Binaural dating. #bethedate was the offer that came to my inbox. ‘Oh yes!’ I thought, ‘that sounds fun,…. an audio experience that looks at dating from the inside out. With a waiter that Waits and a Chef to guide you. What’s the worst that could happen?’
Well, the worst that could happen couldn’t possibly be worse than my own risible attempts. I tried a dating site once, wasn’t prepared to pay for a ‘proper’ dating site as I wasn’t terribly serious about finding a life partner. So I wasted a lot of people’s time chatting when all they wanted was sex. I thought I wanted sex too. I thought defining myself as ‘sapio-sexual’ would both narrow the field and ensure that I dated people (men actually) who were more interested in finding out what was in my head than in my pants. After a number of dates where exploratory snogging led directly to people (men actually) diving straight into my pants, I gave up on the dating game.
So, the promise of a date, based on a performance, which would not land up with me gratuitously sticking my tongue down someone’s throat (apparently I need little encouragement), or them prematurely diving into my pants (apparently they need little encouragement) sounded rather fun.
Who could resist an invitation that reads – ‘Part interactive performance, part dating agency, Binaural Dinner Date invites genuine applications from individuals looking for love, or existing couples who simply want a very different dating experience.’
Friday was date night! In the absence of actually having someone to date, I booked a ‘singles’ ticket. My friend Henni who plays violin with me at poetry performances booked too. Off I trotted to Gerry’s in Stratford, dressed almost for an actual date, but without the plunging neckline or the three layers of face paint, I navigated a packed overground, got lost in the Westville Centre and arrived hot, bothered and a little late just in time to be one of the last to be seated at a table. This was going well, almost as well as any actual date I had been on. I was joined by a very attractive and very female date. I think we both managed our disappointment rather well. To be honest, at least she wasn’t 5ft 7ins when she’d said she was 6ft 2ins or 52 when she’d said she was 45. This was already the most honest date I’d ever been on and we hadn’t even exchanged a word!
The Binaural Dating experience was a bit like those dating programmes where people who are hopeless at flirting are given instructions through headphones. Except we both had headphones on! We were both being given instructions! Even knowing this, I felt relieved to be divested of the responsibility of using my own tired dating script. The Chef was a lot funnier, more cruel and deliberate than I could ever be. Seven mins in, we had broken the ice. Seventeen mins in, we had asked each other some pretty deep and interesting questions. Thirty mins in, we were playing competitive games. Forty five mins in, we were co-operating. Each new item on the menu brought us closer together. I was asking and being asked questions, I would never have the courage, playfulness or imagination to ask on a first date. The waiter, as promised, was waiting. There was eye-contact, there was intimacy, and there was reassurance and connection. There has been a lot been written about intimate, participative and immersive theatres as antidote to the consumerist nature of capitalist cultural production. Modern dating apps tend to exacerbate problems of expendability and magnify the performative nature of romance, without critical awareness. At some point, I wondered vaguely if I could hire the Chef to accompany me on all dates to feed me some alternative narrative lines. This was a theatre which used dating as both metaphor and means. I had an esoteric teacher who used to claim that intimacy was about allowing people in: ‘In-too-me-see’. I’d rather go on a million dates like this; dates which are subversive enough to make me challenge my motives and the superficiality of my preferences and yet still provide me with a deeply intimate experience. After an hour of sitting across from and interacting with my date, I found that I had truly laughed, revealed, played and explored with a complete stranger.
Our clothes were still on, my tongue had not transgressed. Her hands had not travelled (this would not have been different if it had been a man!). I felt warm and squishy and more fully human and alive. I bought into the idea that love can heal our brokenness. Both Henni and I left wishing we had bought someone whom we fancied on this date. I hope fervently that Binaural Dating will be set up as an agency for reluctant daters or those wanting a a playful challenge to their tired dating scripts. I’m keen to go again.
It’s still on until the 2nd Dec. Book now. Go!
Binaural Dinner Date is on from the 30th Nov to the 3rd December. Tickets are selling fast! http://www.stratfordeast.com/whats-on/all-shows/binaural-dinner-date#schedules
ZU-UK is run by creative directors Jaade Persis and Jorge Ramos. They run a collaborative theatre making MA in conjunction with the University of East London and also run frequent professional development courses for artists interested in performance, technology and collaboration.
