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.