It had just gone midnight when I started writing this post, and I was on the ‘vomit train’ as my friends affectionately know the midnight stopper from Paddington to Reading. It’s my second night catching that train. I don’t work in London, but rushed into the centre after work both evenings, all obviously in the name of the 30 Dates Challenge.
Last night, as those of you who read ‘The One with the GSOH‘ will know I had a date at a stand-up comedy show. Tonight, I spent my evening speed dating in Clapham.
I chose Clapham because it’s an area of London where a lot of my friends live. The area is prime milk-round territory – a step into the city after university. And whilst I’ve never had the pleasure of living there, or even going for a night out in Clapham, the bars and clubs are infamous.
I’ve only ever been speed dating once before. It was in Reading, home of the Microsoft headquarters, and unsurprisingly the event was full of the IT Crowd. Just minus the laughs! I spent a painful two hours being overly polite to complete strangers who wouldn’t even look me in the eye! I would put money on the fact that, along with the other 19 girls in attendance, that night I was the first female a number of the guys have ever spoken to other than their mothers!
The next day at work, I delighted my male colleagues (all of whom know how to speak to women, and have no issues making eye-contact) by describing the evening as ‘community service’! I literally felt like I had spent two hours reassuring complete novices that it is possible to simply talk to a girl.
Not wanting to write off Speed Dating entirely, and inspired by my current challenge, and the need to find ‘blind’ dates, I decided that perhaps the issue with my previous experience had simply been location. With the exception of university and my time travelling, I’ve lived in Reading all my life, and at times I wonder if I’ve outgrown the town. I can name the previous four names of all the main bars on the high street, and the doorman at the Weatherspoons is the same man who I proudly presented my ID to (at the same bar) on my 18th birthday (after two years of sneaking past him without one!). Nothing changes, and whilst it’s a town which craves city status, it’s nowhere near the metropolis of London.
By contrast London is full of possibilities. And knowing that most of the cool, eligible men I know in London are based around Balham and Clapham, I jumped at the opportunity to speed date in the fashionable suburb.
This challenge is fast making me a bit of an unwitting Dating Guru amongst my friends, and so when I posted my plans on Facebook at short notice, three single female friends quickly replied that they were keen to join the fun. We booked places at the Slow Dating event at Revolution on Clapham High St, and a few days later, I found myself making the 2-hour commute into London from my place of work, all in the name of 30 Dates.
I’d already decided the speed dating wouldn’t count towards my challenge in any way. Each ‘date’ is only four minutes long, so it would be unfair to compare it to a two to five-hour long date with a complete stranger. There’s also the added moral support of being able to to attend the event with friends. However, I had decided that if I met anyone interesting that night I was happy to arrange a proper date which could then count towards the challenge, as meeting someone at a speed dating event is a sufficiently ‘blind’ introduction.
None of the three friends who volunteered to join me knew each other. One of my closest female friends was keen, but didn’t book her place in time. Unlike the Reading speed dating, where the boys had out-numbered the girls, the ratio in Clapham was 10 men to 14 women (though one girl didn’t show). So this first friend sat downstairs, with some of her other friends, and instead requested I tweet updates after every date, so she could virtually follow proceedings upstairs!
Meanwhile, upstairs with me were The Nanny (a friend from sixth form who had referred ‘The Flake’) and Miss32 (the elder sister of one of my closest school friends). The Nanny had just come out of a long-term relationship, and needed a reminder of how fun single life can be. Miss32 is a seasoned singleton, who lives just around the corner from the venue, so had taken my Facebook appeal for friends to join me as a sign!
When I last speed dated, the boys and girls were kept relatively separate at the start of the night, so you couldn’t really see who you would be meeting later. Each girl was sat at her own individual table, and the seats were positioned so that every time the bell rang, your new date approached you from behind, so every date had an air of surprise.
