How to Rethink Your Wedding

How to Go on a First Date During Quarantine

How to Go on a First Date During Quarantine

How to Go on a First Date During Quarantine

brian

Definitely, I have— every single night before I go to sleep, and then right when I wake up in the morning, I would say those are the two times I’m most confident that I will never find love. [MUSIC]

priya parker

Finding love, connection, a spark at the best times is rough. Finding it during a pandemic has its own challenges.

yahyra

I went on a run the other day. And I tried to make eyes with someone. But I had, like, a bandana on. And it was just like, what does that even— nobody can see my expression. It was like, yeah, I don’t know what it’s going to look like. [LAUGHS]

priya parker

So this week, we did something that may turn out to make two people feel a little less alone in this world right now.

kyle

Is this your first speed date ever?

yahyra

No, I did it for Valentine’s Day with two— some of my friends in 2018, and it was a disaster. So—

priya parker

And maybe, if we’re lucky, it might even help save a small business.

kavita ajwani

The whole idea lately has been like, how do we stand out? How do we make this exciting? How do we not sound like another dating app?

priya parker

As it turns out, I have lots of ideas about how to create intimacy on a speed date.

brian

Let’s see. They just complained. Is that about you? I was not prepared for that question at all, you know, too kind, too giving, too empathetic.

priya parker

In partnership with The New York Times, this is Together Apart. I’m Priya Parker.

brian

I used to smoke way too much weed, actually. But I haven’t smoked weed in over four years. So that has been rectified.

priya parker

If you’ve never been on a speed date, you might have seen one on TV. They’re often set in a restaurant or a bar. And it’s, like, 20 people who are rotating through quick dates. I’m talking six or eight-minute dates with different people. And it kind of turns this notion of dating as something that only happens between two people on its head. Speed dating is a group event. And if we’re defining a gathering as any time three or more people come together for a purpose, speed dating is a gathering. [JAZZ MUSIC] Kavita started a speed dating service called Dashing Date eight years ago.

kavita ajwani

The end goal for me is not to get somebody married. I know that that’s out of my control. But what’s in my control is to help someone enjoy being single and help someone enjoy their dating experiences, which, I think, is so important when it comes to dating and something that’s really missing in society. As a single person today, you’re just expected to meet someone. And the journey to get there is not going to be a great journey. You just have to kind of get there.

priya parker

The company actually started out of a tragedy. Her long-term boyfriend was killed in a car crash, and she needed something meaningful to throw herself into. And then COVID hit, and she’s had to rethink the entire operation and take it online.

priya parker

You said this phrase that kind of blew my mind, which is, I want them to enjoy being single.

kavita ajwani

Yes.

priya parker

And that’s, for me, at least, such a reframing of the entire dating industry.

kavita ajwani

Yes.

priya parker

You know, I remember, gosh, maybe 10 or 15 years ago, when online dating was just starting to happen. And there was so much taboo around it. You know, I’m half Indian. Are you— do you have a South Asian background?

kavita ajwani

Yes, I am fully Indian.

priya parker

You’re fully Indian.

kavita ajwani

Yeah.

priya parker

And I remember dinner conversations with friends basically saying, it’s not that different from an arranged marriage system in the sense of having filters that ease the way, right? Like a matchmaking— it’s actually still that same filtering sensibility, except the location of choice is in the individual not in the family.

kavita ajwani

Right.

priya parker

What’s really interesting about what you just said is that feels countercultural to what a dating company is for.

kavita ajwani

Mm-hmm.

priya parker

And I would bump up that language a lot.

kavita ajwani

OK.

priya parker

If you elevate this part of why you do this as a company, which is, you want to give people an ability to enjoy being single and enjoy the journey, it frees your format. Enjoy being single is a radical idea, right? It’s a business-defining idea. It’s a— it will make you less money, I mean, at some level. It just changes the goal of what anyone thinks the goal is. And you know, I’m married. When I hear you say that, I relax. I exhale. It’s like, oh, thank god. Right? It’s like you’ve changed the goalpost. The goalpost is a meaningful experience with other people.

kavita ajwani

Yeah.

