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Guest Post: An Introvert Went To A Speed Dating Event

Road Trip 128 by Michael Kappel on Flickr

Road Trip 128 by Michael Kappel on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons noncommercial license.

Hello, Awkwardeers. My best friend and I are heading downstate on a road trip for the next few days and I will not be taking the internet with me. So be nice to each other and enjoy this guest post about a speed dating event from a fellow blog reader. See you all Monday(ish).

Background: A frequent reader and commenter wrote me a letter about whether or not she should go to a speed dating event and listing pros and cons. I answered the email with “Obviously you should go because it might be hilarious.” (Tag = OVERTHINKING IT). She provided the following account as a guide to others. There are footnotes.

Please enjoy An Introvert Went to a Speed Dating Event, by “Expert Singleton.”

THE ARRIVAL

I wasn’t going to tell anyone where I was going, but I panicked and texted my sister (1) from the bus on my way there. It went something like this:

I am doing something RIDICULOUSLY out of character. Don’t tell. And wish me luck.

Lol what r u doing

Speed dating, of course.

Lol omg

Not just speed dating, but a geek-focused speed dating event. I made my way into the pub, exchanged $15 for a name-tag that stubbornly refused to adhere to my clothing, and headed directly to the bar. Armed with a drink (2), I wandered into the crowd and tried not to act like a terrified alien.

THE CONTEXT

See, I somehow tumbled past the age of thirty without starting to date. I say somehow as if it was some sort of freakish accident, but it wasn’t really. I very deliberately did not date because I had some stuff to work on, and I was busy, and, well, I can procrastinate like anything.

So what were the attractions of speed dating? My half-Vulcan jerkbrain kept trying to talk me out of going, so I made a list:

  • Meeting new people! In the tribe of immoderately enthusiastic people, even.
    • Dating practice! Without feeling unethical. I wanted to experiment with people, not on them.
    • Context is unambiguously dating! Am absolutely pants at detecting pantsinterest from others, so this was oddly reassuring.
  • Rejection practice! Both in saying no and in hearing it.
  • I got a Facebook invite! Never underestimate the allure of convenience.

The only real cons were that it would be a decidedly hetero evening (bi-invisibility = meh) and oh the CRUSHING TERROR. But if I waited until I knew what I was doing, I’d never get anywhere (3), so I went for it.

THE EXPERIENCE

Before I melted into a puddle of uncertainty, someone with an incredibly loud voice (and an equally loud handbell) cheerfully called us to order and provided the evening’s instructions.

  • The tables were numbered. Women would proceed through tables in numerical order, and men would stay at the same table throughout the evening.
  • Five minutes, delineated by the bell, to talk to each person.
  • No last names, contact information, or telling where we worked.
  • On the reverse side of the number signs were nerdy-awesome questions in case we got stuck.
  • We would receive cards and pens to write down the name of the people we talked to, and where they fell on the three point scale:
    • Black Hole (never again)
    • Solar Flare (friends maybe)
    • Supernova (hell yes)
  • We’d be informed of any matches within three days.

So I had conversations with about eighteen guys over the course of two hours. It was like this:

  • SO VERY LOUD. I spent two hours half-yelling and asking people to repeat themselves.
  • I didn’t receive my card until halfway through date-the-second, and didn’t write anything down until table-the-third, so I played catch-up throughout the evening. I am dreadful with names, so I’m still not sure whether I got everyone written down. Learn from my terrible example; I make these mistakes so you don’t have to.
  • Five minutes is not enough to know someone well, but it is enough to know whether you want more than five minutes to get to know them. Go ahead and be Judgey McJudgerson. You have all the permission you need.
  • Monosyllabic answers may be motivated by shyness, but they will be interpreted as a lack of interest. If you act like you are not interested, you will be believed.
  • If I ever do this again, I will not bring a purse (too many things to carry – I kept losing track of my drink) or wear a skirt (too much worry about wardrobe malfunction when dismounting barstools). Trousers with pockets, for sure.
  • Also next time I will try not to leave my drink behind when I switch tables.

