It was a fine evening, the work day was over, and two employees of the Youth Time Magazine – managing editor Yulia Mazykina and regular contributor Matthew Elliot – went on a fascinating journey to one of Prague’s pubs, where they participated in a speed-dating event for expatriates. The vogue of speed dating hit the U.S. in 1988 and in due course reached Europe, where it appears to be equally in demand. Having received a new and exotic experience on the dating market, both our authors are willing to share their impressions.
To get to the dating room, you had to walk down the stairs into a large basement. Such “crypts” are probably one of the distinctive features of Prague. There were approximately 15 tables in the room. Each table had been numbered. A girl with chestnut hair was sitting at the first table, sipping red wine. A friendly woman, who wore too much make-up for her age, collected 590 crowns from me (the cost of participating in the speed dating event was $30) and in return I got a coupon for one drink at the bar upstairs. I ordered a beer there and began observing the pub’s visitors, which turned out to be two local drunkards and some noisy American women – nothing out of the ordinary. So I went downstairs and chose seat number two, at the same table where the girl with brown hair sat. She explained to me in Czech that all girls have to sit on the same side of the table, waiting for the male conversation partners, who, in their turn, must talk to almost two dozen “numbers” during one evening.
We were given the list of male participants. An energetic master of ceremonies had made up nicknames for each one of us. I was named Ultraviolet, my neighbor was provided some sort of flowery name. Black Queen, Cinderella, Maya the Bee and Rapunzel also sat somewhere in the room. Soon I was to meet Angel, Batman, Cyclops, Daredevil, Hulk, Neo (some of the girls had drawn the nickname Trinity), Spiderman and other species of Hollywood’s flora and fauna. We were advised to make notes beside each nickname, so that we wouldn’t forget the chat buddies who took our fancy.
We all took our seats. In the ringing emptiness of the basement, the moderator of the event loudly began a countdown to the 4-minute speed dating cycle. Then there was a nasty quacking sound and the dating was on.
My first dating partner was an intelligent-looking Czech. Batman works in Prague in the IT field, he is fond of traveling and sports. By the way, these were the common hobbies of all 17 of the other guys. The only things I remember about him are a shirt that matched the color of his eyes and his astonishment when he found out that I’m 30 years old. At that very moment, as he tried to articulate a compliment about young-looking women, the signal quacked and Longshot took his place. “This nickname is not the best choice”, I thought to myself. Longshot was slightly squinting and you could notice it even though he wore glasses with thick lenses. Besides, he was way too young and displayed signs of impatience while listening to my biographical information. Wolverine, who sat at my table, was the next one. Afterwards I chatted with Pyro, followed by Morpheus, Superman, Iceman and so on. “This is the only time I have ever changed men like clothes”, I thought delightedly.
I couldn’t hear the Irishman’s nickname because there was such a buzz of voices in the basement that it could only be out-shouted by the roar of an orc. He was short, balding and, frankly speaking, had the look of a rookie maniac. He interrupted my story with a motion of the hand and asked me what pet do I resemble. My mind quickly calculated that at least twenty out of two dozen local girls would compare themselves to a cat, so I had to blurt out something extraordinary. So I said that my ex-boyfriend shouted at me during our break up scene that I’m a “snake”. You should have seen how the Irishman’s face fell and then transformed! He began asking me, with a strange gleam in his eyes, why I want to look like a serpent and then fixed his chilling gaze on me until the end of speed dating.
By mid-evening my tongue was faltering from fatigue, noise and the constant repetition of the same phrases. Even a short break couldn’t help the participants of this ordeal. At the end of the evening, my table was occupied by a Mexican called Robin, who wore a shirt you could wring. That’s the only thing I remember about Robin.
When the last of almost twenty guys sat in front of me, we looked in each other’s weary eyes and, by tacit agreement, sat in silence until the speed dating ended. It was wonderful.
