Friday, August 8, 2014

At The Speed of Light: Lesbian Speed Dating in the City...

While I had heard of speed-dating before, I had never come across lesbian speed-dating until the day that, seeing an invite on Facebook, something wild possessed me and I found myself signing up for that very thing. I still have no idea, weeks later, why I paid the nominal fee that would commit me to participating in the topsy-turvy mess that was to take place at Chicago's Center On Halsted. Immediately after purchasing my tickets, I'll admit it: I felt a little nervous. Regret kicked in as I imagined myself floundering for something to say to whomever landed in front of me. I wondered how it would be arranged and who I would meet, what I would ask and what I would say. Before worry got out of control, though, I decided to stop thinking about it. My anxious brain would only envision the worst, anyway, and I'd made a decision to approach “Women's Speed-dating” as a positive new experience.   

Later, as the date inched closer, I discovered that a friend of mine had also signed up. The fact  that I would have at least one wing-woman, of sorts, to accompany me made my plan to neither worry nor regret the choice to attend that much easier. On July 31st, I hopped the train for the Boystown neighborhood and an hour later, I was waltzing into a room full of familiar and unfamiliar faces – familiar because Chicago's gay community is a small, nearly-incestuous little world and sure enough, I'd seen some of these ladies elsewhere before.

Center On Halsted's third floor waiting area and auditorium is large enough that we could spread out and only talk to each other in our little groups, which sounds like it would defeat the purpose of going somewhere specifically to meet new people, but actually, it made easing into the setting much smoother. My friend, L* and I gave the woman at the front our names and she gave us our numbers and our drink tickets, one each. Let me tell you, that drink was a godsend! L and I laughed at our awkwardness, drank our drinks and then laughed in the face of our awkwardness! People we already knew walked by and said hello, and then, time had passed and we were suddenly seated at a long table with strangers sitting across from us.

It began a bit awkwardly, and not just because I am awkward. In the role of hostess (or in this case, hostesses) were the ladies of a local comedy troupe, and they each performed a short stand-up routine before calling the event to order and attempting to explain the way things would work. It all seemed simple enough. We would talk to the person in front of us until one of the emcees called time and then we would all move to the left to talk to...the exact same person?

 One of my fellow participants raised her hand and one by one, questions arose and were answered -- but it all seemed very trial-and-error, as if even the hostesses were sort of making it up as they went along. That was okay, though, because they did eventually figure it out: only one side would move while the other remained stationary. But wait! Then people wanted to know how they would go about meeting someone in their own line, whichever side of the table they were on. "That's what the mingling session is for," the emcee announced. Fair enough, I guess, except the reason many of us came -- or rather, as I can only speak for myself, one of the reasons that speed-dating seemed like a cool idea to me was that I wasn't sure I could ever approach someone I didn't know without going utterly blank and forgetting to breathe. "Mingling" would require me to approach someone...if I wanted to meet her. It seemed like an oversight to me to not consider the socially anxious demographic, but it seemed like a small price to pay for the rules to be clearer and the "dating" to commence.

And so it did -- begin, that is. From that point on, with the exception of one other stop-and-start-again succession to clear up what the signal for "time to play musical dates" would be (in this case, the lights being dimmed was our cue to wrap it up and move on), the next 45 minutes (give or take) was spent with a new woman every two minutes. As anticipated, I found that my own difficulty lay in thinking of what to say on the spot. But there was no time to dwell on what thoughts I floundered with on the tip of my tongue -- and eventually, I found myself just jumping into a couple of regular questions: "What brings you here?" "Have you ever done something like this before?" or glancing down at the question suggestions placed at each seat: "If you were a super-hero, who would you be?" 

When it was all over and time for the "mingle" session, I went back to hanging out with the people I knew. I wasn't the only one. Many people seemed to gather into their same clusters. As for choosing which "dates" you would like to spend more time with, it wasn't as private as I had hoped it would be. Each lady had a number and each number, a corresponding envelope that sat along a table in the hall. If you liked someone, you could leave them a note in their envelope. But with everyone hanging around the envelope table, I felt a little exposed -- especially when someone I was leaving a note for came around the corner just as I was about to slip it into her envelope, which I proceeded to do anyway, but quickly, flustered and blushing like one does. I've read about other speed-dating events that allowed you to go online later and leave messages or choose the numbers or names you like via a web-survey, which the organizers would then use to potentially match people. If A liked B and B liked A, it would be a match and they would both be notified, but not if B liked A but A liked C, instead. Something like that -- but I suppose every event is different. 

Nevertheless, it was an interesting experience and maybe, with the promise of clearer instructions and a more private matching system, I would even do it again. During the mingling session, I even made a couple of new acquaintances who could potentially become friends. That alone is worth the price of admission.

A couple of other notes on the evening's pitfalls: With everyone sitting along the same table, close together and  in an enclosed space, the conversations ended up overlapping and the effect was that it sounded like a middle school cafeteria or a crowded nightclub, with us shouting our questions at each other and struggling to hear the answers. And finally, not really a con (but definitely not a pro): as my friend and I got into the elevator to leave the Center and the whole speed-dating shenanigan behind, one of the women I had left a message for got on the elevator...with another very bold woman from the event, who was already practically nibbling on and whispering in her ear. Um...awkward! Oh well. All in all, a multi-faceted experience that, in the end, makes for a good story. And that's really all I needed.

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