City Paper is not for tourists
The Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Alexandria has a great deal for the budget-conscious ballroom dancer: Find a friend to take to the studio’s free “Guest Night Party.” Let Arthur Murray’s expert instructors school your guest in the basics of dancing. After the event, your guest will be offered an assortment of dance-lesson packages.
If your guest bites on the deal, you get a free session at the studio.
The ins and outs of Arthur Murray’s promotions are the expertise of an area woman who frequents the free online dating site OKCupid. The woman goes by the username “Fieldofdaffodil” and also deploys flowery prose to lure prospective mates on the Web.
Earlier this summer, Fieldofdaffodil engaged in an intense correspondence with a 38-year-old man who signs onto OKCupid with the handle Survivingthegam. The exchanges were classic Internet romance grist—for about five days they traded long, flirty e-mails and IMs wherein the two discussed their lives, their hopes and dreams, and all the other things that a person is wont to share with a stranger in the small hours of morning. They discussed meeting in person. Then Fieldofdaffodil told Survivingthegam that she loathed first dates at Starbucks and that only by dancing together could she find out if she and her date had any chemistry.
She told him about the Guest Night Party, in prose more consistent with an infomercial than a lonely heart: “If you come as my guest, you may (but are under no obligation to) take advantage of the Guest Special, which is two private lessons for $25. It is for beginners. It’s easy. The instructor starts out with something like ‘Can you locate your left foot. Good. Move you left foot forward.’ It’s fun too.”
OK, said Survivingthegam, let’s dance.
On July 15, he turned up with relatively good intentions at the Arthur Murray studio on Little River Turnpike. Perhaps he and Fieldofdaffodil would dance, discuss life’s important things, and even drink. She had, after all, mentioned that they could repair to Clyde’s for a post-dance beverage if he cared to do so.
But, says Survivingthegam, it was instantly clear that Fieldofdaffodil had no intention of doing anything other than getting him to sign up for dance lessons.
“I’m trying to keep my mind off searching for jobs and I didn’t want to fall into a state where I started to begrudge things,” he says, “although a few more experiences like this one…and I’d start begrudging something.”
As serial daters go, Survivingthegam is warm and agreeable, if a touch overly bearded, and very young-looking. A Ph.D. in psychology, he hasn’t spent a lot of time with women, he says, thus making the whole male-female thing a bit abstract.
Pushing 40, he has been married to his first girlfriend since he was in his early 20s. They lived together all over the country—moving from one job to the next—for the past 15 years; she worked as a clinical psychologist, he studied dreams and how the experience of dreams affects one’s conscious experiences.
But Survivingthegam and his wife split up four months ago and are now legally separated. He left their home and their child in North Carolina to come back to D.C., where he’s lived on and off since college. He signed up for OKCupid after seeing an ad for it somewhere or other, maybe on Sports Illustrated’s Web site, he says.
“I only knew one woman my whole life,” he says. “I figured this was a good way to learn how to talk to women.”
It turns out not to have been such a good way to learn to talk to women, but it was a good way to find out what women don’t like about him—or, rather, what they don’t like about his profile.
Women don’t like that he makes a big deal about being short; they e-mail him and tell him he sounds bitter, arrogant, and self-absorbed. Even so, he’s managed to make a handful of dates—though five of the dates he made didn’t turn up, a sixth kept talking about how young he looks (in a bad way) while they ate lunch together, and a seventh—who drove all the way to D.C. from Charlottesville—decided that he was too introverted and turned around and drove home.
“The thing I feel right n ow is a No Country for Old Men sort of thing—I don’t know where I fit in. I have a 38-year-old mind in a 24-year-old body,” he says. “For years I thought there were only three states of matter—solid, liquid, gas. Then the physicists come along and say, ‘Well, there’s this thing called plasma.’ I’m plasma.”
And then came Fieldofdaffodil, and she seemed pretty great if a little perplexingly attractive for a woman who’d go out of her way to meet a man like him on the Internet, he says. According to her profile, she’s 43, socially conservative, and adorable. She describes herself as “sophisticated, sexy, and confident,” quotes William Wordsworth in lieu of the standard personals-ad essay, says she’s a patent attorney who loves to dance and is “looking for the sense of connectedness that is the natural result when people open up their lives to each other over time.”
