How to Get Better at Speed Dating
January 20, 2014 5:01 PM   Subscribe

I've done speed dating before, with little to no success. I know the entire thing is very much a crapshoot, but are there any ways to make the most of it and potentially get a match?

(Preface: I know online dating, specifically OKCupid, is highly recommended here on the green, and I have both considered it and done it. However, I have not had success with OKCupid as of late, and while I'm open to trying it again in future, I am not interested in trying it now. This question is strictly about speed dating. Thank you.)

I have done a few speed dating events over the years. All of them had a standard layout-- ten to fifteen dates lasting three to five minutes each. On occasion, there would be more women than men at the event, creating a gap. I'd meet the people, try to give my best first impression ever, and put down the names of everyone who I'd like to go on at least one date with and get to know better. I'd make an effort to be open and relax my standards a bit. Each time, I never got a match, even though on some occasions I'd put down, like, half the guys there.

I've signed up for another speed dating event in a few weeks. It's ten six-minute dates, with a mingling period both before and after as well as an after party at a nearby bar. It's going to be held at a bookstore, and is targeted towards people who love to read-- I'm a major bookworm. I've gotten (a little) better at mingling over the years, so my concern isn't really with that portion of the event or the afterparty.

What I am concerned with is the impression I'm giving off. I feel that if I've gone to that many speed dating events and haven't had any luck, maybe I'm the problem. First impressions are always hard, and I'm hopelessly awkward. I really don't have anyone else I can ask to see if I'm doing anything wrong. So, do any of you have any tips as to making a good first impression in a speed dating situation? How can I make the best of this?

Also related: I'm an administrative assistant at a state agency, and I'm in my mid-twenties. A lot of what we do at my workplace is confidential and so I really can't tell people about the nature of what we do. I really don't have any sort of long-term career plan right now. My job does a good job of paying the bills, and I'm satisfied with it right now. But when the question "What do you do?" comes up, I get a little uncomfortable answering. I don't want people to think that I don't have any ambition, or I have no plan, or I'm stupid. I don't know. I'm not phrasing it really well. (BTW, I meant no offense to other admin assistants.) But is there another way I can answer the job question when it comes up? Like, a nicer way to say "administrative assistant"?

Thank you all in advance.
posted by Puck Soppet to Human Relations (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
"I work for the state."

"I push papers for the state."

"I have a desk/office job."

"I work for [name of branch.]"

Don't use the word "assistant" if you don't want to, I agree. It automatically kind of shuts off flow of conversation. Just talk about whatever field you are assisting to what end, vaguely.
posted by quincunx at 5:16 PM on January 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't know about the best content for discussion in such events, but I think being proud of what you do (or at least confident when you discuss it) and comfortable with your life is far more important than the actual words you use to describe it.

"So, what do you do for work?"
"Oh… well, did you ever see the movie 'Office Space'? Yeah. That about sums it up. So, what was the best book you read last year?"
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:36 PM on January 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

What I am concerned with is the impression I'm giving off. I feel that if I've gone to that many speed dating events and haven't had any luck, maybe I'm the problem. First impressions are always hard, and I'm hopelessly awkward. I really don't have anyone else I can ask to see if I'm doing anything wrong. So, do any of you have any tips as to making a good first impression in a speed dating situation? How can I make the best of this?

Can you share with us a general description of your appearance, style of dress, what you wear, body shape/size/weight?
posted by jayder at 5:45 PM on January 20, 2014

Response by poster: I'm not thread sitting, just answering jayder's question:

I'm a big person-- fat, if you want to be blunt. In all fairness, I have lost quite a bit of weight since I've last gone speed dating. I'm still big, but there's more definition than fat now, and my co-workers and fellow gym goers have commented on the weight loss. I'll probably be coming to the event straight from work, so I'll be wearing a nice blouse, black dress pants, and nice shoes. If the weather were nicer I'd be wearing a skirt, but I can't do tights and knowing the weather here, we might just be in the middle of another polar vortex anyway. I don't wear a ton of makeup-- some red/reddish lipstick with foundation, no eye makeup. I have a pixie cut.
posted by Puck Soppet at 5:56 PM on January 20, 2014

Also related: I'm an administrative assistant at a state agency, and I'm in my mid-twenties. A lot of what we do at my workplace is confidential and so I really can't tell people about the nature of what we do.

I think you need to reconsider this. Even if "a lot of what you do is confidential," such as working for a public defenders office or working for an agency that administers state benefits, you CAN usually tell people about the nature of what you do. Do you have a security clearance?

I urge you to reconsider this because I think you may be coming off a bit weirdly. People for better or worse find it easier to connect with others who talk about their occupations. People are fascinated by work and jobs. So, you're crippling yourself by ruling out good conversation material, and perhaps coming off weirdly/strangely by acting all hush-hush about what you do.

And I think -- for better or worse -- that larger women are going to be at a disadvantage at speed dating events which are geared to highly superficial judgments. So, to succeed, you need to really shine in conversation and by parrying the most natural of questions ("what do you do?") you're sort of inviting guys to just reject you because it's strange not to talk about what you do.
posted by jayder at 6:29 PM on January 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Re tights, I just picked up a pair of amazingly cozy tights--fleece inside--made by Hot Sox. It seems like they'd work well even in chilly weather.

