April 28, 2007

Comparative Review: Grad Student Speed Dating vs. Not

Until yesterday, what I knew about speed dating came entirely from the movies, and mostly consisted of the fact that its constitutional lameness makes it a perfect backdrop against which to illuminate, in timed three-minute segments, the wry comedy of human desperation, misconnection, and loserdom.

What I also knew is that it is quite hard for grad students to date in my town. In part, this is because undergrads make up 99.9% of the sexually available/desirable population here, and theyâre off-limits to us. (Theyâre also younger and more attractive than we are, and therefore not overly interested in us.) Itâs about 10 times harder if you also happen to be gay, in part because the dating pool is so much smaller and messier. So the chance to meet new ladies doesnât fall into my lap every day.

It didnât fall into my lap the day we got the first of what would become an impressive barrage of emails about the speed dating event, either. This is because the event was originally set up as a strictly heterosexual event, for grad ladies and grad gents to meet each other. That was fine with me, as I could snicker and delete the email without having to think about it further. However, one of my bigmouthed friends, who is also gay and single but who never had any desire or intention to participate in the event, emailed the organizers and got on their case about excluding homosexual grad students. Since he was right, they restructured it to allow for same-sex meetings as well.

I want to repeat this. He was just being difficult; he never even intended to go. But guess who had to restructure their event? They did. And guess who ended up going? I did. The fact that Iâm choosing to lean on this point might make more sense if I explain that my friend has a history of roping other people into shit that he then backs out of â yes, Iâm still talking about that goddamned French seminar, merci very much.

In truth, he didnât even remotely talk me into speed dating. I talked myself in, after the organizers sent a new email revealing the new (and apparently elegant) structure. There would now be four rooms:

1. Women for men; men for women (the hetero room);
2. Mixed (which I interpreted to mean bisexual, coy, and ambiguous);
3. Men for men (homo room A); and
4. Women for women (homo room B).

Although this may be self-evidently idiotic, I was transported into the following fantasy about the womenâs room, complete with swelling music and out-of-focus camera work: There are, for starters, a respectable number of people there. Among them is at least one woman that I wouldnât ordinarily have a chance to meet because our departments and disciplines tend to be pretty parochial. A nice redhead from math, maybe. Someone who would generally understand the pressures of grad school but would never want to hear about the particulars of my dissertation or to run proofs by me. Someone whose life revolves around shit as dorky and boring as my shit, but who likes to go out and drink too much whiskey and doesnât ever want to go dance to stupid house music.

This doesnât really seem like too much to ask, right? Right?

As the Dread Event neared, the fantasy started evaporating. For one thing, I got a somewhat harried email from the eventâs organizer, letting me know that only four women had signed up for that room. By the next day, we were down to three, and could she put us in the âmixedâ room? I decided to hang on. If there were only three bona fide lesbians in there, maybe my mathematical redhead and I would find each other that much more quickly.

Unfortunately, the other night, I was hanging out with a couple of my acquaintance, both of whom are lesbian grad students. They held their poker faces while assuring me that they thought this was a great idea, but then quickly put their sappily intertwined fingers on exactly the scenario Iâd been trying not to think about.

âYou know itâs just going to be you and [name eliminated] and [name eliminated],â they said, grinning, instantly naming two single lesbians in our department whom I cannot or will not date and who cannot or will not date me. âAnd youâll have like twenty minutes to talk to each of them.â

âYeah,â I said morosely. âI know. But maybe â â

âBut you should definitely go,â they said. âAnd then tell us who showed up.â

I spent all yesterday hemming and hawing and then talked myself back around to my original position, which was that if I didnât try, I would have to stop complaining about never meeting anyone. So I went.

The scene was kind of amazing. It didnât look like grad students. The men, smelling of Axe body spray and sporting popped collars, looked like frat boys. The women, in very low-cut tops and straightened hair, looked like sorority girls. There was some token nerdishness, but there was no funkiness of any kind, something Iâm very used to from my grad student friends. The organizer informed me, sounding no less harried about it in person, that theyâd had a hell of a time signing up gay grads after all, and I was in fact the only âwoman for womenâ whoâd showed up. âThere was only one gay guy who even signed up,â she told me. âI donât even know if he came. Can I please put you in the mixed room?â

I was about to bag the whole thing, but just then, my friends N. and C. walked through the door, looking as instantly unnerved as I was. C. is a great girl who was wearing normal clothes and looking a bit surprised at some of the other womenâs sartorial choices. N. is about 7 feet tall, the nicest guy ever, and was the only black person I saw there. They were there for dating too, also in the âmixedâ room. I decided to hang out. We each accepted a free beer and clung together like some appropriate metaphor likening three sane grad students in the middle of a gross meat-market hook-up party to drowning people and some mode of rescue.

