Thursday, 27 January 2011

Blogger Date: Part 2-and-a-bit

Depending on whether you read much of my previous post without giving up in disgust, you'll know either that I turned out to be a double-booking blog-date traitor, or that I actually had an enjoyably long evening with Life Begins at 30ty and was granted a time extension by a bus driver with a penchant for the accelerator pedal.

Only a brief time extension though: the schedule predicted that another bus would arrive in ten minutes so we stayed at the bus stop chatting some more. Sure enough it soon swung into view and it was time to say goodnight.

After watching her board a near-empty bus I walked around the corner to my bus stop and was somewhat surprised to find that it was swamped by a throng of desperate would-be passengers. My bus arrived soon after and I joined in the scrum for the door. Somewhere behind me a guy was shouting "Oi, get over here, we're gonna miss the bus - don't you walk away from me!" and several of us turned expecting to see a drunken couple arguing, but it turned out that he was talking to his dog. He then appeared next to me and said something incoherent to the woman in front of me, then randomly asked me if she was my "bird." I shook my head and looked bemused.

I squeezed onto the packed bus as our obligatory eccentric night bus companion hoisted his dog onto the luggage rack. This achievement seemed to settle them both down and the bus eventually crawled away from the stop and set off on its route. It wasn't the smoothest of journeys, but I didn't mind because I was smiling about the evening I'd had.

So, will there be any further updates? Hopefully you've all read Life Begins at 30ty's latest post on our date, in which case you'll know this already: yes, we do have plans to meet up again (and no, I won't be double-booking the date!)

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Confession Time

After an amusing mix-up at the start followed by enjoyable chatting, my evening with Life Begins at 30ty seemed like it might be reaching a natural end point. Our conversation was dwindling a little and this may have been mainly down to me. You see, I have a confession to make: I already knew that I couldn't stay for too long, because this was not to be my only date of the evening.

I thought that all had gone quiet on the speed dating front, but a few days ago I'd heard back from someone I'd liked at the New Year's Eve party and she wanted to meet up again. By unfortunate coincidence, her only free night to meet in the next couple of weeks was this past Friday. I'd already agreed my date with Life Begins at 30ty so it felt too late to rearrange it, but my speed date wanted to meet at 10pm anyway so I agreed. I hadn't counted on the delayed start to my blogger date, leaving me with less time, but I had no choice - I mentioned being tired and said a rather hurried goodbye, then rushed out to look for a cab.

Just kidding! I'd probably be barred from this corner of the blogosphere had I done that, and rightly so! I've never double-booked a date and I certainly wasn't about to start with our esteemed blog friend. It's true that our time in that bar came to an end at that point, but only because we decided to head out in search of a quieter place to talk.

We walked past several bars, each seemingly more busy and noisy than the last. Then good news: she asked if I was hungry. Now, I like eating whether I'm hungry or not, so this was a winning suggestion with me! I knew of a restaurant half a mile away so we walked there, only to find that it was just closing. I made another restaurant suggestion and on we went - I'm glad she'd mentioned to me that she likes walking through London!

The second restaurant was open and not busy, so chatting was much nicer as we ordered and ate our food. We had plenty more to find out about each other and I was enjoying doing so, which meant that the time went flying by again. By the time we'd finished our food and were preparing to leave I realised that we'd missed our last trains for the evening.

She again seemed undaunted by this and whipped out her phone to check out the night buses. She seems well on the road to being fear-free! Once she'd got her plans I walked her to her bus stop. As we approached the stop, her bus was already there. I jogged ahead to keep the bus from leaving, then we had a rushed goodbye as it waited. But just as we turned for her to get on the bus, it pulled away and took off. Evidently the driver decided that our evening was not to end just yet...

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Blogger Date: Part 1

I arrived slightly early at the bar for my date with Life Begins at 30ty. I had the impression that she might be a punctual person too and I briefly wondered whether she might even have beaten me there, but I could see no sign of her in the place. I was quite happy to be first there and also relieved that the bar wasn't as busy as I'd feared - I gladly grabbed a table just as two people left and I waited.