Re work, I'd probably say 'I work in x agency or in y department at x agency,' say something general about why you like it, and if they ask for more details, say you work with x and y officials doing office work.

It seems like worrying about giving the 'best first impression ever' might be a little counterproductive and stressful...maybe just focus on learning more about the people you're meeting, being genuinely interested, and trying to think as little as you can about yourself (easier said than done, I know). Or try physically acting like you think a confident person would, which can help your brain go along with the idea and relax...
posted by three_red_balloons at 6:37 PM on January 20, 2014

So, do any of you have any tips as to making a good first impression in a speed dating situation?

Don't try. Seriously don't. Just be yourself. And if you don't know what that means, then spend some time exploring it.

Speed dating isn't about convincing them to like you; just be yourself and see what clicks.

Don't worry about knowing any facts about them. Don't ask them what they do (personally I find that rude and narrow minded, since we are all so much more than what we do). Just ask yourself: how does this person feel to me? Concentrate on getting a feel for the person. Trust me in a 10min conversation, this is all you will really learn about the person, and it is the most important. Did they put you at ease, did they feel warm and friendly, relaxed etc.

Next... they are probably nervous too. So instead of focusing on yourself, focus on making them feel as comfortable as possible.

Finally... pick your days! Not weekends, pick like a Tuesday or a Wednesday. Why? Because people with active social lives are too busy Thursday-Sunday. And... pick your locations! Be very picky about where in the city you will attend the event - you want close to downtown or wherever 'the scene' is in your city. I've found that these two things are the biggest factor in having interesting people come out. Spend some time thinking about the kind of people you want to meet, and then figure out what day/location makes the most sense.

The rest, as they say, is just luck.

Me, I've done SD a number of times. Only once was it fruitful - I met someone who later became an awesome friend, who then introduced me to more people that have also ended up being great friends. But not once has it ended in a relationship. Not even a piddly one-month relationship. So get your hopes way way down. This will also help your nervousness. It's just a chance to have some after work drinks and chat.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:39 PM on January 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

The job question is tricky, and it seems like the easiest way around it is to deflect, which you can do precisely by pointing out that so much of what you do is confidential-- just say something like "I work for the state. And a surprising amount of what I do is stuff that I'm can't legally talk about." And then you can change the topic by bringing up a thing you do in your free time that you especially enjoy and can talk about, or by asking them about themselves. You can even use this as an excuse to ask them about something other than their jobs-- it's only fair, since you can't talk about yours. And their jobs are (hopefully) not the most interesting thing about them, anyway.

If you wear earrings, can you swop them out after work and before the event, changing into some that don't look too office-y? With short hair, earrings can make a big difference in how an outfit works, but it's a very easy change.
posted by dizziest at 7:03 PM on January 20, 2014

Hello There! I was reading over my husband's shoulder and couldn't resist. I started having better dates and met my husband when I made my number one goal to have fun on every single date. I asked myself, "What would be a fun date for ME? On a date, what would a fun response be to the question "What do you do?"" Finally, and most crucially, if you answer questions about yourself or your job, simply tell people what's fun about your job. For example, "I work at at the state department, where I get to meet new people every day and my building is next to a bakery that makes THE best kolaches in all of Chicago. I have one every day before I go to work. What about you?" If the person wants to know your title tell them, and happily. Remember, dating should be fun and not the miserable and terrified "Do I measure up" dance everyone makes it into. If you are having fun then no matter what happens the date was not a waste of time. I only met my husband when I quit accepting guys who were more into fear than fun. BE that girl, the one who is an admin and also is kind, a hero to her friends and neighbors, sparkles with energy and looks at the world with a "why not?" attitude. And you might already be that girl - I am just telling you what worked for me. It sounds crazy, but I met my husband 2 weeks after I decided to just relax and have fun on dates and only date people who were fun people to me.

Ok, I humbly apologize for going on, and if I have come across as a "smug married" I am even more sorry. I will try again to communicate better next time. But, good luck ;)
posted by Rabarberofficer at 7:09 PM on January 20, 2014 [16 favorites]

You want to redirect the conversation so you can highlight other things that are interesting about you, not talking so much about work. Mention at least one thing that you like to do which could conceivably be done on a date with someone else.

Come up with something positive to say about the work you do. Sort of a sound bite. You have a desk job with X, and it's great because of your work enviroment/helping others/having weekends off, something.

Also, unless you are barred from saying what agency you work for and your general work hours and schedule, say something about that. That you can't discuss a lot of your work due to confidentiality should not even be coming up on a speed date, that's more detail than you need to go into over that length of time. A few sentences about work at the most, then segue into what you do when you aren't working.

I'll probably be coming to the event straight from work, so I'll be wearing a nice blouse, black dress pants, and nice shoes.