No one will ever know what the âmixedâ room was supposed to be, because the one lesbian wrecked it for everyone. They herded the majority of the crowd into the warm, well-lit hetero room, and put the âmixedâ people out on a balcony with two circles of chairs and no light. It appeared that the âmixedâ room contained at least two people who had wanted to be there, N. and C., and twenty or so other people the organizers hadnât know what to do with: some people who had been wait-listed for the hetero room; a couple who had crashed the event and just wanted to hang out; and me. N., C., and I decided we were going to just sit together and drink our beers, but our âtimer,â the guy responsible for making sure that no one talked to anyone else for more than three minutes, started separating us into a male and a female circle, just like in the hetero room. N. and C. looked at me pityingly. I sidled up to the âtimerâ and tried to let him know that I wasnât there to meet men in a dating way, and if there werenât ladies in this room who might want to meet me in a dating way, Iâd probably just go. He apparently changed the plan right then and made this whole room â er, balcony â a strictly non-dating group, counting us off randomly into two mixed-gender circles of people who spent the next hour or so making excruciating small talk, 3 minutes at a time, with half of the people there, and not meeting the other half. N. was in the outer circle and C. and I in the inner, so he speed-dated both of us. N. and I spent our three minutes making big nonplussed eyes at each other and talking about our regular hang-out night at the bar.

N. and C. and I bailed out of there as soon as it was done, not staying for the party, but went and had Chinese food instead and compared notes on the weirdest people weâd made small talk with. C. and I both had the confrontational guy who Iâd thought was mad at me for getting his name wrong, since it was too dark to read his name tag, and who spent the rest of our three minutes accusing me of plagiarizing his list of hobbies and making negative assessments of my character based on my decision to subscribe to Netflix. Evidently heâd been much the same with C.; weâd also shared the stoned guy who shoved a roast beef sandwich into his mouth the entire time while talking to me about tattoos. There were also some really nice people there â C. and I had also shared an incredibly sweet girl who I talked with about the American Girl novel series, as well as an economist who helped me rationalize my student loans. N.âs best was an incredibly awkward astronomer who shared intimate details of his dream to be the kind of blistering salsa dancer who can clear the floor at any club. Everyone, including that guy, was straight; no one was from the humanities.

N.âs car died at the liquor store and we walked back to his house, drank pear vodka, and watched several episodes of âUgly Betty.â This was the first time Iâd seen it; it was pretty good. Mostly it was a relief to hang out with people I genuinely like and not have to talk to them.

[Edit: I just had to remove the end of this entry because I realized that in order to create my punch line I took a story that was told to me in strictest confidence and then wrote it here. That sucks, because a phone call I got this afternoon both demonstrated that I was looking the wrong, because expected, place for the gay ladies last night, and it also put the icing on this whole fucking cake. I'm still coming up with a replacement moral/ punch line.]

Posted by katie at April 28, 2007 08:53 PM | TrackBack

I think that your new conclusion should involve more treatment of the "vs. not" element here. It sounds like taking the Not approach would have involved, over all, less roast beef sandwich-shoving (god, does that ever sound like a euphemism) and more chance of actually meeting someone to date.

At the risk of sounding condescending, or worse, sincere, I'm glad you haven't given up on dating entirely. I kind of thought you had, after the whole stalker-woman-who-shall-remain-nameless debacle. It was worrying me in part because you seemed like a prime candidate for eccentric single cat owner status, and I wasn't sure how you'd pull that off while being allergic to cats. Perhaps you could be an eccentric single turtle owner.

Posted by: Dianna at April 28, 2007 10:29 PM

Man, it really sucks you can't date the undergrads. My memory of my brief year and a half there is that almost every undergrad girl I knew went to the gay side for awhile. It would be lesbian dating heaven, if you don't mind dating a clueless eighteen year old who is probably going to marry a man in four years.

Posted by: didofoot at April 29, 2007 09:38 AM

Argh, argh, OK, I've wrestled with my conscience and I have to explain the "Not" part. The ending of the story is that yesterday afternoon I got a phone call from one of my stockiest, hairiest, most masculine straight-guy friends, who's been one of my most frequent co-complainers about how hard it is to date around here. During the time I was allegedly speed dating and wondering where the fuck the other lesbians were, he was getting hugely laid. With (and here's the kicker) another friend of ours, an already-graduated self-identified cock-hating lesbian who he'd originally tried to fix me up with before we found out that she's partnered, and on whom he knows I have an enormous crush. She's been bitching to me of late about being somewhat unhappy with her partner, a situation which she evidently chose to remedy by taking my extremely straight extremely male friend home, pulling his pants off, and having sex with him.

So: I speed-dated and encountered not one gay lady.
He did not speed date and got an allegedly gay lady I like up in his pants.
This is so unfair.

