I have a confession to make…

I recently caved into the world of speed dating and went along to a speed dating event.

I always said I would never go but wondered what it would be like. I had never experienced it before, due to hearing my friends’ and family’s negative reviews. I was told horrifying stories and heard comments such as ''speed dating is like a meat market''. I never truly understood what they meant by this, and I wanted to experience speed dating for myself.

I arrived at the venue slightly late (not a good impression, I thought) but it was fine, as most of the other people seemed to be late, too (including the event organizers, who were running behind schedule). I stood at the entrance for a while, wondering what to do, as it was a little chaotic and there was no one to meet or greet me. Finally, a lady with a badge walked past, and I asked her where I needed to sign in. I was pointed to another person, and then another and another, until I ended up at a makeshift desk (a table and chair with a man sitting in front of his laptop, staring blankly into space).

I gave my name to the man and was given a sticker with some numbers on it. The man then turned away and started a conversation with someone else. I asked him what I should do with the sticker, but he just ignored me and continued his conversation. I wasn't sure what to do with the sticker, or what it was for, but I presumed I had to stick it on myself, so I did.

I looked around the hall and saw my friends waving at me in the distance, so I walked towards them. I was glad I had my friends here, as I was very nervous, and there was no one around to help or assist (which is very daunting, especially for a first-time speed dater). There was a row of chairs lined up messily along the side of an overly large and cold hall, where eager daters sat around looking just as confused as I was.

It felt like we were all waiting for something to happen or to be called, as if we were in the doctor’s office waiting to be seen by the GP for our ailments. It was all a bit depressing, and I wondered what I had gotten myself into.

I noticed that everyone had the cheap stickers on, hanging onto their clothes for dear life, and as I looked down to see mine, I realized it was on the floor. I picked my sticker off the floor and reluctantly stuck it back on myself, thinking a lanyard may have been more practical. The stickers were cheap label stickers made for files, and as I sat in the row, I imagined myself as a dusty file waiting to be archived.

In the background, there was a lot of shouting coming from a random man on a microphone. I tried to listen to what he was saying, but I did not understand one word through the muffled mic and all the people talking over him. I looked around the room and noticed there were more women than men, and there were random stalls dotted around, selling things, such as scarfs, sweets, jewelry, and imitation perfumes. I thought this was a little bizarre, given that this was a dating event and not a mini-market... or was it?

On the seats, there were a few marketing pieces, including a donation form for a charity (which we later found out was sponsoring the event), a wedding favour bag with a random chocolate and a magnet (again, for the charity), and a perfume sample (presumably from the imitation perfume stand). There was no information on the event or the organisers.

Suddenly, the shouty mic man started ordering the men in the hall to step forward and form a line two-by-two, as if they were animals about to march onto Noah's ark. The men all rushed up at once, pushing and shoving one another, and formed a long line. Two-by-two, the men were then sat on more chairs, forming a circle in the centre of the hall. As the men took their seats, I couldn't help but sing the Noah's ark song in my head: 'The animals went in two-by-two, hoorah, hoorah!'

After the men were seated, the women were then ordered to do the same. Throughout this process, the women were shoved along like cattle waiting to be slaughtered. I imagined myself with a cow bell around my neck, the bell ringing each time I took a step forward, whilst the shouty mic man and the event organisers blurted out words such as ''hurry up'', ''stop taking so long'', ''move quicker'', ''keep moving'', and ''sit down''. It was all very humiliating, being shoved around like this in front of the already-seated men who were watching our humiliation.

Once we were all seated, each person in the circle awkwardly stared at the other, until the organizers were ready to start. They put a blurry PowerPoint slide on, which the shouty mic man clearly hadn't rehearsed, and shouted his way through nervously. A sharp pain went through my head from all the shoving and shouting, and it was almost like we had all lost the will to live by now, and no one was in the mood to talk.

After the never-ending PowerPoint, which featured the profile of an ancient man who looked old enough to be my great-great-great-grandad (not the best motivational picture to imagine your dream guy with), the shouty man said, ''This is a business, so let’s not waste time!'' Yes, he actually used those words. He also shushed us like we were schoolchildren several times throughout his presentation, even though no one was really talking, other than him. Must have been the voices in his head.

The first activity was an icebreaker session, so that we could interact with others though group introductions. The introductions were facilitated by a woman who stood over our group like a head teacher. I felt like we were a group of schoolchildren in detention, as she kept popping up out of nowhere and staring us down with her judgmental eyes. No one spoke; we just stared uncomfortably until I broke the ice and encouraged the men to go ahead and introduce themselves one-by-one. The control freak in me just had to come out... sorry!

