An Upgrade on Matchmaking: What a Three-Hour First Date with 20 Potential Mates Looks Like
by Tonka Dobreva
Tonka Dobreva | Nov 23, 2014
Topic category: SEX + LOVE
Feminine Weapon
Photo by Eilecia Bovard

Guests of Underground Unattached gather on a private rooftop in Hell's Kitchen for the August 20th experience.

“Welcome to Underground Unattached. Take a breath and enjoy the climb,” says a sign at the front door of a pre-war walk-up in Hell’s Kitchen. Twenty men and 20 women, the latter in high heels, brave five floors of stairs on a hot August Wednesday. Up top, in the spacious and elegant private residence, and the panoramic roof deck above it, they take part in a one-of-a-kind, invitation-only dating experience.

If you asked some of these eligible bachelors and bachelorettes about their view of the dating scene in New York City, many of their answers may leave you thinking that finding a romantic match in an otherwise plentiful place can at times feel like a never-ending staircase that leaves singles gasping for a breath of fresh air.

“New York is a fast city, you meet people all the time, but everybody has a short attention span. Guys and girls are always looking to upgrade. It shouldn’t be so hard given there are so many people in the city, but it’s surprisingly hard to meet quality people” says C.V., a 37-year-old mobile application developer. (In addition to being one of the participants in the event, he also offered his bachelor pad to be the playfield for the evening).

Another attendee is A.B., a 31-year-old female who works in finance. She echoes C.V.’s notion. She goes on to describe the dating scene as “disappointing, overrated and lacking.”

“Peter Pan’s Never Never Land” is what S.M. calls it. According to this 37-year-old female working in digital media, “nobody ever wants to grow up.”

D.P., a 31-year-old male physician, who moved to the city from Washing D.C. in June, has a more positive outlook. He says the local singles scene is full of interesting young professionals, but they tend to be work-oriented first and take care of their romantic lives second.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. I think people here are very career-oriented, and they have to figure out certain things to live in this expensive place. At this point in the game, at this age, I am ready to find someone who is a little bit more serious [about a relationship],” says D.P.

For him and the rest of the 39 singles, Underground Unattached is the match-happening place in the city on this particular evening.

The event is the brainchild of Christina Weber. This energetic, beautiful, 33-year-old blonde defines herself as a “Feminine Weapon,” or, in her words, “a woman who is aware of her life desires and on a mission to fulfill them.” She created Underground Unattached after going through her own set of challenges trying to find a romantic partner.

“As a start-up entrepreneur, I value my time tremendously, and dating is time consuming. I’d like to find a partner. Someone to grow and build up with,” Weber says.

Weber believes that a woman can, and should, have it all: love, career, family and adventure. According to her, Underground Unattached allows both men and women, to focus on their dating life, make meaningful connections and have fun along the way.

“Think of it as an effective and efficient first date with 20 people,” Weber says

Two Facebook employees, a former Rockette, three former NBA dancers, a lawyer, a finance VP and several entrepreneurs are only a few of the evening’s guests. Weber handpicked every one of them. Her selection process, which is a mix of acquiring referrals and meeting singles on her own (through Tinder and social media included), is exhaustive, effort- and time-intensive. She screens everyone individually to make sure they are a right fit for the crowd she plans to curate.

Selected participants are given an exclusive password to register for the event. Weber charges both men and women a fee. She wants to make sure they are serious about it and respectful of everybody’s time and commitment. The location is kept a secret until the day prior the event.

Judging by the energy in the room, which is full of attractive, elegant and sophisticated-looking people, Weber’s efforts have paid off. The host has created a chill-romantic atmosphere to match her intentions for the evening-- a Mediterranean-themed bar with wine, beer and Pavan cocktails; Louis Armstrong’s “Sittin’ in the Sun” plays in the background. The cool evening breeze and the 360 view of Manhattan’s skyline at sunset pretty much sets one up for success to meet a match, while giving a good story to tell all their friends about how it happened.

Most of the singles meet each other for the very first time, but they quickly ease into the vibe and start to chat up potential romantic interests. Everyone wears a nametag with a celebrity moniker. It’s part of a game they will play later in the evening.

