The dating game is now a digital experience. As technology has progressed, the way people meet and get to know one another has evolved from being completely up to chance to having everything laid out on the table. Anyone has the ability to get to know a stranger through a series of clicks and scrolls. Thanks to Tinder, Grindr and the likes, singles don’t even need to meet in person before talking or getting romantically involved. Our Sex and Love columnists decided to kick it old school and try blind dating in its truest form– no social media, no prior contact and no questions asked.
The rules of the experiment were simple: each columnist planned a date for the other, keeping the identity of the person confidential until the day of.
If I have a crush on someone, then no part of me hesitates when stalking the life out of their social media accounts– and I know I’m not alone. These accounts are like artifacts, and we millennials use the clues posted on each of them to help piece together the idea of who a person truly is.
Here’s a breakdown of my methods for internet stalking someone: First, I would go through every single one of their profile pictures—before remembering that people only use pictures they look good in for profile pictures. That’s when I switch to the tagged photos. I would scroll all the way down until I knew each and every one of their questionable fashion choices ever made and then had a detailed account of what they looked like in the seventh grade.
Following the visual aspect of their personality, I would take my hunt to Twitter. On twitter, I can learn all of the bitter, internal side commentary they are too afraid to say in real life. Lastly, I would scroll through their Instagram and see what it is they find most important to share with the world. After meandering through their selfies and pictures of food, I would develop an even stronger sense of their values. I, too, Instagram my Taco Bus order, I would think to myself. We could be perfect for each other.
However, not one of my typical internet stalking methods was put to use for my blind date—and that made it all the more terrifying. When one is asked out by another person, he or she is at least comforted by the fact that the other person is interested in them. When set up on a blind date, there is no such comfort. Rather, there is only fear—what if he doesn’t like me and it gets awkward? What if I don’t like him but he’s way too into me?
Although no technology was used to creep, it was still used as a tool of destruction. My date was scheduled weeks ahead of time, and on the day of, while I was mentally preparing myself for the events later in the evening, Selene gave me the news.
“He can’t make it tonight,” she cried to me over a text. “He’s really sick and can’t even get out of bed. I’m so sorry.”
Call me a Debbie Downer, but my immediate reaction was that this strange man was standing me up—and he hadn’t even met me yet. I, too, have been “sick” before a handful of dates, and I know the game well enough to know that what made me sick was the other person combined with a viral strain of “uninterested.”
The delays continued until Monday afternoon. The itinerary was to start with pottery painting at “Color Me Mine” in Hyde Park. Selene and I made our way across campus to meet my mystery date. Because the gay community at UT is so small, I assumed that there was no way Selene would be able to find someone that I hadn’t at least seen or heard about before. Fortunately, she pulled off just that.
For the purpose of this article, names have been changed as part of a privacy clause. Because I consider myself to be the gay male version of Carrie Bradshaw, we shall call this mystery gay “Aiden,” because he is the boyfriend from Sex and the City that everyone likes (and if you don’t like him then you don’t have a heart).
While I expected there to be a thick cloud of awkward surrounding our first meeting, I was pleasantly surprised by exactly how well Aiden and I interacted. Our conversation kicked off without having to stutter through the typical, “Wow, these set-ups are always so awkward… so what do you do for fun?” or any of the other uncomfortable icebreakers the world has come to know.
Upon arriving at “Color Me Mine,” we located an employee who then told us that we came in too close to closing time, and if we were going to paint, it had to be something small and we had to paint it fast. He chose a mug. I selected a Turkey.
Painting often serves as a painful reminder that, despite classifying myself as “artistic,” visual arts are not my forte. I begin every painting experience truly believing that I am capable of creating a masterpiece. I end every painting experience disappointed in myself and tinged with bitterness.
Aiden and I never experienced a lull in our conversations. It was refreshing to be able to have such fluidity with a complete stranger—it was as if we had been friends for a while. The success in our conversing was fantastic, and ultimately, I felt incredibly comfortable around Aiden. There was no pressure to force communication, to say the right thing, or to try my hardest to impress him. Rather, everything unfolded naturally, we laughed frequently, and it was a pleasant experience.
The Color Me Mine employee rushed us, and promised that she would touch up our painting before she put it in the vent. On the drive home, unready for the night to end, we decided to drive down Bayshore and walk down the pier at Ballast Point Park.
We perched on a swing near the water and continued getting to know each other. As Aiden was in the midst of telling me about getting punched in the face by a stranger, a local woman with two dogs approached. Aiden gleefully pet them and carried pleasant conversation with her. They discussed school, hometowns and hobbies. He wished her a goodnight, she said the same—and then continued to linger. After lighting up a cigarette, this strange woman showed no intention of leaving us be anytime soon.
