Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Julie's Speed Dating Adventure

Today a GUEST POST from your fellow reader Julie who bravely decided to act on her mother's suggestion that she go to a speed dating event, not by throwing a fit, but by actually going to it. Poppets, she did this bold deed on our behalf, so we could know what speed dating is like without having to go ourselves. Kudos to Julie, and now let us see how she fared.--Seraphic

One bright January day I woke up and found that my mother had sent me an email suggesting a speed dating event. I spent the morning feeling wounded, by noon I was reading up and thinking it might not be such a bad thing, by 2pm I had emailed all my girlfriends asking if they'd ever tried it. By 4pm they had all responded saying "No, but you totally should and then tell us about it." (Of course, and of course they were all terribly busy that night.) So just before leaving work I bought a ticket for the speed dating event in the name of Science, Good Stories, and Drinks Included.

Before the event, in order to register and RSVP, I had to set up an online profile. Wouldn't you know it, the speed dating company also has an online-dating component, and here's a shock, signing up for the event also gets you access to that service. I was less than thrilled about this because figuring out a screen name and finding a half-decent photo of me that also reflects my current hair and glasses is not easy. But I filled out the basic questions and came up with a photo that I think I could be recognized by.

And so it happened that I got all dressed up and went out to a nightclub on a Tuesday night. I cunningly scheduled my usual haircut for the afternoon before the event (or "party" in the company's lingo, which rather evokes Silvio Berlusconi in my mind, but so be it). I had a "Is THAT how much weight I've gained?" moment while putting on my dress, and then I attempted to put on makeup. It looked awful. I persevered; it looked worse. I applied the lipstick; I looked consumptive. I set about liberating my skin with a makeup remover wipe (solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant). I ended up with a little red lipstick, some eyeliner and the mascara. As it turned out I was appropriately dressed; if anything, I was a little on the overdressed side.

When I got to the bar, there were two check-in tables: one for men, and the other for women. The bar was closed except for this event, although this was supposed to be a particularly large one due to the upcoming pink-themed holiday; I would guess that a smaller event might take place in a private room. They gave me a free drink coupon, a name tag (first name, last initial), and two numbers: my table number, and an ID number. A staff member took me to my station and gave me a pen and a "score card". Pretty soon I was settled in with my first drink and my first guy, waiting for the real business to begin. The crowd was pretty hip; the official age range was 21-35. Although there were a handful who fit the sort of "loser internet daters" mold, the atmosphere was generally fun and exciting. Dating Company, you were right to call it a "party".

Here's how it worked. The girls stay stationary and the guys move. You get three minutes with each person. When you introduce yourselves, each of you write down the other's ID number and name on the score sheet. Then you make no doubt fascinating conversation. When the buzzer goes, the guy moves to the next girl and -- crucially -- each of you marks "yes" or "no" on the sheet. Rinse, repeat.

The biggest problem I encountered was the scoring. The switching-off isn't clockwork; if the girl to my left was still chatting with the guy, my guy couldn't move on, whereas if the girl to my right was still chatting, my new guy was delayed. More often than not there was a sort of shuffle/traffic jam happening. Even if the switch went quickly, the guy you just talked to was less than three feet away. So circling "no" next to his name felt awkward. I started putting off the scoring, and it didn't take long before I was losing track of people. This is bad. Don't do this. Decide early on that you're just going to hold your card face down or something and don't put off doing the scoring.

The guys generally bore the burden of starting the conversation -- at least with me. They're the ones moving around, and several of them said things to me to the effect that the women had the power in the situation. That's pretty silly when you think about it -- the only difference being that the women weren't walking two steps every three minutes. There's a little sociological observation for you: women have power simply by *being seated in one place*.

[Seraphic jumps in: Mais oui, this is why you have more power when you refuse to chase men. Meanwhile, I missed my midnight bus last night and spent quite some time worrying about rapists until I concluded that minus-20 weather was too cold for any rapist. Do men ever worry about rapists on their way home at night? Yeah, power. Don't talk to me about power, boyfriend.]

The backs of our place cards had ice breaker questions on them, but they were mostly either really lame or too complicated to really do much (one was, "Give three words that describe yourself that don't contain the letter E"). Most men jumped right in with asking what I do for a living; a couple made comments to the effect that talking about anything else would be a waste of time. The best variation on this was, "So, what did you do at work this morning?" Some used or tried to use the place card questions. One tried guessing my last name based on the initial. I only had two who went with smarmy compliments. There was a whole stretch where the conversation just centered on how loud the room was, and how strange the experience was. Of the men I asked, none admitted to having done speed dating before. Some of the men seemed genuinely rather frustrated with the three minute time frame, and having to move on regardless of whether it was a good match or not.

