My friend and co-worker Emily came over to my desk in October and said, "I've got an idea for your blog." I knew before she even explained to me what it was that I was down. I trust Emily completely and knew she wouldn't lead me into any embarrassing or illegal activities. At least not on purpose.
Sadly, the same can not be said for some of my other friends.
"Dating in the Dark," she said, smiling, "You know, like the show."
I did vaguely remember the show from the summer that put men and women in dark rooms to see what qualities, besides physical appearance, attract individuals to each other. I also remembering thinking, when I saw it, that I would never participate in such a show because they filmed that show with "night vision" and everyone looked like they were on the Blair Witch Project.
A local radio station decided to try their own version of the experiment and make it a part of an exhibit in Atlanta right now called Dialog in the Dark. At Dialog in the Dark, visually impaired guides lead visitors on a journey through a series of darkened galleries created to replicate everyday experiences. Without familiar sight cues, visitors are forced to use their non-visual senses.
Emily said she thought we would go through the exhibit before participating in the dating portion of the evening, which was a huge selling point for both of us.
Ahead of the event, we had to fill out a form online and submit it to the organizers. It was full of stupid questions that I often find impossible to answer.
1. What's your favorite band? One band? I have to choose one? I didn't choose one, I chose several, and all were the bands that I had listened to the most that day. By the time the event had arrived, another three had taken their places.
2. What celebrity do you most look like? Uh...Wilma Flinstone? After seeking the opinion of others, I put Amy Adams. But I wasn't happy about it.
3. Best date you've ever been on. I've been fortunate to have been on some really good dates, but one that stands out involved Thai food and a Bela Fleck and the Flecktones concert.
The day had arrived, and Emily and I planned to meet at the event. She called me when I was en route.
"You're never going to guess who's here," she said. I could tell she was smiling. She may have even been laughing.
My stomach flipped, and I feared the worst, like the person that was there was some crazy person we work with or one of our ex-boyfriends.
"Who?" I asked, not sure I wanted to know her answer.
"CNN," she responded. "They're filming everything.'"
I nervously laughed, "Please tell me you're kidding."
Now I realize I have made my adventures public to all of you through this blog, but I was not then, and am not now, quite ready to have my dating experiments out there for a national television audience to watch. There are just some things that aren't suitable for TV.
I'm getting ahead of myself here, but I will tell you that in addition to dodging weirdos, Emily and I also spent the night dodging cameras.
I arrived at the event and they ushered me into a part of a room that was sectioned off by lockers. I found this odd, but it made more sense when the actual dating portion began and we were able to stow our belongings in one of the lockers. I found Emily immediately and she introduced me to the booze they had provided to loosen everyone up. I opened a beer and it was time to let the games begin.
I checked in with the event organizer and noticed that it was difficult to carry on a conversation with her because of the loud pop music playing over the speakers. I can't remember every song that was played, but I do remember Beyonce's "Single Ladies" and Creed were among the tunes played. I should've walked out right then. She asked me to sign a waiver (presumably so that I couldn't sue her or the radio station if this experience caused any emotional distress, which it did, or embarrassment, which it already had) and then she handed me five blank cards. Emily instructed me to put my name on one side of the card and an interesting fact about myself on the other.
Apparently agreeing to participate in this nonsense wasn't interesting enough.
Emily suggested I choose two interesting facts and put them on the five cards, so as not to make things too complicated for myself.
Interesting Fact #1: Last year at this time I was traveling in Asia with a friend. (And I sure wish I was still there!)
Interesting Fact #2: I have a blog: http://www.project29to30.blogspot.com/ (When all else fails, talk about the blog!)
We moved to the periphery of the room (next to the lockers) and as Emily told me her observations so far, I took a look at everyone in the crowd. Emily said that she was pretty sure we were going to be some of the oldest people there. Great. She also said she overheard some of the girls talking about how they drove over from Athens to participate in the event and that one of the girls wrote for her interesting fact that she was the president of her sorority.
