Speed Dating

A curious girl’s ethnographic quest for stimulation, knowledge and the least common denominator…
(originally published on Austinist.com)

A long, long time ago, I had a dream. Or maybe it was just a thought. Maybe a recurring thought. Okay, origins are not important. I’ll just relate it:

I’d be walking down the street and some random man would end up walking next to me at the exact same pace. Maybe we would talk to each other or maybe we wouldn’t, but we would be so comfortable and content that we would just keep walking together. And that would be that. We’d walk happily ever after.

Of course, I’ve since realized that this, like most romantic fantasies, makes ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE.

I mean, first of all, where are we walking? To my house or his? If it’s my house, are my dishes piled up to the ceiling? When was the last time I changed my sheets? Is he walking because he doesn’t have a car? Does he not have a car because he’s environmentally-conscious, or because it was repossessed due to non-payment? If we’re not talking, is it because he’s boring? Because I’m boring? Also, I’m a slow walker; if we’re walking at the same pace, would that mean he’s at least as short as I am? Or maybe he has unusually short legs? Or maybe he’s just being considerate? Either way, to maintain the same pace, one of us probably has to walk either faster or slower than we normally do. And if that’s what we’re basing happily ever after on, that’s gonna suck eventually, right? We’re probably going to get tired at different times. Maybe one of us will eventually want to start speed walking, and the other will be repulsed by the sight of the silly-looking arm-swinging-thing that speed-walkers do…

Alas, the older I get, the more myths get blown out of the water.

This week, I signed up for a Speed Dating event. It seemed like a pretty fertile subject. What could be more fascinating than a whole bunch of single folks in varying states of desperation and curiosity trying to find true love in four minutes or less? That’s kind of like randomly meeting someone on the street…And, despite my complete skepticism, cynicism, finickiness, propensity for making snap judgments, hatred of small talk, lack of belief in soul mates, and so on, I wasn’t completely ruling out the possibility of my finding a date for myself…

In fact, maybe we all would have found true love- or at least have gotten laid- had the whole event not been royally f***ed by one key factor: The Organizer did not show up.

That’s right. At least forty single people with (r)aging hormones and dreams of unicorns and sunsets convened in a regularly-empty bar awaiting their successive four minute shots at happiness only to be stood up. By The Organizer. Without warning. Talk about irony.

Did I mention that this (non)event took place on a Friday night? Did I mention that I’d actually blow-dried my hair and agonized over what business casual dress actually meant? And I was just there to do research. The disappointment was palpable.

When I arrived, several minutes late (due to the business casual issue), I saw no numbered tables, no name tags, no stopwatch, no person with a whistle, no putt-putt sized pencils… Instead, lots of frightened, socially-awkward people stood by themselves or in groups, white-knuckling their beers and doing their best to talk to each other. I.e., they had been forced into the exact situation they were all trying to avoid: hanging out in a bar with total strangers, making small talk, asking for phone numbers, buying people drinks, figuring out how to start conversations, figuring out how to end them…

I approached a rather enthusiastic and talkative woman who was standing in a circle of five people.

“So, are you all here for the speed dating thing?” I asked.

“We are! But the organizer didn’t show up! The bartenders told us they’d give us $2 beers and $3 drinks, though, and we can all hang out and meet anyway!!! So we’re just having a good time getting to know each other!! What’s your name, hon?!!” She put her arm around me and guided me into the circle as if I were a lost toddler.

“I’m Wendy,” I told her.

“Well, Wendy, I’m Judith!! And this is Frank!! And this is Julio!! And this is Samantha!! And this is…” and so on. Everyone smiled awkwardly and either waved awkwardly or shook my hand awkwardly.

Great. Now what?

So the psychology of speed dating, I’ve been told, is thoroughly addressed in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, which I sadly have not read. However, since I am not a real journalist, I can reference what people have told me about the book. Apparently research shows that people pretty much make up their minds about each other within the first few seconds. The beauty of speed dating is that it gives everyone a planned, anonymous out, and also a planned, efficient in. It’s totally practical, and no one gets hurt. Or, at least no one gets hurt in front of you.

Unfortunately, unstructured bar life does not offer this type of efficiency or practicality. It had only taken me a few seconds to surmise that I wanted to leave the Judith’s circle and continue exploring, but it took me several minutes to figure out how to extract myself from the group without looking like a jerk.