priya parker

In my mind, by freeing her business of needing to get these people married, she’s simply getting at what all of us are trying to do right now, creating meaningful experiences in these new conditions. And then I shared a tweet with her that I read a few weeks ago that really resonated with me. It’s from Aaron Z. Lewis. And he writes this. “Social skeuomorphism, that feeling when you try to copy-paste IRL social activities into a digital context without making any alterations. Digital dinner parties, movie nights often make you feel more distant by highlighting all the subtle differences between the virtual and the physical.” And then he goes on to ask— and this is the moneyline— “rather than asking how do we take what we’re used to and put it on the internet, what can we do in digital spaces that’s impossible to replicate in IRL?” [JAZZ MUSIC]

This is Together Apart.

priya parker

What’s interesting is you actually have access to people’s homes immediately, right? And you can give a lot of information, if they’re willing to share it. Like, what does someone’s kitchen look like? What does their fridge look like? Right? Open your fridge right now. Is there a beer bottle in it? Or is it stuffed with veggies? There’s a lot of ways to play with the current location that people are actually in, right? We are all zooming in from our most intimate spaces.

kavita ajwani

I love this idea. I like that as an icebreaker that doesn’t take 25 minutes, but everybody starts— or even, you know, tonight’s speed-dating event is in your kitchen, or on your couch, kind of like an insight into your home life.

priya parker

Instead of awkwardly trying to recreate her in-person speed dating experiences by pretending they’re in a virtual speakeasy, what if we use people’s homes to create connection? Rather than trying to block out the life behind the screen, what if we welcomed it in with care?

priya parker

So much of dating is, like, masks, and so much of connection, meaningful connection, is unmasking.

kavita ajwani

Yeah.

priya parker

And I think you, as a host, need to have judgment around how much do you unmask too fast. Part of desire and part of mystery is actually not— is the journey to get to know a person. And so maybe you don’t want to see the fridge right away. That’s where your expertise needs to come in. I’m going to read you one more tweet that was on that same thread that I think will delight you and perhaps spark other ideas. It’s a little risque, but I loved it.

kavita ajwani

OK.

priya parker

So In that same thread line, a guy named Jimmy Riss tweets back at Aaron. And he says, “I was at a Zoom party. And at the end of the night was maybe eight folks in the, quote, ‘hot tub room.’ Everyone was in their bath at home.”

kavita ajwani

Oh, wow.

priya parker

“All chilling the hot tub together. And it turned into naughty truth or dare. And it was a rad and unprecedented, for me, experience that felt natively digital.”

kavita ajwani

That’s super cool. I’m like, forget speed dating. Like, I’m doing that tonight. [LAUGHTER]

priya parker

So I’m slightly obsessed with this hot tub example for three reasons. First, it is unique to this moment. It’s a design that comes out of this weird situation where people are stuck at home and online. The idea of a virtual hot tub party was not something most people thought to do pre-COVID. Second, it’s a mixing of the virtual and the physical together. And I know that there are versions of this pre-COVID. It’s what virtual reality plays with and augmented reality tries to do. But this feels simpler, more human, more collective. We created this. A company did not. I don’t know if there’s a term for this yet, but there should be. Yes, there’s mixed reality and blended worlds. But this somehow feels new. It’s by us. It’s democratic. You don’t need a fancy headpiece or need to be an engineer to host this. And it’s participatory and generative, meaning the guests change the experience for everyone based on how they choose to participate. And the last element of this hot tub example that’s relevant for us is the naughty truth or dare part of it because it introduces a key element of transformative gatherings, which is risk.

priya parker

And I was thinking, what’s in your house round, or what’s in your—

kavita ajwani

Like, should we do a show and tell?

priya parker

—dwelling. Yeah, oh, love it.

kavita ajwani

OK, cool.

priya parker

And I was thinking, what’s on your bedside table? Or what’s a book on your bedside?

kavita ajwani

Or what’s in your bedside drawer?

priya parker

What did you— oh, yeah, yeah, exactly. Exactly. Heighten the risk. What’s in your bedside drawer? What’s in your fridge?

priya parker

In writing my book, The Art of Gathering, I met a woman called Ida Benedetto, who called herself a transgression consultant. She would create these experiences for people that were carefully designed to help them increase their tolerance for risk, having people attend a fake conference at the Waldorf Astoria dressed in black tie and have to crash a wedding on the third floor and give a toast to the bride, stuff like that. Ida believes that for an experience to be transformative, it needs to carry some amount of risk. And that should be done with care. Risk is that beautiful element where you actually don’t know what will happen next, where you’re able to knock people off their scripts. So with Kavita, we start brainstorming small speed dating prompts that people couldn’t plan for, that would be fun, and the right kind of exposing, but that would also give each participant insight into who the other person really is and how they actually spend their time when they’re not trying to impress you.

