Speed dating was fun, but I was glad to be saved by the bell
As a reporter for The Royal Gazette she's had some tough jobs, but this week we sent her on her most challenging assignment yet: to go deep undercover at a charity speed-dating event.
Souls were bared. Wine was spilled. Dozens of people came together in hopes of making a “love connection” all while raising money for cancer charity Melange. Here's what happened:
I've been a journalist for more than ten years and I've done some pretty crazy things for my job.
I've stared violent criminals in the eyes, been chucked out of union meetings and spat at by striking postal workers (not all in Bermuda, I hasten to add.)
I've attended the scenes of plane crashes, train crashes, car crashes, even a horse stampede. And I've knocked on the doors of hundreds of people who really, really don't want to welcome a journalist into their homes.
But when it comes to sheer nerves and feeling totally out of my depth, this assignment has to be the toughest yet. On Wednesday night, I went speed dating.
This is how it started: two good friends of mine got engaged over Christmas. It turns out they met years ago when speed dating in Scotland.
On learning this, I mentioned to them that the charity Melange is organising a speed dating night right here in Bermuda, at Flanagan's, to raise money for cancer patients who are struggling to pay for their treatment.
I told them speed dating is not something I would consider doing in a million years. But after they guilt-tripped me into it — “it's for charity! It'll be fun! How could you not want to help a charity?! — I reluctantly agreed to give it a whirl.
Another good friend agreed to come along as an observer, to give me support and encouragement. Oh, and to make the appropriate hand signals from across the room if she realises any of my dates are married/recently released from Westgate/known to be a nutcase.
She has styled herself as my “Love Guru” and is always lecturing me about not making enough effort when it comes to dating. The prospect of me going on ten in one night fills her with delight and on Wednesday evening drags me into Flanagan's while bombarding me with last minute tips along the lines of “you need to show more cleavage. Put some lipstick on. SMILE.”
I look around to see dozens of nervous looking women, most of whom are dolled-up in little dresses and skirts and looking super hot. I look down at my jeans and sweater and consider fleeing straight out of the door … but my Love Guru blocks the way and hands me a large glass of red wine.
The organisers explain the rules. There will be 20 speed daters per session; ten men and ten women. Each lady has her own table, with the men moving from table to table every three minutes.
There is a one-minute break in between to make notes on whether you like them or not. No one is given anyone's name or contact details unless they indicate on their forms that they want to meet again.
Oh, and you are not allowed to talk about where you work. This is a tough assignment already. With my Love Guru's hisses of “smile!” ringing in my ears, I find myself grinning so hard at my first date I fear I have strained a jaw muscle.
I worry he thinks I am deranged. But then he starts complaining, at length, about his country's international debt repayments and I realise he has not noticed that I have totally tuned out.
My next date shows up. Now it is my turn to bring up an inappropriately dull topic. For reasons I cannot remember, I start blathering on about dehumidifiers and cold damp rooms in the wintertime. He rescues the conversation nicely by assuring me that his bedroom is “always warm, summer and winter.” Good to know.
My third, fourth and fifth dates all seem like lovely, sweet guys. Sadly there is no chemistry whatsoever but it's nice to chat with them.
Then the sixth date comes along, kisses my hand, yanks my chair (with me still sitting on it) away from the table so he can see me better …. and knocks my glass of red wine into my handbag. He barely seems to notice this and starts sharing with me his philosophical musings about life. He should write a self-help book. I am very glad when the buzzer rings.
Then two more perfectly nice men. One has a gorgeous accent that I sadly struggle to understand. The other is several inches shorter than me but wins bonus points by showering me with compliments.
The next guy looks familiar. I check that my friend is not making any hand signals, but she is no use whatsoever as she is engrossed reading something on my BlackBerry. I later realise it is a knitting pattern.
Luckily my date helps me out by remembering we once met at happy hour and we have a friend in common.
He already knows where I work so we start talking about that, although I am a bit worried the speed dating police will show up and arrest us for breaking the rules. Thankfully the buzzer rings before they do.
The last guy asks me a great question; if he came up to me in a bar instead of a speed dating event, would I take the time to chat to him? The honest answer is probably not. I'm awful at being chatty with strangers, and realise speed dating has had the good effect of forcing me to do so and be more open-minded.
And none of my dates (with the possible exception of Mr Wine Spiller) have been anything other than charming.
I have to say I'm not sure I met anyone that I would like to make what the organisers sweetly describe as a “love connection” with. But it was lots of fun and I'm glad I did it.
Not that I am going to admit this to my Love Guru who is sitting across the room making eye contact with me like one of those crazy stage mothers, still signalling at me to keep smiling.
Ow. My jaw hurts.
A speed dating night in aid of a cancer charity was such a success that another is already in the pipeline.
Renee Carter, founder of the charity Melange, said the evening raised more than $1,000 to help cancer patients pay for their treatment.
Those who participated paid $25 per person and their friends who came along for support paid $30. Flanagan's Irish Pub hosted the evening and decked the bar out with pink balloons to add to the air of romance.
“This is our first event following us being registered as a charity in November,” explained Ms Carter. “We decided to have three major events this year; the speed dating, a casino night in June and a gala in October.”
However, after a shaky start, the speed dating turned into such a success they are now planning another.
“It was like pulling teeth trying to get men to participate,” explained Ms Carter, although they found enough in the end for 20 women each to have ten male dates.
Speed dating involves the female participant being given her own table, while a series of men visit to talk to her for three minutes each. At the end, if one of the dates likes the other, they tick a box.
Participants who have ticked each other get to exchange contact details and go on another date. Up until then, everything is completely anonymous, with the men and women going by numbers rather than names.
Last night, the organisers were busy trying to figure out how many matches got made. However, one theme was already emerging: “The men were fascinated by lady number five,” reveals Ms Carter, explaining the lucky woman will be able to pick and choose from several dates.
The next event is set to be held in the next two months, and she hopes more men will come to the next one. For information, e-mail melange4[AT]yahoo.com.