In a rash moment of FOMO (fear of missing out) I recently booked onto a speed-dating evening. My rationale was that it had to be better than internet dating – see: https://wp.me/p3IScw-id – in that at least you can see the person and get a feeling for them and whether there’s any connection or chemistry, or can you?
The evening was held in a local wine bar and there were 12 women and 11 men– one man cancelled at the last moment– and thank Goodness. 11 seven-minute small-talk chats with an uninspiring selection of men was quite plenty. By man six, I already had a bad case of the Groundhogs. I tried jumping in with interesting conversation starters and did share a love of dogs with one man and dreams about retirement travel with another, but they were just not my kind of men, physically or otherwise. When I got to the tenth man and he asked how I was enjoying the evening, I confessed I was looking forward to going home. By that point, I couldn’t fake interest any longer.
The experience reminded me of a literary speed-dating event I attended about five years ago. Intrigued by the book angle and reassured by having a handy prop if the conversation dried up, I went along clutching one of my all-time favourites, Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd. Placed opposite each other at long tables, we had the opportunity to get to know ten members of the opposite sex in fifty minutes. And that’s the thing about speed dating; it’s fast and furious as clocks – both biological and real – keep time.
I warmed to guy number three; he had read Murray Bail’s Eucalyptus (a quirky love story) and told me he did Tai Chi. “The trouble with speed-dating is the speed,” I confessed a little wearily. “Ah,” he said slipping out a green piece of paper from between the covers of his paperback and sliding it across the table. It was a flyer for slow -dating. “Much less hectic and adrenal than the current caper,” he said explaining that it attracted mind, body, spirit types. I imagined a roomful of vegans with shaved heads sitting in the lotus position.
Would I have been better off supping an alcoholic beverage with the Dave Allen lookalike with the florid face and cream woollen scarf? He had brought Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and not wanting to let him down, I pretended to have read it. He insisted that I listen to an original reading by Faulkner himself on YouTube, peppered every sentence with the F-word and dropped in mention of his ex-wife. The next man told me had recently retired and was suffering retirement angst. He also referred to an ex-wife. Another guy had overly flared nostrils. I was sure I had read somewhere that wide nostrils should ring alarm bells, but couldn’t remember why.
In the interval I stuffed down the nasty sugar and salt-laden potato chips and drank the cheap, acidic wine. And then the bell rang, and we were under starters orders and off again. The next man shared my English heritage, oohed and aahed about Thomas Hardy and Dorset and generally made all the right noises. He was neat, tidy and polite but could have been controlling under his polished veneer.
By the time the final bell rang I felt wrung out, my head was thumping, and I could hardly remember who was who and what was what. When it came to filling in the ‘match’ forms, I wrote down Dorset man and ticked the platonic rather than the romantic tick box. But, clearly, I didn’t tick his boxes – platonic or otherwise – as I never heard from him.
I still had the green slip of paper given to me by Tai Chi man. There had been something a little strange about him, a certain tentativeness and lack of ease, but then again, he was more likely to be on my wavelength than an investment banker. A few days later I emailed him on the pretext that I was interested in writing a feature for a magazine about the slow-dating evenings. Perhaps he could organise a free ticket?
He replied that he was not keen on having a journalist snooping about. It wouldn’t be fair on the guests and would undermine the integrity of the whole thing. I wrote back saying I was not the snooping kind and suggested instead meeting for coffee during the week. After a bit of toing and froing, it became clear that weekdays weren’t going to work so I suggested meeting for breakfast one weekend. He replied enthusiastically suggesting a venue my side of town and then asked point blank: “Would it be easier if I stayed over the night before?”
Amazed at his audacity – meeting for breakfast is a very normal thing to do in Melbourne – I didn’t reply and deleted the email. He wrote again asking if he had been too forward and claimed he had only been joking. Well, if he had only been joking, why hadn’t he added an exclamation mark, some elliptical dots or even a smiley face emoticon? You have to be careful with emails, I said. Without any indication of nuance or humour, it’s not clear what you’re trying to communicate. I hit a nerve and he penned a sarcastic reply. Maybe I could deliver a workshop on how to write emails and communicate better. He could provide the venue if I could find the clients.
In an effort to walk the talk, I sent off a final reply: “Don’t worry about it. It’s just that it’s strange for someone promoting slow-dating to be so quick to suggest a sleepover! 🙂 🙂