priya parker

And then, I don’t know if this goes into a different category, or if there’s, like, a digital round, but, like, what’s the last song that you played?

kavita ajwani

The last website you were on maybe.

priya parker

Oh, that’s interesting. That’s so good. What’s the— open your search browser. That’s actually kind of hilarious.

kavita ajwani

Oooh. Like, the last five or three or five or 10 sites that you visited.

priya parker

That’s so good. And I’m starting to get nervous.

kavita ajwani

Because that’s so true, Like, read out your last text message.

priya parker

[LAUGHS]

kavita ajwani

[INAUDIBLE] we’re laughing. It’s so good. Oh, what about, like, what dating apps you have on your phone? It would give someone an insight [INAUDIBLE].

priya parker

That’s true. How did this person really spend their time.

kavita ajwani

Yeah.

priya parker

The use of our homes gets us past the way we talk about ourselves and towards actually showing someone else how we live. Most first dates are in stiff restaurants or loud bars. And if someone did invite you to their house on your first date, would you take that as a red flag? But because of COVID, we have no choice but to date from home. So why not lean into that reality?

priya parker

You know, I think part of dating is not a full unmasking on the first date. But I think this is a really interesting way for people to see more quickly a person’s actual lived reality.

kavita ajwani

Right. Yeah. Because very quickly, like, you could know if my last five phone calls are family members.

priya parker

Yeah.

priya parker

One of my favorite questions comes from a friend of mine, Lynn. “Tell us about a story or myth that shaped your or your family’s world view. Do you believe it? How has it changed you? Did you or do you intend to pass it on?” She asked at one evening over dinner of my husband and I. And I first learned something about my husband that I never knew before. And then I spoke about the myth that I inherited from my parents, when they were still married, that they were, we were adventurers. We were footloose and fancy-free. We pick up and go. We don’t get too attached to things. And for my parents, that looked like moved to Botswana? Yes. Moved to the Maldives? Sure. Have my child in another country I’ve never been to, don’t currently live in, thousands of miles away from my own mother? Why not? And that even after they divorced, I had this unnamed belief in me of being part of a lineage of adventurers, even when it broke my family apart. And it wasn’t until we actually moved to Virginia that I had the experience of going to the same grocery store every week, standing in line, waiting for my favorite grocer, Annette, even when her line was longer than everybody else’s, that made me feel the power of stability, and continuity, and staying in a place. And telling that story that night of my own family myth of adventurer, just simply naming it, helped me begin to see it more clearly and helped me detangle living a crazy life from adventure, or that the belief that, to lead an interesting life, you need to be on the go. That all came from one simple question Lynn asked of the table that evening.

kavita ajwani

There’s also— someone who really knows me would know this about me. And you can just go deep really fast.

priya parker

That’s lovely. What’s the most meaningful object in your home. Bring it to the screen. I think that what would you take with you right now, people could easily default to, like, my favorite water bottle, versus just like, what’s the most meaningful object in your home, they may think a little, and realize, actually, it’s a letter from my grandmother. You know what I mean? I want people to be able to just pause for a second and not just bring objects of use but objects of meaning.

kavita ajwani

Yep.

priya parker

All of that brainstorming led us to this. We decided to set up an experiment, speed dating, Together Apart style.

kavita ajwani

A relationship could blossom. A friendship could blossom. So it should be an experience for you guys. You should really just have fun with it. Relax and enjoy. My name—

priya parker

First, we had to find a single woman willing to have her first dates recorded. And let’s be clear. There is a great deal of trust that goes into that decision. Her name is Yahyra. She’s 36, finds her job fulfilling, has a great circle of friends, but has only recently found the language to describe what she’s looking for in a partner.

yahyra

But on the dating apps, I feel like I leave it kind of open, just because I don’t want to kind of limit it or something. I don’t know. Deep down, I do want that connection and a partner, so an equal, somebody that I can feel activated by, somebody that excites me.

priya parker

To complete the speed date, we found a few men who were open to testing out this gathering with us. So first, meet Brian.

brian

I have a decent amount confidence just in myself in terms of, like, what I can bring to a relationship and what I can bring to somebody else’s life. And I think that I have a lot of great career ambitions.

