20 December 2006

Adventures in Speed Dating

A few weeks ago, I met a friend of mine and his girlfriend at a fabulous little bar called Savoy. After a few drinks, we were inevitably lamenting over the plight of being – as the ever-optimistic web likes to put it – “suddenly single” in the vast and bizarre world of New York City. The conversation turned into online dating, upon which I’ve briefly touched in this blog, and alternatives to the crap-shoot that is online dating, and the alternatives offered.

This is when the topic of New York on “Speed” came up. Apparently, there is a vast world of “Speeding” in this town, of which I’ve been previously blissfully unaware. I’m not talking about the drug (or, I should clarify that if there *is* a rash of stimulant use in NYC, I continue to be blissfully unaware), but the idea of Speed Dating, and the other new-to-me concepts of “Speed Friending” (the same as speed dating, but without the sexual aspect and gender requirements) and “Speed Networking” (sort of a speed friending for professional reasons.)

Ready to dabble in anything new that would give me a basis for a good blog (and readily propped in my adventuresome spirit by several very good Cosmopolitans thanks to Michael, the Savoy bar tender), I went immediately home and signed up for a speed dating adventure. (Thanks a lot, Paul.)

I should add a disclaimer here... While I admit that I signed up for the speed dating that late evening when I got home, I didn’t recall doing this until I checked my email the next morning when the subject line: “Congratulations! You are confirmed!” greeted me. I had to take a few moments to remember, exactly, what I was confirmed FOR. Not wanting to lose my momentum of adventure (and not wanting to lose my deposit for the evening) I bravely went forward and last night, made my first foray into the bizarre world of Speed Dating.

Arriving at the location was a bit of an adventure itself. Apparently, local R&B performer Myame was performing at the upstairs dance club as well, so there was a line of about 15 men waiting outside the front door, all decked out in baggy jeans, sideways baseball caps, hoodie sweatshirts, and lots of heavy gold bling. I hate to stereotype, and didn’t want to judge anyone for anything before I give them a chance, but it just didn’t strike me as the typical crowd lining up for a speed dating. Resolving to suck it up and make the best of it, I traipsed up to one of the several 250+ pound bouncers at the door and said – as bravely as my karate training would let me – “Is there a speed dating thingie here tonight, or am I in the wrong place?” Yea, it sounded just as weak and pathetic as it reads.

Thankfully, the reply I received was: “Yep, in the basement.” Whew!! At this point, I was let through the velvet rope in front of the other crowd, and escorted rather unceremoniously through a blank door and a set of dark stairs leading precipitously downwards into … yep … the basement. I have to give the organizers props for this automatic screening of potential applicants. After all, if you weren’t scared off by the crowd at the door, the four bouncers, or the descent from an unmarked door into a dark stairwell, then you have to have some set of nerves.

Upon entering, our two hosts beckoned me over and gave me my brochure: A photocopied paper with an ice-skating hedgehog on the cover, wearing a tie, carrying a martini, and wearing a scarf emblazoned with the logo of the speed dating company. (I swear I’m not making this up. I don’t think I could if I tried.) On the corner of the front page: “F4”, which stands for “female” and “table 4” which was to be my assigned seat for the first part of the evening. On the inside cover: The rules, and then the “Selection Form”… a series of blanks labeled “Name of Date”, “Notes”, and the ever-so-personal choice of Y or N. That’s basically what the whole thing comes down to, right? Y or N.

I got a drink – screwdriver #1 – and found a stool near two other women: JA and IL. They were friends who came together on their first speed dating experience, and we bonded pretty quickly over the first few moments. The need to preserve a bit of anonymity was apparent from the beginning, though, and the psychology professor was hesitant about telling me where she taught until she reconsidered and said “Well, since you’re a woman, I can tell you. But I am not going to tell any of the guys!!” Fair enough. Apparently it was also a bit strange – as a woman – to come alone. Once again we see the social differences between men and women here. All of the men came alone, but most of the women came in groups of 2 or 3 for moral support. I am not sure if that’s a good thing or not, since women (as you’ll see later) can be quite nasty when they talk about men. (I know, I know… not telling you anything groundbreaking here.)

I don’t quite know what I expected of the men, but there was a good variety there – short, tall, suits, casual, artistic, businesslike, ‘big boned’, thin, and every skin tone was represented. Overall, however, I have to say that the selection of women was far more attractive than the men… but who am I to judge?

So the rules as they were explained to us was that we would have 6 minutes to chat with each dude, and then they would ring a ‘gong’ and the gents would move to the next table for the next six minutes. We’d do this in two acts… with each person talking to 6 people in each act. I was perched on a very hard to describe box that was lit from within and was very uncomfortable. It also put me a good 8 inches above my date, which was exceedingly unhelpful since I was taller than – oh – everyone in the room. As I sat perched on the edge of my lava-lamp-seat, I met my first date… Here, gentle readers, is the play. I will include the notes that I wrote as I met the men, and recall what I can from our conversations…

Act 1: The first six
I.C.: My notes: “Asian. Scarf.” IC is a very artistically dressed gentleman with intricately shaved facial hair that would fit seamlessly into the Parisian beatnik café scene of Audrey Hepburn’s Funny Face. Very nice to talk to. Asian, his family is from Korea, but he’d lived in the US for most of his life and was in some creative line of work. But honestly I don’t recall much of this first interview, except for his very dramatic black and white scarf, and that when he stood to shake my hand after the gong rang, he barely came up to my waist. Sorry, IC, that would be an “N”.

