A friend of mine suggested a few months ago that we try speed dating. I was actually up for this because most of the time, I can tell in the first five minutes if I’m interested in spending an entire evening with someone. In the case of speed dating, I can check ‘yes’ for the people I want to spend more time with, and I don’t need to commit to more than five minutes with the less interesting ones. Plus, this speed dating event was organized by the Toronto Public Library system, so it was FREE. I could meet 25 people and not spend a penny (nickel?). As a graduate student, I find this appealing, as well as the ‘literary’ theme: we had to bring a book (or a DVD) to promote conversation. Surely this would mean that the men who go have self-selected as people interested in things at least remotely literary?
In theory, it all sounded great. In practice, it was a bit more awkward than I expected. To start off, there were fewer people on the ‘men’ side of the table than on the ‘women’ side, so each person on the woman side got several breaks. (The library is actually pretty inclusive when it comes to genderqueer folk – they still use ‘men’ and ‘women’ labels, so it’s still fairly binary, but you sit on the side according to which you get to talk to the people you’re interested in dating.) There came a point when I appreciated the breaks, actually. I took advantage by grabbing a donut and a coffee, or reading some of my book which was definitely more thrilling than a lot of the guys I ended up talking to.
After the awkward beginning of mingling that was reminiscent of a high school dance (the men hanging out on their own, awkwardly, the women in groups chatting to each other), and then some awkward organizational work to ensure that the table-switching would work out, we began. Except, half of the men didn’t bring a book or a DVD with them. They didn’t know! they claimed. (It’s called Literary Speed Dating?)
I had a few good conversations, and many less good ones. One guy could only speak about his love of the band Rush, and seemed to deflate when I admitted I wasn’t that familiar with their music. Another guy started off by talking about Fight Club. When I admitted that I hadn’t seen it (I mean, I know what the movie is about but) he literally spouted OH MY GOD I HATE YOU. He started to say something about Brad Pitt, and when I went to say something, he cut me off and said YOU HAVEN’T HEARD OF BRAD PITT? YOU ARE THE WORST. I have actually ‘heard of’ Brad Pitt, but he didn’t seem super interested in listening to what I was saying. I’m actually not sure if he was trying to ‘neg’ me, or if he’s just super awkward? Another guy had brought a Richard Dawkins book. To speed dating. I actually just unabashedly told him that he was going to scare off a lot of ladies with that choice, and he maintained he had to ‘be himself’, which, fair enough, but he might want to look up what a crazy old fuckhead Richard Dawkins has become in the last five years or so. To be honest, I think he was unaware of that fact, but that is actually a bad sign in its own way. (I checked that guy as a ‘yes’ though – maybe that says something about where my expectations were at that point in the night? Whatever he seemed nice, if a bit naive.)
At a certain point I started taking the absurdity of the musical chair aspect of the whole event into my own hands by greeting people by saying ‘Hello and welcome to my table!’ This amused some people, and startled others. I had other conversations, most of which were mediocre. After being a server for ten years or so (on and off), a teacher, and an actor, I consider myself a gregarious introvert – i.e. an introvert who has great social coping mechanisms, but by the end of the two hours I was exhausted.
After the event was over, I was getting all of my winter gear on and struck up a conversation with some of the ladies who were also lingering behind. She asked me about a book my friend had just given me, and we started talking about historical fiction and history as narrative. It was the most interesting conversation I’d had all evening. And I realized that although speed dating is useful in terms of quantity, the quality is almost impossible to regulate. Even my bad dates usually are worth a drink or two. Well, most of the time.