After maybe ten minutes I checked the time on my phone. Damn - missed a text from her. When my phone's in my pocket it's too quiet to hear and the vibrate facility is too weak to feel - I should know this by now! I assumed that she might have been delayed, but her text said that she'd arrived early too and was outside. Er... I can't see anyone outside through the windows. I got up and went to double-check (instantly losing the table to some eager bystanders) - nobody outside! Is she now inside looking for me? Had I somehow not seen her come in? I went back to stand at the bar and texted her back. Her reply confirmed what I was beginning to fear - we're at different bars! I thought this only happened in movies!

I started to text back and was promptly thrown another banana skin by my phone - if someone calls while I'm writing a text it instantly picks up but won't let me see who's calling. Great, I'm going to sound like a weirdo when I have to double-check that it's her! Luckily I had confirmation from her American accent, which of course I'd known to expect, but of course I've been reading her blog with my own inner monologue so it was still a bit disconcerting!

I offered to come to her bar but she wanted to come to mine and sounded very relaxed about the whole thing, which was good to hear. I waited inside looking out for a free table (but the place was filling up now) and presently she walked in. She looked just like her photos, which meant that she looked great, but in my rush to beat the crowds I neglected to tell her so and instead went straight into buying-drinks mode. We started to chat at the bar but the place was getting so busy that a guy was leaning between us ordering drinks! I glanced around in faint hope of a free table and miraculously there suddenly was one in the corner, so we quickly grabbed it.

At first we talked about blogging as I tried to make the connection that the person across from me was the writer of one of my most-read blogs. Then as we started to find out more about the unknown parts of each other's lives (jobs, growing up, other parts of our life histories) it was easy to lose sight of that fact, until once of us would mentioned something that a first date would never normally know and there'd be a moment of shock for the other - how do they know that? - and the memory kicked back in. A strange mix of not knowing someone and yet knowing them at the same time, of being on a date but also catching up with a seldom-seen friend.

From my point of view the time whizzed by as we chatted, but the bar was refusing to conform to my hope that the post-work drinkers would gradually empty out. Instead it seemed to get busier and louder. I was starting to find it more difficult to hear what she was saying and it felt like our chatting might be drawing to a close...

Friday, 21 January 2011

Prelude

My time in blogworld began in early summer 2010. I didn't even fully understand what a blog was before that, but one day I stumbled across a riveting dating blog and quickly became hooked. I read every post on that blog and on several of those connected to it, one of which was Life Begins at 30ty. At that time her blog was a mixture of past London stories and current DC updates - I liked the concept of mixing in flashbacks and having her tale gradually unfold.

In fact, reading her blog helped to inspire my idea of how I might start writing my own - I wasn't yet ready to blog about the present, so why not write about the past? I started to write and was greatly encouraged by her commenting on my first post and many others. It was really nice to have her support and enthusiasm in my fledgling blogger days.

Later in the summer, when many of our blogging bunch seemed to be experiencing a bit of writer's block, she suggested and then organised a Secret Santa Of Blogging initiative - fifteen of us were each assigned a person for whom to secretly nominate topics for a blog post and she redistributed them so that we would each write a post based on the anonymous suggestions we received. The idea was a great success and I think she deserved an award for Services To Blogging, especially as she was in the middle of arranging her relocation back to London at the same time!

Although I hadn't mentioned it in my blog, I lived in London too. I'd never met up with another blogger before - maybe I should change that? From continuing to follow her blog I picked up that she's a non-smoker and a Guardian reader and even has a PhD - three further plus points in my book. I was also given a hint as to her appearance in a post by a fellow blogger - the outrageously-readable Snafugirl - who described her as having "one of those faces that is beautiful with or without make up" - wow! (And rumour has it that I found an impertinent way to verify this...)

So when she posted her list of ten dating challenges, including "Date another blogger", my thought process went something like this: there's a thoughtful, intelligent, beautiful woman who reads my blog, lives in the same city as me and is looking for a blogger to volunteer to go on a date with her? Yes please!

