Speed dating in Ottawa

I’m sitting, drink in hand, in a small, softly-lit lounge, with big band music quietly playing in the background. People are sitting at tables, in booths, and at the bar, chatting, laughing, and drinking brightly coloured cocktails. Many of the tables are adorned with appetizers. Everyone seems relaxed, and so am I, surprisingly.

You’d never know that a speed dating session is about to begin. There’s no long table and benches, no buzzer, and people aren’t dressed especially formally.

Sarah, one of the organizers, later explains the relaxed atmosphere.

“The expectation is kind of what you see on T.V. and what people see in the movies, which is a lot more awkward and a lot more stiff than it is in reality.

Once they kind of get into it, they realize everyone’s here for the same reason. They’re just here for something a little outside the box; something fun, something social.”

There are no stunningly beautiful women or particularly dapper men here. Most of the women are fairly plain looking, wearing moderately priced business casual outfits that wouldn’t be out of place in the halls of any of Ottawa’s governmental departments.

The men are very bureaucratic and even slightly geeky looking, with shoes that don’t match anything and cell phone holders in their pockets.

All of them are between the ages of 25 and 35, which is tonight’s age range.

I hear Sarah talking about the appetizers.

“Hopefully they’re not too garlicky. You’re not gonna be smooching or anything though, unless things get a little crazy later!”

Emilie, the other organizer, announces that it’s time to begin, and I’m still shocked at how calm I am. Here we go.

“Hi there! I’m Nick, number 19.”

Stephanie is blonde, looks about thirty, works for the government, and goes snow shoeing in her spare time. She’s from Niagara Falls, which is “pretty majestic.”

“I’m from Winnipeg. It’s not majestic.” She laughs, a bit too hard. I say “cool” a little too often. She really likes Ottawa and I’ve completely lost interest.

Before long, five minutes is up and I move to the next table.



Is that an accent? Nope, she just talks like a cartoon and giggles a lot. When I tell her I’m a journalism student she says, “Awww!”

Now I’m talking about Rwanda, staring into her blank face as she tries desperately to make conversation.

“I know Rwanda was in the news big time a while back, right?”

I’ve lost interest and need another drink. Big time.

Next is Shannon, from Pembroke, who works for a lighting sales company and, sigh, really likes Ottawa. Definitely a deal breaker with me.

She tried speed dating once before, but there were a lot of “like, new immigrants […] It wasn’t really what I was expecting.”

And so forth.

Speed dating sounds exciting and intimidating but it’s innocuous and can be a bit dull, for better or worse. When you are forced to make conversation, this tends to make it less interesting, not more. There are a few awkward silences and forced conversations about the weather, but nothing worse than what you’d experience at a party or on a real date.

I chat with Emilie, one of the organizers. Everything she says sounds like a question, with rising intonation at the end. I struggle not to answer her statements.

“We’re not here to be pretentious? We’re not here to make this some kind of exclusive, private, like, come meet the love of your life today? We just want people to meet each other?”

Then she asks a real question.

“What do you think of the event? Are you having fun?”

“I am. It’s more relaxed than I expected, and…”

“…especially after a couple of these,” interrupts Paul, 28, a computer engineer from Nanjing, China with a drink in his hand. Paul has had more than a couple of “these.”

He came to Ottawa without knowing anyone, and that’s why he’s here.

“When I go to work, 95 per cent of the people are men. So I don’t really have much of a chance of meeting women, you know? I don’t really have access to much women at all.”

Poor Paul.

“It’s just an interesting mating ritual, you know? It’s a modern mating ritual. It’s new and exciting.”

Paul hopes to get more experience with women by speed dating.

“Talking to women, seeing what they respond to and don’t respond to and improve my game so to speak.

If I can meet a wonderful girl that I like, and she likes me, that would be really good.”

Paul’s a decent guy.

Is he nervous?

“The drinks definitely help.”

Okay, fair point, Paul.

Emilie confirms.

“People settle in really easily? That’s why we do them at bars, where you can grab a drink and be casual?”

I sit down afterwards with Lilly and Olga, two participants.

Lilly, a nurse and self-described “country girl” from Perth, was quite impressed.

“It definitely exceeded my expectations. It was a very calm and easy atmosphere.”

She finds it hard to meet people.

“My social circle’s getting smaller and smaller. They’re either married or engaged.”

Olga, an elementary school teacher, agrees.

“Sometimes, it’s nice to just get out there with the single people, not to always feel like that third-wheel.”

“Or fifth wheel!” Lilly chimes in.

Olga finds that speed dating gives her that extra push, and forces her to be social.

“It gets you out of that comfort zone. It gets you talking to people you’d probably normally never talk to. You’re forced to talk to people, and conversation kind of just rolls on its own.”

That seems to be the point, as Emilie explains.

“The number one aim is to help participants to meet people they wouldn’t already meet?” she says. “I’ve seen friendships come out of speed dating events as well?”

Lilly said it beats online dating.

“Way better. I’d have to say I’m the guru of online dating right now, and it sucks.”

But with speed dating, it’s all face to face.

“It’s better than sitting at home on your computer […] You have that personal interaction. You have the ability to say, I can see that person as a really good friend, or maybe there might be something more.”

Sarah was eager to expound the virtues of speed dating versus online.

“Online dating gets monotonous after a while. Meeting someone in person is important I think.”

This was actually Sarah’s very first event.

“Totally not what I was expecting. Honestly, it was a lot better. It was a lot more casual, a lot more fun, a lot more social.”

Sarah, who does this as a part-time gig, works in marketing and sales, where networking events happen weekly.

“Fifty per cent of them are there for job networking, fifty per cent are there for the social side,” she said. “This is just an extension of that.”

I ask her if she’s ever tried speed dating as a participant before.

“I’ve thought about it, and after working the event, I definitely would.”


2 Responses to Speed dating in Ottawa

  1. Jeremy says:

    Entertaining read.

  2. Nice piece Nick – (this is the Sarah quoted above btw)

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