Debra Watson is a participative theatre practitioner, media facilitator and poet. Visit her at: www.debrawatsoncreative.com
I went back to Rio’s this week, the naturist sauna club, in Northwest London. I’d spent half a decade there, hanging out, getting laid, getting warm and then suddenly stopped five years ago when I met a guy who didn’t like me going there. I’d said, “OK, I won’t go back,” because I loved him and figured I’d had enough of being a swinger; it was time to settle down.
I’d thought about it often over the years, especially on the days when the weather was so cold and miserable, that it felt like my bones were freezing over. On those days, I missed Rio’s steam room and of being able to lie in there, often alone, for hours, until I was so warm, I could walk outside with my jacket half undone on a 5-degree day.
Other times, I thought about going back for the sex and the camaraderie. I wanted to be with other like-minded people, naked and free. Rio’s was a place I could always count on for a chat with a stranger and a fuck on the side… if I wanted it. I could have a steam, a sauna and go home. I always thought of it not so much as a swinging club but an erotic leisure centre. Even standing next to a naked man with a semi-hard on, showering, was a turn-on. How many other places could provide so much for the £8 entrance fee?
From time to time, I’d find myself in Kentish Town and I’d pass the place and I’d wonder whether it had changed. Would there still be a tin of McVities digestive biscuits at the bar? Could I still order a tuna sweet corn sandwich? I’d wonder they’d tarted it up, got a new steam room, whether there was still fake grass in the garden to lie upon. I’d reminisce in my head about the fun times I’d had, the laughs, the horny sex, and all the people I’d met.
For some long, it was my refuge. I’d pop my clothes and mobile phone in the yellow locker by the entrance and then forget about everything. It was like being dropped onto an alien planet where I could be and do just what I wanted and everyone was accepting. OK, maybe not the woman behind the bar, that always seemed to be wearing Marigolds, but all the rest didn’t seem to mind what did. For the few hours that I was there, I wasn’t anyone’s mother, or boss, or friend; I was just a naked middle-aged woman, usually amongst a sea of men.
Admittedly, the place was not for everyone. I tried to bring a girlfriend once and she wasn’t having any of it. “I get why you like it here,” she said, sitting in the steam room in a bikini while a guy opposite us leered at her. “But it’s not for me.”
In any case, now I’m single again, I figured, why not? I’d know soon enough, once I got inside, whether I really had moved on. I checked the weather report and it looked like being a glorious, hot day. I wanted to lie naked in a garden, soaking up the sun, and I couldn’t think of anywhere else in London where that was possible… besides Rios. Maybe I was looking for an excuse to go back too.
I checked Citymapper and it said I could be there in 40 minutes. A bus was leaving in 5 minutes. That was all the reason I needed. A small part of me was scared so I grabbed a bikini bottom before I left. In the past, I’d always gone completely naked because, after all, it was anaturist club but this time I didn’t feel so bold; I wanted some protection. And I’d taken one further precaution by enlisting someone to come with me, a local guy who was on a swinging site and seemed nice and attractive enough. I knew, if worse came to worse, we could ditch each other.
I went up to the door and paid the entrance fee, grateful that the woman taking my money was not the same one I remembered from my past. That woman always used to give me the up and down with her eyes as if to say, “I know what you get up to here.” Despite being five years since I’d last passed over that threshold, I half expected everything to be just as I’d left it.
I grabbed my towel, was buzzed through the door, noticing the new shiny, black mirrors in the changing area. Then I saw the familiar lockers with their key on a wide elastic strap. There was the same bin in the corner for our wet towels and the one, lone chair in the other. The rest was familiar too, although now in the garden there were rows of green plastic chairs where none had been years earlier, many of them broken. Some building supplies were tucked in a corner too like they always had been. Funny how some things never change.
I met my new friend and it turned out we had a lot in common, both being media folk and from North London. We were grateful when it turned out that our children, around the same ago, did not know each other. Conversation flowed easily. I went out and brought back a couple of beers from the shop across the street. A Hungarian guy came and sat down next to us and told us about the swinging club he used to run near Budapest. A guy opposite heard my American accent and asked my views on Trump, of course. Later, a man came round with some ice cream he had bought nearby and offered us each one. ‘What’s a hot day without ice cream?’ he said. My companion was smiling from ear to ear. “I can’t believe I’ve passed this place every day and never been inside.”
