Last Wednesday, the giant pimple on my face and I went speed dating. When my cousin invited me a few weeks earlier, I had absentmindedly agreed, thinking I would never actually go. At most, I would maybe just tweet about that one time I almost went speed dating #singleisthenewengaged.
Wednesday came, along with the most spectacular display of adult acne. And it was cold. And I had nothing to wear. And I really did not want to go and meet some crazy man who had gerbils for housemates and thought false nails were a good look – for himself. But then, right on cue, my two tricksy little motivators, “New Year’s resolution guilt” and “not becoming an old, iguana-collecting cat lady”, kicked in. Curiosity took over with a force even bigger than my giant pimple and so off into the cold night air my facial companion and I went.
The first thing I learnt about speed dating is not to lose your name sticker. If you do, you will spend the rest of the evening explaining that you lost it somewhere along the way, spelling your name out for people and fielding jokes about how the last guy was a bit frisky: “So you lost it, did you?” Wink, wink.
The second thing I learnt about speed dating is that, sometimes, five minutes can feel like a heartbeat. You get five minutes with each man and then the organisers ring a bell and you shake hands and move on – just like that. And sometimes five minutes can feel like a very, very long time. Enough time for one date to tell you about an acid burn victim that he had seen that day.
Because there were almost twice as many women as men, there was a half-hour wait at one point – a speed dating bottleneck, if you will. Sitting with a group of my fellow speed dating women was a fascinating part of the evening. We mostly compared notes about the men so far and talked about dating “in real life”. I asked whether anyone really dates anymore: like first-date kind of dating, where you are set up by mutual friends and walk into a restaurant looking for the guy whose Facebook profile picture you have seen once. The bottleneck of girls replied with a resounding: “Yes! All the time!” “Successfully?” I asked. This was met with a resounding guffaw and the shaking of heads.
Date two, three, four, five…
The third thing I learnt about speed dating is that after date two, three, four, five, six … you get complacent about conversations with people. Even when your interlocutor is like Mad Men’s Don Draper’s nephew, who oozes confidence and slouches back in the restaurant booth like a boxer in his corner. If I was interacting with him in real life, I would find myself turning silent, blushing, opening and closing my mouth like a hungry, bulgy-eyed baby bird. But in speed dating it is anyone’s match. We are all heavyweights. With name stickers.
Don Draper’s nephew: Are you a Buddhist?
Me: Nope, but I drink a lot of green tea.
Don Draper’s nephew: So what do you do for a living?
Me: Let’s rather talk about the real possibility of a zombie apocalypse.
Ultimately, I loved speed dating. It is the modern version of a Jane Austen ball, except with less curtseying and violin playing and more push-up bras and white wine spritzers. It is about groups of youngish people coming together to make new connections and maybe meet a future husband or two. Something happens in a room full of people all wearing their most arse-flattering jeans and being honest about looking for someone. That honesty becomes the glue of the evening. There is a confidence in knowing what the glue is in a room full of strangers that gives one reassurance.
And there is a strange kind of exhilarating fun to be had when dating with specified rules and time limits – and a bell. Although my soulmate was not out speed dating that night, it was a great way to spend a Wednesday evening.
The fourth thing I learnt at speed dating? Giant pimples and cold nights should never stop you from finding a new adventure.
Camilla Janse van Vuuren blogs at msameezing.com