It's Saturday night and I am walking into Oakland's Waterfront Plaza Hotel wearing a blue wrap-around dress and Italian heels. I feel like a prostitute or young mistress who illicitly meets men at a hotel. But I'm not here tonight to meet a man. I'm here to meet ten.
I am joining twenty single men and women for the second speed-dating event hosted by Asians Connection, a dating service for single Asians living in the East Bay. During my early twenties, speed-dating meant snorting a line in the restaurant bathroom while your date ordered appetizers. Today it's a national phenomenon thanks to Yaacov Deyo, a Los Angeles rabbi who in 1999 wanted to facilitate intra-faith mingling and marriage through chaperoned sessions for young, single Jews.
Speed-dating has since expanded to include the mainstream and the secular. The popularity of Asian-specific dating services reflects a growing demand for same-race intimacy. Asians Connection (AsiansConnection.com) was launched in 2005 by a Cal State Hayward-schooled trio who wanted to help Asians living in the East Bay find relationships. Men pay $25 and women pay $20 for ten to fifteen mini-trysts lasting five to eight minutes each.
After I sign in and slap on my nametag, I make small talk with Norlan Lee, one of the co-founders. "As we get older, our social world diminishes -- we have our careers and commitments and can't party as much," Norlan says. "Speed-dating is a straightforward shot at meeting people who at the very least share the desire to meet others."
As he talks, I'm sipping water from my wine glass, wishing it were gin. Turns out I'm not the only one who wants some alcohol to soothe her pre-date jitters. For an icebreaker, we match up with another person to talk about our favorite animal. Suddenly, a female participant yells out, "If you want a real icebreaker, try providing some alcohol." We all look up and laugh, then resume talking about killer whales and zebras. Afterward, the women are escorted to individual tables decorated with plastic rose petals, mint chocolates, and Tic Tacs. "That's what we're all about," Norlan says, nodding at the tables. "Comfort and class."
Like traditional dates, speed-dates are structured to make the men do more of the hustling -- after each date, they have to rotate while the women remain seated. Before my first date begins, I'm handed a "match sheet" where I am supposed to write down my dates' names and take notes for each. When a date sits down across from me, I get seven minutes to learn all I can about him. Then I check "yes" or "no" next to his name to indicate whether I want to see him again. He'll do the same, and if we both say on our sheets that we want to reconnect, the event staff will e-mail us the other's contact information the next day.
For the next hour, I engage in a barrage of one-on-one conversations. Every seven minutes, an organizer rings a bell and yells "Switch!" to signal that it's time to rotate and start over again. Initially, I'm energetic and amicable. We talk about our jobs and where we live. I chuckle at their jokes, even when they're not funny. When my first date tells me he thinks the Bush Administration is doing fine, I smile and pretend I'm not mortified.
"What about the war?" I ask sweetly. My head is slightly tilted, my hands folded neatly on my lap. "Yes, Iraq," my date says with a slow nod. "But the thing about Bush is that you know what you're getting. There's no reading between the lines."
"That is, when there are lines to even read," I say.
We laugh politely, sip our water and smile.
By the third round, my dates begin to feel like a quick and dirty job interview by an employer who hates to waste time. Each one starts with the standard questions: Where are you from, what's your job, and what do you do for fun? This question reeks with banality and is difficult to answer. If I reply, "watch movies and hang out with friends," I sound vague and cliché. Yet if I say, "rock climb and play the saxophone," I'm lying.
So I decide to take charge and read from the "out of the box" questions suggested by the event's organizers. Before my next date even sits down, I read off one of the gramatically challenged questions: "Which do you believe in: God, Ghost, UFO and/or Yourself?" But as he starts going on about Catholicism, I shift my attention to something much more exciting: the croissants sitting in a heap on the table next to me. One unavoidable flaw of speed-dating is that halfway into it, exhaustion hits. It's really difficult to answer questions, act flirtatious, and put on the charm when all you really want to do is lean your head back and crash. Well aware of this, the organizers have scheduled an intermission so we can refuel with bread and apple juice.
"I take it you don't eat healthy," my date says when he notices he's competing for my attention with a croissant.
"Since when are croissants unhealthy?" I ask, annoyed that he is using our precious time together to judge me.
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but that is bread fried in butter, is it not?"
After intermission I'm still tired. I am no longer chipper and resort to passively answering questions with monosyllabic answers. When one of my dates asks me what I do for a living, I reply, "Write."
"Cool, a writer! What do you write about?"
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