Most men focused their introductions on age, what they did for work, and their names. We all went around one-by-one, introducing ourselves using the same format, and before we even got to the last person, the men were told to switch to the next group. So, each time we switched, we talked faster and faster, knowing that time was limited. There were 19 group circles to get through in total. This gave us little time to really get to know one another, and we were then left judging each person purely on looks, age, name, and profession... a bit like an online profile, but actually worse! And here I was, thinking I would get more out of someone with face-to-face interaction. I also thought there would be some further activities where we would be able to get to know more about the person before choosing them for our final one-on-one date. That’s how they made it sound in the beginning, anyway.

As the groups continued to switch, I looked down and noticed that my sticker had fallen off again, so I picked it up and stuck it on my knee, which made me look like I had major coordination issues, but by now, I really did not care. Throughout the circle sessions, we barely heard one another, as the shouty mic man kept randomly shushing everyone and then talking about random things, almost to himself. He clearly loved the sound of his own voice. He continued to shout random rubbish, such as, ''Don't show off'' throughout the whole activity, until it got to the point where I could not even hear myself think, so I decided to shush him and tell him that we couldn't hear, as he was talking so much and so loudly into the mic that he was drowning our voices out! He soon shut up after that.

As time went on, a cold chill swept over me, and I realized that I couldn't feel my feet. The hall was now the temperature of Antarctica, and the heating was clearly switched off. I realized that I hadn't taken my coat off all day, and neither had anyone else. I turned and looked at my friend, who was slowly tuning into an icicle, and I felt terrible. How could they treat people like this, and why couldn’t they just switch the heating on? I must have looked like an ice queen by then. Maybe I should have said something to the organisers, but before I could, the shouty mic man stepped up to introduce a new presenter on the makeshift stage. 

The new mic man’s voice was a little calmer, and he, too, complained about the cold. He began to talk about charity, and how we should think about others enduring cold and harsh winters, and my heart sank as I thought of the thousands of people who cannot afford the luxuries we have. He then went on to talk further, and soon enough, his little heart-warming talk turned into a full charity pitch. What? What was going on? Why were we suddenly talking about charity, and was this really the time and place? He continued talking about charitable causes for a while, which then led to him to showing us a short video about a particular charity’s work, which was then followed by a request for donations to this charity. It was clear and confirmed that this event was sponsored by this charity and was one huge charity pitch. The man then went on to say, "Who will give us a thousand pounds? Raise your hands. If you give us this money, you will be blessed, and you will find a life partner. Okay, if not a thousand, then how about nine hundred pounds, or six hundred,'' he continued.

Okay, rewind. How did this happen? How did this turn into a charity event, and if I didn't give them money, would I really be alone forever? I was always told that when you give to charity, you should give modestly and quietly, and that others do not need to know how much you give or how often you give. If I want to give to charity, then I would like to give it anonymously, without showing off. Didn't they say earlier, ''don't show off''? Why is it that each time someone makes a large donation, we are all told to cheer for that person, and we are told how much was donated? It was embarrassing for everyone, and very awkward.

By now, I was so confused, and I started thinking, “Where am I? Am I dead? I couldn’t feel my feet earlier. Oh dear, maybe I am. Maybe I sat here in the cold for so long that I froze to death. Am I a ghost? What happened to speed dating?” Maybe it was the cold rushing to my head, but I was confused and delusional by now.

After an extremely long charity appeal, the event continued, and it didn't get any better. We got colder and colder, and the mood got colder and colder, too. I wondered if we would be stuck in the Antarctic forever, and somehow get locked in, and wondered if we would have to re-enact scenes from the movie Alive. I tried to keep my brain focused and resorted to being facetious by making jokes about the situation and trying to cheer my friends and the others up. I thought if this was how I was going to go –freezing to death –  then I wanted to go laughing and joking.

Thankfully, I am still alive, but unthankfully, it wasn’t just a nightmare, it was reality. I met two guys through the event, both of whom I probably won't ever contact again, but I enjoyed talking to them. However, overall, I don't think I would ever like to experience such trauma again.

The moral of the story is, don't go speed dating. Okay, that’s harsh. Maybe do go, just to experience it, but make sure that you've done your research into the company hosting it and that you get as much info on the event as possible to ensure that it’s a well-organized, up-market event, not a load of shod like this one was. I will be emailing the organisers with some very honest feedback, but I’m sure they will just totally disregard it!