Missing Being Seen Anew? Perhaps Date Tonight Cafe is right for you…
Lucie de Gentile
Image Description: Date Tonight Cafe logo with a cupid floating to its side
I don’t know about you, but lockdown has really made me feel like I have had plenty of “quality” time with myself, or at least experiences of self-realisation which have brought varying degrees of pleasure – and pain!
During this period, if we are to be at least a bit happy/sane, we need to show ourselves some self-love. We have to learn, as tragic or as deep as it sounds, to become better partners for ourselves. We have to show ourselves even more self-care than ‘normal’, give ourselves some time to relax, take ourselves on walks, have honest chats (sometimes with ourselves) about what we like and what we don’t.
Lockdown has encouraged us to confront ourselves. It has enabled us to focus on ourselves, our needs, our desires, like no other time in history. Fewer distractions and commitment, less time spent on our appearance, more time to just sit with ourselves and see how much of a lovely mess we all are.
Yet, this solitary (and often brave) practice of “self-reflection” can never offer, by its nature, the gifts of connection and conversation with a new human being. Yes, some of us have had the ability to stay in touch with friends and family or get a thrill from seeing other beating hearts in the supermarkets, but it is very hard in lockdown to create new relationships – to make a first impression – to project oneself, maybe not as we are, but as we want to be. To be seen – actually seen – by someone new.
I miss that feeling of a first meeting, the nerves, the thrill; who will talk first, how badly will I embarrass myself, will someone dazzle me with their cuteness or will I dazzle them? And the fact that whatever the outcome of the first meeting, there are many other first meetings to be had with other people. The feeling that we can constantly recreate ourselves – that our kaleidoscope can be continually shaken.
Well, I guess lockdown permits a few solutions: becoming especially friendly with Amazon delivery drivers (although in my experience, they are usually in a hurry and at least partially obscured by a mask); befriending local wildlife (I don’t know about you, but I still find it hard to know if I have already met a particular pigeon); or I guess, if we were feeling particularly poetical, we could have “new encounters” with characters in books.
An alternative solution is the Date Tonight Cafe – a “virtual café” created by Oxford University students. Those wishing to participate complete a short, fun, online questionnaire about themselves and what they are seeking: romance, friendship or just happy to see a new unmasked face in these strange times. Depending upon the event, the database then finds each participant 1, 2 or 3 “matches”. On event night, each participant is sent their own personal password that will connect them, at a set time, via audio-visual link to each of their “matches”, so that the fun can begin.
Lockdown has encouraged us to confront ourselves. It has enabled us to focus on ourselves, our needs, our desires, like no other time in history.
The system guarantees 100% anonymity – so no “stalking” (before or after the event) – no names or email addresses are shared. It truly is a ‘blind date’ based on the information provided. To date, more than 500 students have participated in the Cafe’s events which have generated a lot of positive feedback – even being referred to as “a cult” on Oxlove.
Reviews sing the praises of the Date Tonight Cafe: “easy to do, convenient, truly a blind date”, “a relatively relaxed variant of oxford remote dating – not a significant time commitment but nonetheless a very enjoyable way of meeting new people” and “Meeting new people made it easier and less awkward”.
Some have gained friendships: “Met two really awesome gals and made two new friends! Not the ~love~ I was hoping for, but equally awesome conversation and 100% glad I came along, not to mention the charity aspect”. Whilst others have found romance: “So our date night turned into a 3 hours chat and we are still messaging and having video chats almost every week <3 hopefully when we all come back this will turn into something more!!”.
During the pandemic, the Date Tonight Cafe has been able to offer human connection without risk of infection! Originally events were donation-only with 100% of funds raised donated to charities – but as the Cafe has expanded, investment was required in the development of its software, so a small charge (usually £3 or £4) is made – although 75% of funds raised are still donated to charities.
So far, the Cafe has raised awareness and funds for numerous charities including: SolidariTee (the largest student-led charity fighting for long term change in the refugee crisis); the Islamic Relief Fund, UNICEF and Oxfam to assist in the humanitarian crisis in Yemen; Social Bite (a Scottish Homeless charity), MIND, Homeless Oxfordshire and three charities fighting racial injustice.
Additionally, the Cafe has enabled people who would not ordinarily have met (because they don’t mix in the same social, or “friendship” circles) to meet and to hopefully break down barriers and create relationships. As one of the founders of the Date Tonight Cafe explains: “the first step is to sign-up by completing a short online questionnaire, the second and final step is to get yourself ready on event night, and then simply click on the link to your surprise “match” – and begin meeting someone new.”
The next Date Tonight Cafe event is on Thursday February 11th. I personally think we could all benefit from it. What is there to lose? Perhaps you meet someone special, or perhaps you just have a few fun hours – at the very least you can practice your social skills so that if life ever does go back to any semblance of normality, we’re not all completely useless at talking to strangers.
At worst, you have a funny story to entertain your friends with during your next zoom chat. At best, you meet the love of your life and get a zoom date on Valentine’s day – feeling like someone new has seen something special in you, even in lockdown 2021.