I tried speed dating, here’s what you need to know

WORDS BY Sienna Barton

So how did it come to this?

As a woman in the last year of her twenties who’s been online dating for most of her adult life, I’ve often wondered what else might be out there when it came to meeting someone.

With two years of a pandemic under our belts, a lot of us have lost the connections we had before the many lockdowns – meaning that we’re not incidentally meeting people the same way that we used to. At least, I’m not.

For more content like this, browse through our Life section.

Gone are the days of rowdy house parties and nights spent clubbing, followed by incoherent chats at the nearest Maccas (or Lord of the Fries if you were really desperate). Truthfully, I’m getting older and I would rather – to use one of my grandpa’s favourite phrases – “slam my dick in the door” than spend a night in a sweaty club with gropey strangers.

I’m not content with making out with the local fuckboy to a soundtrack of ‘Bounce’ by Calvin Harris (a true story) and I’m sick of the monotonous chit-chat of online dating. My friends haven’t set me up with anyone, and their (allegedly) good friends all have girlfriends. So, dear reader, the question remains: what else is there?

Like the dating profiles recorded on VHS for the prospective singles of yesteryear, I’d always thought of speed dating as being a bit old-fashioned. I was supposed to, what, talk to a million strangers for five minutes apiece and leave having met someone cool? A likely story!

So, it was with a slight air of pessimism that I found myself googling the words ‘speed dating Melbourne’. I clicked on the first option listed (a paid Google ad) and purchased a ticket for the next session for singles aged 25 to 36 years old.

The male tickets had sold out, and truthfully, I didn’t know if that was either a really good sign or if it boded terribly. My friends joked that it would be a room full of men sitting in a circle with one rotating swivel chair in the middle. I guffawed and secretly crossed my toes. 

Setting the scene

A couple of weeks later, I found myself at a small bar nestled in one of Naarm’s famous side streets, feeling uncomfortably sober among a sea of other single people. The event’s organiser handed me a card with my name on it and explained that I was assigned to table number 12.

It was my job to sit, and every five minutes a new man would sit down for a very cursory chat. At the end of each quickie, we were instructed to write down the other person’s name and circle a box that said either ‘yes’ or ‘no’. If two of us said ‘yes’ to each other, then the organiser would let us know and we’d get each other’s contact details – kind of like Tinder, but with less screenshottable material for @beam_me_up_softboi.

As I sat at my assigned bar stool, cradling my pint of cider as I waited for the first five-minute slot to begin, I suddenly remembered having always been told to cover the top of my glass when talking to strange men – lest they try to roofie me.

I thought about those date rape scrunchies they spruik on TikTok, which unfold to reveal a fabric covering for your drink, and before I knew it, it was time to chat to some bachelors.

The singles

The first three five-minute sessions were excruciating, as each man asked me what I did for work and what I liked to do for fun. As someone who works as a copywriter and binge-watches an unhealthy amount of television for fun, these weren’t particularly good questions.

Much of the five minutes was spent trying to explain what copywriting work entails and subsequently realising that maybe I don’t actually know what I do for work. It felt a bit like a job interview but with alcohol, and I soon got the hang of trying to sell myself to a new stranger every five minutes. My head became clearer and I started to notice more about the people around me.

I became really interested in the kinds of people who had shown up to this event: there were a couple of endearing nerds, a guy who somehow exuded bravado while wearing a skintight polo shirt tucked into a pair of cargo pants, but overwhelmingly, the men who attended speed dating that night were people of colour.

The more conversations I had with them, the more I realised that many of them had come from interstate or overseas, and speed dating served as a way for them to make friends. 

I was also reminded of a conversation I had recently with a guy I was talking to online. As a bi-racial person who comes across as ethnically ambiguous (like myself), he said that women often thought he was Italian or Greek but became instantly turned off when they found out he was actually Indian.

I looked around the room and saw that the majority of the men at the event looked like me, they were all South Asian too, and I wondered if they’d encountered similar racial prejudices.

