It’s 20h05 on a Saturday evening. I’m late. I power walk just fast enough to save myself from breaking out into a full sweat. Half-running, half-walking, I turn towards the Arts on Main entrance and catch a glimpse of a line of men comfortably seated outside the POPArt Theatre in the Maboneng Precinct. Panic. “Sh*t. I hope they didn’t see me.”
As I take a few steps back towards Fox Street, lined with parked cars, I see a sign just to the left of the entrance. Etched on the blackboard in the brightly-lit entrance I’m hovering around are the words ‘DATING IN THE DARK’. Just great! It feels like everyone is looking at me with pity. “Shame, she’s so single and lonely she’s resorted to speed dating in the dark”, I imagine them saying. Just as I decide to move further away from the incriminating sign I see the men walking into the theatre. Finally!
We huddle into the bar and entrance of POPArt where instructions for the evening are given. We’re given a sheet of paper to write down the names of every date as well as whether we’d like to see them again. Sounds simple enough. There’s a roar coming from behind the black doors of the theatre and I begin to worry about what I might find once I’ve jumped into the deep end of dating.
“Anyone for a drink?” Yes, please! I gulp down some white wine between nervous giggles until the Dutch courage settles in. It’s the first time I start to really observe the situation. There’s seven other women huddled in the lobby. Most of us are clearly overdressed for a date in the dark. There’s a wide age range, with me probably being the youngest of the group. There’s an Indian woman, one other black woman and five white women. Those that came with friends have conversations and take selfies while the ones that came alone silently sip wine whilst staring off into the distance.
We’re startled when the door is suddenly flung open by a handsome man. It’s just the DJ, getting refills of brandy and whiskey for the men. Pity. Someone chirps over my shoulder expressing her disappointment that he won’t be participating. Still, it’s good to know we’re not the only ones using alcohol as a social lubricant.
It’s time to start the dates. We walk into the dark theatre, illuminated by electric tea candles on top of each partition. When my eyes adjust to the darkness I feel deceived. I can actually see things! The DJ fiddles with his laptop and the dating begins with a poem about love being a parasite that can only be cured by medicine. Always a good way to start.
Forty minutes and eight men later, I’ve seen it all. There was the medicine student who made my first date super easy by talking about himself, the touchy businessman who asked me why I had scooted my chair backwards, a 41 year old who gave me some advice about life, and a colourful character that slurred through our five minutes together. I had a riot!
At the end of our dates the women left first, moving into the bar area to hand over their rate cards. Three ticks and five crosses. Not too shabby. I opted to leave immediately instead of staying for another drink to meet fellow male daters. You know, for the sake of maintaining the mystery.
I must admit, there’s a certain comfort that comes with getting to know someone without having to fuss about the way you look. I had some great conversations and some not-so-great conversations, but at no point did I think about whether my lips were dry or if I had something in my teeth. On Sunday, when I received three emails with the subject “you’re a match!”, I found myself stuck between a rock and a dark place. It was good to know the feeling was mutual and I had enough of a personality to date without the assistance of my appearance, but now I would actually have to see this person in the light. I imagine that on the first date in the light, what I first thought was a great personality might descend into an internal crisis where I question how superficial people, including me, are and how many soulmates I missed because “he wasn’t my type”. If there are two things I learnt during Dating in the Dark that will get me to my next date is that conventional dates are actually pretty intimidating and a little vino goes a long way.
Big cities are ironically really small places and frankly, I’m tired of dating people that went to school with my brother. In forty minutes I met three men I’ve never met before, in a fun and safe environment, one of which may be the answer to my dreams of avoiding yet another cold winter.
Words by @ThatGirlFati
Graphics by @BizaniMeyiwa