We struck up a conversation with a nice couple and, before too long, we were all playing together in one of the small side rooms. Sweat pouring off our bodies (the room was very small), we kissed and licked and fucked until the heat became unbearable. They were cute and fun. I hadn’t kissed a woman in a while; I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed it. How soft and small a woman’s mouth always felt compared to a man’s. Her boyfriend was well hung, horny and hard.
“I guess you’re back on the horse,” said my new friend. “Yes, I guess I am,” I said.
Week four (or five, I’ve lost count) of my quest to find love in all the wrong places and already I am exhausted, bored and frustrated. Gone are the halcyon days of the Internet, when online dating was self-selective and exciting. Back in the very early 2000’s, when far fewer people owned a computer than they do now, you could almost be guaranteed that anyone you met on an online dating site had a degree, and almost certainly worked in IT, Law or the Media. I have friends that I met over 15 years ago on dating sites that I’m still friendly with today. There was the very sexy war correspondent, the hilarious computer game’s writer, various lawyers and much more. I didn’t actually have sex with all of them but that wasn’t the point. They were interesting, articulate people that I would never have met in real life.
Contrast that to now when every man and his dog are online and the sifting process alone is enough to make me want to crawl under the duvet and never come out. Never mind that text-speak has become so ubiquitous, no matter what the age of the correspondent. Everyone online seems to think that it’s OK to spell “I” as i or “you” as u. It drives me crazy. I can almost forgive my university-educated son when he does it on his CV. It’s much harder to forgive a 50-something man who really should know better.
On the positive side, it’s easy to get a date. Some things never change, no matter what one’s age. Sure, it would help if I shaved 10 years off but I’m not that desperate… yet. Since my last post, I managed to fit in another date with Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome before he flew off on holiday for a week. Since his return, he’s not been back in touch and the Internet being largely unpredictable, I suspect he has had second thoughts or found a new play pal. I can pretend not to care but I do. He was lovely, local and had potential. Not boyfriend material (too many issues) but in a would-you-like-to-come-over-and-chill-out kind of way. For a moment, I thought I’d found Mr. Right for Now. Now I’m waiting for some kind of closure while appreciating that is asking for the moon, especially from a person whom one has met on Craigslist. The goodbye chat, face to face, was pretty much de rigueur before the Internet came along; now everyone knows that if they don’t text you back, it’s over.
One of my new rules about online dating is to take myself off a new site within a week of going on. I post my profile; gather up all the responses from the men happy to see a newbie and then bugger off after securing a date or two. I don’t want to appear like the house that has been on the market for 3 months and clearly has rising damp or some structural issues. No way. I stayed on Craigslist just long enough to meet someone interesting and then I deleted my post and republished it on Plenty of Fish. Once there, I arranged and had one date with a fun guy working in the Arts and then deleted my profile once again. We spent a lovely, platonic evening together but after he confessed to sharing parenting responsibilities with his ex, I couldn’t see a future for us aside from as friends. I have no desire to spend my precious weekends with someone’s else’s child, having just seen my own off so recently. At 55, I have a pretty good idea of what I do and don’t want and being a stepmum to a toddler isn’t one of them.
Also, I have to ask myself, is blogging about my dating life again the right thing to do? I’m not 40 anymore. What if one of my potential paramours reads about my adventures and is not amused? Back in my swinging days, the boys I slept with used to get a real rise (!) out of reading about my adventures (especially when they were involved). But I’m no longer a swinger and I actually do want to meet a life partner… eventually. What I’m saying is that this may be my last column. Or not. You’ll just have to come back and find out. 😉
A number of years ago, in my mid 40s, I fell madly, wildly, secretly, unrequitedly, sexually in love with someone half my age. I was stunned. I felt like David Byrne had taken residence in my head, dancing around singing, ‘How did I get here?’ My body was on fire. I was obsessed and had to work my way through it in small, insignificant steps. It was one of the most powerfully sexual, non-sexual, experiences of my life and it reminded me how much of a sexual being I am. How important sex has always been to me as a physical, emotional and spiritual act.
There were hideous days of sitting in the British Library trying to research my thesis (since abandoned) and being overwhelmed with words, poetry, prose; anything but the intellectual analysis I had signed up to deliver. I was earning my living as the Creative Director of a participative theatre, art and media charity which I had set up to create projects with and for communities. I had long been interested in Boal’s ‘Forum Theatre’ and I put together projects that I hoped would give children and adults opportunities to express themselves through the arts. The projects I loved and was proudest of were those where audience/participants developed new skills, confidence or created something unexpected. I sometimes worked with actors, taking shows into communities or schools, using forum techniques to start discussions and have audiences perform their ‘solutions’ to problems. My thesis was on developing criteria to evaluate participative arts, looking particularly at ‘The aesthetics of participation’.
