It was my first time, and I was nervous. I emptied an entire box of Listerine strips into my mouth, straightened my collar and made sure my fly was in its upright and locked position.
I took a seat at my table — No. 5 — and waited. In my mind, a soundtrack featuring the Mission Impossible theme and Europe's "The Final Countdown" played.
I took a deep breath. My nervousness slowly started to turn to excitement. I was ready to speed date. It was a little past 7:30 p.m. on a Monday at the Strathallan Hotel, 550 East Ave., when our host announced that the first set of six-minute "dates" would begin. At the end of that allotted time, the host would ring a bell, indicating that the men should move to the next table and date. (The women would remain seated.) Speed daters wore badges that identified them by name and a number.
I've never been the luckiest guy, so of course, my night started with the worst possible scenario — I was stood up. Well, not technically stood up, but when the first bell sounded, I found myself alone at table No. 5. I don't know if it was just a case of more guys than girls signing up, but, initially, the 10:8 guy/girl ratio didn't do me any favors. The dude at table No. 6 was in the same situation; he turned to me and said it was like being stuck at the loser's lunch table in high school.
I weighed a few options during my alone time. A television was tuned to ESPN, but it was out of my viewing range, and the volume was too low to hear. My other option involved the hotel bar. I had a furious internal debate on whether to grab a quick beverage. Ultimately, I decided not to, because moving from table to table with a drink in hand seemed potentially disastrous.
Since the table next to me was also woman-less, my second date of the night was another solo venture. I started to wish I had dressed in something that would make me stand out more, like Lloyd Christmas' orange tuxedo from Dumb & Dumber. That way, the ladies would be conversing with their dates, but the whole time they'd be thinking, 'I want to talk to that guy.'
When I was finally released from my lonely penalty box, my first date was with a woman I knew from a creative writing class in college. It was a nice way to ease into the speed-dating process. Although, for people who were nervous or lacked conversational skills, the dating service left cards on each table with several "icebreaker" questions. A good idea, but the questions provided were horrible ways to break the ice, since they went something like this: "If you could go back in time, would you kill baby Hitler?"
Instead of icebreakers, I think the cards should have listed things not to discuss during your date: 1) Your exes. 2) Your fantasy football team. 3) Arby's. 4) Your gun collection. 5) politics.
I managed to avoid any problem topics, but I think I played things a little too conservatively. A lot of my questions were about work, hobbies, sports, which are good introductory bits, but when the conversation lasts only six minutes, it's nice to say something that makes you memorable.
Oddly enough, the thing that hurt me the most in terms of being memorable was my name. As I introduced myself to my last few dates, they all had a similar reaction: "Wait, another Scott?" Yup, there were three of us — an unfortunate ménage `a Scott. (I knew I should have worn that Dumb & Dumber suit.)
After the last bell rang, we were told to look at sheets listing all the participants and circle the names and badge numbers of people we would be interested in talking with again. Later, the speed-dating service would let us know who circled our names and provide contact info.
Overall, I had some great conversations, and I'll admit I was surprised by how attractive the women were. (Having seen The 40-Year-Old Virgin, I was expecting the worst.) But since most of my conversations were very similar in nature and the dates were all very quick, things started to blur together, even if they were completely different. (Who did I talk with about floor hockey and who did I talk with about optical refractors?)
When I handed in my sheet, I felt good. Maybe I wouldn't get a girlfriend out of this, but, then again, maybe I would. Either way, I had a good time, and I got a free pen.
One last note for my fellow speed daters: Some of you said you read insider. If you're reading this now, I just wanted to say that 1). you're awesome and 2). I genuinely had a fun time.
Also, call me.