As for my performance, I was happy to answer questions but was generally pretty stumped if the guy didn't take the lead. In other words, basically the way I am in all conversational settings. I had a hard time hearing above the noise. I blanked when one guy asked what I do for fun -- not impressive. The good news is, whether you're doing well or badly, it's over very quickly, and after a while it starts to run together so you stop really thinking about it and also stop feeling weird about repeating yourself.

I was struck by how many men asked me something about my long-term plans. Probably 70% of my "dates" consisted of (1) what I do and (2) whether I see myself living here long term. Sometimes I feel like my entire life is a long-distance relationship, with friends and family scattered all over, so I guess I'd never really considered that as an issue, much less something to ask up front. If nothing else the experience gives you a concentrated sample of reactions to the things you do and like. It's also true, I'd say, that you can eliminate people based on what they choose to bring up when they only have three minutes. The best conversations were ones where we somehow ended up talking about coincidences between our lives and experiences (for example, having attended the same university, or in one case, both of our moms had the same first name -- I don't remember how that came up).

When my 25 "dates" were done (and this being a rather large event, I probably met about half the men in attendance), the staff members handed out a wristband for a one-hour open bar sponsored by a vodka company. Some people left right away, but most seemed happy to fight their way toward the bar. This was where the advantage of coming with friends became clear!

It was at this point that I realized my phone was not in my purse, so I made my way to the coat check (the phone was in my coat pocket, for which I was so grateful I didn't notice that I had genuinely lost my earmuffs... dangit). Without knowing anyone in the crowd, filled with relief at finding my phone, and thinking about the things I needed to do the next day, I decided to take off and forfeit the free vodka. Ah well. I got into a cab and home safely despite some slight alarm when the cabbie's chatter about how hard it is to find a good man started to include comments like "I have fancy car" and "Women, two drinks and they are ok for the sex."

Now that I'm home, I am supposed to enter my scores for the night online. However, the online form seems to have two-digit IDs, and the ones tonight were all three digits, plus I'm tired, so I think I'll send a help request and tackle this in the morning. Anyway, once I enter the scores, the matches get made. So note that with this system at least I guess I could just walk away afterward. Also there's a box you can check that blocks people you marked as "no". Otherwise I guess they could search and find your profile.

Do I feel like I "met anyone"? Not especially. Certainly there were several who were especially easy to talk to. More were attractive than not. I had a couple of favorites. God only knows, of course, what any of their values are (well, ok, there were a couple of them who were obviously a little unsavoury), or whether they liked me enough to follow through when they see the crummy picture on my online profile. "Yes" and "no" don't really capture the range of reactions. We'll see. I'll admit to being fairly ambivalent, if only because I know how unreliable my scorecard ended up being (oops, oops, oops).

I would say overall it was worth it, but I'll go ahead and editorialize and say: don't take it seriously. I would guess that the guys who seemed stressed out and frustrated probably felt that way because -- yeah! it's really difficult to have a meaningful conversation in 3 minutes!

I think you have to treat it as a kind of ice breaker with insurance: if you don't run into this person at the bar immediately afterward, there's a chance you'll still connect after the event via the scorecard matching. Another way to look at it would be as a kind of hybrid internet dating: here are all these random people but you get to screen them in person first. If I were going to do this again I would:

(a) prefer an event with some bar time afterward (at least a drinks special)
(b) bring at least one friend
(d) not leave my dang phone in my coat pocket!

Your humble correspondent in the field,

Great thanks to Julie for today's post and for braving the weird world of speed dating and inappropriate cabbies!


IA_ said...

The men might have been talking about a recent scientific study done.

Julie said...

Alright, a quick update now that the matches have posted. Out of 25 guys I marked 10 yes. Of that 10, 2 were mutual. Furthermore, 1 guy marked yes when I marked no. That's what the site says. So the guy I liked best -- possibly the only one I remember clearly -- he must have said no to me! The nerve! Haha. Anyway, there are the numbers for youse.

@IA_: Thank you so much for posting that link! Not only is it very interesting -- I almost participated in that study as an undergrad and have rather wondered what the outcomes were.