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October 05, 2003

  • Time For A Better Song
  • imageMy ears are about to bleed from the late-90s club music being assaulted on them. I’m talking to someone who looks like she should be a sportscaster with TSN. We exchange pleasantries for a about a minute and then she says those fateful words:

    “I probably should mingle a bit.”

    Translation: You’re not my type. Excuse me while I find someone just as shallow as I am.

    Welcome to my living hell: six hours at what was billed as Canada’s largest singles event.

    The event was called Playing With Matches. Over 1,500 participants paid over $100 (proceeds going to the Princess Margaret Hospital) to pack what used to be the York Cinema on Eglinton Avenue (now a swanky ‘event facility’) for a chance to dress up, dwell amongst beautiful people and, if you’re smart, sensitive and introverted, re-experience all the things you used to hate about High School, without the good eighties music.

    I blame it on the beer.

    Back in August a good friend of mine and myself were at the Toronto Beer Festival. Somewhere along the line, we staggered (we had three hours and many beers to sample) across a Playing With Matches promotional booth. In a drunken haze, the whole thing looked intriguing. I think we both wanted to dispense with the singles event and ask out the professional extroverts who were running the booth. The fact that we didn’t demonstrates what was perhaps flawed about our decision to actually go to this event.

    My friend said we should go if for no other reason than as a sociological experiment. I was less sure as I don’t go to bars and I’m nowhere near getting over my last breakup. But since our last sociological experiment involved us, after a similar descent into beer connoisseurship, going to Hooters at my insistence, I wasn’t in any position to refuse him.

    And so, wearing a new suit, I proceeded to the seething cauldron of heterosexuality that was Canada’s largest meat market. To enhance the whole ‘sociological experiment’ angle, my friend and I signed up for all the facets of the experience, which included a ‘matchmaker pre-party’ at a local bar and ‘speed-dating’ later on in the evening. What follows is an account of my experiences. It’s not pretty.

    6pm: Based on my responses to a questionnaire, I found myself with 27 others in a corner of a noisy bar. I’m still not sure what responses dictated my grouping as the questionnaire asked such specific information based on multiple choice questions like: “What is your ideal first date” and “how many bazillions of dollars should your intended partner earn?” The second one is an outright lie on my part, but it certainly seemed that way.

    What amazed me about the experience was how quickly it took for a group of perfect strangers to form cliques. The high school analogy was real. People coalesced, like new planets being formed out of dust and hydrogen, into groupings. Alpha males, made up of Intellectual Property Lawers and guys with facial hair that belonged on the starting lineup of the 1979 Toronto Maple Leafs, asserted dominance while Beta males made up of systems analysts sat cowed in the corners. We played Icebreaker games where people had to identify various traits about themselves. “Who here changed jobs in the past six months?” “Who here has backpacked across Europe?”

    “Who here has read Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo in the original German?” I suggested. No one found that funny.

    At first I was content to talk with a blonde high school teacher with funky glasses, but she quickly latched onto a guy who she seemed to stay with the rest of the night. Some people have all the luck. I briefly found a lawyer for the Ministry of the Attorney General who seemed to have a sense of disdain for the whole event—like me, she was here with someone else. I found that, or her red dress, to be very attractive. Except she seemed to include me in her disdain. Pity. It was a nice dress.

    8pm: Everyone moves across the street to three floors of a formerly magnificent theatre (I saw Lawrence of Arabia there years ago). Hundreds of people are mingling, talking to other perfect strangers, but its brief and transigent and superficial. I keep encountering people and the questions are always “Have you been to this sort of event before?” or “What do you do for a living?” or “Do you live in the city?”

    I talked to someone who, astoundingly, knew me from high school. The conversation actually turns interesting, if somber, as we reflect upon a mutual friend who committed suicide a year ago ... but then she’s whisked off. There’s a brief conversation with a woman whose face I remember from somewhere else who indulges my cynicism about the event ... but it’s only momentary as she moves on to something else. My friend and I have a great conversation with two women who are here from a TV production company ... but soon they have to go find other friends.

    People become like sharks. They don’t stop, or they die.

    For the first and only time in my life I wished I had a cocaine habit. The experience might have made more sense to me.

    10:15pm: And yet this accelerated form of interaction pales in comparison to what is perhaps second only to the Personal Ad in reductionism-as-relationship. The speed date is an exercise whereby you talk to someone of the opposite sex for three minutes. At the end of three minutes, you determine whether or not you’re interested in meeting up in future.

    It’s as meaningless as it seems.

    A sample conversation goes like this:
    HER: So what do you do?
    ME: I’m a writer and I work in communications at a grad school. What about you?
    HER: I’m a investment banker.
    ME: What do you do outside of work?
    HER: I work out. I’m into Yoga. You?
    ME: I cycle a lot. I write as a hobby and a profession. I cook. (pause) So what movies do you like.
    HER: Well, I like The Green Mile. And The Shawshank Redemption. I generally like films that…
    TWEET!  The whistle blows and you move on.

    You end up judging based on looks and the person’s ability to string two sentences together. (Obvious clues, like a love for The Green Mile are also helpful indicators to stay away). Perhaps not surprisingly, I didn’t make a match from the experience. I doubt many people did.

    11:30pm:  Standing at the edge of a crowded dance floor, I looked out at the hundreds of people who were there and thought to myself, these people are not that much different from me. They’re just looking for some way to bridge the loneliness.

    I was suddenly reminded of the scene in Educating Rita where Rita is singing drinking songs in her Northern pub and suddenly finds the whole experience empty. She sees in that moment her life stretching out to nowhere. Rita determines then that she wants to find “A better song to sing”.

    Being single can often suck. Meeting people is hard. Making significant connections with other adults is nigh difficult. But there has to be a better song to sing than this. There has to be.


    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

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