The phrase "blind date" made me think of something charmingly old-fashioned, like Peggy's date with Brian Krakow's character on an episode of Mad Men. Or something that my great-aunt would try to set me up on if I told her I was single one more time. Going on a date with someone I'd never even heard of, much less seen, was about as high on my list of priorities as watching all of Nic Cage's filmography. (That is to say, not very.)
But then my friends Sage Tanguay and Will Mullany, the producers of a blind dating radio show called Double Blind, asked me if I wanted to participate in an episode. The idea behind Double Blind: two strangers go on a date while blindfolded, and the whole thing is recorded. Would I enjoy that kind of thing, they wanted to know?
Since coming to college at the University of Virginia, I have tried to become a more audacious person. I studied abroad with barely any knowledge of the place I was going. I took up ballroom dancing. I even took an economics class. (I know that might not seem very brave. But heck, for an English major, that's as daring as going skydiving.)
(Really, I just wanted to become Sarah Silverman, but the sad fact of life is that we can't all be Sarah Silverman.)
Going on a bizarro radio-dating adventure? That fit right in. Even if it was, after all, just a blind date. So I agreed to do it, and I learned some interesting lessons along the way.
I headed to Will M.'s room on an afternoon in March to record my pre-date interview. He and Sage had told me to come prepared to talk about myself, but I had given nary a thought to that. When they sat me down in front of the sound-recording equipment and asked, "So, Elizabeth, tell us about yourself," my mind went blank. Do you have any idea how hard that question is to answer? Because it's obscenely difficult.
Life Lesson #1: Always have a list of pleasantly quirky facts about yourself (you're double-jointed! You can do the Thriller dance! You speak fluent Klingon!) in your mental back pocket.
I wracked my mind, trying to think of the most charming and attractive personal facts I could share.
So I started talking about socks and elephant dicks, because, in the moment, that seemed like a great idea. I told them I once wrote a story about a girl who grew a third boob (fun fact, it's actually a true story about my sister, because third boobs are real, man). I told them I sometimes sobbed over video games. All these things ended up on the final cut of the show, making me sound like a manic, squeaky-voiced lunatic .
Ah, well. At least they offered me wine. Which I appreciated, even though it was boxed wine and my teeth turned purple.
Life Lesson #2: Everything is less awkward once you've had a glass of cheap wine.
A week later, it was time for the date itself. I knocked on the door to Will M.'s room, more frazzled than nervous. I'd been trying to write a paper, I'd hardly slept the night before, and I hadn't showered. I didn't think the chances of anything happening with my date were very high, so the only concession I'd made to the occasion was slicking on some red lipstick.
Sage opened the door and covered my eyes in a thick, black cloth. "Are you ready?" she asked.
I like to think I looked this fabulous.
"Uh," I said. "I guess."
"All right," she said, "come on!" Sage grabbed my hand and led me inside. She seated me on the couch where I'd done my pre-interview — except now, I could tell, there was someone else on it.
"What's up?" he said.
Then we tried to shake hands — and missed. It's times like these, when you're trying to shake hands with your first blind date and almost punch him in the face because you can't see him, that you realize that sight is, you know, there for a reason.
We proceeded to talk: idle chatter at first, like what we were majoring in. I studied English and Spanish, I told him, and he said that he was focusing on philosophy and foreign affairs. Then we had a refreshingly honest conversation about our views regarding our experiences at UVA, as well as our school's role as a featured player in this year's national media circus. (In case you're unaware of the multiple tumultuous situations at UVA: Hannah Graham was murdered last semester, then the Rolling Stone article about rape on campus hit headlines around the country, then the Martese Johnson incident occurred, and...you get the idea.)
Here we are, blindfolded and looking dumb.
Will (whom I will call Will R., to differentiate him from Will M.) would often interrupt one thread of the conversation to ask me odd questions, such as, "Will there ever be robots that think like humans, and if so, will it spell out our end?" I started to get the feeling that Will R. was distinctly peculiar. But a peculiar I could handle. So I responded in kind. During a discussion of Game of Thrones and which houses we belonged to — I'm obviously a Targaryen, by the way — he declared that he considered himself a Lannister.
"Oh!" I said. "Do you shit gold?"
And he didn't get it, because he didn't remember that that was a book reference to the Lannisters being filthy rich.
Life Lesson #3: Don't make really obscure Game of Thrones references, because you will make people think you're asking inappropriate questions about their gastrointestinal health.
Here's the strange thing about going on a date while blindfolded: you can't use any of the usual markers for figuring out a person. Normally, you'd be studying your date's facial expressions, and his clothing, and the way he moves his hands while talking. These are the little ways that we develop an idea of someone new. But I didn't have any of these things to rely on. He could have been Ryan Gosling, for all I knew. Or Kevin from The Office.
Since Will R. mentioned he was a Lannister, I decided to imagine that I was chatting with Sir Jaime.
I tried to use my other senses to get a read on him. His voice was pitched low, and it rolled slowly from word to word, but that didn't tell me much. And using smell, touch, or taste? Out of the question, for obvious reasons. I considered peeking out from my blindfold. But what if Will M. or Sage caught me?
Then the alarm rang, meaning that it was time for us to remove our blindfolds. On the count of three, the two of us untied the black fabric. I looked at Will R. — who, wouldn't you know it, actually has a passing resemblance to Jaime Lannister. And, because I am an idiot, I exclaimed, "Oh, you are attractive!"
Life Lesson #4: Fortune favors the bold. Just come out swinging and tell people they are good-looking.
If you're lucky, they'll return the favor, which Will R. did. +1 to ego.
After that, Will M. and Sage sent us out into the wide world to go on a real, non-recorded date. We grabbed sandwiches and sat outside, chatting about topics as diverse as religion, family, and UVA's honor code policy. I kept forgetting that this was a blind date because the conversation flowed so easily. The strange thing, though? Now that I'd gotten used to not looking at his face, I kept having trouble looking him in the eye. Not that I was nervous. It just seemed like his face had become more or less irrelevant. When we'd finished, we walked back to the library, still chattering. He asked for my number, which I was more than happy to give. I'd had one of the most natural, easy-going dates I could remember.
Was it due to meeting him while blindfolded? I think it may have been. Having a conversation that was stripped of physical appearances — and, therefore, many of the primary concerns of a first date — allowed me to focus on what Will R. was actually saying.
Life Lesson #5: Go on blindfolded first dates. 9/10, would recommend.
Especially because Will R. paid for my sandwich, so I got a free grilled cheese out of the whole thing. What more could you possibly want?
And, if you're curious — yes, we did go on a second date.
I asked Sage and Will M. if they had any secrets to share about how they matched people for the show. "Yeah," said Will M. "Sage and I get together under a waxing gibbous moon and go to town with some tarot cards and a bottle of sheep's blood."
Take that as you wish, and listen to the whole episode below.
If you live in the Charlottesville area and are interested in appearing on Double Blind, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "I PUT A SPELL ON YOU."
And if you want more blind date adventures, check out Natalia Lusinski's experience on the TV show "Blind Date."