Sunday, October 24, 2004

COLUMN: Speed Dating

I initially wrote this column on speed dating after reading an article in the Dispatch a week prior on the "craze." As per usual, it's a pretty mean-spirited column, because, let's face it, speed dating is pretty silly. What I DIDN'T know, however, is that the woman in charge of the local speed dating night in town (who, incidentally, used to date my old college roommate) had apparantly called the paper absolutely LIVID about the article that had run the week prior. I actually thought it was a well-written and fun article, but she was convinced that the newspaper had painted her in a bad light. It goes without saying, then, that when I tried to turn THIS column in a week later, it was summarily rejected by our editors in fear that the speed dating girl would COMPLETELY blow her stack. I was ticked off at the time, but I took the article, changed it around, and ran it as a piece about my own insecurities when it comes to small talk with strangers. It was a fun column, but not as fun as the original would have been, available to you guys for the first time below. :)

Recently I was channel flipping and landed on the Discovery Channel just in time to watch a program on the mating rituals of deep sea fish -- you know, the nightmarish fish that look like someone's horrible, horrible mistakes? One of these abominations of nature -- let's just call it the Creepyfish -- slogs along the ocean floor until it finds a female Creepyfish to hit on. At this point, the male sucks in a bunch of water and bloats up until a little fin pops up out of its head. If the female is suitably impressed, then you'd best put Nemo to bed 'cause it's time for some hot aquatic nookie.

We humans are beyond this. We ditched the fins long ago, grew some legs, and marched right out of the ocean in search of more advanced, intellectual things to do with our time. Like SPEED DATING.

If you're new to the game, here's how speed dating works. A group of desperates (and I'm not mocking you here, desperates, I'm a card-carrying member myself) assemble in a room, pair off into twos, and have exactly seven minutes to carry on the sort of mating rituals one is only accustomed to seeing whilst flipping past the Discovery Channel. At the end of the seven minutes, a bell dings, and you find someone ELSE to pair up with for seven more minutes. And so on and so on until your head is bitten off -- oh, wait, maybe that's the praying mantis' mating habits. Perhaps I've been watching a bit TOO much Discovery Channel.

But that's how speed dating works -- you get seven minutes to woo your partner, then dosey-do right into another one. The theory, I believe, is that you get to have countless mini-dates, fascinating conversations with a diverse group of interesting and exciting people, and maybe, just maybe, find your soul mate.

At least that's how I assume it works. I've never actually gone to one of these soirees, I'm afraid. Why? Because I choose to occasionally NOT DO STUPID THINGS.

If there's one thing I hate in life, it's small talk with near-to-complete strangers. It seems as though every time I'm amiably en route someplace -- the store, my job, the hospital because I'm seizing up with kidney stones -- that's when a total stranger will use that exact moment to point out just how cold/hot/windy/foggy/flooded it is outside. Which is ever-so-helpful because these conversations usually occur while I'm already standing outside in the cold/heat/wind/fog/flood. Saying "Gee, it's cold out," is really no different than saying, "Gee, your shirt is blue."

I hate carrying on conversations with people I don't know. I'm the guy who stands staring intently at the elevator door, waiting and praying for it to open. The guy who stares at his shoes while he walks along the sidewalk. The other day I went to Video Games Etc. to buy the Star Wars DVD and a guy (dressed in full Stormtrooper regalia, no less) tried to talk to me -- I'm pretty sure I now know what a panic attack feels like. Some people might say I'm just "shy" -- truth is, I'm simply incapable at making up random stuff to say to random people. Some people can spew out small talk at the drop of a hat. Me? I simply vomit out words and hope for the best. I can imagine it now... me at Speed Dating:

DING! "Hi my name is Shane umm let's see I'm 33 years old and live in an apartment with my cat whoa does that make me sound gay because I'm not and oh shoot now that makes me sound homophobic which I'm not in fact I have many gay friends but not THAT many gay friends well you know what I mean and so yeah it's me and my cat do you like cats I don't like cats very much even though I have one but that's a long story that would probably bore you but it really is kind of funny and I'll have to tell you sometime and you'd laugh I know it isn't this awkward ha ha ha ha HA!" DING!

And with that, I send another eligible bachelorette far, far away from me. By the end of the evening, women would be throwing things at the bell to make it DING before my seven minutes were up.

In all seriousness, though, can you REALLY get to know somebody in seven minutes? Of course not. All you can do in seven minutes is make a snap judgement call based on the person's looks, confidence, speech patterns, and propensity for snorting while laughing. In other words, you're exactly like the Creepyfish. You're just there to check out the fins. So if you've got the chutzpah to bloat yourself out and convey a good impression in those seven crucial minutes, then maybe speed dating's for you. As for me, I'll stick with my tried-and-true method: getting shot down in clubs, going home, and living my love life vicariously through The O.C.

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