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. I’ve also gotten reviews of the best beaches in and the new mall in .
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.