As a social experiment, speed-dating could serve to teach generations of young researchers about optimism, desperation, fear, bitterness and that strange, instant camaraderie that happens between women of all ages in public bathrooms. I think I knew within the first ten minutes of arriving that I wasn’t going to meet that committed, funny, cuddly fellow academic or writer I’ve been searching for on the top floor of The Office Hotel in Wynyard.
As a down-trodden brigade of Sydney’s most pot-bellied, sallow-faced, badly-dressed and just-plain-weird trudged up the stairs into the waiting area, I flung my expectations out the grime-spotted windows and went looking for girls to chat up. While the dates themselves turned out to be a hilarious festival of awkwardness, I came away from the night truly surprised by the attitudes of the women I interviewed.
These were some hearty, serious and self-assured women, and I was glad to get to know them, however short our time together. I began my investigation into the attitudes of the women in attendance of Blinkdate’s Post-Valentine’s Day Celebration with a couple of young fillies sipping white wine by the windows while they surveyed what was on offer over on the men’s side of the room. Megan, 29 and working in sales, had dragged Amy, 30, a cleaner, along to ‘get some experience talking to the opposite sex’. What struck me first about these two ladies was their complete lack of nervousness or desperation. Megan had been single for three years, and blamed this on her rigid determination not to ‘settle’ for anything less than ‘a mature, serious relationship’.
Blinkdate’s extremely flirtatious organisers, the thickly-built and cologne-soaked Sash and Michael, had divided those in attendance into two groups. Those love-hunters in the 25-35 age bracket were inside, and the over 35s were on the balcony. Ladies remained seated, while fifteen men circulated the tables at seven minute intervals.
My first date was my fellow 5Why writer and friend, Julius, so we giggled nervously and discreetly evaluated our competition. Then he moved on, and my second date passed in a blur of young, well-dressed Filipino enthusiasm I can barely remember. Up next was a brooding Lebanese criminal lawyer who immediately cut the theory with me in discussions about power, masculinity, law and terrorism. Thrilling.
On a card distributed by the organisers, I began ticking or crossing off my dates based on whether or not I wanted to continue the discussion.
We hit break time, which I was incredibly grateful for, as half the crowd darted to the downstairs bar to acquire more Dutch courage, and the other half dashed to the bathrooms.
In the space before the mirrors, my new friends Megan and Amy erupted into laughter as soon as they spotted me. They were all a flutter with hilarity at their dates. Apparently, there were some real shockers coming my way, and they couldn’t wait to see what I would do when I got them. While my younger friends had been all bluster and sass, Kelly, 49 and her friend Sam, 46, were in a group of four old high school friends who were all divorced and raising teenagers, and they were all business.
When I asked Kelly what she was looking for, she rolled her eyes and started applying her lip-gloss. ‘Someone normal,’ she replied. ‘Someone with a bit of backbone. Someone who’s not interested in playing games. They’re all into their games when you get to this age. They don’t tell you they have children. They don’t tell you they’re divorced. They don’t tell you if they want a relationship. They don’t tell you anything! You’ve got to claw it out. It’s pathetic.’
Back at the tables, my shockers began to arrive.
A young Kevin Rudd lookalike strode in carrying a black leather attaché (for God knows what reason… It was a Saturday night – what the hell are you carrying in that thing?) and wearing a pinstripe suit. He was sporting very intentional short blonde ringlets that framed a face so infantile I wanted to offer him a candy and pinch his cheeks.
The solicitor and part-time opera singer oozed self-righteousness, and though the criminal lawyer had surprised and delighted me with his intellectual back-chat, baby K-Rudd just seemed to want to get it into my head that I should read some French philosopher for my PhD, totally unrelenting to any argument to the contrary. Later, when the night was over, he let me know that mine had been the only conversation that ‘intellectually stimulated’ him, and that ‘the nail artists and beauty-school retards’ upstairs had ‘turned his brain to mush’ with their ‘mindless talk of travel’. ‘Travel,’ he objected, waggling his finger in my face, ‘is not an interest. It’s a necessity.’
Arrogance with a side of sickening superiority, table one! After baby K-Rudd came a man so drunk out of his mind that he could barely keep his head straight on his neck. Now that was funny. I’d heard from the other ladies present that he liked to talk about his motorbike, so immediately asked him what kind it was and spent the full seven minutes watching in barely contained amusement as he tried to string words together about the machine and stay on his chair at the same time.
The most entertaining match of the night, however, was a man the other girls had been calling ‘The Murderer’. Comically styled head to toe in black and swishing shoulder-length raven hair, this pale ninja of social dysfunction had been hiding in the shadows all night, darting away whenever someone came within his personal bubble into another dark nook like a shiny cockroach hiding from a kitchen bulb. With a high-pitched, old crone’s voice, he sat down and ignored my friendly greeting and questions about how his night was going so far.
He proceeded to read a question from a list written on his palm, to which I responded with my usual cheerful prattling. The first was ‘What is your favourite film?’ I blurted out some justifications for my love of horror and realist sci-fi adventures. I asked him what his was, and he paused, looked deeply uncomfortable, and then ignored the question, proceeding to the next. ‘What is your favourite song?’ This went on for seven minutes. He only spoke to ask the questions. One minute he was there, and the next he was gone, his tick card lying blank and still like a dead white bird on the bar floor.
I think my experience with the desperate and dateless that night at The Office served only to confuse me further about men, which doesn’t really dishearten me, because I was fairly confused when I arrived. What I did enjoy, however, was the gathering of similarly bewildered, aggressive, optimistic and determined women who came along and how willing they were to share their hopes and dreams with me. While I’ve been hunting men this past year since arriving in Sydney, I think I forgot how special the hopeful bond between single ladies can be and how similar we all are, despite the arduous nature of our search. So cheers, single ladies. You made my night.