"WHAT?!" I blurted out. There are college girls here? I probably should've been upset, because clearly there is absolutely no way that I can compete with college students, but I was actually sad for them. When I was in college at the University of Georgia, I rarely left Athens, especially not to meet guys. The city was full of young cute fraternity guys who looked like they were about to go camping. Why drive an hour and a half to meet dudes in the dark? Had Athens changed this much? I made a mental note to get to the bottom of this.
My assumption about this experience was that those who chose to date in the dark probably did so because maybe they had "faces for radio." But not in this case. Most of the girls were really cute. Many, including Emily and me, seemed apprehensive about how everything was going to go down, but that was to be expected. These nerves manifested themselves in excessive amounts of drinking, mindless chatter and lots of "omgs" being thrown around. Yes, it seemed as though we were the oldest people there.
We sat around the locker room for what felt like an eternity and then finally it was time for us to head into the exhibit. They gave us each a walking stick and we followed each other through a dimly lit hallway and then into a room that was pitch black. I realize "in the dark" was in the title of this event, however, dark doesn't even begin to describe it. I mean, depths-of-the-spider-cave-can't-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-own-face dark.
Someone said, "just let your eyes adjust and eventually you'll be able to understand better where you are."
I couldn't see anything.
We soon realized that the dating was going to start immediately and that we would not be viewing the exhibit as originally thought. The guide sat Emily and me in the "diner" at semi-circular booth across from each other. We stayed there the entire night, and every 15 minutes a guide would sit a pair of guys next to us in the booth for us to meet. Dating in the Dark was really like speed dating, only with the lights out.
Here are the highlights, and some of the low lights:
Matt and Allen were the first guys that Emily and I met and they were nice. Matt worked at Georgia Tech and Allen was a salsa dancer.
Scott was a former golf pro turned bodyguard. I tried to think of someone in Atlanta that might require a bodyguard.
Me: Do you carry a gun?
Me: Are you carrying one right now?!
Guns + Darkness = Scary
Jordan just graduated from UGA and was back at home figuring out his next move and writing a book. Despite our obvious age difference, he was actually pretty interesting and seemed cool.
Emily told me later that her conversation with Jordan went something like this:
Jordan: Tell me about your style.
Emily: Like what I'm wearing?
Emily: I'm wearing jeans and a white button down shirt. What about you?
Jordan: Blue v-neck t-shirt under a cotton striped button-down shirt with the buttons undone mid abdomen, skinny jeans and Chuck Taylors.
Whoa, thanks for the details. He must've really worked hard on his outfit.
Mike sat down and after asking me my name and what I did for a living, he asked me how old I was.
Me: I'm 29.
Mike: Finally! Someone closer to my age!
Me: Well, how old are you?
Mike: I'm 45.
Doug was one of the last guys that we met. He sort of collapsed into the seat, put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Seriously, Stephanie, tell me the truth, how many fat chicks are doing this?"
I was completely caught off guard by his question. He was so blunt. So forward.
I laughed, which is what I always do when I don't completely understand what someone said or I don't know how to respond. So I didn't.
After rattling off 15 questions in a row as ridiculous and off the wall as his first, Doug moved his hand to my knee and accused me of wearing sweatpants. I was so concerned with convincing this guy that I was not wearing sweatpants, but a cotton dress, I didn't even care that it was pitch black dark in there and he still had his hand on my knee. The brief time I was able to get him to be serious, he told me that he was a personal trainer who lived in a suburb of Atlanta. He threw out several more questions and comments that under any normal circumstances, might've offended me, but within the constraints of this already bizarre scenario, I found completely hilarious. He, like Emily and me, wasn't taking himself, or this experience, too seriously. I appreciated it.
Doug was one of the last guys that Emily and I met before it was time to go back to the locker room to retrieve our belongings. As our eyes were adjusting to the light, I was handed a slip of paper and instructed to write down the names of three guys that I would like to meet again. Truthfully I wanted to meet all of them again just see what they looked like, but I looked down at the cards that had been given to me and in a fit of confusion, I tried to recall some of the more interesting conversations that I had.
