Yes, I Speed-Dated With a Paper Bag on My Head

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Photo: Diana Ecker

Can you get a date with just your personality? Could you go on a date and not judge someone by their looks?

No, of course not; these are ridiculous questions. Still, they were the questions posed by Loveflutter, a new dating site, in staging a speed-dating event at which participants wore paper bags over their faces. (Most participants were members of the news media.) I arrive prepared to gamely participate, and eager to prove the excellence of my personality.

After check-in, where we’re given our bags, speed-dating forms, and numbers, we’re ushered into gender-segregated rooms to decorate bags with a fun and whimsical design and a 140-character “quirky fact” about ourselves. I start decorating with a tableful of other ladies. I've chosen to draw a slice of pepperoni pizza around my bag. At the top, I write, “Ask me about: my favorite emoji, my love of 'Pony' by Ginuwine, and my celebrity doppelgänger. Also hi!” I think I’m adorable, but some of my fellow baggies are getting serious — showing off Martha Stewart–level skills with pipe cleaners, but also broadcasting impressive facts — like Allison, who has been to 150 of New York’s museums. Another woman makes her bag interactive. I text a photo of mine to a co-worker for a little confidence boost and receive the following reply:

“THE PIZZA. ALWAYS WITH THE FUCKING PIZZA.”

Okay not a great start.

“Also, your sentence —” she continues. “Never mind.”

I press her. Is it the worst?

“THE WORST. So pandering. ‘I’m a funny person. I only have three stories' is what your bag says.”

I get another drink.

Now, I have a lot of confidence in my personality. I can make jokes, engage in small talk, and maybe not necessarily flirt, but at least hold an interesting and engaging conversation that demonstrates I am interested and engaged in my date. I don’t care what my co-worker says. My bag-fact is charming. I’m ready to charm.

At the outset, my first six dates check "pass" on their sheets. It takes about 12 minutes to realize that I have made three huge mistakes:

1. Admitting my celebrity doppelgänger: Listen, everybody has their “stories” that they tell on dates to illuminate they are a “type” of person. One of my go-tos is a story from my trip to India (I like to travel!) when people kept mistaking me for Serena Williams (I’m black!) even though I look nothing like her and would ask me to pose for photos with their babies. (I'm full of LOLZ!) But, you know, not everyone is into Serena Williams and this gave them a reference point for what I look like.

2. Admitting my love of the song "Pony": Very much the wrong crowd. Have people really not heard of Ginuwine? This is a problem. Several people ask me if I’m a My Little Pony fanatic. I have to sing the chorus a total of three times. Which means I sing “If you’re horny, let’s do it, ride it, my pony” to a total of three strangers while wearing a bag on my head.

3.  Drawing pizza on my face: Several people assumed I was a literal pizza-face and asked if I had acne.

I spend my hour of dating either making dull small talk or overcompensating by trying really hard with the jokes. With a lot of people I’m actually quite combative. I am not alone in my wretchedness, though. It seems the paper bags have taken all the horrible "ta-da" gimmicks we rely on to get through dates and amplified them to monstrous proportions. I might rely on one good story and my wit to trick people into liking me, but during my date whirlwind, I'm confronted with even more vile demon tactics: 

Twin Bros With Dogs: Two bro pals came to the event together with their dogs. And you think pizza is pandering. Anyone who shoves a puppy in my face and expects me to be charmed — is like ... kind of right. But I resent the obvious ploy and call them out for gaming of the system. And my heart. And puppies. Also, one of the terrible twosome is incredibly irritated that most women in attendance work in media, and says twice in two minutes: “If I wanted to flirt with a girl while she was working, I could have just gone to a strip club.” (Pass. Fine. I lied. I kept one of them. For the puppy.)

Photo: Diana Ecker

Shitbag: This charmer was really into compost toilets, so he decorated his bag with an actual drawing of poop. He also painted a single, long, sharpened pinkie nail with black glittery nail polish as a way to remind himself, and the rest of the world, that he was “a unique person.” He also told me he was passing on me. (PASS.)

Old Yeller: For anyone who came to meet a human, I’ll hand it to them: This event was a media circus. And with all the cameras and microphones and note-taking, it was really invasive. After finding out I was one of the media, Old Yeller spent a minute berating me and asking if I planned to tweet about him. (Pass. And yes.)

Volleyball: Volleyball’s bag prominently featured a drawing of a little man playing volleyball. He really loved volleyball. So we talked about volleyball and nothing but volleyball and then more volleyball again. Volleyball. (Pass.)

Photo: Diana Ecker

Katy Perry Guy: KPG is incredibly awkward, and admitted that his last four OKCupid dates ended within five minutes of meeting him. His personality is entirely unique, to put it mildly: He's wearing a Canadian tuxedo, he's a janitor at the New York Times with a side hustle as a prominent scribe of erotic kitten fiction, and he loves Katy Perry unironically. Now maybe I'm just a sucker, but of all 22 dates, KPG is the only one who had a genuine (though bizarre) personality and wasn't savvy enough to have any sort of immediate lady-killing tactics to rely on. I don't know what this says about humanity, but Jeff is a winner. (Keep.)

At the end of our journey through the horrifying recess of each others souls, it's time for the grand “Debagging” ceremony. I quickly realized as I watched man after man sweat through their bags, I’d been judging by appearance the whole time. Except for the contingent of men who wrapped their faces with paper towels in attempt to block the eye and mouth holes, I’d been able see lips, eyes, clothing, and hands. Really, that's enough to paint a robust portrait of a man — so the debagging was a letdown. As was the entire evening. 

Loveflutter asked us an existential question: “Can you get a date with just your personality?” and forced us to stare into the abyss with poorly decorated bags over our heads, and gross cosmos in our bellies. In doing so, I learned something more horrifying than I could have imagined: No. No, I cannot. Because my personality is bad. And my fellow daters? Their personalities are bad. And all of us should really just stick to Tinder, where it hardly matters anyway — well, except for Jeff. He's too good for this world.