For the first thirty-three years and fifty-nine days of my life, I was a single man. My inability to score a second, or for that matter first, date was as mysterious as the dark side of the moon, and the feeling of being in love was as foreign as the feeling of a broken heart. Both usually require a second date. My first and only kiss was in my high school's production of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. I mustered up the courage to ask Juliet out after the play, but her parents would not allow it. Our families did not get along. Throughout most of my adult life, I experimented with matchmaking sites and apps. All the swiping from Bumble and Tinder gave me carpal tunnel. I even changed my diet for a few months to fit in on the dating site, Gluten-Free Singles. Instead of finding love, I developed fiber deficiency. With each failed attempt, the possibility of living a lonely, single life seemed more of a reality. That was until I stumbled upon a flyer promoting an upcoming public Tape Dating session occurring outside the Graduate Hotel in the Ped Mall of my hometown, Iowa City.
Inspired by London's popular silent speed dating event, Shhh, Tape Dating requires all participants to tape their mouths shut to prevent them from speaking. This approach encourages participants to discover a deeper connection, one that requires no words, and to communicate in alternative ways, especially through body language. This method not only cuts out the small talk, it cuts talking entirely. Initially, I wanted nothing to do with it. It seemed like a desperate approach to finding a match, but then I noticed my wrist splint for my swiping-induced carpal tunnel and remembered my recent bout of constipation from the lack of dietary fiber. If I was willing to jeopardize my health for love, I was willing to tape my mouth shut. I signed up.
When I arrived at the Ped Mall for the Tape Dating session, I was greeted by a burly man with a shiny bald head. He appropriately went by the name of Mute Mike. He was the Tape Dating organizer and once the session began, the only person allowed to talk. Mute Mike ripped off a piece of duct tape long enough to run across my entire face. Before applying the tape to my mouth, Mute Mike had me write my name across it. In addition to being a silencer, the tape served as each participant's nametag. Once all the registrants applied their nametags, the session commenced.
We started by going around the room greeting each other in a nonverbal manner. Some participants shook hands, some hugged. One individual bowed with folded hands. As each participant greeted one another, the sound of suppressed laughter began to squeeze through the edges of the tape. Two women removed their nametags and left within the first five minutes, instead grabbing drinks and front row seats on the patio of DC's. Other bystanders began to form crowds around us, asking themselves whether this was some public art display, flash mob, or just another government protest. After everyone silently acknowledged each other, we began the more intimate, one-on-one ninety-second rotations.
Scattered across the brick walkway were tall bar tables that served as the site of each interaction. The women participants were each assigned to a table, while the men made rounds, moving from one potential match to the next. Mute Mike would signal the end of each ninety-second round with an air horn, drawing larger crowds with each startling blare. My first partner was Alice. She wrote her name in large bubble letters across the tape nametag, using a heart to dot the "i". After shaking hands and exchanging nods, we just sat there looking at each other in silence. The interaction was at best a seductive staring contest and at worst a really awkward silence. Our gaze was interrupted by Mute Mike's airhom, and I was on to the next table. Each subsequent wordless exchange was marked by some unique feature. Karli challenged me to an arm-wrestling match, Chloe and I held hands, and Sydni kept her eyes closed the entire ninety seconds. David and Michelle, the only two who knew American Sign Language, really hit it off and left together early. The event seemed to be working well for everyone except me, and with one more table to go, the thought of signing up for another niche dating site started creeping in.
My final partner had long blonde hair tucked behind her ears. She wore a green blouse with a light blue denim jacket. Her glasses sat low on the bridge of her nose as she peered over the upper rim. Written across her mouth was the name Melissa. She greeted me with a curious stare. Disregarding the tape across her mouth, Melissa muttered inaudible sounds in an attempt to speak to me. I could not make out a single word. Then she tried role playing. She pretended to take a drink of something and, with her hands tucked between her head and shoulder, doze off. I was confused. Clearly getting frustrated with the clock ticking, Melissa pinched the corner of her nametag and ripped it off. I gasped. With a grin across her face, she asked, "Stephen, do you remember me?" I shook my head, still in disbelief that she was breaking the rules. Melissa put her hand on my shoulder and exclaimed, "We went to high school together! I was Juliet in our play. You gave me that slobbery kiss!" I froze. Standing in front of me was my first kiss! With Mute Matt's airhom sounding in the background, I removed my nametag. We exchanged some more words before I found the courage to ask, "Would you want to grab a bite to eat?" Blushing, she agreed, "As long as there are gluten-free options." After thirty-three years and fifty-nine days, I scored my very first date.