Living in the Awkward Age
By Sarah Redbird
In a city of three million people, it’s not hard to find yourself alone. Dating, for some, is code for expectations waiting to be dashed — the pregnant pause adjacent to disappointment. The desire/need/compulsion to meet someone compatible, someone to occupy the other armchair in your notions of the future, can drive you to both fascinating and horrifying situations. Namely, speed dating.
Despite personal reservations and clad somewhere between classy and indifferent, my friend and I venture to a College Street haunt for a night on the romantic merry-go-round. Promptly we file ourselves in with the 20- to 35-year-old set. In a crowded Little Italy lounge, romantic hopefuls mingle awkwardly; why strike up conversation before the paid hosts instruct you to do so? We certainly didn’t pay $50 for mediocre appetizers AND the responsibility of initiating conversation with a selection of singles in our respective age group. Paying a third party for the right to romance is our urban privilege.
Avoiding eye contact with our eventual suitors, we sign in, receive assigned numbers and make our way downstairs. In the basement portion of the lounge, the ladies are instructed to sit at a table that features their corresponding number. The scenario is playful. The subtext is competition. Girls giggle among their respective gaggles. Boys acquire drinks and divert eye contact from one woman to the next. The ladies arrive in numbers, the gentlemen filter in alone.
Almost mockingly contrasting modernity and the old fashioned, the hosts inform us that the men shall rotate at the sound of dollar-store noisemakers, beginning their evening with the lady whose number corresponds with theirs. They are to then move along consecutively until they have had the opportunity to meet with each woman.
Matt joins me first. Tall, confident, and broad shouldered, he announces that he’s a grade 7/8 math and science teacher. We discuss teaching and our respective favourite age groups. The chemistry is underwhelming and proves disappointing as an indicator of the evening’s final conclusion.
A few dates later, and I’m sitting with Will, an energetic Chinese man with red wine-stained teeth and an enthusiastic use of the word “sexy.”
“I work for U of T,” he grins.
“Oh really? Doing what?” I counter.
“Teaching others to be as sexy as me.”
Stymied by this clumsy attempt at flirtation, I giggle and will the noisemakers to sound with my mind.
Three dates later, I’m sitting with Michael, a gentle and funny soul: a computer-programming Keanu Reeves. We engage in some mild flirtation… a seven on the love metre. The noisemakers sound too soon. Everybody switch!
Steve joins me next with an assumed familiarity. He smiles generously and mentions his involvement in theatre: a front-of-house supervisor at a downtown venue. Our conversation dances playfully around topics such as theatre and our respective university experiences — as much as four minutes will allow. The noisemakers sound and I make the requisite check next to his name.
With the evening drawing to a close, the hosts thank us for perpetuating their business and everyone continues to mingle with evidence of a night well spent beaming across their faces. Eager not to mar the experience by panting after the most checked guy, my friend and I exit and seek out pizza.
A few days pass and we wait for an email indicating whether or not the gentlemen we dig will dig us back. Did we imagine any chemistry? Were the dimmed lights and chicken satay skewers making us see things that weren’t actually there? In my inbox, I locate a message indicating that three of my choices chose me as well. My ego is momentarily rubbed and I stare at the computer screen considering my next step.
Over the course of a couple of weeks, I dance periodically over email with one of the matches, but nothing materializes. I had already decided that the other two matches were accidental ink blotches and I wasn’t really interested anyway. Ultimately the event reads like my late teens and early twenties in fast forward: all the sensations, insecurities, challenges, and foibles typical to dating available in high speed.
I soothe my apathy towards the outcome by repeating a doughy analogy in my head; romance is not unlike that College Street haunt, it exists and although you may have to sift through some hipsters to find it, it’s there. Unless, of course, it burns down.