He was blindfolded.
I thought about it long and hard, what it might be like. I could just kiss him. Just walk over, lean up to his mouth and, kiss him. He wouldn’t even know the kiss had come from my lips. But I couldn’t move.
In a basement in Dalston, on a Wednesday night, 40 single people took a deep breath at the same time and began to say yes without saying anything at all. Lead by Adam Taffler, founder of the silent dating scene in London, Shhh Dating were throwing a party to get even the most tongue-tied flirting.
Beside me, my wingman, brought along for the soul purpose of getting out of his comfort zone, the theme of his very own blog.
The words ‘It’s like a gateway drug’, hung in the air between us, drumming their slow thud of anticipation. Naively I thought, do your worst, wondering what naughtiness lay beyond the gates.
Just as he had before Adam laid the ground rules:
“Treat this as a silent space… it’s more fun that way.”
Next to him stood the only woman I had ever seen wearing and pulling off (to her credit) a yellow dress and sheer black stockings with, ‘yes you can just about see them every time I lean over’, suspenders. Her name was Marti and she would be on hand to guide us girls through the latter portion of the event. But lets not jump ahead just yet.
From standing in the circle, shoulder to shoulder with a room full of strangers, suddenly we were striding about. ‘Eye contact eye contact’ I thought as we began with the standard hand-shaking icebreaker.
I must be open, I must lead by example, I must shake everyone’s hand in this room and no I can’t start obsessing about hand sanitizer right now.
That’s how it began, small of course, easing us in, or as I would come to think of it, lulling us into a false sense of security.
Shhh Dating is an alternative to speed dates and corny single’s nights. It discourages small talk and instead pushes for that genuine connection which is genuinely hard to find in a city as self centred and disjointed as London.
On a night of silent dating you put away those banked and over used anecdotes with your stories, which you’re certain, illuminate your ‘good will’ and ‘generosity’. You won’t hear a lie in the room. Instead you’ll breathe in time with a stranger, you’ll look at people in a way you never normally allow yourself time for and, yes, you will embarrass yourself a hundred times over as you give into the night. But by the end, you’ll be ok with all of that, because, everyone else is ok with it too.
On this particular night there would be three levels and, as we walked in for the first time, the Wingman and I suspected these would all be leading to one little table of props.
Feathers and roses and fans and blindfolds. That thumping of anticipation returned each time we took a break and re-joined the room as if each time we also edged closer to that table.
‘Lead by example’ I thought channelling anticipation into excitement.
Level two and we moved on from innocently eye gazing to consensual touch. Yes. Just fingertips and palms, but eventually, I found myself dancing in the arms of a guy naked from the waist up. (It was hot as hell in the basement and Adam had actually, possibly jokingly, encouraged a little undressing) I giggled and held on for dear life and dignity as he whizzed us around the room. By now the whole basement was a little less lucid and freed up.
When the second break released us The Wingman and I were definitely in a heightened state of our own emotions. Never underestimate eye contact is the lesson here.
“I made a girl cry!” He almost boasted. That broke me, bringing me back down to earth and, the level we usually live in. Where touching strangers and staring isn’t really allowed. I reined myself in and whilst he spoke to me I made a conscious effort to look at him. I noticed for the first time, his eyes weren’t the shade of brown I’d always expected them to be, without ever bothering to confirm my suspicions. They’re actually a sort of green, but a bluey sort of green. I smiled, I’m glad you’re here, I thought.
Final part of the night. I’d been stared down, danced with, massaged, mimicked and invited to trust my partner following them with my eyes closed.
I bit my lip, standing in the circle, waiting.
“Men, you’re now trees, standing tall and firm. Ladies you are now the butterflies. You can move, from tree to tree, delivering pleasure as you go. Look around the room and try to make everything as special and pleasurable as you can.”
This was Marti leading us through level three, making everything sound so safe and ok and, like caressing a room full of strangers would be the most natural thing in the world to do on a Wednesday night.
We, the butterflies, stood between the 20 or more blindfolded men. The connection was temporarily dismantled. What replaced it was lust and naughtiness.
I began to move around feeling self-conscious. But, no one could see me, I didn’t need to hide or hold back.
I trailed my rose (my prop of choice) timidly across torso’s until I was handed a feathered fan along with a little more confidence from Marti, the girl cool enough to carry off stockings and a yellow dress.
