nb: The above image is not Tony…
Meet Tony. He’s in his mid to late thirties. He has a bowl cut hairstyle that makes him look like a severe, 1950s German school teacher. The illusion is not helped by his slightly-too-short-chinos and faded (short sleeved) business shirt.
Tony’s interpersonal skills are not excellent – in fact, they are non existent.
“Hello Tony, how are you?” I say with an awkward smile.
No answer. He’s too busy pulling his chair in closer to mine so that our knees interlock and then, with zero attempt at subtlety, looks me up and down.
Presumably I meet with his approval and so he leans in even further with his pen poised over his speed dating score card and says:
“So where are you from, then?”
For those of you who have not done any Christian speed dating before, I have discovered that most conversations start off with friendly banter and polite laughter at jokes about how of course neither of us has ever done anything like this before, ha ha ha cringe.
What they don’t involve is abrasive, Guantanamo Bay-esque questioning and/or invasions of personal space that would likely cause a shy or nervous person to freak out, and not in a good way.
Fortunately I was neither shy nor nervous so I humoured him.
“I live in Manchester,” I reply.
“Right,” he says, and ticks the ‘NO’ box with a flourish right in front of my face.
“I’m not interested in long distance relationships,” and with that dismissal promptly leans back and asks me disinterested business-related questions for the remainder of our three minutes together.
Temporarily abandoning my deeply held Christian values of grace and love, I imagined unleashing a loud, scathing and emasculating verbal attack on him and his awful shirt.
If he had spoken to me like that, at Christian speed dating no less, I’m sure there were other girls in the room with far more romantic hope vested in their three minutes with him with far less self confidence who would have been crushed by his tactlessness.
In retaliation, I wrote “jerk” on my card with an even bigger flourish and hoped he saw it.
Other memorable “dates” included a very sincere, but slightly odd 40-year-old West Indian postman.
“Yeah I’m a postman to pay the bills, but really I’m a romantic musician. I mainly write love songs. I could write one for you…”
And upon learning I was Australian.
“So you go to Hillsong Church then?”
“No, I live in Manchester.”
“Ohhh, so do you know Darlene Zschech?”
“You know there’s a Hillsong in London now. Do you go there?”
“No, because I live in Manchester.”
“I’ve been there a few times myself. Hillsong Church. The one in London. Have you ever gone there?”
“I’ve been there a few times; do you know where it is?”
“Yeah in London. I’ve been there a few times.”
Quite possibly the longest three minutes of my life.
You would be forgiven for wondering, in light of the above, why my dear friend Cate and I had decided to subject ourselves to speed dating at the Christian Resources Exhibition in the first place.
We were at the Exhibition representing our work and one morning, while walking to our stall, we passed a sign that read:
IS THERE SOMEONE MISSING IN YOUR LIFE?
Next to the sign was a double bed mounted on the wall with a crudely dressed dummy tucked into one side of the bed while the other side was empty.
Next to that was a sign that said:
HOPING, SEEKING, LONGING
Cate and I just stood there incredulous.
The marketing ploy was crude, but effective; shamelessly designed to make any Christian single walking past that stall feel completely inadequate about the fact that they weren’t sharing their bed with a crash test dummy.
Incredulity quickly gave way to hilarity and we laughed and laughed and laughed.
We quickly sobered up when we both realised we were single, and had been for a loooong time.
Temporarily blinded by wild, romantic visions of myself running through a field with my very own Christian-Resources-Knight-In-Shining-Youth-Pastor, I said “come on we have to do this, it will be so funny, it will be such a good story to tell, let’s do it.”
To which Cate flatly refused.
But after 36 hours of wheedling and cajoling and promises of laughter and fame among our friends for subjecting ourselves to such a contrived, Christian experience which you never know, could possibly culminate in true love, she finally agreed to go with me.
So we signed up hoping no one saw us doing it but couldn’t shake the feeling that every male in the place had somehow zoomed in on us paying 10 pounds to find true love.
Of course there was actually a small line of women clambering all over each other to sign up and no men in sight – which wasn’t overly encouraging – but we forged ahead anyway.
The set up is simple. Women sit on chairs in a room and the guys move from girl to girl every three minutes hoping that romantic fireworks explode.
In our case the women outnumbered the men 4:1 which meant that half the women in the room were forced to sit awkwardly, trying not to make eye contact with anyone for tortuously long periods of time.
I have never been so grateful to own a Blackberry in my entire life.
And while there wasn’t so much as a spark for Cate and me, it’s only fair to say that most of the guys were well intentioned, pleasant, albeit slightly nerdy people who were very sincerely looking for love.
What was amazing was that so many of the guys had come to the Christian Resources Exhibition specifically to go speed dating. But what shocked me more was how many of them freely admitted that it was the sole reason they had come.
I wasn’t quite sure how to place the fact that they had travelled for hours from all over England purely to sign up for something as universally awful as speed dating. And there wasn’t even food.
I rushed back to our hotel and its free wifi that night to find out if anyone had rated me ‘Meet Again Material’ but couldn’t bring myself to log in.
What if Tony had asked for my number? Or worse still, what if he hadn’t?