‘Sex is fun,’ he repeated, in the tone of someone smoothing over a diplomatic incident.
The scene of this awkward discussion? Amuse Bouche, a West End cocktail bar and Original Dating’s speed dating site for Soho. Ah, speed-dating. A step in the romantically organised direction that’s not as committed as signing away £32 a month to Guardian Soulmates. Everyone who speed-dates claims to be doing it ‘for a laugh’ yet the business is serious enough for niche versions (halal speed dating anyone?) to have sprung up in the marketplace.
With some freed-up leisure time and an inert love life in common, my friend and I decided to wade in these modern waters. We were curious and concluded the £20 receipt could be filed under ‘life experience expenses’. If you have higher plans for that £20, you are wise. As it turned out, comparable ‘life experiences’ include sitting beside the most talkative person on the train and trying to amuse a relative’s boring spouse.
Of course, as with job applications, it’s a numbers game and no one claims that there won’t be mismatches. But with the man carousel dropping off a new chap every three minutes, the excruciating dualogues should – in theory – be balanced with charming chemical exchanges. A flaw is that if there is any situation designed to kill charm and chemistry it’s one dominated by formulaic chitchat, transparent motives and a shrill whistle going off every three minutes.
Original Dating gives each of its attendees a form with three columns: love match, friendship match and no match. Covertly (or uncovertly, according to taste) the form is filled in during the event and afterwards findings are copied to an equivalent online table. Matches are then emailed out. If there are no matches, OD promises another session for free.
There were a couple of men I got along with but couldn’t tell whether this was the result of my increasingly bizarre mood. Said mood was created by the dawning reality that my speed-dating experience was less ‘a laugh’ and more ‘market research into jobs people have’. This epiphany distressed and honed a desire to find someone who would squish the experience back into the promised ‘a laugh’ mould. When this person finally arrived, in muscular Australian form, my response to his mild witticisms was somewhere between enthusiastic and bonkers.
Once the initial high of the Aussie’s company faded, shame at my borderline hysterical response to him took hold. Ultimately unable to tell, on the strength of three mins and weakness of other speed daters, whether the Aussie and I had connected – or merely commiserated, I couldn’t bring myself to tick the ‘love match’ option. And the ‘friend match’? Who wants that wooden spoon?
I went home convinced that the sometimes unrewarding road of leaving love to chance is better than trying to box the magic.
And as for number ten, if he had any fun that night it was by his own hand.
36 Langham Street
Tel: 020 7323 6730
Image by Ryan Resella courtesy of Flickr