I looked around and saw groups of girls huddled around the lockers looking at laminated sheets of paper that had been taped on them. I asked Emily what that was all about and she explained that that online questionnaire that I had filled out had been turned into a profile sheet, complete with a picture of a South Park-looking character created based on photos we had to submit.
It was a bit like sorority rush. You choose them, they choose you, and if there is a match, they'll call you back.
I got a call back, which meant the awkwardness would continue for me, only this time it would be in the light and it would be one-on-one. I was really done with the whole experience and in need of some cocktails at the Dating in the Dark reception, so I was hoping this part was going to be brief.
I was led into a room and told to sit on a plastic cube on the ground. The matches were led in and told where to sit beside us. Once everyone was sitting, they brought the lights up slowly and sitting next to me was Matt.
Only this wasn't the right Matt! And I'm not just saying that because I wasn't at all attracted to him. The Matt I put on my slip of paper was the Matt that worked in the admissions department at Georgia Tech. This Matt lived in Dahlonega and was an I.T. guy. I later met the other Matt and wasn't attracted to him either.
Wrong Matt was still really nice, so we walked over to the reception and he bought me a beer. After all of the trauma they just put us through, and we still had to buy our own drinks?! Ridiculous.
The reception was interesting, because while I didn't want to ditch Wrong Matt, but I was dying to find out who everyone was and, of course, prove to Doug that I wasn't wearing sweatpants.
Doug was as hilarious in person as he was in the dark. He definitely looked like a personal trainer from Marietta, Georgia and was about a foot shorter than me. Salsa dancing Allen looked like Howie Mandel, and Georgia Tech Matt looked exactly as I would've expected Georgia Tech Matt to look like: tall and goofy.
45-year old Mike is a sports radio DJ and was wearing a black leather jacket. He said he was looking to settle down and have kids and I'm exactly the type of girl he's looking for, if only I was a few years older. Whoa there, Mike, slow it down. He did give me a card and said I could come on his radio show for the blog.
Jordan reminded me of Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future. Cute, little, and full of energy. I think he may have been crushing Red Bull and Vodkas, because he bounced around the bar like a kid in a toy store. Apparently Emily's style was just his style, because he really took a liking to her.
Bodyguard Scott was physically probably most my type. We talked about golf and how I'm trying to learn how to play and how he wanted to go back to being a golf pro. Then he told me about how his ex-girlfriend took a strip tease class and the conversation went from normal to weird in 5.5 seconds.
"You two are really cute, and cool?!" one of the guys said to me and I couldn't tell if he was making a statement or asking a question. He seemed almost surprised.
Again, not knowing what to say to this compliment/question, I nervously laughed.
He went on, "And you're funny!" Finally, I knew what to say to this one, "If you think I'm funny here, you should read my blog."
I was flattered by his compliments but somewhat taken aback at his surprise that we could be all of those things at the same time. He seemed shocked.
What types of girls have these guys been hanging out with? Pretty, stupid girls who are boring? Fun girls that aren't nice?
I'm not sure I buy into the whole "Dating in the Dark" concept. I do think it's possible to be attracted to someone based solely on common interests and compatible personalities. Dating in the dark forced me to consider those traits before ruling someone out based on looks alone. At the end of the day though, being physically attracted to someone is an important piece of the puzzle.
My friend Trish wants to set me up with someone that her husband works with, but when I asked her if I could see a picture of him, she seemed offended."I don't want you to judge him before you meet him," she said.
Yes, I know looks fade and what's on the inside is way more important than what's on the outside, but is it completely superficial to want to know what someone looks like before I agree to hang out with them?
It's not like I have a "type" and if a person doesn't fit into that mold then I won't even consider them. All of the guys that I've dated look different from each other, but they all looked good to me!
There weren't any love connections made that night, but what an experience Emily and I had. We're still laughing about it. Bodyguard Scott walked me to my car and has since messaged Emily and me to hang out. We're not sure if he wants to hang out with us together or separately. Jordan also text messaged Emily, but he may be too busy working on his book or doing his chores to hang out.
Emily and I managed to stay out of the way of the CNN cameras, too, which is perhaps the biggest success of all.