priya parker

He’s 27, lives with a couple of roommates, and is a sports reporter.

brian

You know, I officiated a wedding last September. And in the wedding officiant speech, I spoke, about, bell hooks and her definition of love being just spiritual growth that you kind of go on with somebody, and just that enrichment, the idea of, like, making someone’s spirit grow and become stronger through the course of a partnership, I think, is the thing that I’d be looking for, and honestly, not something I’ve had in many, many years.

priya parker

And then there’s Kyle.

kyle

I think I’m just such a romantic, I need the alignment of certain stars that are so impossible. And I’ve just fully committed to being alone if that alignment doesn’t happen.

priya parker

He’s 32, an entertainment lawyer, and has a few prerequisites for what he’s looking for.

kyle

I think I just want to be blown away by someone who I’m also, like, holy shit, this person is, like, far more brilliant and like, accomplished, and like, ambitious. And you’re physically blown away. And if you were in a coma, you would trust all my decision-making capabilities. And— and I love you a lot. If I don’t get those four stars to line up, I’m like, [INAUDIBLE] I’ll be the cool uncle.

priya parker

And we had some fun with these dates. [JAZZ MUSIC] We did them in rounds, speed-dating-esque. The first round was blind, as in the couples didn’t turn their cameras on for the first six minutes. So at first, they could only hear each other.

yahyra

Question number one, what’s the post-COVID trip you want to take.

priya parker

Here’s Kyle.

kyle

Yeah, I really want to go to Japan.

yahyra

Same.

kyle

Really?

yahyra

Yeah.

kyle

OK.

yahyra

I was planning on going in September.

priya parker

And Kavita would send them questions to prompt their conversations.

kyle

Name all the dating apps that are on your phone. This is so easy for me. Right?

yahyra

Is it— OK.

kyle

None.

yahyra

Dammit.

kyle

[LAUGHS] I have no dating apps on my phone.

yahyra

[CLEARS THROAT]

kyle

Well, I mean, so let me clarify. I argue that Instagram and Twitter are actually the best dating apps.

yahyra

You’re sliding into DMs?

priya parker

At the end of the first round, they could then turn their cameras on. Here’s the date with Brian.

brian

I think I’m back in here. Turn my video on please. Oh.

yahyra

Hi.

brian

Hello. This is my face.

yahyra

[LAUGHS]

priya parker

Here’s Kyle and Yahyra.

yahyra

OK.

kyle

My video’s on.

yahyra

My video’s on. Hello, Kyle.

kyle

[INAUDIBLE] over there.

yahyra

Huh?

kyle

You’re a supermodel. How are you?

yahyra

Supermodel?

priya parker

We did round of digital show and tell, things like, what were your last five Google searches or—

brian

Oh, gosh, read out your last five texts you sent out.

priya parker

Here’s Brian and Yahyra.

yahyra

Oh, shit. Oh.

brian

OK, they’re almost all embarrassing.

yahyra

[LAUGHS] Yeah, go ahead.

brian

Uh, one is, “I can’t believe I’m doing this. Why did I say yes so easily?”

priya parker

Here’s Kyle again.

kyle

Someone— oh, “will send mom something for Mother’s Day.”

yahyra

Nice.

kyle

That was to my sister.

yahyra

What is it going to be?

kyle

I don’t know. So I need to figure that out yesterday.

priya parker

Here’s Brian again.

brian

Another is, “do you know Yahyra?” [LAUGHTER]

priya parker

Here’s the date with Kyle.

kyle

And then this one was, I said, “I’m a bike vibe.” Because I told— [LAUGHS] I told my friends that I have my bike. I say, “I got my bike back in case anyone’s running today.” And then I said, “I’m a bike vibe.”

yahyra

Sick.

kyle

I don’t know what that was supposed to mean. But it was supposed to mean, like, if y’all are running, I can bike beside y’all because that’s, like, the vibe I’m going for.

yahyra

Yeah. That’s definitely the vibe.

kyle

Right?

yahyra

Yeah.

priya parker

So why is this so fun and disarming? Because they can’t make it up. They’re thrown off script. It’s live. The risk is what texts just happened to have come in in the last few hours? And what might that say about me? But we also get so much information about their social worlds. We hear in just the simple prompts that Kyle is conscientious about his mother, that he’s playful with his buddies, that Brian has close enough friendships that they are keeping up with his day to day. Here’s Brian.

brian

What’s in my fridge? I would say we usually have a lot of oat milk. I like it for coffee.