If you want the best results, plan ahead and wear your most flattering work outfit, or even change into a more date like top in the restroom on your way out of work. Put your coat on over that if you don't want to show off the change in outfit at work.

Figure out what your most flattering features are and show them off. For many big women, a properly fitted bra and a slightly low cut top will get you there. You might want to wear a different bra as well if you are changing your blouse.

Once you are there, relax and have fun. Best of luck to you!
posted by yohko at 9:27 PM on January 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

It might actually help for you to worry more about whether you like the guy you're talking to. Not only is that important, but it's a better mindset generally for seeming confident and not seeming insecure.

You also need to discuss work comfortably. You don't need the best job, but you can't grimace and act uncomfortable. You work for agency and can't discuss much of what you do. You're a secretary and it gives you a lot of free time to read. You're reminded of Office Space and hey how about that new art exhibit. I don't think the answer really matters, but how you say it does.

FWIW, I think you're probably at the biggest disadvantage in speed dating compared to other kinds of trying to date. The format invites snap judgments. If you're not conventionally attractive, that doesn't help. If you're someone who grows on people over time and doesn't make a great first impression, that doesn't help. You need to work on these things as best you can.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:08 AM on January 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

I completely agree with J.Wilson..... perhaps Speed Dating is not the way to go.
I went speed dating once in my life, just for fun, and although I consider myself open minded and non-judgemental, I found myself making snap decisions about everyone within 30 seconds of meeting them.

That's really what speed dating promotes actually - snap judgements.

I think you sound lovely actually but you've admitted you're not the best at making first impressions, so I find it interesting that speed dating is the way you've chosen to find dates.

However, to answer your actual question in how to make a good impression at a speed dating event, I would say that you need to avoid small talk at all costs. Jump straight in with a weird question that will catch someone's attention and at least make them remember you. It should also start a fun conversation that will hopefully help you to open up as well.

What's your favourite sandwich?
If you had all the money in the world but still had to have some kind of job, what would you choose to do?
Where in the world did you have your favourite meal?
Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot?
Why did you pick those particular shoes tonight?

Etc, etc.

And good luck! I think you've picked a good venue if reading is your thang - hopefully you'll meet Mr Right!
posted by JenThePro at 7:44 AM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

First off, ignore people who tell you that you're at a disadvantage because you're fat. I'm fat, and I have no trouble meeting people and hitting it off. It's not your fault and you're not damaged goods because of your body, and people who say you are have missed an opportunity to examine their assumptions and how they might be part of the problem.

Second, my biggest advice here is to make a point to smile and make eye contact. You can easily avoid talking about your job by just smiling while you say you can't (or even don't want to!) talk about it. Your job isn't you, so if you just smile and say, "Oh, it's just a boring office job; but what I do for fun is awesome: have you ever tried ______?" where that's a thing you like that you think is interesting to talk about.

The next thing is to come with questions. People like to talk about themselves, and if you ask questions about things that interest you or are important to you, you'll steer the direction of the conversation in a way you're more likely to have interesting things to say also.

And smile! You don't have to have a creepy grin on all the time, but remembering to smile makes you seem more approachable and friendly.
posted by spindrifter at 11:02 AM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I dated when I was at my heaviest (335lbs). The weight matters and is a turn off for some people, but the way I see it is that everyone has something that will make them unattractive to someone. Maybe they only date brunettes. Maybe they don't like people taller than themselves. Maybe they only date people who wear ironic t-shirts. My point is that no one is attractive to everyone. Just saying.

So with that knowledge in hand, confidence is a big selling feature. Not arrogance or conceit. Confidence. Own the space. Engage people. Make eye contact. Accept compliments graciously. No self-depreciating jokes. No dismissing or downplaying your abilities and accomplishments. Wear clothes that make you feel pretty. Seriously, confidence goes far in such things. Also, people like to think themselves interesting, so if you act extra interested in what they have to say that may help (though it could slide into insincere territory).

That said, dude, speed dating? If you know you don't make a good first impression, and if you feel you are at a disadvantage in the physical appearance department, then speed dating is not the way to go. Maybe the book-ish one coming up is a good fit, so feel free to prove me wrong. (Good question for the book one could be "How do you feel about e-books vs. paper books? Do you think the shift to ebooks and ereaders has changed the reading experience?)

My suggestion is to look to joining clubs and getting involved socially. Look to make FRIENDS and expand your social network. Meet more people, do more things. Join a book club, for example. (Starting my own book club was absolutely key to my starting a relationship with my now-husband). Volunteer somewhere for a cause you actually care about. Basically, just do things YOU find interesting and don't invest time or energy in trying to be what you think other people want you to be. Be you. Be the person YOU would be attracted to. Do the things a person you would date would do. Own your book nerdiness.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:24 AM on January 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seems to me the natural opener in a bookstore, instead of "what do you do?" would be like "so what's your favorite section in here?" or "are you browsing books? find anything?"

Also, it's probably better to say something like "oh I work at [agency]" or "I work in [industry]" rather than "I'm an admin", and then turn it right around to "what about you?" rather than inviting more questions about your work, if you don't want to talk about it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:27 PM on January 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

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