Oxford Speed Dating – Slow Dating
So this is Phase Two of the 30 Dates Blog – 30 Dating Experiments … or rather, 30 Dating Experiment Topics. Each one will be made up of various different studies, interviews and tests.
I’ll dip in and out of the different Topics over the next twelve months, also tying in some of the weird and wonderful opportunities Phase One of the Blog has already created.
But today, I start with ‘Age’.
Age is an area of dating which I’ve (unintentionally) experimented with in the past. During my 30 Dates Challenge, despite originally setting the parameters as 25-35 my dates spanned from 24 up to 38, and in ‘real’ dating life, my oldest ex is thirteen years older than me, and the youngest is almost ten years my junior.
Dating younger guys has always worked out way better for me than dating older ones. Whilst I’d never consider myself immature, I don’t necessarily act my age. As Tyler Durden (who is in his very early twenties) pointed out the other day, I have the musical taste of a teenage girl, I watch Hollyoaks religiously, and I read and write teenage fiction. In fact he actually teased me for acting younger than he does!
At least part of the reason why I tend to date younger guys is the fact that I spent three years travelling. It’s almost as if I stepped away from normal life for that entire time, only to slot back into the real world on my return, at the same age I was before I left. The Urban Dictionary reliably informs me that you can’t become a true Cougar until your 50s. Before that, in your 40s you’re a Puma, and apparently by changing up from 29 to 30, I’ve gone from a Wildcat to a Lynx. Not going to lie … I definitely prefer being a ‘Wildcat’ – but that’s probably because I’m still coming to terms with the big 3-0!
The reality though, of getting older and dating guys who are considerably younger than you, is that settling down is never really going to be an option. I know there are the occasional anomalies. A cougar who doesn’t want children, and is happy to wait around for marriage, or has already been there and done it before. A cub (!) who settles down quickly, and acts decades older than his ID suggests …. But for the most part, if you’re in your thirties, and considering serious relationships, then guys considerably younger are unlikely to be a realistic option.
But luckily for me … I’m not considering a serious relationship just yet!
In fact, as I’ve begun to say with increasing frequency since my surreal summer of dating … I’m becoming a bit of a bloke when it comes to my attitude to dating! In fact, I made myself laugh tonight by honestly realising the highlight of my evening (which involved the first Dating Experiment) was the burger, chips and cider I had at the end of the night! (Though I should probably clarify that it was a gourmet chicken burger, sweet potato fries, and an amazing mango and raspberry cider!)
But that’s not the bit about tonight that I was meant to be telling you about!
So the first Experiment Topic was Age, and my first Experiment Idea was to revisit Speed Dating.
Regular readers of the blog will know I haven’t had great experiences in the past at Speed Dating events in the past! I’ve always found the events particularly awkward, and can hand on heart say that not one of the multi-date events I’ve attended this summer has been more fun than any of the blind dates. Which is saying something when you remember most of the 30 Dates were with guys I definitely didn’t fancy. And yet 4 hours with one guy I didn’t fancy was always more fun than a few hours made up of 4 minute increments with twenty-odd guys I don’t fancy! (OK, not always … Mr Twenty40 probably faced some stiff competition from Speed Dating!)
The problem I’ve always noticed with Speed Dating, is that the kind of guys keen to attend, seem to view it as a rare opportunity to meet women. Rather than being normal guys, just doing something random on a weekday evening, the majority have struck me as being rather odd and socially inept, and clinging onto speed dating events as if they are their only possible opportunity to meet members of the opposite sex.
There’s always a weird air of desperation in the air, which combined with the forced, structured communication, ends up manifesting itself in awkward conversation, and forced, fixed smiles, which you grow tired of very quickly.
So my first ‘Experiment’ was to sign up to a Speed Dating event which I was too old for.
I wanted to see if the whole awkward vibe of Speed Dating was due to the age of the daters. Had I only seen the side of Speed Dating that occurs when people are actively searching for ‘The One’? Going back to my Tyler Durden theory the other day, every Speed Dating event I’d attended so far had been full of guys looking for the One, and forgetting the Fun side of dating.
Maybe by lowering the age of the daters, the event might attract more relaxed, fun daters, just up for meeting new people. And yes … I may have hoped that these younger, more fun daters, might also be hotties at the same time!
I picked Oxford as the venue for the Speed Dating Experiment. A small town, home to two large universities, I figured at least some of the twenty-somethings would be students – again hoping this might encourage a more normal demographic of guys along, and at the same time increase the laid-back atmosphere of the ‘dates’.