Of course, I had some reservations too. She'll be writing about my dating etiquette to a host of readers, some of whom I like to think of as blog friends of mine too - what if I somehow manage to come across as a complete jerk? Also, having read my blog, she already knows some things about me which I might not normally mention on a first date, such as the fact that one of my exes once pretended to be pregnant, or that one of my previous first dates involved a visit to a police station!

But then I reasoned that I could view this from a positive perspective: she already knows some low points from my past history so there's no need to worry about when or whether to mention them, plus there'd be no need to wonder whether to have the conversation that starts with "Er, the thing is, I have this blog..." Either way, it'll certainly be a different kind of date and I don't know how it'll feel - but let's find out!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

A Date With A Difference

Exciting news: I have a date with someone I met online! This is made even more exciting by the fact that I haven't even signed up to an online dating site yet! Instead, depending on your perspective, I've taken a leap into the unknown, embraced the spirit of new challenges - or crossed a line into forbidden territory... I've asked out another blogger.

The adventurous and brave Life Begins at 30ty made a New Year's resolution to face down her dating fears, beginning by Facebooking her neighbouring admirer from a recent flight. Being the enterprising go-getter that she is, she stormed to victory on that mission in less than a week and promptly set the next stage in motion - drawing up a list of ten dating challenges in ascending order of scariness.

She even went so far as to invite her readers to suggest what her challenges might be, and one particular reader (who I did not bribe - that's my story and I'm sticking to it!) suggested that she date another blogger and then both write about the experience. I must admit that as soon as I read that comment I started to ask myself: if she picked that item for the list, would I have the guts to volunteer? I liked to think so, but often it's easy to tell yourself these things if you don't have to test them out!

When the list was published I saw no sign of that item at first as I made my way through, but suddenly there it was at number 8 - bravery-testing time! After some thinking and then some psyching-myself-up I typed in a comment asking her out on a date. Sometimes after writing comments I come away with a good feeling about what I've written and other times I start to second-guess myself - I'm happy to report that this occasion was one of the former type.

I had good cause to be hopeful about the response which I might receive: item 3 on her list states that she must say yes to anyone who asks her out! However, I wouldn't want to give the impression that I only volunteered for the hell of it, or because my chances of a positive answer were good. Far from it...

Sunday, 9 January 2011

The Next Stage

So, the results of my night of speed dating are in. Although in a way they're not, because (and to be honest I feel a little cheated by this) we don't get to do the Yes/Friends/No tick thing. Apparently the fact that there were over 250 people at the party means that the organisers think we won't want to play the tick-box game. I was really looking forward to that bit! So now I can say that I went speed dating and got zero ticks - but then so did everybody else that night.

Instead of indicating that we'd like to see somebody again by ticking a box next to their name, the website is enabling us to send an email to anyone who was at the event. Upon finding this out my first thought was "Oh no - I don't want to have to write to them - can't I just tick Yes somehow?" Then I realised that this probably said something about my lack of successful connections on that evening - if I'd really liked someone then I guess maybe I wouldn't be intimidated by the thought of trying to think of something good to write to them! Hmm.

After a bit of procrastination I managed to talk myself into a more positive mindset and I wrote emails to nine of the women from the evening. Some of the messages sounded more like a "Yes" tick, others more like a "Friends" tick, and one woman I hadn't even met during the evening but just saw something amusing on her profile and wanted to comment.

Well, it's now been four days since I sent those messages and I've only received one reply - and that reply was a polite but unambiguous No. I haven't received any opening messages either. In fact, I can see that a sizable proportion of the women who were at the event don't even seem to have logged onto the website since the event! I guess the fact that there was plenty of time to mingle after the speed dating meant that people who really hit it off probably chatted more and just exchanged numbers at the event. Alternatively some people may just have gone home very disappointed and sworn off the whole thing!

So it wasn't a resounding success for me, but that's OK - onwards and upwards. In fact, this is a good time to mention my next venture. I've talked the talk for a while and now it's nearly time to walk the walk and return to the weird and wonderful world of Online Dating! I'm currently contemplating which site to sign up to - the leading contenders in my mind at the moment are: Plenty Of Fish; Match; Guardian Soulmates; eHarmony; OKCupid. Of course, if I find that one site isn't giving me enough prospects to sift through then I might sign up for more.