Then it was over. I tried to ignore a growing headache from this exhausting marathon while the moderator explained how to finalize the results of all of our dates (we had to draw a circle around the nickname of the companion who took our fancy). I figured that life is, certainly, a very interesting but an unjust thing since the speed-dating event had brought together almost four dozen men and women who are interesting and mature, but still lonely. “At least they are not giving up and have the initiative to go out to hunt”, was the summary of my philosophical meditations.
I left the “ball of hope” without hearing the end of the official closing speech. It was late at night when I received the following e-mail: “Sorry, but we haven’t found a match for you”. In other words, none of the guys I had chosen also chose me. By the way, I had drawn a circle only around the nickname of my wingman Matthew, who was very late for work the next day and, obviously, had been up all night. “So, speed dating sometimes works”, I said to myself.
Suffice to say I had a few misgivings handing over twenty euros to a glaring money making scheme founded on extracting the cash value of human anxiety like blood from a sponge. But I was curious to be proven wrong.
My co-conspirator and I arrived early and while she nicked in early to deflect rumors of our alliance, and whet her journalistic impulses with cold beer, I lingered outside the nameless bar, comically incognito with a stylish electronic cigarette. Noticing there were a few other characters similarly loitering around the empty street in their best “I’m here for a purpose and not sighing inside” demeanor, I began betting that these charming men would be my imminent cohorts/blood rivals. Turns out this was bang on the money and as our smartphones struck 19.55 the street was emptied as we ambled sheepishly inside under a collective pretence we knew where we were going and it was merely for a dignified pint after a hard days grind.
Next up was a photograph to capture this moment of shame for posterity and provide further evidence of normality for the company’s website. I smiled a reptilian smile and was ushered swiftly along the assembly line christened with the alias ‘Thor’ to protect my identity and crank up the absurdity. Us menfolk were then shown upstairs to stew in silence with our voucher bought drinks, feigning interest in ice hockey, while the ladies scattered themselves across the chairs in anticipation of the meat parade.
As the clock struck, so the men were escorted downstairs to select a table of their choice and all the bemused animals were instructed by a nameless glass clinking woman to remain silent while she explained the rules: we were to circle potential lovers and take notes on the provided paper and hand it over for ‘matching’ at the end. Also no grabbing, tickling, pointing, licking or thrusting allowed.
What followed was a safe and effective demonstration of how different four minutes can feel whether it is spent laughing through a film or staring into the gleam of a machete wielded by the shaky hands of an ISIS fighter whose lisp you unwisely mocked. Some people I felt a natural rapport with and had just gotten started on the intricacies of mind downloading technology as the dreaded vuvuzela blared. Others we just about saw off the four minute dialogue with slow and ponderous answers to the simplest of questions thrown back at one another. I saw one unfortunate chap get up and leave his date early having mistakenly heard the siren as his evolutionary drive to escape kicked in, much to the dismay of his companion and to my own amusement.
The toughest times were reserved for the painful moments when the date would start rabidly scribbling down her notes on your responses to questions such as ‘What is your favorite color?’ ‘What is your job?’. All I could do was sit idly under the microscope patiently waiting for the horn to interrupt the frenzied playground psychoanalysis. In fairness though, perhaps it is here speed dating works best. Plenty of the menfolk seemed to have a few obvious screws loose judging by the bizarre conversations I could overhear and the abundance of cheap cologne allied with sweaty hands. Maybe once I left this twilight zone love would flourish someday under the starry Prague skies and in twenty years while I scratch out a living infiltrating middle aged speed dating events, ‘Spiderman’ and ‘Xena’ are fondly telling this tale to their children’s children, or happily fighting over a divorce settlement.
Like most rackets in these strange times, speed dating is defendable with a frustrating and impenetrable logic. If people have trouble meeting others and are willing to pay their money for a pheromone themed game of musical chairs then why shouldn’t they? Speed dating is merely another absurd expression of our times, and as you shuffle out your chair at the bleat of a horn onto the next timed task clutching your paperwork and assigned name, the mirror image is complete.
The article co-authored by Matthew Elliott.