In my spare time, I worked as site-specific and participative artist. I had come from a performance background, but had long given up being a jobbing actor. I had considered that part of my life over. However, this new energy, this sexual energy, was so overwhelming strong, that it could only be played out in particular ways. I could either give myself over to it, pursuing the object of my desire, or I could attempt to temper my, by now almost impossibly urgent, feelings and rein my passions in through art. I chose the latter, starting a poetry blog and finding building that into a site-specific performance called “TIME=MONEY” a 1-2-1 intimate poetry performance which I took to the Brighton Fringe Festival in 2013, winning a ‘WINDOW’ award as a promising company. It was just me and an audience member, separated by a thin mosquito net, in a bespoke venue that we erected ourselves. My partner in the project, Immo Horn, acted as ‘front of house’ ushering people in and out. The performances were intense, direct and, I am told, weirdly sexy.
In the 2 years since that performance, I have moved on. My new show is called ‘Gimme, Gimme, Gimme, More: LOVE!’ I’ve gone from being separated from the audience by a mosquito net and speaking to them only in poetry, to doing a full facilitated 60min show, as myself, using my own name and singing, dancing and telling stories about my dating disasters.
The show is about learning to date again in your 50s. I turned 50 last year and slowly began to realise that the promised ‘post-menopausel disinterest in sex’ was not going to happen for me. In fact, it hasn’t happen to a lot of my friends either, many of whom are reporting the best sex with new partners who take the act of pleasuring their partners seriously. On the rare occasions I have had sex, it has been explosive. Intimate, connected, mind-blowingly great. Unfortunately, on all occasions, the people involved where unsuitable for long term partnerships. The last two, separated by months and months and months, were friends. One an ex-lover from my twenties. The other an acquaintance going through a protracted separation. The former was a gift, the latter sent me around the twist. I had known he was damaged. I had been speaking to him earlier in the night we hooked about opening his heart again. I was not planning on seducing him. I blame The Gin.
I have also, despite an absolute aversion to dating, joined a dating site. To my frustration and amusement, I have had, sadly, to self-declare as a “dating disaster”. The person I was when I last dated no longer exists. The mechanisms for dating (meet in bar/club/through friends/shag/see if it works) no longer satisfy. There’s a whole new world out there of dating apps and dating sites. Dating sites have been around since the 90’s, so although it is not new, the ‘dial up/swipe right/booty call’ culture is. It is everything a sex loving, liberated woman like me should want. Yet, I am finding it difficult. I want my sex with integrity, but was completely put off when attending some Osho type workshop. All the men just looked like they wanted to stick their dicks into anything. Quite frankly, I thought I could have more fun at Joe’s Bar in Camden on a Sat night. Picking up men in bars is and always has been frighteningly easily. You almost don’t need to do much more that exist. I wanted to find a new way of meeting people that wasn’t just pure, blind, chemistry. I’d tried that. I’ve had a few long relationships, married, separated. I am still very close to my ex, emotionally and intellectually, though not sexually. We work together. I still love him in a filial and emotional way that means I don’t want to consider the normal heterosexist trajectory of basically destroying all aspects of one’s life and partnership together simply because one is no longer fucking. So, I am trying to see what it will be like to identify as polyamorous, though strictly I am not, as polyamoury normally means that you are having multiple relationships which are both sexual and emotional. However, right now, it feels like the best description that I have to go on.
It suits me better than ‘ethical non-monogamy’; no-one is asking me to be non-monogamous. I have always wondered if I could. I have always run into problems in relationships as one or the other of us wants to explore other relationships, but because we have been locked in monogamy, this has happened furtively, secretly and caused so much damage when the truth has outed. So for many years, I have tried to be another way in my relationship. I have given this sexual and emotional fidelity business as good a shot as I have been capable of. It hasn’t worked out very well for me.
