In my mind, when someone utters the taboo words ‘speed dating’ I tend to envisage a very formal bar, laden with cocktails and canapés, filled with men and women who have turned up straight from work with pristine shirts and immaculate hair, coyly trying to suss each other out from across the room. It might even be in New York, it’s an American thang after all isn’t it? I’m familiar with the usual dating forums such as internet websites, blind dates, meeting people in candlelit wine bars… even the odd ad placed in the lonely hearts section of the Metro. But speed dating? I tend to think of myself as being a very open minded person and meeting new people is something I love to do when given the chance. So naturally, when my good friend Pippa asked me if I would like to give it a whirl in Edinburgh at a lovely pub called the Priory, my reaction was simultaneously one of pure excitement additionally one of complete and utter FEAR.
My accumulation of dates so far have been all kinds of weird and wonderful. Mostly weird, actually. I don’t claim to be a dating expert by any means but when you find yourself planning ‘that call’ or convincing your best friend to casually swing by in utter hysterics or even think about climbing out the toilet window… it’s just not happening. On the other hand, there’s the great dates. The ones you find yourself frantically messaging friends while in the loo with a reassuring ‘It’s going really well, we are getting on like a house on fire… no, you don’t need to pretend you’ve been arrested and no, he’s actually not a psychopath… ’ With speed dating, I was certainly hoping for the latter.
Speed dating is basically knowing what you like and what you don’t within 3 short minutes (or longer depending on the circumstances) It’s about finding an instant attraction, about finding something in common you both can ever-so-quickly chat about. Could this be the beauty of it? You would know straight up instead of having to endure a long socially awkward night drinking doubles with someone you barely know? The eternal optimist in me thought I might even meet my future husband, surely there must be one DiCaprio lookalike in there somewhere? No matter where you are or who it’s with, that initial excitement is usually there, sometimes you never know how one quick drink or an unexpected dinner can change your world. Whether you have been a relationship for one month, one year or one hell-of-a-lot longer, you will always remember your first date… and whether you like it or not, that memory will be ingrained into the deepest darkest corners of your mind. Just like the time at primary school when you thought that prostitute meant protestant, landing your 8 year-old girlfriends some seriously bad playground rep. Or was that just me?
While having lunch in Glasgow recently, my mum casually mentioned that she would pay for my dating subscription if I wanted to, you know, ever look into it. Smooth mum, real smooth. I laughed it off – trying hard not to keel over and choke on my oh so tasty Bakewell tart. She then continued on to say something about making a ‘pen friend’ and telling me that I should keep options open. Really? I put down my coffee mid-hysteria, wiped the sawdust pastry remains from my face and broke the ‘big news’ that I actually had 15 dates lined up so there was no need to worry… I just failed to mention that they were all in the one night, lasting only a few minutes and that I had no idea who the hell they were with.
That night, I started getting a bit nervous…what to wear, one bottle of wine before or two, have some questions lined up or wing it? I skimmed over the guideline material that you are given for the event and was surprised to see some ‘core rules’ outlined for the night. I’ll admit, I was pretty miffed to see that I couldn’t eat food during the speed dates (olive, anyone?) turn up intoxicated, wear trainers or be late. I thought a first date was about being yourself? Hmmm. Plan B then…
I met the girls before we went to the main even itself for a quick natter and a bit of ‘date’ courage. I had been off work the week previous and had been bed bound with the lurgy, so was leaping with excitement that I was actually getting to speak to someone who wasn’t my dog, siri or the post man. I went for a casual smart look, a black crepe/sheer top combo, leather skirt, tights, accessorized with a statement necklace and to top it all off perfectly, a beaming red runny nose – nice. After we exchanged stories of our day, we decided we better not break rule number one (as much as I would have loved to be the speed dating rebel) and we headed towards the pub in the pouring rain.
The Priory is an endearing little pub on Morrison street, lovely staff and perfect for post work drinks. As soon as we stepped in, we headed straight to the bar and try suss out ‘the situation.’ I was smiling a lot. At pretty much everyone who looked in my direction trying to see if there was any given exchange. I might have looked like I was some kind of crazy friendly lunatic. We headed downstairs and appeared the first people to arrive at the scene. We were greeted by a lovely man called Peter, who was probably in his mid 40’s and was so welcoming, I instantly felt like he was a long-lost uncle. Peter explained to us that we would be numbered and matched with corresponding tables, we were given a name badge, pencil and a score card and told that each round would last approximately 3 minutes each. Jen, Pippa and myself sat huddled together at a booth, nervously eyeing up the incoming crowds. Everyone was chatting, laughing and already mingling, I was half expecting to watch a train crash so I was pleasantly surprised. I almost forgot what I was doing there until the bell rang… ‘Can you please find your table to commence the speed dating please!’ Peter yelled. AGHHHHHH, shit shitty shit. I started to feel my heart beat that little bit faster, just like when you go for an interview – except I wasn’t even sure what the job description entailed yet. ‘Wanted: accomplice to an axe murderer, one position currently available – apply within for an immediate start.’