But what you really want to know about is the dates, right? I admit that my immediate reaction when I left was I HAVE ALL THE STORIES. I obviously like lists, so let’s go with more of that.

THE “DATES”

  • Some of the men in this city own truly excellent fedora-type hats and wear them well. Kudos, fellas.
  • When someone asks, “So, what exactly are you looking for?” you may want to respond quickly. Otherwise? They might start to list all the ways they are certain they are not exactly what you are looking for.
    • I say you may want to respond quickly, but an early warning system may be exactly what you are looking for.
    • The second time I was asked this, I was prepared: “I haven’t dated in forever. Most of my single pals are straight women and gay men, so I figured I should meet more people.” (4)
  • If left unchecked, topics of conversation kept veering back to Avengers, Game of Thrones, and Big Bang Theory. This was not my fault. I tried talking about gardening and time travel.
  • There are only five minutes. Do not spend three of them talking about your last few exes and how painful your breakups were.
  • You have five whole minutes. You don’t have to fit a complete bio into the first 30 seconds, and infodumps are overwhelming.  Allow time to take in the details, please.
    • For example, finding out that someone is more than five years younger than me when I’d pegged them at more than five years older WILL distract me from the rest of their run-on sentence.
  • If you’re lucky, your partner will think that wordlessly staring at them is soulful and deep. If that partner is me, you are not that kind of lucky. I like words.
  • I had to apologize for not recognizing one of my coworkers (5). He accepted graciously, and small talk ensued. Awkward, but survivable.
  • I am a curious person, and enthusiasm is my jam. I am thrilled when someone is passionate about something offbeat and new-to-me.
    • For example, if you mention involvement with the SCA (6) or that you’re a magician? YOU HAVE MY ATTENTION.
    • If you tell me that you quit your so-called passion because you didn’t like the attitude of the younger generation that was joining in, I will swiftly lose interest.
    • If you offer to show me a magic trick (yes, please!) and then fumble it? You will break my heart (7).
  • Impatiently yelling “NOT ENOUGH TIME” when the bell rings does not help. At all. Speed dating is not for you, my friend.

THE CONCLUSION

I did encounter several people who made excellent conversation and became more attractive the longer I talked to them (8). My results indicate no starborn matches (9), but there are a few sunny new friend requests. The organizers are thrilled with the response and want to do this again, probably twice a year. They’re also considering one around Pride week. I might even go.

  • Meet more people = SUCCESS
  • Practice = SUCCESS
  • Owning awkwardness = IN PROGRESS but prognosis is excellent

Many thanks to the Captain for her gentle reminder to not overthink things, and to the many members of Team Awkward who have posted comments in recent months about, well, not overthinking things. You are some lovely people. Without you, I might not have dared to try this. Now I am hoping you will use the comments section to share your own stories about trying scary new things that turned out to be awesome and/or hilarious. DON’T HOLD BACK.

THE FOOTNOTES

(1) I have tried and tried, but I cannot get her to write complete sentences. My heart, it weeps.

(2) Just ginger-ale. Booze makes me sleepy, and putting my head on the table for a mid-date nap would have been a Bad Idea.

(3) Credit where credit is due: this is misquoted from Muriel Duckworth, who was probably paraphrasing G.K. Chesterton.

(4) This flummoxed them long enough for me to redirect the conversation to interests, and it was true, so I’m considering it a win. Feel free to borrow/steal/modify the line for your own scripts, and do let me know if it works for you.

(5) He did look vaguely familiar, but nearly everyone in this city looks vaguely familiar. I have yet to encounter my own doppelgangers but I receive regular reports that they have been sighted about town. This is exactly as frustrating as you think it is.

(6) Society for Creative Anachronism. It’s kind of like medieval cosplay.

(7) I could see that the spoon had a hinge. It’s difficult to recover from that kind of crushing dismay.

(8) Not that they were unattractive to start with. Wowzer, etc.

