a friend in high school, so my concept of boundaries is, admittedly, subpar.)

You would think the sheer volume of clothing I have stolen from others would be a clear indication of my sexual aptitude or, at the very least, magnitude.  However, it marks the exact opposite, as I only ever needed to borrow clothing because of my refusal to be naked.  There are the shorts and shirt I borrowed for a late-night Jacuzzi because I have so little game, I completely missed the point of the late-night Jacuzzi.  There are the shorts I took from a boy I had a massive crush on, thinking that this connected us in some psychotic way.  There are the shorts I borrowed from a hot friend as proof that we used to make out.  He’s gay now. 

I once was purposely left an article of clothing as a token of a friendship that was becoming long-distance by clearly the only person who gets me.  It was his work sweatshirt that I incessantly mocked him for wearing no matter the occasion, including a Christmas party he came to with me.  I found it in my car days after dropping him off at the airport for his big move.  It is the cutest thing that’s ever happened to me.  We’ll marry one day.

Two months ago, I moved.  In packing up my old apartment, I spent hours wondering how one human woman and one lady cat could collect so much stuff.  I pored through every piece of paper, every knickknack, every junk drawer, and every article of clothing.  When I reached the drawer of basketball shorts, I was surprised at an overwhelming sense of needing to let (them) go.

I hesitantly packed up the 14 pairs of basketball shorts (I wasn't quite ready to clean house of the sandals, socks, boxers, shirts, sweatshirts, and sunglasses), and my heart swelled the tiniest bit for the dresser space I was gaining, broke a little for the boys I was officially saying goodbye to, and broke a lot for the fact that I couldn't even remember to whom most of the shorts originally belonged. 

After four-and-a-half years living with my cat in a one-bedroom apartment, I moved to a new neighborhood and now officially take transit to work – a bigger deal than I would like to admit.  I have a new job, am at the beginning of a new decade in age, and have a new, determined life goal. 

It's time for a new set of stolen shorts.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The D*ck Ring

Well, I’m dating again.  My interest in meeting Internet strangers (in hopes of finding love) ebbs and flows.  I find the effort it takes to identify and set aside time for dates more often than not goes without ROI.  However, my 30th birthday and winter have come, and the looming threat of loneliness has won.  So here we are.
            We met through a mutual friend – a rarity in the modern dating environment.  His now ex-roommate (hopefully an unrelated occurrence)/my friend from improv dragged him along to the restaurant at which I was working for a promised visit.  It was a slow afternoon so I had time to stand at the table and chat.  He was quiet, but charming, and I liked his smile.  I thought at the time it was happy happenstance, but learned recently it was always meant to be a setup.

            He asked our mutual friend for my number and for quite some time, we tried to schedule a date.  I cancelled a couple times, my jadedness got in the way, and then he immersed himself in training for and completing an Ironman.  I followed up with him after his return to Chicago and we finally found a time to grab drinks.

            We met at a trendy bar in Logan Square; I ordered a drink that was “whiskey forward” though I still don’t know what that means.  He was sweet and seemed, inexplicably, to find my sass charming.  Conversation was easy.  Looking back, though, that might be attributed to the fact that I dominated two-and-a-half of the three hours we spent together grilling him about his dick piercing. 

I’m not entirely sure how his peen came up in conversation (I also learned he has a smiley face tattoo on his butt), but it was such remarkable information, I couldn’t let it go. 

I was a woman obsessed.

I rudely assumed it was a relic mistake from college, but learned instead that it was a very recent, conscious choice.  Of course, I needed to know everything.  Why?  Didn’t it hurt?  Doesn’t it get dirty?  A double bar – why?  Where exactly is it?  Show me using your arm as a penis.  I don’t get it.  It goes through the shaft?  Is it foreskin?  Was the piercer uncomfy?  Did you have to get hard to get it pierced?  Were you uncomfy…being naked at a piercing place?  Again, why?  Have you used it yet – on a lady? 

And finally, most importantly, can I see it?

            A presumptuous inquiry, sure, but I was a couple whiskey-forward cocktails in and it just felt right.  He agreed, however reluctantly, not before warning me that it was chilly in the bar and that he was flaccid.  I offered my approval if he wanted to go get hard before the viewing, but he felt that would be worse.

            “You’re going to giggle; you’re too awkward not to,” he informed me as though I were new to my own body.
            “Yes, of course I am.”
            “You can’t even get through this conversation without laughing.”
            “But that’s fine.  Because I’m already laughing, so you’ll know I’m not laughing at your peen.  I’m just laughing because this is amazing and weird.”

            The bar had two single bathrooms making this endeavor quite simple.  With coats on and the bill paid, I went first into the ladies’ room; he joined me a few seconds later.  I was giggling before the bathroom door was even locked.

            “Just a reminder, I’m not going to touch it.”
            “I know that.”
            “This is purely research.”
            And then there it was: his genital jewelry.  I leaned in to get a slightly closer look.  I was so happy. 

            We walked out of the bathroom and out of the bar, hugged, and walked in opposite directions.