Date number one. I arrived slightly flustered at the candle lit table, trying to carry my coat, glass of wine and scorecard. I was attempting to be elegant and graceful but in true Ash style, was more the equivalent of a bull in a china shop… who was maybe a little tipsy on excitement. Dan was from Aberdeen and was an engineer, blonde with a nice warm smile. He had been travelling, so we were talking about that for most of the time which was actually really nice as we got to compare notes on Cambodia and Laos. He was really easy to chat with and we had a few laughs but I found myself being easily distracted as I overheard Jen prodding her date for more India tips and Pippa explaining what a lumber-sexual was… it was extremely hard to keep a straight face at that point. I was surprised when the bell sounded as I almost felt like I barely got to touch the surface but after a firm handshake, I sat back in my chair, waiting for Dan to move on to the next table. A few seconds passed I started feeling a little awkward. Why was he not moving, did he maybe not hear the bell? We stared blankly at each other for maybe a few seconds then he politely laughed and whispered ‘Em, I think it’s you guys that have to move tables.’ Ahhh, I see. I overcompensated by laughing far too hard at myself before swiftly moving towards table number two, armed and ready with my doddled scorecard and red face to boot.
The next few dates went pretty fast from there, after the initial one, I felt more confident and I was actually quite enjoying the random chats. The questions asked were pretty standard. Hi, how are you? What do you look for in a partner? What’s your favourite animal? Do you like to be big spoon or little? One guy spoke about weights for three minutes. THREE minutes. What? I almost fell asleep in my wine glass, sorry Trev, the fact you can press 40 kilos means NOTHING to me. I might have forgotten to mention there were 5 men to 11 women. The maths equalled a lot of girls sitting in a booth together talking about dating in general. Some had past success, some had horror stories, some were cynical and others just hopeful. Truth be told, it was like a scene from Sex and The City, just with no Aidan or cosmopolitan in sight. The girls were lovely, really sweet and we actually had a proper hoot in that booth which was very unexpected. Before we knew it, we were all swapping numbers and organising a night out, whether or not it actually goes ahead is another thing but the thought was there… how often do you go to a bar and make new friends, 11 to be precise?
After my last date with risqué Robert, the final bell sounded. Robert was a nice guy, banker, just moved to town, sounded like he was living a life of complete luxury and was looking for someone to whisk away that wasn’t his mother. I was telling him all about my new camera and that I had been thinking about taking up some photography lessons. He proposed we went out the following night for a walk around Edinburgh taking some night snaps of the city which was sweet… equally prettttty creepy at the same time. We left it at that and I made my way over to the girls to catch up. No one was really sure what to do when we finished so when one of the guys mentioned grabbing a drink, I pretty much jumped at the chance. We pushed some tables together and awkwardly sat down. Some people disappeared to the bar and failed to return but the majority were there and keen for a quick drink. We were an unlikely bunch. But that’s what I kinda loved about it. We all agreed it was a good experience, we got a free drink from it and a laugh if anything else. Personally, I think it takes a lot of balls and not a lot of people would dare come along with friends never mind alone. I had respect for those who had, big time. We had a chat at the table about day to day topics and everyone seemed deep in conversation, but before I knew it, it was after 10pm and we decided to call it a night. I could feel my lurgy cough re-surfacing and Dan was getting the brunt of it, I’m sure wine was almost coming out of my nose at one point. Maybe not my ‘coolest’ moment. So, saying goodbye to our new-found friends, we crept off into the night, exchanging notes, laughing hard at some of our chats and generally thinking we might end up like alcoholic cat ladies together, but that we would actually be pretty happy with that.
So, none of us actually found a match. But we did find nice people, unexpected laughs, a new experience and that there’s a whole lot of single people happily ready to put themselves out there. Being a hopeless romantic at heart, I always like not knowing what or who is round the corner – that’s the exciting part, it’s all still to come I guess. Speed dating for me just opened up my eyes to meeting new people and that it’s good to try something out with the norm. Sure, it would be nice to have come across a DiCaprio, but if you don’t try you don’t get, right? Who knows if you will find a perfect match within a 3 minute time frame, but it’s a bloody good place to start. The girls and I went to meet new people and that we did. It’s a total mixed bag, you won’t know what you’re in for until you turn up. Go in with an open mind and no expectations. What do you have to lose? Apart from 20 bucks, a few hours of your spare time and your sobriety, of course.