Missing the point

It seems like a quick and easy system–attend the speed date, go online and mark off the people you like, and get your matches. But apparently some daters don’t see it that way. I just got an email from a speed dating company congratulating me on getting a new match…from an event on October 14, 2008! If you wait nine months to turn in your selections, I’m not sure you can call it speed dating anymore.

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All in the family

It was a relatively successful speed dating event. I met a couple of guys I thought were OK. One emailed me right away and we set up a date for Friday. I emailed the other to see if he wanted to go out sometime.

Friday came along and I met the guy at a bar. We were chatting about how we had ended up at speed dating. “I went along with my roommate who’s also my brother, ” he explained. “Really?” I said, still the textbook illustration of nonchalance. “Which guy was your brother?”

Yup, you guessed it. As he described his brother, I wondered if he could see the ffffffuuuuuuccccccckkkkkk spreading across my face. But what I’m still wondering is whether his brother ever told him that I tried to date both of them.

Mr. Moneybags

He started out with so much promise. Pretty cute, a lawyer, lived in the city. (I’m sure New Jersey is lovely, but it’s no place to go on a date: a) If you get liquored up and need a cab, good luck. b) Unless you’ve got one of those hands-free thingies, it’s actually illegal to call your best friend on the drive home to recap.) But I digress. The lawyer and I matched and set up a date. He stood me up.

But seeing as how he was a cute, Jewish (did I mention that, Grandma?) lawyer, I was willing to cut some slack. We rescheduled and went out on an “enh” date. I didn’t hear from him and figured that was it.

Then, six weeks later, I got an email. “Sorry I never followed up,” it said. “Do you want to go out tomorrow?” It was late on a Saturday night, so I had a couple drinks in me and was feeling snappy. My reply: “Um, no.” He wrote back in less than 5 minutes. “Ouch. Why so harsh? I was going to spend a lot of money on you.”

What? Had I fallen into an episode of the Real Housewives? I’ll spare you the details of my response, because I was too shocked to be pithy. Suffice to say, I may have called him Mr. Moneybags and I may also have not heard from him again. But who knows? Maybe he’s waiting six months and he’ll bring a beach house to our second date.

Is there an echo in here?

One of the most interesting things about speed dating (I was going to call it an advantage, but you might not see it that way) is how you have the kind of conversations that might otherwise only be obtained by chatting up homeless people. Obviously these guys are not homeless; they paid $30-$50 to attend. In fact, they might be the mathematical opposite of homeless: people who never leave their homes.

Anyway, I had been through just the basics with this guy (name, job, hobbies) when he said, “I like you. I would go out with you again.” I said, “Ok, thanks” and tried to get the convo back on track since announcing your intentions is faux pas numero uno of speed dating. But he interrupted, “I don’t think 8 minutes is enough time to get to know someone, do you?” No, it’s not, I agreed. “But I would go out with you,” he said. “Yeah,” I replied, “so you’re having a good time tonight?” “Yes,” he said. “But 8 minutes isn’t enough time to get to know someone, don’t you think?” After a slight what-the-fuck-is-wrong-with-you pause, I agreed. “Do you have any more questions for me?” I asked. “Do you have any more questions for me?” he responded. “Is that your question for me?” I asked. Yes, he answered, without a trace of a smile.

The first date

When I used to imagine telling my grandchildren the story of how I met their Grandpa, it was a romantic, Hollywood-worthy tale. Our eyes met across a crowded room, or we bumped into each other on the street, or even–slightly more realistically—we stayed at the office late at night working on important project.

I didn’t picture myself saying, “Kids, we each paid 35 bucks to an internet company so that they would let us talk to each other for four minutes in a crowded bar.”

Yet, after years of pedestrian crashes and overtime had failed to yield true love, I was headed for the bar, with the understanding that such an embarrassing family legend was actually the best-case outcome for my upcoming evening of speed dating.

And from the beginning, it didn’t look like this night was headed for perfection. Obeying the strict instructions that came when I registered with speed dating website, I arrived well before the official start time of 7:30. The dating “hosts” advised that it was important to leave time to grab a cocktail before the event began; no one should go into this experience totally sober.

That’s all well and good, but spending 20 minutes drinking by yourself in a bar packed with Happy Hour revelers is not exactly a pre-date confidence booster. Stare at the door like you’re waiting for someone, glancing occasionally at your wrist in annoyance? (That can look a little forced and silly, especially if you’re not wearing a watch.) Or glue your eyes the big-screen TV like the loser you are rapidly concluding you have become?

After an eternity, it was time to begin. I entered the backroom reserved for the hurry dating to find that the organizers were distracted by a last-minute man shortage. That left me two options: start a conversation with the grinning man in the corner who stared so intently it was clear he was deciding whether I would exactly fit the woman-sized hole in his life; or join the conversation ongoing between a young woman and an older, mustached man.

Mr. Mustache (I won’t be changing names, since I don’t remember any of them) solved my dilemma by inviting me into their conversation, which was about his work in a morgue. He proceeded to lecture me for the next several minutes on the wild (corpses leaping from their stretchers when rigor mortis sets in) and more mundane (very fat bodies not fitting into their drawers) aspects of working for the city coroner.

The girl by his side was cringing visibly at his choice of conversation, and she eventually confessed that they were a father-daughter dating team. Weird, I thought, particularly since the age range for the event was only 25 to 35. Even weirder, the mustachioed man then confessed that he doesn’t work in the morgue at all, but thought it was a good icebreaker. And he really liked me, so why didn’t we skip this whole charade and leave together right now?

Leaving right then sounded terribly appealing, but I had no intentions of taking a pathologically lying, Tom Selleck-wannabe with me. And I had spent $35. So I sat in my assigned seat, and prepared to meet the list of men who would join me at my table to converse in four-minute intervals.

The first got off to a relatively good start—handsome with a decent handshake (I was to get more than my fill of sweaty palms and limp finger clasps during the evening). But his question was a mood-killer. “You’re a pretty girl. Why do you need to come here to meet a guy?” Geez, his idea of small talk makes my Jewish grandmother seem impersonally incurious. What to answer? Because I’m a freak on the inside? Really I’m a sociology researcher?

Luckily, it’s quite easy to avoid answering such tough questions in what you have left of four minutes after switching tables and introducing yourself to the next dater. And take another ten seconds off that for the awkward scribbling of notes about your last date. Quick decision-making (yes, I would want to see him again or no, I hope our paths never cross) or good note-taking is required, since after going on 10 dates in under an hour, your mind is a complete muddle.

Some people dealt with the time-crunch by being extremely efficient in their conversation: “I work at A.C. Moore and I sell beer at Phillies games. I live in New Jersey and I don’t like clubs.” Or “I’m here because people who date online are all lying.”

Others thought the best use of the limited time available was to get right to the big issues. “What do you do for fun? Are you looking to have kids within the next couple years?” a guy asked, while fixing his eyes on a point about a foot to the right of my head. And, then after I had spent a minute thoughtfully describing my feelings about reproduction, “So what do you do for fun?”

There were a few conversations that went well. I think I might have a job writing a middle-school teacher’s graduate term papers. And I’ve got a great restaurant recommendation for the next time I’m in far southeastern Pennsylvania. I’ve also gotten reviews of the best beaches in Africa and the new mall in Atlantic City.

But by far, the most fun of the night was comparing notes on the guys with the other girls. Mr. Mustache had sworn to one of them that he had no children and was only 34. In a post-event bathroom conference, we agreed that we were all far more normal than our dates. The odds may not have been particularly good (they never did resolve that man-shortage), but the goods were most definitely odd.