Her photos show her wearing a gray wool dress, with great legs and a smirky smile, and overall she seemed to Survivingthegam an appealing mix of conservative and feisty, just the type to leave him hopeful.
When he arrived at the Arthur Murray Dance Studio, he found someone who was a lot less appealing. “Not mischievous or sexy anymore,” says Survivingthegam, who asked not to be identified in this story. “Now she seems like a librarian who never married and has 50 cats.”
But Survivingthegam was indefatigable. He danced with Fieldofdaffodil, and even though she was cold as ice toward him, he wondered whether the night might lead somewhere significant. At the end of the dancing, he says, he was swarmed by Arthur Murray personnel who asked him if he wanted to sign up for lessons—$35 for two, $10 higher than Fieldofdaffodil had said they’d be—and when he saw that Fieldofdaffodil wanted him to say yes, he said yes.
Then she perked up and got very friendly—but with another man who had shown up for an open-dance lesson. While on her date, she asked that man to go dancing with her at another lesson. “He didn’t seem as excited as she was, but he said OK,” says Survivingthegam.
The OKCupid pair then went to Clyde’s, where she ordered iced tea and he got a Coke. She remained quiet until Survivingthegam began discussing his background in psychology—particularly his ability to sense when members of the opposite sex were not interested in him—at which point, he says, she got very excited and started asking all kinds of questions about how exactly you could tell when someone wasn’t interested. Then she ordered a real drink and some appetizers.
“Nonverbal clues,” like the ones you’re giving me now, he explained to her. “And you want a ‘get-out-of-town,’ but you don’t get a ‘get-out-of-town.’”
“She’s just pumping for information,” says Survivingthegam. It turns out, he says, she’s obsessed with someone else—another OKCupid user whose profile she had him examine before their date, and who she began talking about at Clyde’s, asking if Survivingthegam thinks he is handsome (he is, says Survivingthegam, if you like perfectly symmetrical faces).
The end of the night came and went, and Survivingthegam went home. It was another failed date, a dispiriting experience, but not that big of a deal. He had meant to take dancing lessons anyway. His wife always told him he should learn how to dance, and now he was going to try.
The next morning, Survivingthegam received an e-mail, sent at 7 a.m., from his date saying, “It was a pleasure to meet you last night. I’m delighted that you decided to do the Guest Special.”
Survivingthegam was not so delighted. He stormed the dance studio when it opened that day and told the receptionist that he had been tricked. He demanded a refund. The studio manager, he says, overheard this demand and came out to apologize and explain that the woman had brought lots of men to Arthur Murray, and had received free dance lessons every time one of them signed up for the special. The studio itself, he explained, was not complicit.
“We didn’t know where she was getting them,” Survivingthegam says the manager said to him, before refunding the $35.
His money in pocket, Survivingthegam went back to his friends’ house—he is staying with friends until he gets a job and a new place to live—and went back on OKCupid, where he posted the story of his dance date.
<9.000000>She was using a dating site (OKCUPID) to lure men to the studio under false pretenses, by which I mean the pretense of a possible romantic relationship. I have no reason to believe the vaunted Alexandria dance studio was complicit with the schemes of this one tastefully named woman, a Washington DC attorney and Washington National Cathedral parishioner who decided to use my heart like a damn coupon. (Why is everything connected with this cathedral so evil? That’s another question). She was well aware from our IM conversations from having reviewed my profile that I was feeling rather hurt over some negative experiences with OKCUPID involving five women not showing for scheduled meetings. But as I discussed at length in my last journal post, she lured me to this dance studio under false pretenses and had no interest whatsoever in exploring anything beyond redeeming her referral for a free lesson…
Survivingthegam also posted a rather thorough mental health diagnosis of Fieldofdaffodil:
<9.000000>I don’t know her all too well, obviously, so all this is speculation for me…[I] had never met anyone who seemed to have such a low emotional IQ and someone of her advanced years so lacking in empathetic ability. I mean, you see such personalities in the news from time to time.…
And yet despite this insufferable discourse, it seemed overly harsh when an OKCupid user named SeveralTimes suggested that Survivingthegam get over this rejection by slitting his wrists. This caused Survivingthegam to very sadly reply that there was no more room on his wrists for scars.
Still, Survivingthegam remains hopeful, in his own way. He has two job interviews lined up, plus a date with a 19-year-old Marine who is leaving for Iraq in September. They are going to toss around a football.
