Editors note: First published in 2004 on View London. Republished with permission.
Speed dating, so we are being told these days, is the newest dating craze and is taking the capital by storm, so naturally we thought some single members of the office should be sent out to try the waters...
Now, for those of you who still remain in the dark (and it's hard to being as there have been more than a few column inches devoted to this particular activity of late), the idea is as follows;
Equal groups of men and women are placed in a venue for an evening and, with the aid of a compare of sorts, spend three minutes with each member of the opposite sex throughout the rest of the night. This is done in well-regimented fashion with a whistle being blown every time three minutes has elapsed - indicating that it's time for the gents to move on to the next table and the next lady (as chivalry demands, the ladies are seated at different tables and the gents circulate).
Everyone is issued with a printed sheet of numbers (as well as a number to wear for the evening, very Prisoner) and, by the number of each potential date, one ticks a "yes" or "no" box after you've spent your three minutes with them - for quite obvious reasons. At the end of the night all the sheets are collected, results collated and, within 24 hours, potential matches (i.e. folks who both ticked "yes" in relation to each other) are emailed to all attendees.
This, of course, is the theory…which is why Viewlondon decided to test the practice and sent a pair of us (one of each) along to the latest event that www.originaldating.com decided to hold…
It was with no little amount of trepidation that Jo (the other victim) and I wandered up to the front door of the Boom Bar in St. John's Hill where we were to spend the next few hours trying to be as entertaining and vivacious as possible (yes, we were out researching so it didn't really count but no one likes to lose…even if they are only playing) with a mob of people who we'd never met before.
Happily our obvious embarrassment faded fairly sharpish as a result of two things - one was a swift (and stiff) drink and the other was the charming and generally settling presence of Stuart, the event organiser and the evening's compare.
Huddling at the bar we spent some furtive moments looking round us before we realised that everyone in the bar was involved in the entertainment - the whole venue had been booked. This came as no small relief, largely because I had no real wish to be spotted and taunted by "normal" folks for what I was doing, which was all too apparent given the large "HELLO MY NAME IS EOIN" badge…
After glancing round for some moments I was rather relieved to find that no one was overtly psychotic or…and this is obviously shallow…heart-stoppingly ugly either (one poor fellow came close, but at least he wasn't fashion blind). "Perhaps", I thought, "this isn't going to be quite as torturous as I'd imagined". Jo seemed to be thinking something similar.
The Games Begin
All too soon we were hustled from the comparative comfort of the bar and to our starting positions (at a table corresponding to the number stuck on your chest along with you name). There was a short and somewhat ear-splitting demonstration of the whistle that would be used to indicate when it was time to swap partners and then we were off…
I had, before embarking on the entire affair, wondered what I would actually talk about, I had even considered "I kill for money, what do you do?" as an opening gambit but, when the time came, I was rather more worried about appearing to be normal than I was about smart lines. Happily I was lined up first with a Kiwi lass and, as we all know, Kiwis are great sorts.
Consequently it wasn't too difficult to ramble on fairly happily and, as so often happens with these things, three minutes seemed rather a short span of time when the first whistle went.
Rather more relaxed than I had been, I approached the second of my dates for the evening and, once again (somewhat to my surprise - I, like many people I suppose, had thought this kind of event would be populated by oddballs) she turned out to be a friendly and not unattractive type.
It was at this point that I began to size up the male opposition (it's my competitive nature) and started to notice something. In the first place, the event had been delayed by about half an hour because some of the guests had failed to turn up - all men I might add. Secondly, I noticed that, whereas the ladies had arrived in groups, the gents had obviously, for the main part, turned up singly. Finally, and cruelly, the ladies were, in general, several rungs up the ladder from the gents - if you catch my drift…
This struck me as a bit weird until I realised that the girls were obviously having fun and not taking things too seriously whereas the blokes seemed to be the reverse - indicating, perhaps, that ladies see this kind of thing as an entertaining social evening but men in general see it as something rather more important. I could, of course, be completely wrong.
Of course, it was bound to happen that at some point I would end up with someone I didn't like - the law of averages makes this a certainty. True enough, on my fifth or sixth date (by now feeling overconfident and generally twinkly) I met with someone who, I soon found out, was about as interesting as a brick, similarly shaped and obviously felt the same about me.
