Does the idea of speed dating fill you with horror? One woman decided to try it for Valentine’s Day and was pleasantly surprised. If you’re bored of dating apps, this could be the solution…
Here it is again: the one day of the year where it’s socially acceptable to gush over your significant other in public spaces. A day filled with roses, chocolates and giant teddy bears bigger than your head and, of course, the third consecutive year I will be pressing a big fat “confirm order” on my own Interflora purchase.
From the age of four we’re conditioned to believe we need to find Prince Charming and, if we don’t, we’ll turn into lonely old women living in cat-filled bungalows.
Secretly, we want someone to look longingly into our eyes and say, “If you’re a bird, I’m a bird”, we want to be the Sally to his Harry and we dream of a happy fairytale ending like Drew Barrymore’s Josie Geller in Never Been Kissed.
We are faced with the inevitable “when are you going to settle down?” grilling when visiting family (the “why are you still single?” question is a personal favourite). But while I’ve accepted my fate, I’ve also enjoyed treating myself to roses, perfumes and affirmations, before cry-singing All By Myself while my head buries itself into a box of Guylian.
Recently I read a study by Cancer Research that found almost half of millennials feel more comfortable using dating apps to talk to strangers, rather than doing so face-to-face. It seems the curse of the fuck boy, and everyone shagging each other until they get bored, has taken over. Tinder, Bumble, Grindr and other dating apps have dictated the way we interact with people, and it’s as frightening as Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story novel, where characters walk around with their social-media profile displayed on a necklace, telling people whether they are getting laid or not.
So when I was invited to a Play Date Valentine’s speed-dating event, I thought, what the hell. I’m single and I might as well test my savoir-faire in the field. What could go wrong?
While speed dating is fairly new to me, the phenomenon has been around for decades. Created by a Los Angeles Rabbi called Yaacov Deyo, the concept was created in the late nineties for young Jewish singles to meet. Men and women would table-hop their way through a dozen dates in a night and decide whom they would like to see again. If there was a mutual match, details were exchanged.
Play Date is slightly different, with each table allocated board games so as to avoid the awkward silences – if there are any. “What am I bloody doing here?” I thought to myself while cowering in the bathroom like a wimp. I had no idea who attended these events and I was nervous, but I met some incredibly funny women: straight talking, no bulls**t ones. The men, in contrast, were bashful, and more rehearsed.
I was sipping my cocktail, thinking of non-awkward funny things to open my conversation with, when I was faced with the loveliest of guys. “Thank GOD,” I thought. He was an Arsenal-loving funny man who had great chat. TJ was the same age as me and, despite being in a forced environment, our exchange was genuine. So much so that when the clock struck 12, we stood up in unison protesting extra time. Despite wanting to trade it all in and head to the nearest restaurant with him, I moved on to the next. Most were charming, intelligent and had good chat. Others made me want to die.
I met Mr London Zoo, who spent the total of three minutes talking to me about the zoo and ended our session with, “If you had to choose an animal onesie, which one would you wear?”
Then there was Mr Firefighter, the tall handsome chap who seemed a great contender until the moment he opened his mouth, spoke about his ‘buff Trinidadian friend who is always surrounded by girls’ and later shouted at me for not rolling the dice before I started playing Jenga. As I tried steer the conversation away from his friend, I was saved by the bell.
“I used to work at Bloomberg,” uttered Mr Data Analyst. He spent our slot building a quarter of a house out of Lego before joking that he thought I had already been proposed to by TJ, but eventually he asked me what my hobbies were. I replied with: “I really enjoy-” DING. Never mind, then.
As the evening went by, I slowly began to understand why people attend these events. It’s a safe space, it’s controlled, you get some drinks and it’s all a bit of a laugh, really. No unsolicited dick pics – yet – and what you see is what you get. If you don’t like it, well, you never have to see these people again.
While I came home with numbers and anecdotes to laugh about for many days to come, it’s safe to say I’d definitely do it again. My confidence was high, I learnt more about what I like and what I don’t like, and I had the opportunity to meet some unexpected people. Plus, of course, I made some new friends. People do go home with a second date in the bag, and others later go on to get married and have children, or so I’ve been told.
But if everything does go tits up for you this Valentine’s Day, practise your favourite ballad, get creative and send your secret crush a lovingly puntastic card to declare your love. Try loving like you’ve never been dumped just before Christmas for a younger blonde or a guy with more abs.
Otherwise, find yourself a gang of friends and love how you’re supposed to on Valentine’s Day. Sing and dance to Single Ladies whilst trying not to let your legs buckle in the eight-inch stilettos you thought you could walk in. Think up icebreaker questions like “have you ever been to prison?” and march over to your love interest full of confidence.
Enjoy V-Day for what it is: a gimmick. Have a laugh, make it your own and see how fast you can lose a guy in five minutes with a bit of humour. Embrace singledom. Order yourself flowers. Go out, get pissed and love with an open heart. If it doesn’t work out, at least you’ve had a good night.
I enjoy being single and one day I will be a soldier of love, but for now, I will tuck into my Waitrose dinner for two and admire my pre-ordered blooms. The world is crying out for a butterfly-inducing romance and so, as I am a sucker for love, I will patiently wait for TJ, in the middle of the Emirates Stadium, for him to sweep me off my feet to the soundtrack of The Beach Boys: a perfect ending to an otherwise unexpected story.
Images: Rex Features / Unsplash
This piece was originally published in February 2018.