LUGs! Lesbians until graduation! There are so many! Technically, we just can't date or sleep with any undergrad who we might ever have a student/teacher relationship with, but that works out to mean that everyone is off limits, because there are certain classes in my department that I regularly end up teaching and that something like 75% of students on this campus eventually take. I wish I were more like a couple of my friends, who sleep with undergrads regularly, and damn the consequences, but it just doesn't seem worth it. Although it's starting to.

Posted by: katie at April 29, 2007 01:08 PM

Oh, and Di: Don't worry, I am not voluntarily turning into a crazy cat or turtle lady, though I am taking care of a number of cacti for a friend and I do have lots of ants again and some spiders. I want to date! I just can't seem to! I live in the alleged dyke capital of everywhere and I can't figure out why this is so hard!

I think the fact that I am extremely shy and awkward might have a lot to do with this.

Posted by: katie at April 29, 2007 01:17 PM

I didn't think up the being difficult part without some external prompting: the people in charge of speed-dating sent out an e-mail asking us to let them know what we thought of their brilliant idea of spending time and money helping straight students get some ass.

"Well," I thought to myself, "since you asked..." I should know by now that whenever I feel justified in sharing my opinion I really ought not. I was feeling cheery and abundant when I penned the following missive:

Dear ----,

Since you asked, the speed-dating idea seems to be shockingly heteronormative. As the plan includes only straight couples and is predicated upon only the participation of heterosexuals, I find it not only presumptuous, exclusive and offensive, but also a bad-faith way of spending the GSA's resources. My sense is that the GSA should sponsor events that are open to all.

Thanks so much for your time, and have a nice day.


H. Christian Blood

As is usual 99% of the time after I open my big mouth or write anything whenever I get a bug up my ass, I've reread this missive and winced. Ugh. At least this was the third draft; thankfully I didn't send the first draft.

What was interesting was to see just how homo-inclusive all further communications were. I'm just sorry that you ended up there. At least there was free beer and you got such a fun ride up to campus!

I'd like to set you up with Jamie's friend who is a cop (handcuffs! uniforms!) but Jamie thinks you're both too butch to make one another happy. WTF? Since when was Jamie "rimmed out onstage at Trannyshack" D----- the measurer of butch?

Posted by: hchristianblood at April 29, 2007 03:27 PM

this too:

If you're still feeling resentful toward me about either
queer-inclusive speed dating, OR a certain French seminar from 2004, just think about my own little punishment when I'm sitting in traffic for 6 hours tomorrow (and many days into the foreseeable future) attempting to get to SC even with the giant hold in the exploded freeway. I'm sure I'm the ONLY person who has thought about taking International Blvd. to Hegenberger to 880.

Speed dating? Slow commute? Yay!

Posted by: hchristianblood at April 29, 2007 03:36 PM

The email made me laugh so hard. I always, always love what happens when you attempt to interlocute in a reasonable tone. Though your tone is absolutely professional and your point is 100% right, it still manages to read:

Dear ___,

Please go fuck yourself.


I'm actually not resentful toward you in the least over speed dating, although I've been thinking about how I could twist and misrepresent everything about it and blame you for the whole thing. I could start with the "fact" that when you mentioned this email to me, weeks ago, when we were standing in the Owl's Nest Cafe, you were basically forcing me to participate in speed dating. And I could build my case from there, ending with the "fact" that you bundled me into the car and drove me there. See? It's starting to sound pretty damning.

I'm not too butch! I'm not butch! I'm growing my hair out and getting fat and curvy! I could femme up for a lady cop! And wait, yeah, what the hell does Jamie know about butch?

Posted by: katie at April 29, 2007 03:48 PM

umm yeah --- Remember when I wrote the letter to your lesbian magazine about their dangerous bear camping advice? Remember when I wrote a letter to all the grad students about the computer lab door being unlocked? My e-mail's "drafts" folder is filled with prudently not-sent letters to various media outlets, politicians, restaurants, stores, non-profits, etc., etc.

Yeah, since Jamie "I wore a blouse to work" D----- isn't the best measure of butch, I'll forward pertinent info. to you by other channels. That's one event I'll force you to participate in. :)

Posted by: hchristianblood at April 29, 2007 10:16 PM

Dear Principal Whomever,

Robbie needs to be removed from the kindergarten immediately. He is singlehandedly destroying the intellectual and social ambience for everyone.

The Bitchiest Five-Year-Old On The Planet

That still kills me.

Posted by: katie at April 30, 2007 01:32 PM

Let us all note that the world's bitchiest five year old had his father's receptionist take down this note as he dictated it to her, because, while bitchy, that five year old couldn't yet read or write.

Posted by: hchristianblood at April 30, 2007 04:49 PM

Knock knock.

Who's there?

There's a special place in Hell for Jerry Fallwell!

Posted by: hchristianblood at May 15, 2007 06:41 PM