Canberra is a strange city to date in. Our small population lends a particular catch, that you're either two steps - or two swipes - from an ex-lover or the new "moved to Canberra for work" addition to the dating pool.
Dating for me has now been whittled down to two options: reinstalling Tinder or hitting up an ex. With both choices equally grotesque, I've been open to new things.
In my sharehouse, Sundays involve lamenting the loss of dignity from the night before, woefully checking bank accounts and sometimes, angsty chat about our misadventures in the world of love.
During one such session a few weeks ago, my housemate Declan mentioned he had tried speed dating and I agreed to give it a shot.
Something about speed dating seemed retro to me. Almost gimmicky. Plus I wasn't sure the speedy nature of it really offered the most authentic dating experience.
But isn't that what modern dating/Tindering has come to? Speed and a wide pool of choice? 35 per cent of Aussies have used online dating apps, so perhaps this format worked.
Eventually I landed on a Canberra speed dating event, Shorty's 'Date Island', and booked myself a slot.
The Sunday night came and I arrived resplendent in a bejewelled wedding gown. I had to let all these men know I was playing for keeps.
Fine, I arrived in jeans, with my faithful housemate Tatum in tow. I was two wines in. The host of the event, James, assured me I would I need it.
"Serena, I can't sit next to you," said Tatum.
"Why? We need each other for moral support."
"You'll throw me off."
A seat swap later and I couldn't help but wonder, could musical chairs be the next dating craze? A jaunty, banjo-heavy event where two chairs are extracted per round, couples are automatically paired in each elimination and the "winner" actually ends up #ForeverAlone.
Tatum looked over at me, establishing Soviet-level spy signals. We'd touch our nose for 'okay', mouth for 'good', eyebrow for 'bad', hair for 'awful' and make a comically loud fart noise for 'HELP'.
For a Canberra event, it was absurd I saw nobody I knew. Catching my dreary reflection in a window, I hardly even knew myself.
The participants appeared nervous, even slightly ashamed. The women had it on the men in the looks department, which was good for me because I'd be needing some glitzy bridesmaids for my spring wedding once speed dating was through.
The fellas were dressed nicely. No obvious peacocking going on, and this pained me. I was hoping to spot someone who looked like they'd power-read Neil Strauss's The Game in preparation.
Sporting a fresh name tag, I looked down at my Shorty's 'Date Island' form. Next to the participants' names were columns to be ticked: 'hit it', 'quit it' and 'friend zone'.
The first male suitor, a self-professed cricket addict in his early 30s, was nice enough. Except for one thing.
He made all the movements one would make if they were sweating bullets, legitimately drowning in themselves, yet there was no perspiration to be seen. I felt for him and wanted to phone his mother.
A few rounds later and I was on a date with a man in his late 20s who made many glances to my chest. I wanted to scream: "Oi. Eyes up here!" and point to my arms which would then sprout moth wings with eye patterns that ward off predators.
One man offered to get me a wine, even though I was barely halfway through my current glass. I accepted it. The alcohol was medicinal at this point.
He looked at me and said: "You seem like you like to party." Was it my light-up sneakers that gave it away? My two-metre crown constructed from glow sticks? My lip tattoo which read "RAVE"?
The first enjoyable date was with a lively gent in his early 30s. I remember him wearing glasses, but he could've just been bookish and so I re-imagined him with specs.
He had a spicy orange handkerchief folded neatly into his blazer pocket and was the first date not to ask: "What do you do for work?" I liked that.
At the halfway point, I took stock of the men I'd met so far, searching for patterns, for meaning.
Many were public servants or lawyers, and there was one man whose most memorable feature was his kilometre-long ponytail. Shampooing that thing was surely a full-time job in itself.
Once the event was over, everyone gathered in groups. Without the formalities of the speed dating set-up, the scene evolved into more of a natural pick-up environment. Perhaps that was the point: the event was just the entrée.
Later, the event host told me that there were 50 "hit its" on the forms and 20 matches. One man and one woman had matched with five people each. As for me? I left my form blank.
I wasn't keen on anyone, plus I couldn't bear to rate people on a form. More of a do it in an article kind of gal.
Throughout the night, I was surprised that reasonable eye contact was maintained, no pick-up lines or icebreaker cards were deployed on my dates, and no men asked me the dreaded question that all ethnically ambiguous women fear: "Where are you from?"
So I wouldn't mark my foray into speed dating as a complete fail.
I also gleefully learned afterwards that my housemate had a few memorable exchanges during the night, including:
HOUSEMATE: "I don't really want a job where I have to be confined to a desk."
MALE SUITOR: "You should get a stand-up desk! Have you heard of those?"
MALE SUITOR: "I guess that's just the way it's gonna be - "
HOUSEMATE: "Liiiiittle darliiiin!" *continues to belt out Horses by Daryl Braithwaite*
As for our spy signals, we exchanged one hair touch, four noses and one eyebrow. All in all, not a disaster. Noting the zero mouth touches though, it wasn't much of a success, was it?
But I'm grateful for the experience. Without speed dating on a Sunday night I would have never confirmed the real love of my life: wine.
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