(9) Some of the attendees were too terrifyingly awesome for words. I might have been one of those.

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64 comments
  1. Sheelzebub said:

    This was hilarious! Also makes me want to try speed dating. 🙂 I’ve done the online thing and meeting people in person was nice–I certainly never came away from a meeting wanting my hour back. But I did have to sift through a lot of. . .um. . .*interesting* emails.

  2. This post delights me. I thought about speed-dating before, but I am introverted and awkward and it sounds terrifying. Maybe this will get me thinking about it more to the point that I’ll try it.

    • JenniferP said:

      It’s set up to be so low-stakes, right? You get to meet way more people for the price of one “omg, what do I wear?” and one “omg, new people!” anxiety session.

      Sometimes Commander Logic and I secretly* plan future Awkward Events where speed-friending/speed-dating is a factor. Like, some kind of reading series of awkward tales or music performances, a place for people to play board games, fun little cards that say “Hi, my name is _____. I like your _____. Want to _______ on _______ day at ______ time?”

      Intern Paul can run the kissing booth.

      *I guess it’s not a secret now.

      • Speed-friending sounds awesome. I have somehow managed to acquire a girlfriend without ever displaying the social skills needed to make friends the usual way but if the speed-dating model were applied to that I’d do it.

      • Jenny said:

        If you decide to plan an Awkward Board Game Night, I will help! Or attend! Or whatever I could do that would be useful! My Board Game People are out in the far ‘burbs and I don’t drive if I can help it and I would love to find a regular group of people to play with in the city. (Bonus points for awkwardness, since I know there are folks playing games at Chicagoland Games but I’m too intimidated by them to join in.)

        • JenniferP said:

          I know (& play Werewolf with) a lot of the board gamers. They’re nice!

        • DarthTrina said:

          Hi Jenny! You can follow / message me on Twitter at @darthtrina. I love board games and would be happy to go with you to an event somewhere in the city.

      • Erl said:

        If you ever need to run a speed-friending event, I can send you my Fully Generalizable Speed Friending Algorithm, guaranteed to make everyone meet everyone in minimal time. The traditional algorithm for heterosexual speed dating only helps everyone in one half of the population meet everyone in the other half, but there is an optimal solution for the everyone meets everyone problem.

        • Dee said:

          this is officially awesome. 😀 what’s the runtime? can you optimize it for crowds where some people know each other already?

  3. relsqui said:

    That actually does sound really fun. I’m not currently seeking out new people to have pantsfeelings about … but I’m moving to a new city in a few months and will definitely be looking for awesome friends. I wonder if I can find or make something like this, but for that. You could even look for groups of people who all mutually listed each other as potential friends and suggest they hang out in a group! Hmm …

    As for scary new things that worked, some time last year I started being extremely blunt about sexual and romantic interest (like, “do you want to have a threesome?” levels of blunt). It worked well enough that, like I said, I’m not currently seeking new people to have pantsfeelings about. 🙂

    • That’s how I had my first pantsless sexytime! My friend and his girlfriend asked me straight up if I wanted to have a threesome with them, and I said yes. It was a good time. 🙂

      • relsqui said:

        That is both awesome and hot, well done all around.

  4. I really enjoyed reading this, and thought the geek-centered aspect (especially Black Hole versus Solar Flare versus Supernova) to the event was brilliant! Thanks for sharing, Expert Singleton! 🙂

  5. withywindling said:

    Definitely Guest Poster is one of the terrifyingly amazing. Highly enjoyable!

    I myself have just joined a summer course in roller derby. I am not, and have never been a team sports kinda gal. But I wanted to try something new, and meet people, and blast my quads (well not really but it happened anyway…it is HARD WORK).

    • Roller derby is itself terrifyingly amazing. At least it looks that way. The smashiness of it is intimidating, but it also looks INCREDIBLY SATISFYING. Are you having fun?