P.G: I have no recollection whatsoever of this one. And no notes. Oops. I think I was still getting the hang of talking to them while not feeling awkward about taking notes... No recollection equals an “N”. Sorry, PG, my bad.

C.L.: My notes: “Greek, Glasses”. I do recall a checkered jacket, too, and that once the conversation warmed up, he did seem like a nice guy. He screamed “geek” in the traditional sense, with the thick-rimmed black glasses (is that chic, or geek? I can’t keep up), and we chatted a while about my visit to Athens in 2004 and how the Greeks do yogurt like no one else in the world. Not a great chatter, though, and I found myself starting up the majority of the conversation. Probably a "N"….

B.G.: My notes: “Car Salesman. Feet.” I couldn’t follow the conversation with BG most of the time, because it was like talking to three or four different people at the same time. He couldn’t sit still, and was so intent on telling me tales of his previous bad dates, that I barely got a word in edgewise. At one point, he actually said “Enough about me Let’s talk about you But don’t tell me the boring stuff like what you do for a living You’re hot so I’m already interested What do you do for fun I hope you like surfing Have you ever been to Colorado to ski” That was an actual sentence. I’m not kidding. I don't think he actually took a breath for the entire 6 minutes. He also kept taking off his shoes and scratching his toes during our conversation. I never knew that 6 minutes could be so long, or so exhausting. That would be a definite “N”.

F.Z.: My notes: “Tech guy.” Poor FZ – I couldn’t hear a word he was saying. Not only was Myame cranking up some serious bass above our heads, but the conversations in the room reached a peak at this point, and it suddenly seemed as if everyone was yelling. I’m not a loud talker either, so most of the 6 minutes was spent saying “Could you repeat that?” Sorry, FZ, that’s a “N”.

B.R. My notes: “Real estate. 50.” This was, honestly, the first one with real potential. Dressed casually, with a “few extra pounds”, BR had a great sense of humor and we chatted very easily. We had a really nice chat until about 4 minutes in, when I found out that he lied about his age to get into the speed dating group. He was significantly older than the age groups delineated by the event (women: ages 29-37, men: ages 32-42) and made me wonder how much else of his “I ran three companies and did really well and I’m now retired and I just put Real Estate on my business card so that it has something on there to fill my time” schpeil was less BR and more BS. It’s too bad, really, because we really hit it off otherwise. Call me crazy and maybe I’m a little hypersensitive about things right now, but in the last year of my life, I’ve had enough of men lying to me that I don’t feel like starting anything out with another lie…. Sorry, BR… that would be a regrettable “N.”

At this point we took a break for some “snacks,” which basically consisted of cheap sugar cookies, and some nachos with salsa. The hosts of the event must have shelled out a whole $2.50 for the highly-promoted “snacks provided”. Honestly, though, most people weren’t interested in heading to the bar for the stale tortilla chips, but for another drink. BR followed me to the bar, and we chatted during the 15 minute intermission, and really had a nice chat, which was – I’ll admit – happily lubricated by screwdriver #2.

During the second round, the guys were stationary, and the women rotated around This was actually a bit preferable since most of the men stood up when I approached and could see how tall I was. I’m not sure how that will affect my feedback ratings, but I hope not too poorly.

Act 2: The Second Six
My notes: “Italian. Bald.” Here’s where I have discovered the best pickup line ever: “What’s your favorite vegetable?” I’m not sure how we got onto the topic of food (probably coming off the tortilla chips, and the fact that he is Italian), but we started bonding over the fact that both of us dislike the slimy texture of fresh tomatoes. SD was – as my notes indicate – Italian and bald, but also very fit and very fun to talk to. He was energetic, funny, and great at chatting, which is a severely underrated skill in my honest opinion! Shorter than me, yes, but not so much that it was awkward, and later on I heard that he is a cartoonist, which is uber-cool. Hm… definitely has surprising potential to be a “Y”.

W.A.: My notes: “Tie, France.” This was the one guy in the room wearing a suit, and who was almost as tall as I am. Definitely the best looking, objectively. But he was definitely a quiet one, which was a little bit of an adjustment from SD, who was quite chatty and energetic. I don’t think he there was anything negative about WA, but I could definitely see why he says he has trouble getting dates. He’s very quiet, and I’m sure the bar scene in New York doesn’t fit with his personality. We had a nice conversation about France, though his favorite city being Paris (and not Lyon) might be a serious problem for me. The girls later said he was boring, but I’m speaking from experience when I say that maybe boring is not as bad as it sounds (and it’s a lot better than the alternative, which is someone who is TOO exciting for a relationship’s own good. Ooops, my baggage is showing again! Sorry…) Hmmm… have to think about this one a little more…