Following cocktail time on the roof deck, there is a brief buffet-style dinner in the dining room downstairs. The women then gather in the living room while the men are whisked back up to the rooftop. The two facilitators for the evening, Shaun Derik and Eilecia Bovard, give participants thorough instructions: no use of cell phones throughout the evening; no photos are allowed, so participants’ privacy is protected; respectful physical boundaries between guests are to be maintained; no exchange of contact information during the event; willingness to get out of one’s comfort zone and to take part in the activities. Having fun is mandatory.

“I’m not trying to create an atmosphere of competition or to make people feel like they are on the ‘Bachelor,’” says Weber. “The goal is to have a non-judgemental, conscious environment. The games allow participants to not just connect over a pretty face, but also have the opportunity to get to know one another.”

In the first challenge, appropriately titled “Life is Like a Box of Chocolates,” participants locate bowls filled with candy and draw from the mixed-in pieces of paper. They have to approach someone from the opposite sex and ask that person the question written on the piece of paper.

Some of the questions may seem too personal and even risqué for a first date: “Does size matter?” “Have you ever given a thought to the idea of a threesome?” “What’s your biggest insecurity?” (To the last one I overhear a woman respond “My legs” and the man reciprocating “I think mine is my bellybutton).”

The next challenge involves the above-mentioned nametags that had been given out to participants at the beginning of the evening. Each person has to find their celebrity match. “Tom Hanks” quickly spots “Rita Wilson,” but “Sean Penn” and “Charlize Theron,” who happen to be standing right next to each other, look a little hesitant before realizing they are actually a couple.

Once all couples are in place, individual guests take turns and tell, in 60 seconds, their life story to their partner. One might think that this activity clearly plays to the advantage of the extroverts in the room (of which there were plenty). However, after life stories are swapped, participants get to “test” how good of a listener their partner is by allowing them to retell some of the life story details they learned.

Things get more physical from here. Guests shuffle and pair up with a different partner. To the instruction of Derik and Bovard, they bend their arms and attach to their new partner at the elbows.

“Name a struggle you had to overcome in your life,” Derik asks them.

Lively chatter ensues followed by another quick partner shuffle. Guests are this time asked to face away from their partner and glue their butts together. Each participant shares with the other about a time they think they failed in life (or metaphorically speaking, fell on their behind).

“We are so much more than just our mind,” says Bovard, a life coach who developed a method called Motional Intelligence. “The activities involve a connection to the body as well as a verbal communication. It’s interesting what comes out of the emotional exchange when we bring the body into the experience. Sharing touch all of a sudden pulls down a barrier that was once there.”

“The biggest challenge for most people is how empathic they can be. It’s a real growth opportunity to be able to put yourself in the others’ shoes and try to understand what they are going through,” Bovard adds.

Two and a half hours go by quickly, and it’s time for one of the last games for the evening. “Lie to Me” involves no touching and minimal talking, but it’s the game participants would later claim to be a favorite. Men and women pair up again and form two rows. While facing their partner, guests have to hold eye contact for 15 seconds in complete silence. After the time is up, the gentleman pays a compliment to their lady and she reciprocates with a compliment of her own.

“[Romantic relationships] are human connections,” says Derik, who is a public speaker, career coach and also works with young adults on goal setting and execution.

“A lot of times, when you go out, it’s scary. You feel like someone out there is not going to connect with you, so it’s beyond rejection. What we do at this event is . . . we put them outside of their comfort zone and force them to be present, so they can do what they came to do, and that is make a connection,” Derik explains.

Since no exchange of contact information takes place at the event, Weber would send out an email to all participants instructing them how they can connect with guests of interest.

“I can go by if someone is pleasant and I’m attracted to them physically, but I’d be open to talking to certain people [after this evening],” says P.K. a 37-year-old male graphic designer.

D.P. says: “I met a couple of women who were really cool. Initially for me it’s very physical, so [there are] two or three women I thought that I would like to talk to again. [The event] is conducive to meeting a lot of people and having brief first impressions, but obviously [the attraction] has to be mutual.”

N.P., a 33-year-old interior designer, says she didn’t meet anyone of particular interest, but S.M. may have just weeded through the Peter Pans of New York City and found herself some potential suitors: “There are people here that I would go out with again, yes.”

Tags: Underground Unattached, Tonka Dobreva, Christina Weber, Shaun Derik, Eilecia Bovard, Dating in New York City, NYC
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