I don’t know. Can you see it? Can you see what’s in the fridge?

yahyra

Yeah.

brian

There’s some beer. There is— I usually have eggs.

yahyra

I see one bottle of beer. I wouldn’t call that some.

brian

No, there’s five, six.

yahyra

Oh. I think that’s what you have the most of.

brian

Yeah, I would say that. I would say I probably have the most beer. Tortillas maybe? Tortillas are pretty good. They’re flour.

yahyra

Oh, dude. Wait, is that from the Bushwick spot?

brian

[? Dekumbe, ?] yeah.

priya parker

And Kyle? He was brave enough to give us a full home tour.

kyle

Show me the reading material in your bathroom? How did— see, this is kind of creepy. How did they know I had reading material in the bathroom? Does everyone have— do you have reading material in your bathroom?

yahyra

I have a [INAUDIBLE]. It’s, like, an art piece. But yeah.

kyle

I actually—

yahyra

But I don’t read it. It’s kind of funny.

kyle

OK, so we’re now in my bathroom.

yahyra

OK.

kyle

We’re now going to toilet. I’m not using the toilet.

yahyra

OK, great.

kyle

But this is this little candle. Ignore that.

yahyra

Boring.

kyle

This is the only reading in my bathroom. This is The Motivation Manifesto, Nine Declarations to Claim your Personal Power. I started reading that. I never finished it.

yahyra

[LAUGHS] So you weren’t motivated?

kyle

No.

priya parker

Listening to their dates, you can hear them connecting, and laughing, and letting their guard down.

kyle

This is interesting. This was a skillet. I bought it— well, let me tell you this first. I ought a skillet from Amazon. And it turned out to be fucking— can you see how big that is?

yahyra

[LAUGHS]

kyle

Do you see— like it came— I wanted— first I had this box. And I was like, I came to my door. And I was like, did I order a shield? Like, why is this— why is it so large? What is this? And then I opened it, and it was that fucking skillet. And I’m like, I wish you could see me cooking in it because like— wait, hold on. Maybe I can show you. Like, when you turn— [CLICKING] There we go. OK. When you turn on, like, the burner, right? it doesn’t even cover this part.

yahyra

[LAUGHS]

kyle

So, like, let’s say you’re making things on here. You’re like, oh, I can use this entire area. No, you can’t because this side—

yahyra

Is colder.

kyle

This side is cold. And I’m like— so literally, I turn on two burners—

yahyra

[LAUGHS]

kyle

There’s a middle burner that I turn on to catch the side stuff.

priya parker

It worked. We found the right questions to throw them off their scripts, to show who they are, at least initially, and hopefully gave them a fun experience that they’ll remember. And Kyle and Yahyra matched.

yahyra

(LAUGHING) Oh, my god.

priya parker

Are you laughing? What happened?

yahyra

Oh, you weren’t there.

priya parker

No.

yahyra

Oh, my god. He bought this skillet that is so big. It’s— it was cracking me up. He, like, put his hand in it for a reference. And it was— it looked like just this small, like, Brussels sprout compared to, like, the surface area. I was laughing. [LAUGHTER]

That’s also— laughing is a great sign at the end of the date.

priya parker

Actually, a few days ago, she sent a text to our producer, saying, “well, he ordered sushi for me. And we had dinner. And I rambled about that one time I almost died of hypothermia.” Our team had a lot of fun creating this ad hoc, pop-up, Together Apart speed-dating experience with Kavita. And creating those prompts, particularly the use of the fridge and the house tour, it got me thinking that we are just at the beginning of even figuring out the millions of ways we can create interesting, fun, powerful, experiences together apart. [UPBEAT MUSIC]

speaker

Together Apart is produced by Jesse Baker and Eric Nuzum at Magnificent Noise in partnership with The New York Times. Our production staff includes Hugh [? Ortega-Tana, ?] [? Desiree ?] [? Sibley, ?] and [? Noriwaz ?] [? Wass. ?] The executive producers of Together Apart are Priya Parker and Jesse Baker. This show would not be possible without [? Moe ?] [? Mullen, ?] [? Corey ?] [? Sica, ?] Joanna Nikas, Anya Strzemein, Julia Simon, Lisa Tobin, and Sam Dolnick.


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