Of course, this won't be my first experience of online dating - most of my blog posts from July/August 2010 were about my online dating experiences of many years ago. Those dates weren't all wildly successful but they were beneficial learning experiences, and I've continued to learn about myself and the world in the intervening years, so I'm optimistic that good things will come from my return.

I've got another thing going for me this time as well: I've been lucky enough to have recently read a lot of awesome blogs, many of which are dating blogs (and I'm even more lucky to have some of you as readers too) - it's almost like online dating has been a hobby of mine in recent months even though I haven't actually been signed up! Again I feel like I've learned a lot, but at the same time I'm always happy to hear more advice. If you could give me one thing to remember as I upload my toe back into the water, what would it be?

Monday, 3 January 2011

New Year's Eve Speed Dating Party

As previously mentioned, my lack of a plan for New Year's Eve combined with a timely conversation with a co-worker had culminated in my planning to spend the last evening of last year at a speed dating party. I'd never been speed dating before (I'd actually booked to go once, seven years ago, but I cancelled because I'd started dating someone before the event date arrived - quite a result!) and I'd been interested in trying it.

As I prepared to head out for the event I could feel that I was quite nervous. Had I still been getting nerves during my most recent first dates in early 2004? Can't remember. I felt calmer after imagining some funny scenarios for the evening in my head:

1) Remember how on the first day of school there's usually a kid crying and wanting to go home? We totally had one of those. OK, OK... it was me. They even let my dad stay for a while to help me overcome my fear. I imagined myself at the age of 31 running out of the speed dating session crying "I wanna go home!" - this thought helped me to put things in perspective!

2) ...or instead of running out I could have a tantrum on the floor. Hmm, might be messy - I'm a bit bigger now than when I was 5.

3) I tried to imagine questions which I might be asked on a speed date, then wondered how my date would react if I started answering with "er... pass." Somehow this seemed highly amusing to me when I first thought of it!

Having applied my dose of "what's the worst that could happen?" therapy, I headed off and arrived just before the start time of 7pm. I had images of queues snaking round the building (they were expecting 200-300 people and the actual speed dating parts of the night were first-come-first-served) but there were just three or four women waiting outside and no other men. I like these odds so far! I managed to start chatting and joking with the women, which isn't always something that comes easily to me, so it felt like I was off to a good start.

When 7pm arrived (along with a few men - d'oh!) we went inside to pick up our awaiting name badges (having previously filled in our details on the website) and to register for the speed dating sessions. I discovered that I'd misunderstood part of the brief description of the event. I thought that if the speed dating ran for three hours it meant that anyone who wanted to could speed-date for three hours. Not so. Their plan was to split the three hours into four sessions, with the assumption that each person would only be involved in one session. That's 45 minutes of speed dating in an event which runs for 8 hours!

The activity which would be running for the rest of the time would be a lock-and-key party - each woman was given a small padlock on a necklace, each man issued with a key, and the idea was to go around trying to find the lock which your key would open, or vice versa. Well, actually, the real idea was to use this activity as an icebreaker and then get to know people, but I'm sad to say that I lost sight of this for at least some of the evening and just wandered around asking to try my luck.

My speed dating session started at 8pm. Twenty-three men and twenty-three women (a chromosome reference?) packed into a fairly small room. First realisation: with everyone talking at once it's really loud in here and I can't hear half of what my date is saying! Second realisation: I'm actually not nervous now and I'm thinking of decent questions to ask (thank you internet suggestions) and avoiding the dreaded awkward silences. I can't hear some parts of my date's replies, but I'm hopeful that I'm catching enough words to make my response fit the context.

Those three-minute chunks of time mostly went by pretty quickly and before I knew it I'd had eleven speed dates and we were being told that the session was over. Wait - what about the other women? How does three times eleven equal fourty-five? We deserve more time! Nope - time for the next session to start, so get the hell out! Get back out there and spend the next six hours doing lock-and-key. I don't think so. I managed to get myself booked into a second speed dating session. I was honest about having just done one but the woman in charge let me book again - all's fair in love and war, right?

