Monday, September 21, 2009

(Post)Modern Love: Find a Mate --In Four Minutes or Less


When I used to imagine telling my grandchildren the story of how I met their Grandpa, it was a romantic, Hollywood-worthy tale. Our eyes met across a crowded room, or we bumped into each other on the street, or even --slightly more realistically-- we stayed at the office late at night working on an important project.

I didn’t picture myself saying, “Kids, we each paid 35 bucks to an internet company so that they would let us talk to each other for four minutes in a crowded bar.”

Yet, after years of overtime and sidewalk run-ins had failed to yield true love, I was headed for speed dating night at the bar.

And from the beginning, the evening promised imperfection. Obeying the strict instructions that came when I registered with, I arrived well before the official start time of 7:30. The dating “hosts” advised that it was important to leave time to grab a cocktail before the event began; no one should suffer through multiple dates totally sober.

That’s all well and good, but spending 20 minutes drinking by myself in a bar packed with Happy Hour revelers was not exactly a pre-date confidence booster. I tried staring at the door like I was waiting for someone, glancing occasionally at my wrist in annoyance. (That felt a little forced and silly, especially since I wasn't wearing a watch.) Eventually, I glued my eyes to the big-screen TV like the loser I was rapidly concluding I had become.

After an eternity of trying to look invisible, it was time for the dates to begin. I entered the backroom reserved for the hurry dating to find that the organizers were distracted by a last-minute man shortage. That left me two options: start a conversation with the grinning man in the corner who stared so intently it was clear he was deciding whether I would fit the exact dimensions of the woman-sized hole in his life; or join the conversation ongoing between a young woman and an older, mustached man.

Mr. Mustache solved my dilemma by inviting me into their conversation, which was about his work in a morgue. He proceeded to lecture us for the next several minutes on the wild (corpses leaping from their stretchers when rigor mortis sets in) and more mundane (very fat bodies not fitting into their drawers) aspects of working for the city coroner.

The attractive young woman by his side was cringing visibly at his choice of conversation, and, when Mr. Mustache let her get a word in, she confessed that they were a father-daughter dating team. Weird, I thought, particularly since the age range for the event was only 25 to 35. Even weirder, the mustachioed man then confessed that he didn’t work in the morgue at all, but thought it was a good icebreaker. And he really liked me, so why didn’t we skip this whole charade and leave together right now?

Leaving right then sounded terribly appealing, but I had no intentions of taking him with me. And I had spent $35. So I moved to my assigned seat, and prepared to meet the list of men who would join me at my table to converse in four-minute intervals.

The first got off to a relatively good start -- handsome with a decent handshake (I was to get more than my fill of sweaty palms and limp finger clasps during the evening). But his question was a mood-killer. “You’re a pretty girl. Why do you need to come here to meet a guy?” Geez, his idea of small talk made my Jewish grandmother look like a woman who minds her own business. What to answer? Because I’m a freak on the inside?

Luckily, it’s quite easy to avoid answering such tough questions given the four-minute time constraint -- at least a whole minute can be filled with switching seats, sipping drinks and exchanging names. Some people dealt with the time-crunch by being extremely efficient in their conversation: “I work at A.C. Moore and I sell beer at Phillies games. I live in New Jersey and I don’t like clubs.” Or “I’m here because people who date online are all lying.”

Others thought the best use of the limited time available was to get right to the big issues. “Are you looking to have kids within the next couple years?” a guy asked, while fixing his eyes on a point about a foot to the right of my head. And, then after I had spent a minute thoughtfully describing my feelings about reproduction, “So what do you do for fun?”

There were a few conversations that went well. I think I landed a job writing graduate term papers for a date who was a middle-school teacher. And I’ve got a great romantic restaurant recommendation for the next time I’m in southeastern Pennsylvania. I’ve also gotten reviews of the best beaches in Africa and the new mall in Atlantic City.

But by far, the night's most fun and satisfying experience was comparing notes on the guys with the other girls. Mr. Mustache had sworn to one of them that he had no children and was only 34. In a post-event bathroom conference, we agreed that we were all far more normal than our dates. The odds may not have been particularly good (they never did resolve that man-shortage), but the goods were most definitely odd.

***Stacey Butterfield is still speed dating in the Philadelphia area. Her continuing adventures are chronicled on her blog, Speed Dating Girl.

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