Because realistically, whilst anyone should be able to talk to another person for four minutes, I’ve realised this summer just how long four minutes can be. And that in reality not everyone can last them out …. Remember the clammy marshmallow handshake guy, who two minutes into conversation about what we do in our spare time announced ‘Arrrghh, I’m so out of my depth here’!
A question I am asked more and more these days, is how to date successfully. Ironic, I know, given that I’ve been on 30 Dates and am still single! But it depends what you view as success. And as I’m quick to point out, I’m the one choosing to stay single!
For me, successful dating is about making a connection with another person. I fancied only a couple of my thirty dates over the summer, but I would rate almost all of the individual dates as ‘successful’ in some ways (with a couple of notable exceptions!) because I had fun on them. And I think my dates had fun too. Just because we weren’t destined to be together, didn’t mean the dates weren’t successful. I had some really enjoyable evenings, and came away with fond memories, interesting conversations and a number of guys I would now count as friends.
But the reason the dates were successful, was because they were relaxed, and natural, and fun. The best dates were the ones filled with laughter, because we relaxed and were being ourselves.
And this is where Speed Dating really doesn’t work for me, because it is so hard to relax, when you find yourself on a constantly moving, high-paced conveyor belt of never-ending faces. And this is coming from a bubbly, confident woman who will happily chat to anyone and everyone. Imagine how difficult it must be if you normally have to force yourself to talk to strangers/
As one of my dates tonight very audibly voiced, yawning as he sat down and taking his head into his hands at the table (before even introducing himself!) speed dating is really tiring, because it’s really repetitive.
The conversation never develops. And even on a ‘normal date’, those first couple of minutes of conversation, where you search for common ground, can often be the most tiring and difficult. So with Speed Dating, you’re subjecting yourself to that experience twenty or thirty times over. And you’ve agreed to talk to every single person for a set period of time.
It’s unnatural. It’s not like real life. In real life, if you don’t fancy someone in a club, you wouldn’t talk to them. And if they approached you, you would keep conversation short. In real life, if someone bores you, you would politely find a way to exit the conversation. And in the real world, you don’t sit and make notes about the other person while they are sitting opposite you (or worse, still talking to you!)
Time and time again, I’ve explained that the key to dating is being confident, comfortable, and yourself. How can you be any of those things in a situation that is so foreign and regimented. Add into that the fact that whilst the girls all tend to be relatively normal and outgoing, most of the guys keen to sign up are on the more awkward end of the social spectrum, and very rarely attractive, and you have a recipe for dating disaster. (Unless of course, awkward plain men who never normally speak to women are your particular ‘type’!)
So what about the twenty-something year-old singletons that Oxford had to offer? Were they more fun and relaxed than my previous Speed Dates? Did their less-advanced years mean the tone of the evening was more relaxed, and the conversations less serious?
In a word, No.
Hence the chicken burger being the highlight of my evening!
Don’t get me wrong, tonight was not without amusement.
There was the guy who mentioned ‘marriage’ within the first ten seconds. The man wearing nailpolish, and answering completely different questions to the ones I was asking.
There was the guy, who when I asked if he enjoyed travel, literally reeled off a list of twenty-something countries, one by one, no further explanation. And then stopped.
One man dribbled whilst talking to me. Another admitted he had made up the name on his dating sticker. One guy told me he’d never been speed dating before, and then when I told him I had, he leapt straight into a monologue about how people judge you for having been before, before revealing he had been at every event ever run by the company, but had lied in case I judged him on that. I didn’t. I judged him for opening conversation with a lie, and then telling me about it!
One date had a freezing handshake … something which made me realise Speed Dating is one of the few times in my life where I shake peoples’ hands. As a girl, I don’t find it’s something I do very often at work, or socially. So the whole formality of it all at the Speed Dating only further adds to the awkward forced rigidity of it all.
One guy had the most amazing porno voice going (he was German and even had a very pornstar-like name!). Childish I know, but it was all I could think of during our four minute-long conversation about German universities! Another talked for four minutes solidly about HIV – though there was a reason for it! He was doing a Phd related to finding a cure for the disease, but still very random ‘first date’ chat.
When one date introduced himself as unemployed, I ended up trying to help him get a job at my work! With several of the others, I dropped all facade of ‘playing date’, and started advising them to go on Tinder in future instead of Speed Dating. (Acting a bit like a saboteur on the inside of the Speed Dating event!)
I’m still a big champion of Tinder. Where Speed Dating feels anything like normal life, Tinder is like a virtual bar. If you like the look of someone, you give them a signal. If they like the look back, they initiate conversation. And then it begins. If you don’t like the look of someone, you never get to the talking phase.