      • OMG it is INCREDIBLY SATISFYING. I say at the tail end of my sixth season of doing it, wherein my team finally won the league championship, & Life Goal and So On and So Forth. OMG do it. It’s not for everyone but good heavens, it really IS for an astonishingly large proportion of everyone. But, fair warning, it’ll eat your life headfirst. But you’ll meet a ton of incredible people and I can’t describe it more than that.

      • withywindling said:

        Man I never notice when I have replies, dammit! I am having fun! I’m just learning how to derby skate right now, we work up from ground zero.

        It’s also extra awesome because there’s a big range of shapes, sizes, and ages who have joined up. 🙂

  6. seenonflickr said:

    Good for you for going and for telling us all about it!! It actually sounds like it could be really fun. I love that it’s nerdy.

    If I continue to be unemployed, maybe I need to think about running geek speed-dating events in my city!!

  7. Oh my goodness, I wish this were in my town. I am going to check and see if they have this where I live. Geek-themed speed-dating!!!

    Also, “I tried talking about gardening and time travel” – Can *I* take you on a speed date? ^^

    • MissPrism said:

      Time travel would be really useful for gardening.

      • JC said:

        Yes!! Someone, invent that!

        • Yes please! I always plant a few things that grow REALLY FAST so I won’t get too discouraged by how achingly long it takes to grow tomatoes. Though tomato plants themselves do smell amazing.

  8. drst said:

    *fistbump* I’m now really hoping the city I’m moving to at the end of the month might have these kinds of events, because I might be able to overcome all that fear and go.

    • *fistbump*

      Also: do it! I mean, moving can be stressful, so I understand that you may want to take a little time to recover and build up your resilience. But when you go out adventuring in your new town maybe you can do something terrifyingly amazing! And then maybe report back? Good luck!

  9. Elodie said:

    You sound awesome and I would totally friend-date you! ❤

    It sounds like you actually had a wildly successful night, although slightly stressful, and I hope you feel like you've created some nice positive-feedback loops that reinforce how awesome you are.

    Actually, I would love to do friend-dating; I've never dated in my life, actually, just sort of fell into the beds of different scientists, and I occasionally feel like I've missed out! The one thing I avoid talking about is Big Bang Theory, because nerdfriends always bring it up in tones of delight and joy, and I make this weird rictus face trying not to admit that I used to write fanfiction for that show. As a result, I completely hate the show and everything related to it, including Flash and Green Lantern shirts, and would rather vomit on a friend than hear another word about it.

    • The institution of dating seemed weird to me for the longest time. Like, life-partner auditions? That is possibly a symptom of having read too many romantic subplots.

      But oh man I have the platonic friend-date DOWN. I have an informal brunch-club of sorts and we text each other most Sunday mornings: “Are you awake yet? There is food somewhere, I am sure of it. We should meet up and go find it.”

      I promise not to start any Big Bang Theory nerdery in your direction. Though I am powerfully curious about that fanfiction.

      • While I can handle most social situations and flirting, I think if I was ever tossed into a situation where I was actually aware that I was auditioning a potential life-partner, I would freeze, go wild-eyed and say to the air above their heads, “I LIKE JAM. DO YOU HAVE FEET? THIS AIR TASTES WEIRD, MY BEAR IS HERE NOW.”

        Exuent, pursued by the bear.

        So well done you for being such an amazingly shiny diamond!

        • Vicki said:

          I think my favorite jam is blackberry, but maybe I should try beach plum again. I have two feet.

          You’re right about the air. What kind of bear do you have?

        • I make jam! I don’t think I mentioned that once. I would have got ALL THE DATES. Also I am writing a story about a woman who turns into a bear (not a recommended dating strategy (I am not an expert)).

          • *Ahem.* Grapefruit jelly spiked with Jack Daniels and flecked with vanilla bean. Strawberry-port preserves. Raspberry-nectarine jam. Plum-ginger preserves. Sweet hot pepper jelly. Blueberry grunt jam. Grape ketchup. Apricot-orange-almond conserve (tastes like an amaretto sour).