As I settled into the conversations, I soon realised that – like me – a lot of these guys were horribly nervous and just wanted to see what was out there. I tried to be patient and kind, and I think I was successful for the most part, but, god, there were a couple of doozies. There was the guy who sat down and told me his name, proudly adding “It means ‘the god of love’.”

I replied, “My name’s Sienna. It means ‘reddish brown’,” and we both laughed. There was a guy who reminded me of Jay from The Inbetweeners and another fellow who talked like he was James Franco impersonating Tommy Wiseau, and the more we talked, the harder I found it not to say “You are tearing me apart, Lisa!”.

I looked over to the table next to mine and saw that the woman had ordered a plate of grilled calamari, which is almost as baffling to me as Tony Abbott chomping into an onion with its skin on. Firstly, I didn’t realise the bar we were at served food. Secondly, was it not very weird to eat a plate of food during conversations you’d paid to have the pleasure of taking part in?

Surely, she wasn’t getting the best bang for her buck. Thirdly, eating seafood on a first date where your multiple dates aren’t eating anything at all just reeks to me of bravery (but also, of fish). 

It got to the end of the night, and after trying to be charming and personable with eighteen different strangers, I was absolutely exhausted. The last person I spoke to, the god of love, wanted to keep talking even though our allotted five minutes had passed and I blurted out a clumsy “I’ve just gotta run to the bathroom”.

Debriefing with the girls

By far, the most interesting part of the night was the debriefing session I had in the women’s bathroom. After drinking two pints of cider without taking advantage of the toilet breaks, I did the longest piss I’ve done in my life and as I wrapped thin public bathroom toilet paper around my hand, I heard the voices of women chatting.

I came out of my stall and washed my hands before joining in. The room was clean and only lightly smelled of human excrement, so I ended up talking to those women for nearly an hour. We traded stories about the men we’d met that night, comparing notes on what they’d said to us. The god of love had used that line on everyone (I thought I was special) and the person I thought was a harmless nerd made a joke about secretly being a serial killer. 

Most interestingly, a lot of the women in that bathroom didn’t connect with anyone they’d spoken to and circled ‘no’ next to all 18 names. One of them confessed that she was keen on the event’s organiser and we joked that she should just write that on her card.

She seemed reserved, squeamishly adding that this was her second time trying speed dating in as many days and that she’d booked in for another session the following week. Though she didn’t circle ‘yes’ next to any names, she did say “If I don’t come back, I’ll stay in my room thinking about how bad it was. I might as well just sew up my vagina”. I admired her determination and resilience.

Of the other women I spoke to, two were ringers brought in by the organiser to even out the gender ratio so there wouldn’t be anyone alone. It seemed like an act of kindness but it also felt like false advertising. I started to worry that maybe I’d taken the whole thing too seriously, and maybe I was a bit dumb for saying ‘yes’ to a couple of guys.

After all, if this impromptu focus group of women didn’t like any of them, then why did I? That worry soon dissipated when the last woman said she’d also circled ‘yes’ on a couple of guys – but we wouldn’t know if anything would materialise until the next day.

What next?

Out of the three (maybe four, I can’t remember) people I’d expressed interest in, two were also interested in me. Within a day of getting the results, both of them had texted me, and I’m going on a date with one of them this weekend.

The biggest takeaway from my speed dating experience is that I was surprised by the number of people I got along with but never would have chatted to if I’d only seen their dating app profile.

We all have prejudices when it comes to dating; maybe we’re not willing to cross the Yarra, or date people with poor grammar, or we exclude people because of their jobs. Personally, I swipe left on accountants because I’m shocking with money and I don’t want to be judged, much like how I avoid going to the dentist because I love sugar and hate flossing.

Online dating profiles miss a lot of the nuance that comes when we meet people organically, and maybe speed dating is the answer? Only time will tell.

For advice on how to date without the apps, try this.

Lazy Loading