The start of the second session was pretty cool in that I knew exactly what was going to happen while most people didn't. I was explaining about the bell ringing and how to use the ratings/comments cards. I think some people thought I worked there! The staff must have decided to make the dates longer in this session because we only got seven this time. This almost caught me out occasionally because I was thinking "I can wind down here because the bell's about to come" and then it didn't. Oops.

So, after eighteen dates, what have I learned about speed dating?

1) Unless you're a natural at this kind of thing (and I'm not!) it really is helpful to have a bit of a look at possible questions beforehand. I'd even watched two sample YouTube videos - one example of a speed date going well and one going badly. It helped me to think more about what to expect. The link is here if anyone wants it.

2) Questions like "Where are you from originally?", "What do you like to do in your spare time?", "Where would you like to travel to?", "What's your favourite film?" are not hugely original but inevitably come up a lot and actually are helpful in getting an impression of someone in such a restricted amount of time.

3) The question of "What do you do for a living?" inevitably comes up too, but beware if (like me) you struggle to make your job sound interesting even to yourself, let alone to anyone else! Be ready give a brief answer and then bounce the question back to them or, if you already asked them first, to move on to another topic. Unless your job is quite interesting, of course. Then go for it. At least for 20 seconds.

4) If you can think of an original and clever question, people will remember you for it. Unfortunately I don't think I had one! But I remember somebody asking me what the most exciting thing I'd done in 2010 was. I thought that was a good one. Hence I can actually remember her answer when I asked the same question back to her!

5) If you can tell very quickly that you're really not going be to any kind of match with someone, don't be a jerk about it - don't check texts on your phone twice in a five-minute date (I'm looking at you here, date 18!) but do perhaps take the time to relax and reduce your focus slightly and think about how your last few dates have gone. I found that I had allowed the time pressure to suck me into asking similar questions every time and not finding time to step back and reconsider my approach.

6) The whole background noise thing was a big issue - it often is for me in bars and clubs (I don't think I'm hard of hearing but I find it difficult to unjumble speech from loud background noise) but other people were commenting on it too. Still, it does mean that you might end up leaning in to get closer to your date, which could work well, depending on whether they're starting to seem like someone you'd like to get closer to. If they're not then it probably doesn't matter anyway that you can't hear what they're saying!

7) If you're speed dating in a big cosmopolitan city like London (perhaps especially on New Year's Eve), not everyone there will actually be residents of London and/or planning to stay for very long. This makes perfect sense to me in day-to-day life but I hadn't thought it through in terms of the event, so I was quite thrown by hearing that some people there actually lived in a different country and were just visiting their friend and trying something new! Not that there's anything wrong with that.


So, of my eighteen dates, how many might I actually see again? It seems that I don't need to figure out the answer to that too quickly because the website still isn't ready to receive our Yes/Friend/No responses nearly three days after the event. But of course I've been pondering this question. To be honest, I didn't get a really strong sense of a connection with anyone. But maybe I'm expecting too much from three/four/five minutes. I'd be up for the possibility of seeing maybe seven or eight of them again just to see if we might click more with more time available, but it's a bit of a stretch to convince myself that it's likely. So I'll probably tick "Yes" to somewhere between zero and eight of my dates. Probably nearer eight, to keep an open mind.

After my second speed dating session finished it was 11pm and there were no more sessions to try to sneak into. To cap it off, they took our locks and keys away too! I actually said to one of the staff "So what do I do now?" - I think she thought I was joking but I really did feel a bit lost. Now we're practically just at a normal party! Not my strong suit - that's why I wanted to be speed dating! Ah well. First I catered to one of the hobbies I'd been mentioning throughout the dates - I went and devoured a load of the food which was being neglected in a quiet corner. Then after some rather quirky encounters I made my way to the main party room in time for midnight.