A.S.: My notes: “Brown M&M’s, Ears.” Okay, yea, I know that by this time you can tell by my comments when that second drink really started kicking in. But honestly, the M&M thing was not as far a stretch as you might think! Here, the new ‘favorite vegetable’ question took a turn into ‘what’s your most favorite (and least favorite) M&M color?” (For the record, my most favorite is green, my least favorite is brown... as was his - hence the "brown M&M's note.") He also had very sticky-out ears – hence the ears comment. A great chatter, and a psychology major as well, we had a nice conversation, but no sparks for me. He dressed well, which makes sense, since he works for a major high-end fashion retailer. If I cared more about shoes and couture clothing, he’d be a “Y”, but sadly, I like being stuck in an unfashionable rut, so I'm afraid the desire for handbags and haute couture straight pants won't turn it from a "N".

D.Y.: My notes: “Short. Jaded.” Oooh, that’s kind of harsh, isn’t it? Sadly, it was also true. He was very short, but in the interest of making the best of things, I kept the conversation lively. I asked him the “vegetable” question (it really sparked some interesting conversation with AS, so I tried it again), and he seemed to appreciate the change of pace. He told me that he was a frequent speed dater, and that he was a little tired of the scene… or it seemed to me that he was just tired in general. He admitted that this was the first time he’d been asked about vegetables, and couldn’t decide his favorite. I broadened the field: “Okay, what’s your favorite vegetable MEDLEY?” and he froze again… apparently the man doesn’t like vegetables. But his lack of health food decision-making abilities aside, there were no sparks, so DY is a “N.”

J.P.G.: My notes: “Tall! 4th Grade teacher.” Note the most important thing here to me – height. It was the first comment in my last two guys, and while I proudly managed to stay away from asking everyone about their profession (a common and oft-repeated conversation), we had a nice long chat about teaching 4th grade, and how the kids at that age aren’t old enough to put on more than a façade of attitude that’s quickly removed by a good teacher. A nice guy, really, but really didn’t react when I asked if he liked to travel… and in my life, travel is a priority, so I think I’m going to move on… sorry, JPG, the kids will have to do without me for now… “N”.

R.G.: My notes: “Beard. Short.” I should have added “no conversational skills at all” but it didn’t fit in the box. I’m not a big fan of facial hair either, so all in all, three strikes. Sorry, RG, but it didn’t’ take long to reach an “N”…

Finale: Post-party Catty Session
Whew!!! After 12 guys and nearly 2 hours of constant talking, the end of the evening was welcome. At this point, I noticed, the girls suddenly started huddling in groups of 3-4, and I was sucked back into a conversation with the women I met at the beginning of the night, JA and IL. The first, pressing question: “Did you have any Yesses?” I kind of hedged a bit, and said something non-committal like “It was rather overwhelming, I’m going to have to think about it a little more,” at which point they told me that they thought the group was a bunch of losers and they didn’t think they had found anyone the least bit interesting. Then, they started picking apart each one… I won’t get into details, but if you’re a woman, imagine your worst session of nitpicking the selection at a bar, and you get the gist. (Men – trust me, you just don’t want to know.)

They did manage to say that the Italian guy was the best of the bunch, and when I told them that I had busted BR’s age faux pas, they started scribbling madly in their pamphlets and seemed horrified. Oops, sorry BR. Overall, though, they seemed generally put off by the whole thing, and I’m not sure if they were too harsh, or if I’m just too nice. Probably a little bit of both.

The hosts told us that the next steps were to go home, log on to our accounts, and there we would find the list of gentlemen (or ladies) that we’d met, and that we should check off the ones we were interested in meeting. If there were mutual “checks”, then we would receive each other’s email addresses, and - here’s a great quote for you – “The rest is up to you consenting adults.”

Overall it was a fascinating study of men and women interacting, and – as the host stated at one point – this pretty much instantaneously removes the ‘hardest’ part of dating, which is that first face-to-face meeting, and that first conversational hurdle. True, but it’s also hysterically fun to do! I’ll definitely do it again – if not to pick up men, then to just meet new people. In the end, the women were just as interesting to meet as the men, and I suggested the idea of combining the “speed dating” and “speed friending” into one event. After all, even if you don’t want to speak with the men in the room again, who knows if you’ll meet a really cool person to be a hang-out buddy for your next speed-dating adventure… Now that wouldn’t be such a bad idea…

The end result and review would be that I had a shockingly fabulous time! I was literally smiling the entire way home from the experience, and told my office mate today that she should try it out, even though she's seriously dating someone already. It's such a weird experience, but so much fun to socialize in such a bizarre, forced-yet-comfortable way. It was an amazing confidence booster, after some duds in the last few weeks, and I'll definitely do it again, when I've recovered from the screwdrivers!

The after party:
A sort of sad end note… BG – the car salesman with the itchy feet – was hanging out and did manage to try to pick us up with a lame “So, where’s a good bar nearby to party?” line. I told him to head to 9th avenue, and no, I wasn’t going to join him. I think, when I left, he was the last one in the bar, eating the leftover stale chips and trying to talk the waitress into joining him to party that night… and that he would buy the drinks. I can only hope that he washed his hands first.

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