Thursday, October 25, 2007

Speed dating: The straight story

A reader sent me an e-mail after my recent post about a speed dating event I attended. I thought others might have the same questions, so I got her permission to answer her here. She wrote:

"I've been trying to get friends to go speed dating with me, but it was a no-go. I'm 31, but I like men who are a little older than me. I'd love to know more about how much it cost, where it was held, was it weird being there with no wingman, and the types of questions you were asked."

Let's get the basics out of the way. The event was $35 (it's usually in the $30-$45 range), and sponsored by I found out about the event -- held in a nice, public Charlotte wine bar -- from a friend, but you can find them easily enough with a Google search or through singles organizations.

Now, onto the more interesting question of the wingman/wingwoman. I'd recommend going to a speed dating event alone. Why? A woman confidently striding solo into such an event is sexy, no? Plus, once you get started you'll be in one-on-one conversations with men, so whether you're there alone or with friends won't even matter. (If you're worried about your safety going it alone, you can always tell friends where you'll be and have set check-in times on your cell. But I can tell you I've never felt uncomfortable or threatened in any way.)

The last time I went speed dating, a few years back in San Francisco, I was with two girlfriends. I found if you're with someone you know, you tend to stick together and avoid meeting other people. Last week, I had such a good time laughing and exchanging stories with some of the women that we wound up swapping phone numbers. New friendships may develop!

And something important to think about if you go with a wingwoman or two: there's a good chance participating men will say "yes" to all of you. Then what do you do? I've known that to happen several times, and while no cat fights ensued, it did make things awkward.

As for the questions I was asked, there were some basics pretty much everyone wanted to know: Had I ever been married, did I have kids and what did I do for a living. Because Charlotte natives are few and far between, I was often asked where I was from. Keep in mind some speed dating events have rules forbidding people to ask about careers or salaries (to keep people from discriminating against those in the "wrong" tax bracket, and to deter stalker-types by limiting information, I suppose), but there was no such restriction at my event. Each chat lasted about six minutes, and the conversations veered in all directions. For example, with one guy I talked about the first marathon I completed. A different man got the story of my first (and last) attempt at snow-skiing. With another I discussed my trip to Tokyo; with yet another I had a lively discussion about the most recent movies we'd seen and books we'd read. A couple guys told me the brief histories of their failed marriages; several discussed their kids; one dude was really into ballroom dancing and the lindy.

In all, it was a fun time -- but then, I wasn't trying to discern my soulmate during six-minute conversations with strangers. What I'm saying is, don't put all your eggs in the speed dating basket, but use it as merely one of several ways you have of meeting dating possibilities. As one guy I briefly dated from my first speed dating experience put it: "I met nice people that night. But they were people I could've met anywhere."

He was right. Such events are great for people who are shy, or who have been off the market for awhile, or who just want to work on their conversation and flirting skills. And there's always the possibility that you will have strong chemistry with someone and want to see them again.

That brings me to what comes after the event. You say "yes" to people you genuinely want to see again. Don't pick them just to be nice or because you feel sorry for them; that's not fair to them and ultimately, it would be a waste of everyone's time. And if you get less "yeses" than you expect or a person you really liked doesn't respond to you, I know this will be hard, but DON'T TAKE IT PERSONALLY. Just because you're not what they're looking for doesn't mean there's something wrong with you. It just means you're not what they're looking for. It's a hard lesson to learn -- in fact, I'm still learning it -- but it'll save you a lot of angst and therapy bills if you do.

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