Some were hoping for a new friend. Others, “a French girl.” One sophomore only came because his roommate talked him into it. “I’m hoping that it’s not awkward enough to kill me,” he said.
But all of the 660 students gathered in a Weitz Center meeting room last Friday night were there because they’d received an email earlier that week informing them that their roommate had set them up on a blind date. On Friday, they found nametags in their mailboxes.
Instead of a student’s real names, each nametag displayed his nickname, followed by the nickname of the person he was looking for. For instance, “Edward Snowden” was looking for “Asylum,” and “Chris Brown” was looking for “Rihanna.” Although these names are recycled each year, 60 more students participated this year than last year. Sophomore Sam White of the Student Activities Office was charged with filling the deficit. “A lot of it was me looking around the office or thinking about different kinds of food,” he said.
Freshman Ben Withbroe’s nametag said “Chips looking for Salsa.” When he got to the Weitz center, he wandered around the room until he spotted his date. His first instinct was to keep wandering. “’I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll just push it off a little longer,’” he said. When he noticed her watching him, however, he decided to say “Hi” instead.
Fifteen minutes after the search began, the room was still packed. Occasionally, music could be heard over giggles and small talk. Someone opened a window.
Freshman Andrew Etteldorf, Black Cat, circled the room looking for A Path to Cross. A week before, his roommate had used a sarcastic tone when he told him, "We found you a screw date--it’s a really good one." Etteldorf was bracing for the worst. But when he found his screw date, he was pleasantly surprised to find they had a lot in common. The conversation started with the basics: "’Dog or cat person’--stuff like that," he said. "I’m a dog person and so is she, which was good." From there, it moved to How I Met Your Mother, and the couple set out to see The Mousetrap at the Little Norse theater.
By 7:40, the mass of people in Weitz had broken into twos and spilled onto campus. Back in the near empty meeting room, Pharrell was singing "I’m up all night to get some" through the speaker system. Enzyme sat on a table looking forlorn. Substrate hadn’t shown up, he said. "Anybody not found their date?" one of the event organizers called out. Just then Substrate appeared, and the two headed out.
The ticket box for the Semaphore dance performance was a hot spot for screw dates. But when many realized they couldn’t get in without a ticket, they consulted their list of activities and headed elsewhere.
At the Chapel, couples discussed why the accapella concert hadn’t started yet--it was already 8:10. Then, someone realized the start time was 9, not 8, and announced this to the group. A few couples got up and drifted toward the door.
An hour later, couples filled the pews, their arms crossed and expressions nervous as the Nightingales began their set with an earnest rendition of Sexual Healing. "Let’s make love tonight," they sang with perfect intonation.
At Love At First Bite on first Nourse, couples lined up for a romantic dinner complete with dixie cups and plastic utensils, a string quartet, and a meal prepared by Firebellies: sweet potatoes with cracked pepper, beet and chèvre salad, and chocolate mousse with fried banana.
Near Goodhue, groups wandered in the rain, trying to find CANOE club’s gondola rides. Many gave up. Ben Withbroe found it with his date’s help and the two sat by a fire and drank hot cocoa, then paddled around lyman lakes.
After leaving the Acappella show, Etteldorf and his date went back to his room and watched How I Met Your Mother. Then his roommate came home. Will he ever see her again? "Hopefully," he said. "It was a lot of fun."
While some Carleton students see Screw Date as a chance to make new friends, others see it as a chance for romance. "It’s a great way to go on an actual date," a senior said. "I know people who were screw dates last year, and they’re still dating now. That happens."
He also sees Screw Date as a chance to prepare for dating after college "The thing about seniors is soon we’re going to be in the real world actually dating people." Thus, Screw Date is a good opportunity to practice dealing with awkwardness and being flirty with a relative stranger.
White says the Student Activities Office organizes Screw Date each year just as much to encourage students to go to campus events as to facilitate mingling. "Not only are you meeting people, but you’re going somewhere like a movie or the Cave when you might not have otherwise," he said.
Nadine Sunderland, the Assistand Director of Student Activities, has seen a trend away from roommates intentionally setting up awkward pairs, as they did when she first started working at Carleton, to roommates choosing dates they think would actually get along with their roommates. "I just think the culture and the student body have changed," she said. "People truly want to know who they’re going to school with."