There were three pages in front of me: one detailing the rules, one where I could write notes about each “date”, and one I had to turn in at the end if I wanted to connect with one of the guys. Sitting at a table, an empty chair across from me and a placard with a 6 in the middle of the table, I read the rules.
The placards were in sequential order and let the guys know which table to move to next. Each date would be six minutes long, and we were encouraged to “ask more than mundane questions like ‘what do you do’ & ‘where do you live’.”
Reading the rules page made my copyediting brain hurt. “Please support the establishment by buying something & take care of your bartender!” The sentence was bold and underlined on the rule sheet. I got a large glass of water; I would need it.
The majority of the women were sitting at tables already, my friend Kris sitting next to me at an adjoining table. Men were trickling in and being led to different tables by Bob the Bulbous Cheekbones, the organizer. Kris and I used the thick Crayola markers on the table to write our names on sticky name tags. She put hers on her placard, while I put mine on my shirt.
Surveying the men walking in, I was both excited and worried. A blonde was sitting at a table across the room, and he looked promising; one thickly-bearded guy was sitting near the door looking terrified.
Bob walked toward my table, leading one of the men my way, and my heart sunk. Chuck the Truck Driver sat down, avoiding my eyes, and stared at the paperwork.
Not a word.
“So… did Bob tell you what to expect?” I asked.
“Well, it looks like we’ll have six minutes to talk, and then we can take notes on this page-” I shuffled his papers a bit to point to the paper, “and we fill out this page with who we’d like to talk to again-” I pointed to the bottom page.
“Do you need a pen?” I asked, sliding one of the blue pens on the table toward him.
He pulled a pen out of his shirt pocket and began writing on one of the feedback forms. He’d said one word to me, the same word I would use to answer the question, “Do you want to see Chuck again?”
While Chuck finished his busywork, Bob brought Giles the Smile to Kris’s table. He was immediately engaging and friendly, though he looked a bit nervous. Oh, I thought, he could be promising.
Finally, Chuck was done with whatever and it appeared his mouth might work. The event seemed like it had officially started, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and ask Chuck a question.
“Have you done this before?”
“Uh, no. I haven’t.”
THREE WORDS AND A GRUNT – I’ll take it!
He was nervous, that much was obvious. I refused to sit in silence and let his anxiety ruin my first “date”.
“What do you do, Chuck?”
Floodgates exploded open, and Chuck spoke! In sentences! With inflection and everything! I listened as he talked about his job, where he lived, and as he answered my various this-is-to-prove-I’m-listening questions. His unkempt ‘fro and bushy beard were distracting, but I kept my eyes on his, which were focused on my name tag. Which was on my chest.
My first “date” was inadvertently staring at my chest for six minutes.
The bell rang, and we ended our conversation. I had a break between dates, so I jotted down some notes. As I wrote, Bob came over and asked how my first date went.
Bob was nice enough, the kind of guy who could be gay or straight or bi – I couldn’t get a read on him. He had insanely round cheek apples, and I wondered if he had implants or a terrible Botox injection or just really weird genes. He sat hunched over a bit, as if he were negotiating a deal under the table and policemen were sitting nearby.
I saw the countdown timer on his phone. 20 more seconds. Oh, come ON already.
The next two dates were eh. Man from Nigeria, sharply dressed in a button-down and a tie, but still casual in jeans. He, too, was nervous, but thankfully he stared at the table or behind my right shoulder. Our conversation was stilted and boring.
Bill Nye the Pale Guy followed Man, and he was a tall, typical engineer who wore glasses and had a bone-crushing handshake. He’d been to speed dating events before, so the conversation was far more balanced. Then I made the mistake of telling him I wanted to move to Colorado or the West Coast at some point. He looked like I’d just kicked his computer.
“I love the mountains, you know?” No reaction. “I just feel energized when I’m near the ocean or the mountains. Plus if I workout, I like to do it outside. Hah – not if, I mean when-”
His eyebrow raised. “If. Kind of a Freudian slip there.”
I noticed that the guys, without any concern for privacy, would fill out their “Let’s Talk!/No Thanks.” sheet in front of me; I could read everything. Meanwhile, I had my notes page covered, and I hid what I wrote as though they were missile launch codes.
Freddy Fresh Air sat down next. Conversation was refreshingly easy, he held my gaze, and we laughed a lot. When I caught my coworkers watching me from the bar, I waved, and Freddy waved, too. He was the first person I told about Taiwan, and it was the first comfortable conversation of the night. When he stood to leave, he said, “I’m sure I’ll see you again.”
John the Blonde, whom I’d seen earlier from across the room, sat down after Freddy left. He nursed his beer and blotted his face and hands with two wadded-up napkins. His accent was strong, and thanks to the noise level, I was having a horrible time placing it. For a reason I couldn’t manage to hear, he’d moved to Dallas from Florida a couple years ago. I’d found my opening.
“Oh, so where were you before Florida?” I expected Australia… New Zealand? Maybe? I couldn’t figure it out.