Rather than yawning in my dates’ faces (as a particularly loud, geeky IT guy did to me towards the end of my eighteen speed dates), as I began to tire, I began to speak more and more about the blog, and instead of even trying, I would simply give dating advice. Practicing my new role (Guardian Soulmates have very excitingly asked me to speak at one of their singles’ events next month!) I figured I should start playing the Dating Guru, and offering help, advice, and a female point of view to some of my more harmless, and nice speed dates.
It didn’t always work. One guy looked at me like I was crazy when I mentioned the blog. And then when I revealed I was 30 (something that’s hard to hide if you’re telling someone about a 30 Dates by 30 Challenge that you’ve just finished!), he began telling me a story about the first time he’d gone speed dating, and met a woman in her late forties with grey hair. Glad I inspired that particular connection!
Another guy turned discussion about my blog into the question ‘Would you rather get laid or paid?’, a question he repeated so many times, that my only notes on my dating card about him say ‘Prostitute guy’!
I actually had my first ‘second’ speed date – there was a guy at the event who had also been at the Clapham Slow Dating event in the summer. When I recognised him, he rather bashfully explained he had become ‘a bit of a Speed Dating addict’! Well, each to his own! (Interestingly, all three of us had flagged him as one of the most nice and normal guys at the Clapham event!!)
I have to admit, that in the run-up to the evening, I’d begun to worry about my decision to lie about my age! I was only two years too old for the age bracket, but I still found myself worrying that I would stick out like a sore thumb and look a lot older than the other girls there. But when I arrived, no one looked particularly young. I also felt a lot more self-conscious about my appearance than I would normally feel going in to a Speed Dating event, worrying that I looked tired and therefore older. But as soon as I entered the room and saw the other daters, I realised I’d been worrying unnecessarily. After all, I may be in my fourth decade, but I can still pull a Tyler Durden 😉
The event ended really rather awkwardly. There was no real end after the final bell rang, and the comedy club (The Glee Club) hosting the event was quite empty and dingey, so unlike some of the other Speed Dating events I’ve attended, no one really hung around afterwards. It was one of the longest events I’ve been to – lasting over three hours, and the ratio of men to women was surprisingly skewed in the girls’ favour for once – something which didn’t happen at any of the events we attended in London.
I’m unconvinced £20 is good value for money for a speed dating event, when it doesn’t even include a welcome drink, and at least with events like Shhh Dating, the night included an element of (albeit unwitting) entertainment.
Underwhelmed by it all, I went off in search of a far more exciting Oxford attraction … Gourmet Burger Kitchen (there isn’t one in Reading!), only to suffer my most mortifying moment of the night.
After sitting eating alone for half an hour, I went to put my coat on, and realised I had a huge sticker on my chest still, with my Date Number, Name, and ‘Slow Dating’ written in huge writing, for all to see. I literally looked like the unloved reject of a Speed Dating night! Absolutely mortifying!
Though it does lead to my final point about Speed Dating.
If I haven’t put you off the idea completely, please don’t go it alone. Tonight was the first event I’ve attended on my own, and it made such a difference. You feel so much more confident and at ease entering the bar in a group of friends, and then having people to automatically chat to in the breaks. Turning up alone I had stood awkwardly tweeting at the bar, not wanting to begin chatting with anyone I saw. There was no one to laugh with in the intermission, or to debrief with afterwards (apart from those of you following the night on Twitter @30Dates – thanks girls!!!). That really did make a difference, and again, I say that as someone who is at the more confident, outgoing end of the social spectrum. If you get shy easily, or are not great at talking to people, then Speed Dating probably isn’t the best dating forum for you … but if you really do want to try it, definitely bring a friend – some websites even give you discounts if the friend is a member of the opposite sex!
Coming up …. Experiments into Dating Games, & I have some dates scheduled in with some familiar faces!
Miss Twenty-Nine xxx
I’m really enjoying reading your blog but I have one question for you…..you say these experiments are going to be happening over the next twelve months, but what if you meet someone within those twelve months? Will you continue or will you pass the challenge on to someone else to continue, a bit like an understudy? 🙂
Thanks Tabitha – don’t worry, after three months very actively stating single, I specifically designed Phase Two so it doesn’t all have to be me! Some experiments will involve readers and volunteers, others will be written more as interviews. Pretty happily single at the moment, but the exciting part about being single is that you never know when that could change, so tried to devise a step for the blog which could allow for it 🙂 xx