I’m 51 yrs old now. I feel I have to try and create the relationships I want, right from the start. I don’t want to be told that I can’t enjoy the deep emotional intimacy I have with my ex, that somehow that part of my relationship will become irrelevant if (when!) I start seeing someone else. I don’t want to be involved in anyone else’s lies either. I don’t want to be part of someone else’s ‘dirty secret’ or their ‘shame’. I don’t want to be that person who breaks someone else heart when they find out about me. I want to see what happens if we try loosening things up and become more honest and true with each other. How much kindness and compassion can we throw at ourselves? At those we don’t know? At our lovers?
When I started working on the show, “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme More: LOVE!” I had no idea how personal the content was going to be. I imagined that I could work as a ‘facilitator’ in the process, and keep parts of myself private and hidden away. During the course of developing the work though, stuff has happened. I’ve broken some of my own rules, I have car-crashed my own learning process. This is by far the most honest, open, warts and all, work I have ever done. While the poetry was showing my soul in a deeply intimate, sexy way, this show is much more honest. I don’t have a character to hide behind. I’m revealing things about myself I thought I would never disclose publicly.
As we are getting closer to the show opening, I am beginning to feel a real nervousness. Some of the content is just so private. Should it just stay that way? Why am I engaging in this ’emotional exhibitionism’? On the other hand, as the show uses live-chat, I am hoping that sharing some of my dating disaster history will free people up to share theirs. It is enormously exciting to me to have created a show where audiences can contribute if they choose. Since I have started the project, people have been disclosing the most intimate details of their dating lives to me. A lot of the stories are really funny. Or at least, they become funny once they are shared. Even if audiences don’t join the live chat, they can still participate in the singing, the dancing as they see me skating close to the thin edge of self-exploitation. How far can I go? Have I gone too far? In my personal life, I think I haven’t gone far enough. I have a rule book. It’s been updated in light of recent events. It goes like this:
The Rule Book
No one I work with. See reasons 2 and 3. I work in the arts. Often with gorgeous young people, who become my friends.
No friends who have not been your lover before. When it goes wrong, the whole friendship group is affected. In our 50’s – this is bad news. You can sleep with old lovers though. Just because you can. They feel familiar and safe and you know, if they are still around, it’s because you’ve had something real going on
No one under 35. Just no. Not because they are unattractive. But just no. I can’t bear the whole ‘Cougar’ thing. I detest being seen as a label. If I meet someone under 35’s who I think I can make a relationship work with, I might. But not as an ‘experience’.
No one cheating on their partners. I’m done with dishonesty. Starting to date and starting to date people who are openly polyamorous has opened up the discussions with my ex about sex. I wish we had had these discussions years ago. It may have saved our relationship.
The Rule Book is no less coercive for being invisible. Last weekend, I went to a friend’s party. I didn’t know anyone there but her. I walked in and she said, ‘You are dressed quite tamely for you!’, and I was. A shin length, full skirted black dress. I thought I would have one drink and then go. Then I started dancing. Sometime in, there was this lovely young man dancing just around the edge of my space. Very unobtrusive. I asked him to dance with me. He said he had been waiting for me to ask. He was the most fantastic dancer. I am notoriously uncooperative at either following or leading at swing or blues or salsa. For some reason, it just worked between us. As I swirled, my dull black dress fell in waves about me and I became caught up in the magic and romance of the dance. I kept telling myself, ‘It’s just dancing.’ One woman came up to us and said, ‘The two of you look amazing dancing together.’ He was both damned good and responsive; the leading and following fell naturally to and fro between us. I couldn’t help imagining how wonderful it would be to slip my fingers underneath his shirt. However, I had noticed the ring on his finger. I reckoned, at his age, the reason his wife wasn’t there was because she was at home, maybe looking after the children. I suspected he danced pretty well with her too. This could go no further. So, shortly before midnight, I said my goodbyes and took my leave before either of us did anything we could regret. I’m not saying he would have; I’m saying, I could have. The next day I really wondered about this. Why not just give myself a bit more license? Why so cautious and conservative? I can’t say that I have come up with any plausible reason why it is so. It is just what my soul needs right now.
So. I’m still out there looking. Looking for what? I don’t know. I guess I’ll know when I find it. Or maybe I won’t. In the meantime, “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme More: LOVE!”, an intimate, audience-collaborative show exploring themes of lust, love and dating with your clothes on opens May 6th in Brighton and on Sat 7th May we are having a party right after the show. Further showings on 27th, 28th and the 29th May. You can purchase tickets here. Or contact us on FB, gggmorelove, and join the conversation. I am going to need all the help I can refining and updating my rules.