There is a point folks when you realise that, in some cases, three minutes can feel like a very, very long time indeed. The bad thing is you can't just leave (although one girl I was talking to at some point mentioned that one of her dates had gone to the bar and not come back until the whistle went again…) and you have to try and be pleasant, or at the very least politely interested. Still, I survived - and it was round about this time that the whistle blew three long blasts to signify half time.
This allowed me and Jo not only to get a breather - it's surprisingly hectic moving tables every three minutes and constantly re-introducing yourself to new people - but also to catch up on how things were going for each of us.
We pored over our score sheets at this point and reached the conclusion that I was either far too nice to people or far too desperate, being as I'd only had a definite "no" for two or three girls (one of whom, I might add, actually used the immortal phrase "but I'm better now" which almost had me climbing over the back of the seat in a wild attempt at self-preservation) and many, many ticks in the "yes" box. Jo on the other hand was obviously not enjoying any happy hunting, having miserably failed to meet anyone she liked at all. Oh well.
From there it was back to the circulating and the biggest surprise of my evening - I sat down at one table to find, well, a girl who was - certainly in my slightly weird opinion - exceedingly good-looking (Jo had also pointed her out earlier so I know she was actually pretty).
Naturally I started trying to search for any obvious mental illnesses, but there were none in evidence. I even had a swift glance at her legs to make sure they weren't of different lengths or perhaps even wooden - it just didn't compute that an obviously articulate and attractive woman was speed dating…surely she really didn't have any trouble finding men to take her to dinner?
This, as I found out, was not the problem - the problem was exactly what speed dating gurus set the entire thing up for; she had a job that entailed long hours and a lot of effort and, as a result, found herself with very little social life in which to meet anyone. Figuring she didn't have anything to lose, herself and a couple of her friends had come down for the evening to check things out and appeared to be having a good time.
Anyway, three minutes passed far too fast and the last time I saw her she was leaving…maybe she'll have ticked the "yes" box in my case - hopefully not the same way I did, which was with a series of emphatic lines suggesting nothing more than crazed serial-killer out for blood…I think I may even have written "please, please, please" next to the tick too. In fact, I know I did…
We'll find out whether I was her type soon anyway - hopefully I'll have a confirmation email coming in shortly. However, I'm not really holding out much hope, I am a small fat Irishman with bad hair and a habit of making exceedingly tasteless jokes; certainly Scunthorpe United to her Real Madrid.
After that things proceeded pretty much as they had previously although there was an amusing and somewhat disorientating incident where myself and my date at the time realised that we were both journalists and both there to cover the event (and no, it wasn't Jo), leading us to wonder just how many other people in there were actually members of the press.
I then accused another Kiwi girl of being Australian, which went down rather like a lead balloon and finished up by tripping over a step right at a point when I was trying to look especially graceful. Happily the next person to do it spilt their entire pint on the floor and looked much more of a tit than I had…
When the whistle finally went for the end of the event I have to admit that I was somewhat chagrined. To be honest I had arrived with some rather militant views on the entire thing - nominally along the lines that normal people didn't have to go out to specific events to procure a suitor and thus people who went to speed dating events were quite obviously mad, socially unacceptable or downright weird.
I have to say though that this really wasn't the case at all - all of the women I met (even the ones I didn't like) were friendly, intelligent, sociable and, in no few number of cases, ranging from "pretty" all the way up to "gaaaah…hubba hubba".
Unfortunately I don't think Jo got the same impression at all…poor lass.
Ultimately then, speed dating is something of a revelation - it's not packed with the freaks, bunny boilers and troglodytes I had, somewhat uncharitably, expected but rather with normal, everyday people out to have fun.
As such it seems to be doing very well indeed (a fair few of the attendees were on their second or third trip to a speed dating event - in most cases ones run by the fellows at www.originaldating.com and shows no signs becoming less popular anytime in the near future. In fact, and I know this is going to sound odd, I would actually recommend going along to something like this if you and your friends fancy doing something different and entertaining. Yes indeed.
So, there you have it - speed dating officially has the Viewlondon seal of approval…yes, that surprised us too. Honestly, it's a good laugh - try it!
Finally, a BIG thank you to Stuart and all at www.originaldating.com for not only organising an excellent night but also making sure everyone was well looked after all evening - top marks!
Eoin Sanders, Editor www.viewlondon.co.uk
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