As the chimes of Big Ben came through the speakers I surveyed the room in front of me. The guys with a strong total score in the looks/charisma/assertiveness categories had paired off with smitten-looking women; most other guys were looking rather drunk and/or lost; most other women were dancing and taking photos of themselves with their female friends. Wait... is everyone sure this isn't just a normal nightclub?

I headed off not too long after that. I didn't fancy my chances from that point, with the music louder and the space more restricted (they'd shut off two out of three rooms) but I was pleased that I'd given speed dating a try and stepped outside my comfort zone (before allowing myself to head back into it soon after midnight!) and even after waiting for three days I'm still curious to see if anything comes of the post-event matching process - I'll let you know!

Sunday, 2 January 2011

My School Crush - Update

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about contemplating contacting My School Crush through Facebook to let her know what I never told her all those years ago. Thanks to everyone who commented and gave me suggestions as to how I might proceed. In the end I decided to send her a message, aiming to come across as light and friendly but also letting her know about my crush.

Brief sidetrack - I have a confession to make: not to her this time, but to those of you who read my blog. Now that I'm posting about the present day, rather than describing experiences which took place several years ago, I'm already finding that I don't want to go into too much detail about anything involving other people rather than just my own musings. I suspected that I would hit this dilemma if/when I started dating again but I've just hit it even sooner: while writing this post I was looking at my message to her and changing the exact words slightly as I transcribed it, but I realised that I felt uncomfortable even doing that. It's not like I told her that I have a blog which is openly available on the internet, so there was something which didn't feel right about posting anything too close to the actual message. I don't know if this makes much sense, but anyway: I'll post the brief summary which I mentioned in reply to a comment on my previous post.

So my message to her was along the lines of:

"How's it going? I remember you from maths lessons; Facebook lets me say what I never said - wanted to tell you I had a big crush on you; hope all is good with you." (But longer and hence less condensed.)

After sending the message I logged out of Facebook and came to write my previous blog post, mainly because I'd just booked myself to go speed dating on New Year's Eve (more on that next time) but partly to share the news that I'd sent the message. To be honest, I felt kind of proud of myself for sending it, kind of like I'd made amends for not plucking up the courage way back then. It didn't matter much whether anything came of it - at least I wouldn't spend any more time wondering whether to do it!

After posting my blog post I logged back onto Facebook briefly and was about to log off again when a message came through. Maybe... hopefully... yes!! She'd replied! That was my main hope: to know that my message had been received (this may be partly because some of my previous "blast from the past" messages had gone unanswered for a long time.)

Her message was really nice and friendly. She said that she remembered me, mainly for being great at maths, and that she thinks it's nice to hear about crushes. She indirectly and gently alluded to being engaged (fair enough) and then asked a bit about me and why I didn't turn out to be more of a high flyer (I get that a lot.)

Overall I was really pleased to get such a warm message from someone whom I thought might not even have remembered me. This fulfilled my main hopes for the whole endeavour. I think I may have given the impression in my original post that I was hoping to possibly date her - I really wasn't thinking along those lines. I mean, if her reply to me had revealed that she'd had a crush on me too and she longed for a reunion, well, I imagine that I would have been up for meeting for a drink, but at this point I'm aware that I didn't even know her that well back then and I don't know her at all now, so we might actually have been really incompatible. I can't tell how we'd get on from her profile - I can tell that I still think she's good-looking, but I walk past dozens of good-looking women every day whom I don't know. Do I want to go on dates with all of them? Actually yes, that sounds pretty good - but I wouldn't be expecting all of the dates to go well!

The next day I sent her a reply, commenting on what she'd written in her message and giving her more information about what I've been up to in recent years and asking the same about her. At this point it's been four days since then and I haven't heard back. She may have decided that she'd actually prefer not to share any more information, or maybe she's just been busy. Either way, I'm glad that I sent her the original message and got a nice reply.

Now, what challenge shall I set for myself next? Ah yes - I already did one - speed dating on New Year's Eve. I'll write an update soon - right now I'm still waiting for the company's website to allow us to enter our Yes/Friend/No responses. I know we're still kind of in a holiday period, but the longer they leave it the less we'll remember each other!