No bullshit: I’ve always considered myself a bad dater, and it wasn’t until I attended SPARK: a dating workshop not for the faint of heart, that I realized why.
Friends and family ask me, “Jen, why don’t you have a boyfriend?” My response: “No clue!” But during the first SPARK exercise led by Minna Taylor (a perky life coach extraordinaire as well as the founder of EnergizeYourVoice.net) I knew I was finally getting closer to answering that eye-roll-inducing question.
I was sitting in a room with twelve strangers varying in both age (25 to 50) and gender (equal mix men and women). Taylor tells everyone to close our eyes and imagine we are going on a date with someone we’ve never met. “What are you wearing? How are you getting there? Are you walking fast or slow?”
“You get to the restaurant, with candles gleaming in the window, and then, you see them. What’s the first thought that comes to mind?” My first thought? “Oh fuck.” And then I reminded myself to breathe.
In this moment I realized I’m not a bad dater. I just have, like, major and unawarely bad dating anxiety? Listen, I’ve been on few but enough dates to know that every single one of 'em was slightly terrifying—and not in a cute way, like I’m a sixth grader about to go to her first school dance. The mere thought of talking about myself, exposing my soul to a male I’d potentially like to bone, while trying really hard to non-awkwardly make eye contact legitimately horrifies me. Why? Straight up: Because I’m worried about how my date will perceive me. And instead of dealing with it, I decided to repress my feelings and just call myself a "bad dater."
This type of phobia or quasi-irrational fear is exactly what Taylor is trying to fix. So going to this workshop was no longer just an assignment for me—it was a revolution.
SPARK is all about first impressions. We all make assessments either consciously or subconsciously about ourselves and others, so Taylor says, “Let’s not sweep them under the rug.” There was no sweeping—we tackled them head-on by using tools to help us become more self-aware from the get-go.
Here's how it works:
The class begins with a series of activities ranging from ice breakers including a playful round of Zip, Zap, Zop to an exercise where you make intense eye contact with folks in a very intimate room. (I only suffered a mild panic attack). There’s also a speed dating round, which I was anticipating. Surprisingly, the first hour was the fun part! It was an opportunity to bond with a group of strangers, open up, converse and step out of our comfort zones—before, y’know, we all started openly judging each other.
The pièce de résistance was when Taylor asked everyone to stand up, front and center, and share yummy tidbits about ourselves for 20 seconds (you can read your dating app profile, if you dare. But mine is pretty bare-bones). Then, everyone in the room shared (if they felt so inclined) their intuitive, physical and experiential perception of you.
Since I hate stewing in a pot of anxiousness, I volunteered to go first thinking, “the sooner this is over, the sooner I can do shots.” So I got up and decided to speak freely and honestly. I shared very generic facts about myself from my age to which neighborhood I lived in, and where I went to school. I started to panic, because I couldn’t think of any hobbies I could bring up. I believe my exact words were, “I’ve been so focused on my career that I totally forgot to have hobbies outside of work, so I’m really sorry that I can’t share any of those with you.”
My fellow SPARK companions said I seemed courageous, kind, honest, genuine, a goth (I have an all-black aesthetic and I’m sticking to it) and lastly, apologetic. Overall, not too shabby. But the latter comment was the most eye-opening. I knew I always said "sorry" a lot. But I never thought being apologetic could be perceived as an unattractive quality. Everyone also took notice that there was a very high inflection in my voice, as if I was unsure about what I was saying. Like I was unsure about myself. Taylor dug deeper and mentioned that if someone were to question anything I said, I would probably use my uncertainty as a method to easily back out of my words. She wasn't wrong. Clearly, I need to be more definitive and secure with myself. And frankly, I never knew I wasn’t.
I learned more about myself in those three hours than I did after three months of therapy. And that’s not a snide comment at my therapist—she’s awesome. But when you’re desperately seeking an immediate answer to the most relatable question: “What do people think of me?” It’s really nice to just get to the damn point already.
You might say instant gratification gets you nowhere, but in this case, being spoon-fed how people perceive me first-hand was probably the best move I could make toward improvement. There was no flavor of callousness or anything patronizing about the critiques that were shared. The judgments placed on me were shocking, yes, but genuine. I was able to conquer a fear, look a stranger in the eye and ended up connecting with two awesome women who could totally become my new BFFS.
So, yeah, I'm really trying to work on myself, but most importantly, I’m not the least bit sorry about it. So raise your proverbial hand if you, like me, are interested in being the best version of yourself. If so, the next SPARK workshop is September 21. And, yes, it's really worth the $40. Get tickets here.