What Happens When You Ask A Bunch Of Strangers To Judge How Dateable You Are

by Sheena Sharma

I'm single AF. No, it isn't because I'm prude. It isn't because I don't have prospects. And it certainly isn't because I'm not charming (c'mon now). It's because I'm not open to a real, honest relationship.

I've learned a lot about myself in therapy, including that I'm emotionally unavailable for a handful of deep-rooted reasons. But my therapist knows me. I wanted insight into how I come off to people who've just met me, who haven't had the pleasure of experiencing Sheena in all her raw, somewhat-mentally-unstable-yet-undeniably-endearing glory.

A group called Spark hosts a workshop called "A Dating Workshop: Not For The Faint Of Heart." Here's the description of the event:

"Why are you still single? Your friends won't tell you the truth.  That's what strangers are for. Welcome to SPARK: A Dating Workshop Not for the Faint of Heart, where you get honest feedback from a group of your peers. founder, Minna Taylor, will facilitate a guided discussion to get to the root of why you're still single. You will learn about your first impression and what you're communicating that perhaps you're not aware that you're communicating."

It did sound a little scary, but I decided to check it out to see if I could get answers to some of my questions. What about me is repelling all the good men and reeling in the wrong ones? Is there something about the way I dress, the way I speak, something I'm doing off the bat -- something I'm not even aware of -- that's keeping me from finding the love of my life?

I walked into the workshop nervous but eager to learn. There were roughly 10 men and women, aged anywhere from 23 to 45. As I took my seat, I had already taken mental note of the people I thought were legit and the people I wanted to stay the f*ck away from.

The instructor was young, chipper and 30-something. Clearly the most enthusiastic of the bunch, she had enough energy and spirit for the rest of us. And out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a decently attractive guy about my age with blond hair and an athletic build. There was something in his eyes.

As we took our seats, we were instructed to write down three things we believed to be true about each person. Pen and paper in hand, I looked around the room and began. Loves yoga. Easily frightened. Once had heart brutally broken by a girl. This was too easy.

"We aren't going to read our projections aloud," the instructor said, cutting off my train of thought, "but the point of this exercise is to acknowledge that we all make first impressions about people before even getting to know them. Now, let's get to know each other."

We all got up and lined up across from each other to emulate a 10-minute, mock speed-dating experience. We each had 45 seconds to introduce ourselves. I've speed-dated before, so I knew how to maneuver the whole small-talk sitch.

When I was talking to people, I was my normal, cheery self. Eventually, I got to chatting with the girl I'd previously dismissed as the simple-minded yoga-lover, and I discovered she was cool as hell. In fact, I wanted to exchange numbers with her, but I didn't, because I wasn't sure the environment was exactly conducive for that kind of thing. Still, it reminded me that I can sometimes be a bit too quick to judge.

As we wrapped up speed dating, we prepared for the final exercise. It was the moment we'd all been dreading: We had to take turns getting up in front of the class and reading from our online dating profiles. The rest of the room would then constructively criticize us based on their impressions of us, like our physical appearances and general vibe. Then they were supposed to offer experiential impressions (what they thought of us after having spoken to us).

Some people volunteered to go first. One by one, we each picked and prodded at the front-of-the-roomers.

"You came off really friendly and bubbly," I said to one girl. "But the way you're dressed suggests you're uptight. Your outfit doesn't reflect who you really are."

Interestingly enough, I was the last one of the bunch to go. I feel like my relative unwillingness to share with the class spoke volumes about who I am, and just how badly I want -- or don't want? -- a serious relationship. As I made my way up, I felt like I was dragging myself to the electric chair.

"Hi, I'm Sheena. I'm 25; I'm a writer. I like to ... um .... OH, I'm training for a marathon, so that's been taking up a lot of my time. I don't really know what else to say ... I, uh, like dogs..." All of a sudden, I felt really awkward, but one of the girls jumped in with her first impression of me.

She had written down loves beauty, makeup, and exercise and told me I seem very sweet. Those things were all true, but I certainly wouldn't define myself by those few things.

Everyone else nodded their heads. The only middle-aged man in the room, an ex-Coast Guarder, told me that as approachable as I come off, it seems like there's more to me than meets the eye, and that I'm cautious about sharing those things. I found it interesting he was the only one who picked up on some of the deeper issues I deal with. Maybe it's because he was older or wiser.

And then, that one decently attractive guy in the room spoke:

"You make me nervous," he said. "At least you did when you walked into the room. But when I shook your hand, I felt like I was shaking hands with a flimsy little girl. Also, you crossed your right foot over your left halfway into your introduction, which tells me you're nervous."

My eyes widened. Who the f*ck did this guy think he was, anyway?

The instructor interrupted him. "Handshakes say almost everything about a person. If yours wasn't firm, you're sending the message that you don't feel in control. Do you ever feel powerful?"

"No," I said, after having to think about it. "I mean, I feel powerful when I'm at the gym."

"There's the disconnect. Your homework is to find a way to take that power you feel when you're working out and translate it into a mental and emotional kind of strength."

"Oh, OK," I said. I tried to mask how defeated I felt with a blank expression.

"Confidence!" she exclaimed. "You just need to be confident. And if you aren't, just act like you are."

Hm. She made it sound so ... easy. If only my problem were more fixable and less abstract, like that of the girl who needed a makeover, or the kid who just needed to stop clamming up every time he saw a friggin' woman.

Even in this sea of socially inept weirdos, I felt pretty but flawed, like an exotic white tiger that needed to be put down because it bit someone. I was so vulnerable. And everyone could see it.

And then class was out. Dating school was over.

What did I learn from the workshop? I learned that apparently I'm not as confident as I thought I was -- at least, I don't come off as confident. I also learned that I need to start giving men more of a chance. I walked into that room and pegged guys as unworthy of my time if they weren't my physical ideal.

But at the end of the day, what do we even know about strangers? I have tattoos and a resting bitch face, but I'm sweet as cotton candy. In fact, according to my workshop friends, I'm a little too sweet.

There is one thing about what the classroom hottie said that stuck with me: From now on, I'm going to grip the hand of the guy I've just met and shake it really hard -- like I actually give a damn, and like I have a strong sense of self, even though I kind of don't. That's step one.

After the workshop, I got drunk with my gal pals. I dunno. Life is hard enough on its own without being torn apart by a bunch of randos who are just as lost as you are.