          • Karen said:

            I used to make jam and pickles with a friend and when she moved away I lost heart and gave away all my canning stuff. I PINE for a new canning friend.

            I NEED ONE OF THESE SPEED FRIENDING EVENTS.

        • M Dubz said:

          Your comment is full of Shakespearean WIN. Well done!

        • There needs to be an official prize for combining the best Shakespearean stage direction ever with a lovely Eddie-Izzard-style riff. (His version: “‘Allo, Sue. I’ve got legs! D’you like bread?”)

  10. Jinian said:

    Nice work. As far as I’m concerned, speed dating is meant for introverts and shy people. The social extraverts would be fine in that loud room with -zero structure- helping them talk to actual humans, and they’d come out with a result. I’d run for the hills — hence, rules that force people to talk to me!

    • Good points! The structure can have some weird (though entertaining) side effects. There was an intermission, and the conversation groups were kind of self-segregated. It was almost as if most of us had been so strongly conditioned by the bell that we could no longer talk to anyone of the opposing gender until it rang again. 😀

      • Lieutenant Right said:

        I just want to comment on the hilariousness of the phrase “opposing gender.”

        • There was a certain faceoffishness to the occasion, it’s true.

          And now I have to ask whether you use the American or Canadian/British pronunciation of Lieutenant? Because LEFT-enant RIGHT simply has to be on purpose.

          • Lieutenant Right said:

            I heart you so much for getting the pun! I only just realized that really only my mother says it that way, haha.

          • There was a grade five spelling test with a hyper-correct substitute teacher. It left a mark. 😀

    • FlyBy said:

      That was my impression too. It does away with the awkward ‘are they really enjoying talking to me or are they just being polite’ guesswork. And if you really blow it, they’re gone in five minutes anyway!

  11. *waves*

    Hi! Expert Singleton is me. I just get home and am wanting to respond to all these comments SO MUCH but I am first needing to focus on getting dinner inside me. So, a blanket response for now: Thank you everyone! I will be back to converse once I get some eats. 😀

  12. RobotCorsair said:

    I love this post! I never thought of speed-dating this way, but now it sounds so perfect for shy people! And nerd speed dating is even more awesomer! Really fun perspective!
    I wonder if there’s something like this close to where I live…. It’s a huge city, but I’ve never heard of it… Gonna look it up now! 😀
    Thanks, Guest Poster!

  13. MHM said:

    I never tried speed dating, but it sounds thoroughly entertaining, if a bit stressful. I enjoyed this post and would totally be into reading about other dating adventures. How fun it is to hear about another person’s awkward dating experience. More, please!

    Or you can just talk more about time travel and gardening. How exactly do you try to bring that up within 5 minutes?

    • I think one of the suggested questions was “what did you do this weekend?” and I had spent it reading time travel novels by Connie Willis and planting a container garden on my porch. Oh, and playing Portal. Good times.

      • Yan said:

        Doomsday Book is, as an historian and lover of sci-fi, an all-time fave of mine.

        • Yes! I was reading the latest ones, Blackout and All Clear! I love that she writes science fiction about scientists. Very character driven. And the Oxford historian novels have a loopy non-linear quality that I find very appealing.

  14. The Shorter Dinosaur said:

    I totally love the idea of friend-dating too. I kinda hope it would go like this:

  15. GirlInAGreenDress said:

    Does anyone here know what is the etiquette for going speed dating explictly looking for friends and not romantic relationships? Actually this question probably applies to online dating as well. Is it ok to go in and say ‘I have an awesome boyfriend but I am looking for new awesome friends’, or will people feel like I’m wasting their time?

    I have recenty moved to a new city and I’m looking to find as many ways of meeting new people as possible.

    • Briz said:

      Try OkCupid – you can list yourself as “unavailable” and “looking for new friends” only. You’ll probably still have to filter out messages from people asking “ur hot, kan i see u ass?”
      Is there a local weekly art paper in your new city? Those often list great (and usually cheap or free!) local events. Whenever I move to a new city I use those to doubley check out the awesome local scenes and meet new people.

