Metaverse dating is even worse than dating in New York

I’m on a first date, but I’m wearing sweatshirts, no makeup, my hair is wet and I’m at home on my couch.

My buddy, Steve, has no body. He’s just a floating face and a pair of pale hands.

“Weird to be a white person,” he jokes. It occurs to me that I have no idea what he really looks like, his age or even his real name. We have a blind date in the metaverse, and my avatar interacts with Steve’s avatar in a virtual rooftop bar, while I lounge in my Manhattan apartment.

Steve and I were linked to Predicting Reality, an app that creates VR worlds for different kinds of interactions, including therapy, business meetings and, now, dating coaching.

Girl with Oculus VR headset with flowers and champagne
Reporter Adriana Diaz had an apparent first date in the Metaverse with New York-based dating coach Grace Lee and a man named Steve.
Stephane Yang

I prepared for my big metaverse date as I prepare for any date: FaceTiming, my best friend, who also lives in New York, waiting. I had absolutely no idea or expectation to share which made me a little nervous. I had no idea what the man I was being matched with would be, though before the date I sent my “datingverse” coach, Grace Leeun, a brief summary of what I’m looking for, mainly an outgoing guy and career oriented.

Adriana in the metavers
Diaz created an avatar that looked like him, but users can get creative in the metaverse with options to have snake eyes or dress as a vampire.

A few minutes before the stated start time for the date, I put on my Oculus headset and grabbed my controllers. On the Foretel Reality app, I created an avatar that vaguely resembled me, then entered a virtual private room.

There I entered a code given to me by Lee. It quickly took me to an outdoor rooftop bar with a view of the ocean and the city skyline. It looked straight out of a mid-century video game. I could faintly hear people chatting around me – a looping track played through the Oculus headset – and turning my head gave me a full view of a virtual bar where a bartender avatar was making drinks.

Lee greeted me on the roof, her avatar’s long black ponytail vaguely reminiscent of photos of her I’d seen on Instagram. Shortly after, a blond man’s head appeared on the seat next to me. A label hovering over his head, Steve read.

We said hello and then Lee popped in to explain how to date the VR world. She made us turn around to look each other “in the eye”. VR headsets haven’t developed the technology to read and display facial expressions, so I stared into Steve’s slightly warped and empty, animated brown eyes, trying to make some sort of connection. But I felt nothing; it was just awkward.

Adriana, Steve and Grace Lee in the Metaverse
Dating coach Grace Lee facilitated fake dating and critiqued conversations to help Adriana and Steve communicate better without relying on facial expressions or body language.
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Lee explained that the lack of facial expressions and full body language in VR means we have to rely on our verbal communication. But we can also use hand gestures by putting down our controllers and moving our hands in front of the headset.

Then Lee presented the plan. She would ask us two questions and then disappear from view while Steve and I talked for a few minutes. And – no pressure! – everything would be recorded so Lee could go back and criticize us.

Lee’s first questions were, “What’s your favorite TV show?” And how are you doing?”

I talked about my excitement for the final season of “Grace and Frankie”. Speaking in a deep voice that may or may not have been digitally altered, Steve talked about his favorite anime show, which didn’t really interest me.

Then we got personal and I found myself a little hesitant. Steve talked about how COVID, moving and his job put a damper on his love life.

“I wish I had some fun stories for you,” he said. I tried to make him feel better, and agreed it had been hard. In fact, I had tons of hilarious dating stories about the pandemic, but I got tired of sharing them. I was afraid to scare Steve with stories about how hard my love life was. I quickly changed the subject.

Adriana and Steve chatting in the Metaverse
Metaverse dating coaching is a great option for those who want to improve their dating and communication skills but are afraid of meeting in person.
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We then talked about Mike Tyson hitting a fan, Steve growing up in Michigan, and my family’s love for the sport. At one point we got stuck on a weird tangent while talking about debutante balls, and Lee whispered into my headset that I should change the subject.

Then Lee came back on screen and replayed part of our date, criticizing us and noting when the conversation stopped and when things felt natural and easy.

Steve confessed that some of his jokes (like trying to tease me about going to my friend’s debutante ball) didn’t come true, and he relied on comedy to not get personal.

Lee noted that I often repeated Steve’s energy and language in an unconscious attempt to put him at ease – a good thing. But sometimes I let him wade too long on a weird topic (again, debutante balls).

Then it was time to say goodbye. I took off my headset and ended the date abruptly. It hadn’t been a romantic interlude, but it had been a learning experience.

And that’s exactly Lee’s goal. She doesn’t expect people to fall in love — and then doesn’t connect users unless they specifically ask for it — but wants to help them learn to communicate better.

I didn’t ask to see Steve again – if that’s his real name – or go to bed dreaming to feel his floating avatar head. But I can’t wait to use some of what I’ve learned in the metaverse in real life.

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