The set-up in Clapham was rather different. As the three of us walked up the stairs, leaving the rest of the girls drinking downstairs, we were immediately faced with all the guys we would be dating that night. I knew before I’d even reached the top step that pickings would be slim! The majority of the boys I could see were between 5’5” and 5’8”, and on first impressions, a number appeared distinctively socially awkward!
That may sound awfully sweeping, but then if you regularly read my blog, that should really come as no surprise! A colleague at work calls me ‘the Goldilocks of Dating’, and on first impressions … I really didn’t fancy tasting anyone’s porridge! (cheeky wink!)
Looking around the room, the majority of the women at the event seemed pretty normal, and a number were really quite attractive. Most of the girls had come with at least one friend, and they all seemed quite sociable and up for a laugh. By contrast, a number of the men stood alone in the bar area, and the vast majority didn’t look like people who regularly spent time in bars.
After a brief introduction, we settled into booths. We were uncomfortably sharing booths with other girls, and then the boys would move from girl to girl. Weirdly, this set-up meant trying to focus on what my date was saying to me, whilst being able to hear and see an entire other date going on barely half a metre away! This sounds easier said than done when you appreciate how dull some of the conversations that evening were!
My first date was with a painfully difficult man who worked in engineering. He answered all my questions with one word answers, and didn’t seem to register in the slightest whenever I cracked a joke. I filled the four minutes with overly polite conversation, whilst at the same time marvelling that his beard was brown, and yet his eyebrows and hair were nearly fluorescent orange! I did notice an uncomfortable lack of personal space boundaries, and Miss32 told me later that he smelled of cheesy Wotsits, and had visible yellow plaque between his teeth – two things I’m quite glad I didn’t spot!
After four very long minutes, I formally shook hands, thanked him for his time, and began tweeting about the ‘date’, under the guise of electronically keeping notes to remind myself of who the dates were.
Slow Dating had provided me with a score card to keep notes on, but I pretended to be too technologically advanced to use it, and instead carried on updating the girls downstairs, and 200 other Twitter followers, of my progress @30dates.
Date Number 2 was a welcome contrast to Date 1. A relatively attractive guy, who worked at the Treasury, Date 2 seemed quite normal, and even (later after the event finished) commented to me about how weird all the rest of the guys were! We talked easily enough for 4 minutes, though when he went to stand up, I did note he was at best 5’10”.
Date Number 3 matched Number 1 for overall awkwardness He started the date by asking if I’m married (I wear my Mum’s wedding ring on my right hand) and then made it even more awkward by not picking up my use of the past tense when I spoke about my mum. I ended up very awkwardly having to spell out that she was dead, and hadn’t simply, as he suggested, given me her wedding ring for good luck???!! #beyondawkward Cue a very long 4 minutes, which ended with him kissing me wetly on the back of the hand.
Date 4 was extremely lively, and seemed to be over-compensating for something (possibly his tiny stature). One of the other guys, when we had drinks after the event ended, pointed out that he thought maybe he was coked up, which might explain his behaviour, especially if he was acting the same way with the guys as he did with the girls.
Date Number 5 was a very sweet, awkward IT geek. (Awkward really is the word of the evening!). He would definitely have been at home with the guys from Microsoft at the Reading speed dating, but we talked easily enough about Now albums and other random things.
After I met Number 6, I actually tweeted ‘finally a nice, normal guy, Yahoo!’ And that he was. He was easily the most attractive guy in the room, and the most down to earth. He worked with Number 5 and 7, and so I began the four minutes already knowing a little about him. The four minutes chatting to him were the simplest and least effort-burdoned of the night.
My friend downstairs later objectively commented that he was simply ‘the best of a bad bunch’. And if I’m honest, having now seen a very similar turn out at two speed dating events, I would definitely urge any nice, normal single men to go speed dating, because if you’re normal, by comparison to the standard male clientele, who appear to be attending because it’s their only way to talk to girls, you will come across REALLY well, and probably go home with a full scorecard of phone numbers!
The rest of my dates were closer to Dates 1 and 3, than they were to Date 6. It’s interesting that the calibre of men attending was SO different to the type of girls attracted by speed dating. I guess, as a single girl, speed dating to me just seems like something fun and different to do.