      Good luck!

    • Lieutenant Right said:

      YAY NEW CITY! So the first line of friend-making defense is to go to events and parties and stores that you like (like a bookstore signing, fashion party, crashing a business event, etc. — are you in any social media? “Like” the page of a business or something similar so you can see when they have local events!). Second, I’ve made random adult friends by starting conversations relevant to my environment — like at a fashion party, I discussed an article of clothing. In a store, I asked a woman about her daring haircut and in another store about the art origins of the store and in another about what book I should buy. In an airplane (I KNOW!!), I clicked with my seatmate over the books we were reading and then we started talking about darn near everything. In ANOTHER airplane, I sat next to a woman because she smiled at me, and we talked about dudes.

      Good luck!!

    • JenniferP said:

      Meetup.com is also there for you.

    • GirlInAGreenDress said:

      Thanks for the suggestions! I will definitely look into them. I can talk to people when I go to events in the city. But they are mostly just nice short conversations, and then I don’t run into those people again so I don’t even get the chance to work out if we could be friends.
      I think this is possibly because people who have lived here for a while already have their friends and support network, and aren’t actively looking to expand it in the way that I am.

      But I will keep trying, and try meetup.com and okcupid as well.

      • Someone recently said to me, on the strength of a few sentences acquaintance: “You seem like an interesting person doing interesting things. Wanna meet for coffee sometime?” And it was incredibly flattering and I totally met them for caffeine later that week. (They also have a boyfriend, and I didn’t feel at all like they were trying to date-date me.)

        The line was good, so I of course filed it under For Later Use. Maybe if a short delightful conversation feels like it’s ending too soon, try something like that? And give them your phone number, or email, or Twitter handle or whatever you feel most comfortable with. It’s true that some people are already socially saturated, but not as many as you might think.

  16. Lieutenant Right said:

    Well, you asked about new experiences, so I hope you don’t mind when I say my new experience was in using my words in a new dating situation. It’s very odd because he is neither a Darth Vader nor a one-off romantic event (I have been “Before the Sunrise”-d SO MANY TIMES), so it’s all new to me. It’s very strange because at first I’ll be unhappy because he won’t react a certain way, but then I’ll think about my (awesome!) friends and realize they wouldn’t react that way either. And why would he react that way anyway? So instead I’m delighting in asking for what I want in terms of communication and not expecting a “reaction,” which seems sillier and sillier as I think about it. It also means instead of worrying over what insecurities I should hide from him, I realize that they are kind of, well, irrelevant in that they can be solved pretty easily — “Oh you didn’t contact me, you must hate me! Wait, let me contact you and ask what’s up. Oh! You are incredibly busy. Oh, duh!”

  17. Awesome story! That is the kick in the pants that I needed to sign up for tennis lessons and have me an adventure.

  18. DDog said:

    I went to a poly speed dating event in April and it was AWESOME and hilarious. Some friends of mine imported a poly speed dating algorithm from California and have been running a few events in my area so I finally signed up to go with one of my partners. The pre-event questionnaire was great—you indicted how you identified in terms of gender and presentation, and indicated who you were looking for on the same lines. Then you had to say whether you/your group wanted to be matched with individuals or groups, and whether a whole group had to match you/your group or just anyone within either matching at least one other person.

    Somehow it all worked out and we met some great people. Sadly I’ve been out of the state the entire time since so only my partner has been able to see any of them again yet.

  19. There’s geek-themed speed dating?! I am pretty much almost you (maybe I’m one of those doppelgangers) and I also would’ve totally tried that. And I think you took the right approach, too…. instead of thinking “I will walk away from this with a new true soulmate omg!” you thought to yourself, “I will probably walk away from this with a hilarious new blog!” And you totally did. WELL PLAYED.

  20. I just needed to stop by & say that I think this post is awesome. I am not single or looking for a date, but frequently feel social awkward. The kind of courage something like this would take seems outlandish. I’m glad it paid off at least a little 🙂

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