As an attached girl going speed-dating, I really didn’t know what to expect. I imagined a desperate and desolate Friday-night affair, the hangout of a few lonely, sketchy guys. In reality, I was surprised by the fun — and, yes, attractive — people who did turn up. The event was a huge social gathering, drawing a fairly representative cross-section of the Yale student body, a pretty good-looking and datable crowd despite what your state-school friends might think.
At the pre-speed-dating mixer, a few handfuls of people milled about with an awkwardness reminiscent of Freshman Screw. Groups of female friends seemed to cling together, taking comfort in their solidarity while sampling from the many tables of cookies and cakes. Men, on the other hand, tended to explore their prospects solo, lingering about the periphery of these groups or approaching the few females who arrived alone. The chocolate fountain attracted a crowd, but not much mingling or conversation. I began to wonder if Yalies really were just awkward when it came to the dating scene.
Around ten o’clock, Silliman dining hall began to fill up with people, and the atmosphere grew more relaxed, even infused with excitement and enthusiasm. The event even began to feel like a party, with songs like Flo-Rida’s “Low” or Fergie’s “Clumsy” pumping in the background. A large group of guys came straight from the basketball game with faces painted blue. Girls clomped around in metallic pumps and short slinky dresses, the hemlines rising with the weekend temperature. As the number of attendees grew, so did my faith in Yalies’ social competence. Girls lined up on one side of the long tables as guys lined up on the other. (The gay/lesbian/bisexual tables were fairly sparse). Initially, the girls outnumbered the guys, but the ratio soon evened out as people packed into the dining hall.
One-line conversation starters scattered among the confetti, condoms and lubricant littering the tables helped speed along conversation when an awkward lull arrived (although some of the conversation-starters might have been more awkward than the silence itself, like “What was your most embarrassing childhood moment?” or another one about a sexual fantasy involving a plunger and a flute). Some people handled this pretty smoothly, while others simply lied to get through the awkwardness. One predatory-looking guy in a black leather jacket and gold chains told multiple girls: “You’re the prettiest girl I’ve met tonight.”
The speed-daters wore name-tags with their e-mail addresses on them. One read “firstname.lastname@example.org,” and the wearer joked that he was scouting for talent for his amateur porn movie. Another character wore two name tags, with two different e-mail addresses. “My name is Cameron,” he said, “but I’m here on Jordan’s behalf.”
People continued to cling to friends for support. I pointed out to three timid-looking guys sitting together that they would be meeting the same girls all night long. They pointed out that those girls would probably be friends with each other as well. We decided that this was a significant flaw in the speed-dating arrangement. The guys debated and finally agreed to split up to different tables.
I saw a few other girls there who are definitely not single (I know I’m guilty, too). One speed-dater told me how many of his non-single female friends were there that night “just for fun.” When I ran into of one of my non-single friends, she grinned and said that her boyfriend was in New York that night. Another one of my friends, also with a boyfriend, said that she wanted to try the speed-dating “just for fun” and that they were “a very modern couple.” I watched one girl fend off a guy’s (extremely) persistent advances with, “I have a boyfriend.” When I asked her why she came, she replied: “For the chocolate fountain.”
When asked why they chose to attend, some people claimed that they were “dragged along by some friends,” “keeping a friend company” or even “just trying to help the charities.” But others admitted to genuinely being a little intrigued and said they were open to “whatever happens” and wanted to “see where it goes.” They seemed to be optimistic, but either too embarrassed to admit real interest or too reluctant to really invest themselves emotionally in the event. Most speed-daters brushed off the event as frivolous, balancing the fine line between actively searching for a mate and fearing rejection and failure.
Despite what the speed-daters flippantly said, their attendance proved they cared. As the night continued, more and more speed-daters hopped from table to table in active pursuit of a desired prospect. In search of love, students at Yale tried to avoid getting their hopes up, but — as the event’s high attendance showed — at the end of the night they really did want to find somebody.
As for whether or not the event was successful, most daters seemed to walk away with a sizeable list of e-mail addresses. At one point, a pair launched themselves at each other, made out on the floor, and ran out groping each other to the hoots and cheers of the other speed-daters. As one bystander remarked, “This is way better than anything else going on tonight.”