Last year I attended Fan Expo in Vancouver with a group of friends. The convention is advertised on their website as an exhibition to “celebrate all things pop culture” and includes various artists and creators from TV, comic books, films, and those who work independently online. We had planned several weeks in advance in order to split travel and board costs, and were it not for this commitment I would not have attended.
This is not to say Fan Expo is generally a negative experience. In fact it is normally a lot of fun. For personal reasons I was in a particularly ornery mood and was worried I would ruin the trip for everyone else. I spent most of the first day of the three day event wandering around on my own, and it was during this period that an event on the schedule caught my eye: Super Sonic Speed Dating.
I had heard of the concept before. It started in California during the late 90s, intended for people who are too busy or awkward to meet someone at a bar or café. People are assigned numbers and then change partners every two minutes or so. The idea is that everyone can get a sense for who the other person is, to decide if they want to meet again at another time. I wasn’t expecting to actually meet someone, but it sounded fun. And at the prompting of several of my friends who were already completely over my sour mood, I decided to sign up.
There were two people at the Super Sonic Speed Dating table when I arrived to sign up, a man in streets clothes and a woman cosplaying D.Va from Overwatch. They informed me that there would be several different sessions available throughout the weekend with half of them designated straight and half of them LGBTQ. Or, as he put it, “LGBTQROFLCOPTER alphabet soup.” That was my first tip-off that they were American. It turns out their company is based out of Utah and they travel to conventions all over North America to offer speed dating tailored towards nerds. As a rule, men pay 20 dollars and women get in for free. I asked the guy how that changed for LGBT speed dating and he looked confused for a moment before telling me he wasn’t actually sure. He later pulled me aside and told me that everyone who signed up for LGBTQ speed dating paid 15 dollars.
As the straight speed dating was the one scheduled to happen that night I put my name down and waited to see who else was going to show up. Before long, men and women began to trickle in. When everyone who had signed up in advance arrived, they brought us into a room full of lines of chairs set up to face each other. We were then each given a number, a piece of paper, and a pen, and they told us the rules: we had two minutes to chat before they rang a gong and the women would rotate. During that period we were not allowed to ask questions about any information that could be used to identify us; no “where did you go to school,” no “where are you from,” no “what is your name.” If we broke this rule we would be immediately ejected from the event, and if it was a particularly egregious violation we would be ejected from the convention completely.
This was honestly really comforting. One of the things I had wondered going in was how they would take measures to protect women from particularly creepy guys. Because, let’s face it, speed dating at a fan convention might attract some creepy guys. This included three men who looked like they had just left volleyball practice before heading over, several more in cosplay who seemed unable to make eye contact, one of whom was much too excited for what was about to happen and another who was all too eager to tell me all about his original Dungeons and Dragons character, whom he was dressed as.
There were noticeably fewer women present, and a glance told me that they all had a more discerning eye than the men. Probably chalk it up to the same reasons as why men and women use tinder differently. Interestingly, the woman in cosplay who had been at the table when I signed up was among them. I later learned that they usually have up to three times as many men sign up as women, which is why they let women sign up for free. If not enough women register then the event can’t go on, because the men would spend most of the dating period sitting in silence waiting for the women to rotate around. So they padded the numbers when necessary so that they could make money and so that “people can find love.”
Some of the most interesting people I met were: an older woman dressed as Bellatrix Lestrange from Harry Potter with whom I bonded over the quality of her corset, a very nervous looking girl who told me she was the sister of the eager guy and who kept repeating that she hoped she did not “match” with him, and a cool-eyed girl who was treating this whole experience as an adventure. She told me she wasn’t looking for anything serious because she wasn’t from Vancouver. I said I also wasn’t. We exchanged a look and she quietly told me she was from Victoria. I told her I was too. We didn’t have long to talk, but we both made an impression.
Once everyone rotated through, the two sides were brought to opposite ends of the rooms where tables were set up with sheets of paper on them. The papers had numbers matching everyone we had just speed dated. This was our chance to give contact information to anyone we wanted to meet again. I put my cell number down on a few sheets of paper and was given a sheet contact information from seven people I had spoken to. On my way out one of the men saw my paper and loudly commented that I “really cleaned up.” I felt bad for the women who had gone there hoping to meet Mister Right.
As for me and the cool-eyed girl: we liked each other. We met for coffee the following day, and ended up spending most of the weekend together. It turns out we had more in common than either of us initially guessed, and we are still close now several months later.
For my verdict on speed dating: go into it expecting a few laughs and you might be pleasantly surprised.