I found myself standing in front of the boy I’d gone there with. Suddenly I didn’t know what to do. I giggled at the mad idea of hitting him hard across cheek with my rose, then shook my head, wondering where that had come from. Instead I trailed the rose bud gently up the inside of one arm, across his chest and down to his fingertips on the other side. That was probably enough, I should find another tree I thought, before things got any weirder.
Then it happened.
“Now if you want, Butterflies, you can place your hand on a tree’s shoulder as a sign that you would like to kiss their neck. If they put their hand on top of yours you have their permission.”
I looked at him, then out of nowhere a queue of butterflies appeared, giggling and egging each other on. I wondered just whose comfort zone we were out of and backed away.
I fluttered around aimlessly whilst the rest of the room giggled and hurried to their trees of choice. Then I found one. A tall guy in a black t-shirt with a broad smile. He’d caught my eye earlier but I’d never gotten the chance to eye gaze or play. As I got up the courage to kiss his neck it was announce we could now, if we felt comfortable doing so, kiss the trees on the mouth. I’d missed the neck round entirely through trepidation, now I had to just get on with it, if for no other reason but to prove that I could.
But I found myself looking over at my Wingman.
What was I doing?!
And why were so many girls lining up to kiss him and why was he letting them? That’s the moment when I felt it.
Big Ugly Surprising Jealousy.
Did I have a crush on The Wingman? The guy I had invited here to meet other women. The guy who would never have known about this world had I not introduced him and practically dragged him into it.
In what twisted universe was this fair?
A room full of single men, an atmosphere and setting which invited me to do, what arguably I do best, flirt, and now all I wanted to do was run away.
Abort Abort! My brain screamed. It’s too late. You can’t figure this out now, you had your chance to realise this out in the real world. Stop it!
I made myself kiss the black t-shirt guy, but it was half hearted. I felt bad. He, after all, had no idea.
As my own blindfold was put on I took a deep breath, breathing out the stupid idea of The Wingman coming over to kiss me.
My turn to be a tree.
What happened next seemed to last a lifetime. I was so disappointed with myself for ruining the experience and I tried desperately to clear my mind and enjoy the blind advances from strangers. The whole thing should have been incredibly erotic and truthfully a lot of it was very pleasurable. I remembered, unfortunately, that I am extremely ticklish…
Moments into being a tree and it became apparent that I had a butterfly who was not fluttering away any time soon.
It was also apparent that you could see exactly who your butterfly was by looking down. So long as you could remember a person’s shoes, you would know who was nibbling at your neck.
Yes I let him kiss me. I silenced that earlier voice of jealousy and let a smaller voice be heard. The one telling me not to be a prude.
When it was over the room felt so bright and I felt more exposed than ever.
I went over and thanked Adam, it really is an awesome event, one that I recommend whole heartedly. Adam however did then insist on kissing my neck, but only on the proviso that my Wingman did likewise, at the same time. If only they knew.
We left quickly to get another drink and debrief and I was overwhelmed with relief that he hadn’t wanted to stay and talk to the any of the other girls.
My butterfly tried getting my attention as we left, but instead of induldging him I followed my Wingman out of the room and back to the real world, as quickly as I could. Breaking the eye contact rule for the first time that night.
We talked and drank and everything was normal again. Except it wasn’t. I couldn’t un-feel what I’d felt. I couldn’t un-see those girls kissing him. How was this going to be ok? How was I going to write about a dating event where I’d realised I had a crush on The Wingman I’d challenged to come with me?
As we pulled into his tube stop he kissed me on the cheek and I thought, ‘I’ll probably never see you again after you read what I think I’m going to have to write’.
I guess you’ll notice I’ve not used his name, although if you read this blog regularly, it won’t be hard to work him out. I’m sorry for that.
I’ve not written this for a reply or response, but because, sometimes the story you think you’re going to tell, the one about the girl who took a boy to the ‘gateway drug dating event’, isn’t always the story you end up with.
I could have written about all the cringe worthy moments, gone into detail about the strange buzz of connection I’d felt, or told you the funny times when I’d almost wanted to run. But that wouldn’t be the full story. And honestly, I’m starting to realise, for me, it’s the full story or nothing at all.