The all-consuming awkwardness of speed dating

2014-02-09 06:00

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There was an ominous dark thing clinging to his right incisor that was impossible to ignore.

He was divulging his age, his hobbies, and details about his job. It was not riveting, but for “the thing”. What could it be?

“I find it rather odd,” he was saying, “that none of the women here want to take my number.”

He was German with blue eyes and straw blonde hair. He grew quiet. The silence begged to be filled with a response of sorts.

“Uhm ... well you do come across as a little creepy – but only initially,” I say.

Oh dear. My attempt at humour was misplaced.

He started, and glared, and got up to leave soon after.

Welcome to the all-consuming awkwardness of “speed dating”; best described as large-scale social torture practised by consenting adults in pursuit of that elusive something-something that is hard to define.

Basically it’s like a treasure hunt for “love” set in a very dense jungle of people, who are all feverishly hunting too. Everyone ends up tripping over each other’s insecurities and charm offensives in a stampede not unlike war, really.

The format is simple: a whole bunch of people arrive somewhere and pair up for five-minute chats at tables placed in rows. A loud countdown announces the end of intervals, at which time participants note the names of romantic prospects in tiny books, before moving on to the next candidate.

It was Friday evening and Cosmopolitan was attempting to break the world record for speed dating under a marquee tent on sport grounds flanking Camps Bay beach in Victoria Road.

A friend invited me to attend as a media representative. The event promised to find “your perfect match” to all those present. The majority were impeccably turned out with plenty biceps and thighs on show.

It was the magic hour. The sun was sinking over the sea in shades of pink and grey, against which jutted palm tree silhouettes. Nearby at Café Caprice, the party was spilling over on to the pavement.

Urgh ... what does one talk about to utter strangers at this type of gig? Earlier that day, an unscientific Facebook survey presented interesting suggestions ranging from serial killers to music and sexually transmitted infections.

“Ask what is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen,” was a sincere response from one Facebook friend. “I guess test all the pick-up lines you think will never work,” said a cynic.

Personally, I’m quite a fan of the pizza topping psychological barometer. Plenty can be deduced from a person’s preferred pizza toppings, you know.

So later on Friday evening, as the bash started to unravel, I ended up in conversation with a mechanic in his late-20s with gorgeous chocolate-brown eyes and a tattoo of his baby daughter’s name on his neck. I was beginning to fill with panic, wishing dearly to self-eject, when a female sauntered over purposefully. She cut me off with a curt: “Oh, I hope I’m not interrupting!” to which I shook my head in a gesture meant to convey benevolent reassurance, bidding them both adieu.

Cosmo managed to break the world speed-dating record (which stood at 485 partakers) and got some good feedback yesterday, I see.

To me, it felt like effort having to engage people I don’t know or necessarily like. Defs one for the “anthropology” file, though.

Curving back home past Clifton and Bantry Bay, I pondered the value of slowness in our age of frenzied immediacy: 140 characters, speed dates, fast laughs, instant love, quick sex. Perhaps we need to relax and slow down a little?

I pull over on Main Road, Sea Point, for a long lazy beer and some laughs with a good friend. A perfect match indeed.

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