“I need so little, and I look for so little,” he says. “I know who I am. Because that’s just the natural consequence of living a life with so much flux in it…you get to know the one constant in your life really well, and that’s you. I’m not going out there to compete with people for McMansions in McLean. My needs are very modest in life. But I’ve learned that whatever you ask for in life, the fates always find a way of giving you a little less. And so I’m enjoying the struggle.”
The Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Alexandria has a funereal air to it. It is dark, and there are a lot of people wearing suits with somber expressions on their faces hanging around the tasteful, trophy-filled offices, which are next door to a karate studio and psychic.
Mark Theiss, a tall man in a gray suit, is the general manager of seven Arthur Murrays around D.C. He says that Arthur Murray does have a referral program where “if you’re a student you can bring in friends and family, and if they sign up for a special we give a free lesson to the individual.” But, he says, as far as students bringing in strangers from the Internet: “We’re not soliciting our business that way at all.”
Theiss says that Fieldofdaffodil has brought in 20-odd men over the last year, since she, herself, became a dance student, but that “the majority didn’t sign up for lessons. I think the majority of those guys are looking for something else, and it isn’t dance lessons.”
Leonard Theiss, Mark’s cousin, is manager of the Alexandria Arthur Murray. Leonard Theiss says that Fieldofdaffodil is still a student and is still coming to the studio for regular lessons. “We’ve asked her to only bring people she’s met previously,” he says.
Fieldofdaffodil, in an e-mail, said she did not want to be interviewed. Her real name could not be determined.
Leonard Theiss, for his part, shoots down the notion that perhaps Fieldofdaffodil really is just a romantic gal who is searching for a companion who dances. “It seems like if she’s genuinely looking for a relationship, she’d be dating one of them. She’s abusing the dating Web site.”
“Most of the men that she brought in seemed to enjoy it,” he says, and about 10 of her Internet dates have signed up for lessons. One or two of the guys are still taking lessons, for that matter, past the initial lesson package. Several calls to Theiss to get their names were not returned.
Curious about the Arthur Murray method of recruiting clients, I invite J., a tall, blond, drifty, unrooted writer to come with me to the company’s Silver Spring location for a free dance lesson. I met J. on the Internet, too, though we’d hung out a couple of times before the lesson—made out a bunch, even, after going to dive bars for cheap vodka drinks.
We turn up late, but our instructor, Olga, is gracious and takes us past a large mirrored room where serious-looking couples are learning to swing-dance en masse and into a small, mirrored back room where she teaches us the box step and the cha-cha.
After an encouraging and surprisingly fun half-hour of box-stepping and cha-cha-cha-ing, J. and I are deposited into an office with a small conference table and a friendly woman who explains the various class packages available—they start at $738 per couple and go up from there, depending on how many private lessons you want—and then the woman asks if we want to sign up for one. She does not mention the Guest Special for $35.
It’s still a little tempting. But way too expensive, and way too soon.
“We’re not ready to commit,” says J., which is certainly true, and the woman just shrugs and says we should give her a call if we ever are ready. Of course, without the hard sell, that really won’t happen.
For some time, I had been sending e-mails to D.C.-area men on OKCupid who seemed to be dating material for Fieldofdaffodil—these would be the guys in the appropriate age group whose faces seem especially symmetrical. Of those contacted, a large number responded that they either had corresponded with Fieldofdaffodil, or had been contacted by her. None said they’d gone out dancing, but a handsome 39-year-old librarian who goes by the name Quaker3 says they’ve got a date next week. She mentioned her fondness for dancing to him—it’s in her OKCupid profile, too, so it’s not like her fondness for dancing is a huge surprise—but he refused, insisting instead on getting tea for their first date.
“It seems to be MY MO. Less structure, more conversation. That’s what I like,” says the librarian.
There are 9,189 OKCupid users online right this moment. Any of these could be a good, if imperfect, match for Fieldofdaffodil, or for Quaker3, or for Survivingthegam.
As OKCupid user kcnastar put it, when asked if he’d communicated with Fieldofdaffodil and, if so, whether she’d asked him to go out dancing:
“I can’t recall. I’m on so many of these internet dating websites it’s hard to say though, what I have been asked or how I responded, you know?”
Kcnastar, then, probably missed a July 16 post by Survivingthegam, which carries this title: “DC Men Beware of Ballroom Dance Studio First Date.”