Thankfully Judith reeled in another guy, and he seemed a bit more my type. Not my type-type, but my friend-type. He was a grad student and had just moved to town. We chatted for awhile, and I suggested that we talk to Judith about attempting to speed date without The Organizer. Judith seemed outgoing enough to make this happen, so I gave it a shot.

“Hey, Judith! We have an idea. Maybe we could make an announcement and get everyone to talk to everyone else for, say, four minutes at a time. That way we could all still do what we came here to do!”

“Wait, what do you mean?” Judith asked.

“You know, we could all break off into pairs and talk to each other for four minutes at a time…”

Insert blank stare. You know, like speed dating? Ever heard of…

“I can’t believe the organizer just didn’t show!” she (sort of) replied. Then she kept right on talking, “So are you originally from Austin?”

I tried a few more times, but apparently no one seemed to understand my idea. Or hear my idea. Or something. It was really strange. Grad Student Guy and I exchanged glances, shrugged our shoulders and made conscious efforts to leave the circle and mingle. And mingle we did.

So I had figured that the majority of people in attendance would fall into at least one of these categories:

1. Socially awkward types who don’t get out much
2. Professional types who don’t have time to get out much
3. People who are new to town don’t like exploring on their own
4. People who don’t do well in loud bars but feel more comfortable talking one-on-one
5. People who like structure

Interestingly enough, during my mingling I found that most of the men in attendance not only met at least one of these criteria, but in fact seemed to meet all of the criteria at once. In other words, a lot of them were, well…engineers. Engineers who were new to town. Ones with time-consuming jobs. Very literally-minded engineers who don’t do well in loud bars. Like the one we were in.

Chemical Engineers, Electrical Engineers, Civil Engineers, Nuclear Engineers, Systems Engineers… Maybe even a Train Engineer. By the end of the evening, I had taken to approaching men like, “Hi! I’m Wendy. Nice to meet you. What kind of engineer are you?”

I should note that I have nothing against engineers. I mean, some of my best friends are engineers. And I’m also no dating expert or anything like that. However, I do feel the need to offer up a little advice.

After you answer, “I’m a chemical engineer,” or “I’m an electrical engineer,” or “I’m a civil engineer,” or “I just graduated with an engineering degree,” or “I work for a multinational engineering consulting corporation,” under no circumstances should you follow this up with, “I could talk about it forever, but it’s really complicated. It would bore you.”

Why? Let’s examine it pseudo-logically, shall we?

The statement has a lot of implications:Engineer = Smart
Engineer = Boring
Me = -Boring

From this, I can deduce that:

If   Me = -Boring   ⇒  -Me = Boring
If   (-Me = Boring) and (Engineer = Boring)  ⇒  -Me = Engineer
If   (-M = Engineer) and (Engineer = Smart)  ⇒  -Me = Smart
If   -Me = Smart  ⇒  Me = -Smart
∴   You’re calling me stupid.

And that is no way to start a date, especially if it’s going to last the whole four minutes.

As the night wore on, it became more and more evident that maybe the speed-dating model needed a little modification. At least this one did. Not that we were speed-dating. But still. I think the randomness of the whole thing just wouldn’t have worked. We’d all signed up on the web, and the only qualification given was age. Had it been Music-Enthusiasts Speed Dating, or Speed Dating for Athletes, or Literary Speed Dating, or Speed Dating for Geeks, then the night would have made more sense. But here, the odds of finding someone with shared interests seemed to be about as high as, well, randomly meeting someone on the sidewalk.

This became even more evident when I was talking to one well-meaning guy about music. He mentioned that the last show he’d attended was a Metallica concert. I guess he could tell by my expression that I wasn’t really a fan.

“Oh, I know,” he said with a clever gleam in his eyes, “You’re one of those Coldplay people, aren’t you?!”

“Uh, well, you know… I, uh, guess I did like their first album a little bit, but they’re not really my…”

“I knew it!” he exclaimed. He might have even slapped his knee.

“Well, I mean, it’s not exactly like that…” I started. But then I stopped.

I could have talked about it forever, but it’s really complicated. It would have bored him.

And with that, I knew it was time to leave.


Unofficial musical sponsor of failed speed-dating event:

Number of phone calls I’ve received from weird singles clubs since registering for failed event:

Probability that entire thing was/is a scam: 7 out of 10

Number of subsequent successful Guerrilla Speed Dates© Me last Friday/future ®/Patent soon-to-be Pending engaged in at Lustre Pearl after leaving official (non)event at random bar: