Can Relationships Survive an Escape Room?

If you’re locked in an escape room with strangers, don’t mention orgies. It really changes people’s expectations.

I learned that lesson the hard way. While waiting for the bathroom before our game, a nice girl from New Jersey asked if I knew what our room’s theme was.

“Oh, secret society,” I said.

“What does that even mean?” asked the girl.

“You know, skull and crossbones. One percenters, initiations, orgies.” At that moment, the bathroom freed up and I went inside, leaving the Jersey girls to wonder if I meant it.

We were all locked in a small room for an hour to find our way out. And now, I looked like such a stranger danger to these poor girls.

I was on a double date with my boyfriend, my college friend and their fiance. My friend and their partner had only met my boyfriend that night. The escape room excursion was meant, at least in part, to vet him as my plus one to their small wedding. We could have all just gone out for get-to-know-you drinks, but sure, let’s lock ourselves in a small room with two strangers who maybe thought group sex might be on the horizon.

An escape room is what it sounds like: a room or situation that you have to find your way out of. You work together to solve clues they give you (and distinguish real clues from fake ones) so you can get the hell out of there. Or you don’t solve the puzzle in time and your team does a walk of shame back out into the lobby. Either way, that’s a high pressure situation for a couple, let alone for two couples. Being trapped in a small confined space and presented with a challenge can expose your best qualities or your worst flaws to your partner and to everyone else in the room.

My friend, Wendy, had messaged me about the escape room weeks prior. I was down, provided we didn’t choose an alarming theme like a prison break or escape from a mental asylum. Or the psycho killer my coworkers did for Halloween. Then Wendy had “a great idea!” To do it with Anna, their fiance, and Erik, my boyfriend. “To get to know him.”

Sure. Why not.

Of course, in fairness to Wendy, I was the one who blabbered about orgies. I was the one who showed up stoned, to ease the stress of what we were about to undertake.

We had to reschedule multiple times because of all our busy lives, being such young and hip people. By the time we got to the date of the double date (triple date?), I was wracked with anxiety.

After all the worry, the pot and the orgy talk, the room itself was just puzzles in a surprisingly chill atmosphere. Soft lighting framed the various lockboxes and safes we had to break into, a suspect scrabble board, hideous fake plants and cheesy quotes in trashy frames. It was far from the fearfest I was imagining or the fuckfest I jokingly alluded to.

Still, the pressure was on.

I love a good jigsaw puzzle as much as the next socially anxious person. You don’t have to chit chat. You don’t have to care about anybody else. You just sit there and fit pieces of cardboard together until they make a pretty picture. But escape rooms contain an additional layer of stress that I’ve never felt inclined to explore. What if you can’t get out? What if you pee yourself? As someone who pees approximately every 20 minutes, this concern was real for me. When the nice girl running the game asked if anyone needed to use the restroom first, I threw up my hand like we were on a school trip and left with her and our two new besties from New Jersey. You already know how that interaction went.

More than the stress of losing the game, I was afraid that I would simply be unhelpful. Dana, 25, says she did an escape room in Boston with her work team and their manager, who they all despised. “It was horrible. All of my team working together and her just fiddling with one lock on a fridge. We all walked out hating her more.”

The possibility of everyone in the room resenting my ineptitude was all I could think about every time I myself was completely useless during the game. Which was often. Most clues I found had already been handled, generally while I was over by the cabinet, trying to move a cork with a magnet.

On top of the embarrassment I felt over being bad at the game, I felt anxiety about my relationship. I worried my boyfriend would realize I would be a terrible partner during a real crisis and dump me for my friend and their fiance, both much better at the game. If my relationship ended and theirs became a triad with my former boyfriend, all I would have left is a hypothetical orgy with two nice girls from the garden state. And that’s not even technically an orgy.

Nevertheless, we won the game and made a couple new friends. Wendy and Anna didn’t hate Erik, Erik didn’t dump me, I kept all my pee inside my body. And while I may have started things on a weird note, at least I wasn’t a pimply high schooler who took over an escape room filled with strangers to ask a girl to the prom.

Who turned him down.

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