“Just Florida!” What. “I’d never been outside Florida until I moved here!”
He told me more, and I tried not to focus on the spinach in his teeth. I couldn’t believe, after all my travels, that a thick country-bumpkin Floridian accent had thrown me. I felt betrayed by myself.
My lips were growing dryer by the minute, and the water I’d ordered was almost gone. I felt like I was shouting, and the din in the restaurant was only getting louder. There were no breaks, no time to get up and relax. I was enjoying myself, but the adrenaline was pumping; I could feel the exhaustion sneaking up on me.
My next date had an unnervingly steady gaze and an air about him I couldn’t quite figure out. We chatted for a moment, and then he stated that he was in the Special Forces, and his demeanor made sense. He carried himself as someone who’d been in the thick of terror, who’d pushed himself to the limit, and I was completely fascinated by his stories. Special Forces Steve had stories about going on reconnaissance missions in North Korea, and about the concentration camps there. Even without the romantic spark, I was utterly invested in everything he said.
But what if he’s lying?
It was a thought that popped into my head on a number of “dates”: what if the guy sitting across from me was lying? I decided that I only cared if I was interested in a real date, and that’s when I’d really investigate the legitimacy of the stories. Until then, I was just going to have fun.
After Special Forces Steve left, a tall, broad-shouldered man sat down. Mr. Nothing struck me as someone who’d been a linebacker in college, and he had thick, spiky salt-and-pepper hair. He was nice. He was polite. We talked. I have more chemistry with a carrot, and we both knew the attraction wasn’t there. It wasn’t as awkward as it just felt like we were wasting our time on each other.
I glanced over at the table where my next date was sitting, and was dispirited. Mr. Nothing was replaced by Amish Amos. Dark hair ringed his entire face, from his forehead to his beard. He had perfect porcelain skin, but I wouldn’t know what his teeth looked like because he didn’t smile. I found out that he liked history and then, THEN, he started talking about the stock market.
Zero chemistry? No problem. He was going to teach me how to properly trade stocks instead. At one point, during a break in the stock market talk, he asked what I liked to do in my free time. I mentioned my To Do Before 32 List, and actually pulled it out to show him. He barely looked.
“See, lists can be kinda bad sometimes, you know?” Oh. “‘Cause, like, you do everything except number 32, and you did great, but all you can think of is, ‘I didn’t do number 32!’ And it’s ruined, ’cause all you can think about is 32, the one thing you didn’t do.”
I may not remember the exact dialogue, but I do remember that it was number 32 because he would not shut up about it. Chill out, dude. I can tell by your bowl cut that you’re a precision man, but do you have to rag on my list?
Again, I caught myself looking over. The event was nearly over, which was great, because my ability to string together a simple sentence had waned. I was making an absolute fool of myself when I tried to expound on simple concepts like my occupation and what I liked to do in my spare time.
I started strong, but I was limping, miserably, to the finish.
I didn’t get a good look at Teacher Thomas until he sat down, but once I did, I was pleased. I struggled to pronounce his name correctly, and when I asked its origin, we launched into a great conversation. We laughed and held eye contact, and I learned that he taught high school. His thick black hair was tousled and his eyes kind and inviting. Six minutes went by too quickly, and I knew I would like to talk to him again.
Giles the Smile, who had been Kris’s first “date”, joined me at the table once again. My brain was fried. My mascara was smudging down my cheeks. I was glued to the plastic bench. My throat was swollen. I was spent.
He seemed as tired as I was, and while he smiled and we had a good time talking, it seemed a little forced. I stammered, I made terrible jokes and, overall, was a terrible date.
When the bell rang at the end of the “date”, Giles stood, and I glanced over.
“Oh, no, you don’t have to get up. I’ve already met him.” I was practically begging. Please don’t let Chuck the Truck Driver sit down again. I can’t have another terrible conversation.
Giles walked away, but Chuck did, too. Kris and I began comparing notes, and we noticed some of the guys were returning to talk to other girls. Giles had made a beeline for a girl a few tables in front of me, and Teacher Thomas was sitting with another girl.
They could talk to other women all they wanted. I was still going to put their names down as potential dates.
At my station was a ton of trash that had been left behind. Chuck’s paperwork and blank name tag, Man from Nigeria’s blank notes page, John the Blonde’s napkins and beer bottle. Thanks, guys.
Kris and I got up and headed to the bar to close her tab. We ended up talking to Steve, a well-dressed man with about ten years on me who’d been talking to my coworkers while they watched us. Small chitchat turned into a long conversation about speed dating, awkwardness, and basic manners.
I mentioned that I’d been told before that I’m intimidating. Kris nodded. “I can see that.”
“I don’t think you’re intimidating,” Steve countered.
When I said that Amish Amos had been disinterested in my list, Steve wanted to see the list, and we proceeded to talk in depth about it.
Steve, if you’re reading this, you restored my faith in men. Thank you.
I heard back, and Freddy Fresh Air asked to see me again, too. We shall see.