We are rubbing strawberries across our foreheads, trundling them over our lips, our cheeks, our eyelids. We are not allowed to eat the strawberry that each of us has, but spend 10 minutes smelling it, feeling it, savouring it.
‘Take in all its bumps, and its over-ripe bits,’ says Jan Day, Life and Love Coach, who is taking today’s workshop. She finally lets us nibble it, but only slowly. Afterwards we discuss the experience.
‘I found it really erotic, it makes you want more. I want it now!’ says one young man.
It’s still morning and, truthfully, I’m gripped by cynicism. This is exactly the kind of new age tantric event that is mercilessly parodied. But, come afternoon, I will have softened.
We’re at Meetings Without Masks – a ‘soft dating day where participants (age 25 upwards) get to meet a range of different potential partners without having to put on your-best-you mask’, according to the literature.
This means the 30 of us are paired off, male and female, for various exercises where we explore intimacy with all our clothes on. And it’s safe – just a bit of dancing or eyelocking is needed before we talk about how we felt. Any F-word – apart from ‘feelings’ – is off the agenda.
One exercise involves us learning how to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’. I and a man stand at opposite sides of the room. He walks towards me. When he gets too close, I hold up my hands to say stop. We walk back and forth, miming ‘yes’ and ‘no’, testing out the boundaries. In another one, we have to dance with each other. While some attendees are clearly ecstatic dancers and uninhibited in every way, I find this excruciating. So, it seems, does my partner, and we shuffle awkwardly, smiling nervously.
The most powerful exercise is when the women squash up in a circle on the floor, eyes closed, while the men stand around and shower us with affirmations. Don’t worry, it gets reversed and it’s surprisingly enjoyable. ‘I love your femininity’, squeaks one. ‘I love your social skills’, says another before the stream is released and their confidence surges. ‘I love your nurturing’. ‘I love your breasts’. Then it’s the women’s turn. ‘I love your driving’, says one and we laugh. ‘I love your strong arms’, comes up several times.
After each exercise there is a chance to talk about how we felt (of course!) then scribble a note of appreciation to put into named envelopes that we’ll take home later. I’m astounded to find that despite my usual stresshead behaviour, people have said in my notes that I was calm. Once the cynic is doused, if only for a Sunday, it’s amazing what can creep out.
The next Meetings Without Masks event takes place on November 14 at:
The Light Centre
9 Eccleston Street
Tel: 020 8123 9831
Image by Nattu courtesy of Flickr