Following ten minutes of trying to shake this woman off like toilet paper stuck to the bottom of one’s shoe, she eventually meandered on throughout the rest of the trail. Aiden and I laughed about exactly how long she stayed, and we continued to swing until it came time for his group project meeting. We got into my car, and the lingering woman was walked by once again. Aiden made an additional effort to wish her a goodnight. His action stuck with me—it was awesome to meet someone who was so genuine and friendly to anyone. On the drive home, Aiden said the exact words that I have always wanted to hear from a first date.
“I know the words to pretty much every single Taylor Swift song,” he said. “And I can play most of them on piano.”
And in that moment, on Bayshore Boulevard and beneath a sky filled with city lights and the occasional star, my (figurative) ovaries screamed so loudly that they could be heard from outer space.
The evening ended with an exchange of phone numbers and a hug, alongside of the offer to see each other again. The entire experience was exciting, and it was interesting to discover exactly how much one can have in common with a total stranger—and unveiling that through conversation as opposed to social media. In the end, there’s something to be said for going in blind—after all, if you weaken one sense, it only makes the others that much stronger.
Call me crazy, but I keep my men and my media very separate. After spending years in long term relationships, documenting every milestone, uploading pointless pictures and overanalyzing every update, tweet or status I just couldn’t take it anymore.
Aside from needing to give my love life some privacy, I don’t date through social media for one reason: it’s too easy. Where’s the mystery? If I can find out everything I need to know about you from scrolling through your tweets and favs, is it even worth the free dinner?
Look at George Bailey and Mary Hatch of It’s a Wonderful Life. They met at a party and just getting to know each other on the walk home was enough for the two to fall in love–she didn’t even need to swipe right.
I may not be looking for my George Bailey, but for the sake of saving old fashioned love, I figured I’d put my trust in Terry and give his blind date a try. He set me up with his friend, Craig (not his real name). While I completely trusted Terry, I couldn’t help but be a little nervous.
“What if I’m not attracted to this guy?” I thought. “What if I have nothing to say or we have nothing in common?”
If the questions bouncing around in my head weren’t enough, Terry put me through further mental torture by keeping the date a secret too. After putting on the world’s cutest dress 30 minutes before Craig was supposed to pick me up, I got a text from Terry saying I would need to wear pants, close-toed shoes, and a shirt that “won’t fly up.”
“What does that mean?” I asked. “Am I going to be getting sweaty?”
“You won’t sweat unless you scare easily,” He replied. “It’s not what you’re thinking.”
I ran through the options in my head. Howl O’Scream at Busch Gardens, indoor skydiving and a trampoline arena all seemed possible. Finally 9 p.m. arrived and Terry told me to meet Craig outside of my dorm. There he stood looking confused and a little nervous himself with his motorcycle by his side.
“Ohhhhh!” I shouted with relief. “It’s you!”
Craig and I had actually met a few times. He had classes with a few of my friends but we had never formally been introduced. I remembered a story he told a week ago about how he took a girl out on his bike and she cried.
“I brought this helmet for you,” he said. “I don’t know how close in touch you are with mortality.”
I laughed as he helped me put it on. This would be worth untangling my hair for later.
I had never ridden a motorcycle before, but this seemed a lot less scary compared to whatever the hell I thought Terry was going to put me through.
Craig sweetly helped my always clumsy self onto the back of his bike. I wrapped my arms around his waist and away we went. When we took off on Kennedy, my heart leaped out of my chest. Holy shit this was dangerous. I can totally see why that girl cried. We took a sharp turn onto bayshore, Craig leaning us incredibly close to the road. I could see my epitaph: “Selene San Felice: She should have used Tinder.”
Even though I could see my life flashing before my eyes and I myself was flashing all of Tampa (I was definitely wearing the wrong shirt), that ride was one of the most spectacular things I have ever done. There couldn’t have been a more gorgeous night, and I put thoughts of my impending death aside to admire the beauty of it all. We crossed over on to Davis Island and the sight of the city lights on the Hillsborough was simply stunning.
Craig pulled us over onto Davis Islands Park. Helping me off the bike he smiled and told me that he’d pushed it a little but I did well. I apologized for nearly clawing into him.
We walked around the park, sat on top of one of the metal picnic benches and talked for almost three hours. This was what was worth going in blind. It turns out we have almost the exact same viewpoint on everything, from relationships to roommates to Ryan Gosling. We laughed and shared stories of our mutual friends.
This was something beautiful, and if I had gone to the trouble of looking Craig up and analyzing every word of his profile it wouldn’t have been the natural easy conversation that it was. I would have assumed that Craig would probably take me out on his bike, I would know that we knew a lot of the same people, and I would have just run through a list of talking points in my head.
Craig and I agreed that Terry had done pretty well. We were both happy to have been matched with each other and agreed to go out again soon. Riding back to campus I watched the lights twinkle off of the Hillsborough and I knew there was hope for the dating world yet.
Photos by Alex Jackson
Selene San Felice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Terry Preston can be reached at email@example.com