Eyes Only for Each Other, At Least for the Next Three Minutes
[New York Times,
11 December 2005]
By RICHARD MORGAN
Be clear about one thing: It's not a staring contest.
''Staring is so pedestrian,'' said Michael Ellsberg, a 28-year-old Web designer and salsa teacher from Williamsburg, Brooklyn. ''This is gazing.''
Mr. Ellsberg's approach is simple: speed dating without the speed. Rather than condemn singles to yammering about tired topics like where they grew up and what they do for a living, Mr. Ellsberg created Eye Gazing Parties, events at which singles sit and stare at one another in silence for three minutes at a time.
''What I'm doing,'' Mr. Ellsberg said, ''is New Yorkifying those San Francisco spiritual lessons of meditation and tantra and putting it in a bar for bankers and lawyers on the Lower East Side.''
In this city of a million ways to meet a potential mate, he may find a niche.
''It's the opposite of speed dating, in a way,'' said Doug Prince, a 28-year-old technology salesman from Astoria, Queens, who was one of 32 men and women who attended the inaugural gazing Wednesday night at the Bacchus Room, on Second Avenue near Third Street. ''It's about intimacy, not urgency.''
To the accompaniment of Brazilian samba and Cuban son music, women sat at small candlelit tables while men shifted seats after each three-minute gaze. Some participants giggled. Others let their eyes wander. A few broke the silence with a hushed ''Thanks'' or ''You're really good at this.''
Many of the gazers, who ranged in age from mid-20's to mid-30's, acknowledged that they were captivated by the counterintuitive nature of the endeavor, but, being New Yorkers, they also appreciated the utilitarian nature of the approach. ''It's not just a dating situation, it's a social experiment,'' suggested Linda Minami, a financial consultant who lives on the Upper West Side and had shown up for the event wearing a clingy black dress and black boots. ''But it's also a technique I can develop to apply elsewhere in my life.''
Stripped of words and, even better, pickup lines, the gazers resorted to gestural cues. Posture, facial expression, the placement of hands -- all gained greater significance.
Or, as Ryan Parks, a 26-year-old hedge fund research analyst from Brooklyn Heights, summed it up: ''Why are you sad? Why are you optimistic? You start asking yourself all these deep questions about the person you're looking at, and they're all so much better than the dumb questions of normal small talk.''
Sometimes, he added of his fellow gazers, ''they'd be happy in one eye and sad in the other. It was wild.''
While most participants praised the egalitarianism of the round-robin format, the idea that someone could fall in love at first sight and then shuffle over to the next chair had a hidden benefit. ''They'll be back,'' Kristen Mulvihill, a 35-year-old photographer from TriBeCa, said of one of her gazing partners as she swirled a post-gazing glass of pinot grigio. ''They have to find me. Effort is very important.''
back to home page