I’m comfortable chatting to anyone, and (whilst at times 4 minutes can genuinely seem like an age!) I like to think that no matter how odd or difficult my ‘date’ is, I have enough decorum and banter to fill four minutes with polite conversation. And looking at my friends who signed up for the evening, and the other girls attending, most of them were very similar. Normal girls, with ‘normal’ social lives, who just see speed-dating as a bit of fun, rather than the whole foundation of their love life.
By contrast, the vast majority of the men, seemed to be using speed dating as their only opportunity to engage the attention of members of the other sex. And so any guys who didn’t fit into the socially awkward bracket, came across really well in comparison.
Miss32 has heard rumours of a more ‘elite’ Speed Dating event in Shoreditch, which I think I’ll have to investigate at some point.
But one thing I do want to mention about tonight is how appallingly behaved one of the other girls was.
I may be picky, but I did realise from talking to the Nanny and Miss32, that my snap judgments on all ten dates had been very similar to the other girls’.
And I know that I take the mickey a fair bit on this blog, but one thing I want to underline is that, all joking and moaning aside, unless a date is rude to me, I will always be as polite and engaging as I can on a date – whether it’s 4 minutes long or 4 hours, and whether I fancy them, or find them physically repulsive. I’m not a knobber, and I know how much convincing it must have taken to get some of those shy, retiring men into a room full of women.
My friends were the same. Just because you don’t fancy someone, it’s not excuse to be rude to them. Especially when you’ve signed up to an event where you know you have to spend 4 minutes with every member of the opposite sex in the room.
Girl Number One tonight wasn’t following these unspoken rules.
After the dating had finished, a number of the daters stayed on at Revolution for drinks downstairs. I chatted with Date Number Six (and actually told him about the blog and Twitter – to which he reacted by laughing loudly, telling me what a cool idea it was to tweet during the speed dating, and following the @30dates twitter feed!) He told me exactly what it was like dating Girl Number One for four minutes.
Apparently she opened conversation with her list of what she was looking for in a man (which included a six-pack!), made very clear when she wasn’t attracted to a guy, and just stopped talking if she didn’t like them! She told Date Number 6 he was lucky that she’d even written his name down on her score sheet, and then once the event was over (and she’d given all 10 guys the exact same treatment), as soon as the bell rang, she lifted her score sheet into the air, and ripped it demonstratively into pieces (as if she didn’t need details about any of the dates!)
I’m pretty sure all the girls in the room had similar feelings about the ten guys. The two most normal guys in the room were surrounded by girls after the dating finished. And the oddest of the guys stood back on their own, and left quickly after the official part of the evening ended.
I doubt many of the girls were amazed by the majority of the guys they spoke to, but at least they tried to make an effort!
Dating is a cut-throat world, and you’re playing with peoples’ feelings. Because essentially you are making judgments and decisions about that person, as a person. Whether you’re sacking someone off before you even meet them (something I had to do again today, and will tell you about soon!) or finishing a relationship after several months, you are making a decision purely on that other person, and your reaction to them.
And if there’s one thing you ought to be, whilst doing that, it’s polite. And the only excuse not to be, is if someone isn’t being polite to you! You saw my reaction to ‘The Prick’ the other day – he’d never been rude to me, so I wasn’t rude back. I just very politely decided we were probably after different things.
I was genuinely appalled to hear about Girl Number One’s behaviour at the speed dating, and hope she’s in the minority with behaviour like that. Those guys will know in a few days time that she didn’t fancy them when they go online to view their Speed Date Matches, they don’t need to have it thrown in their face during the date itself!
And on that note, I promise that no matter how awful the date (unless the guy is outright rude or malicious), I promise to make 100% effort with my dates (even if I know when I come home at the end of the day, I’m just going to be telling you all how awful the date went!).
Speed Dating costs £18, manners cost nothing!!
Miss Twenty-Nine xxx