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Speed dating as life philosophy

/ 12:09 AM February 14, 2014

Filipinos are terrified of speed dating. What would terrify a girl held all her life to the Maria Clara stereotype more than having to consecutively market herself to 20 strangers? It would be sheer torture for someone raised in an ultraconservative Chinese-Filipino family or an extreme introvert who is in credible conversation only in groups of up to four.

Speed dating has impeccable logic. Paying P1,000 for a 3-hour event of 20 pairs is unbeatably efficient and one bypasses the entire awkwardness of feeling out whether she came with her boyfriend or her brother. This efficiency presumes the event is limited to a pool of interest. Only in college will one meet a broader range of people from a similar background. Too many have dropped church lest they hear another anti-Reproductive Health Act harangue. And in an anonymous city, most people barely know their neighbors. One has but to shed preconceptions of living out an opening scene from a romantic comedy and overcome how the sheer efficiency also magnifies the tension.

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In Singapore, I tried speed dating sessions organized for US university alumni. I became fast friends with the first person I met, an Indian-American private equity manager who said he was consciously trying to talk to all the men before the event because he would get to talk to all the girls anyway. The association’s speed dating events kept ending up with a median female age five years higher than the male age, and I made quite a few friends laughing about this at the association’s normal socials. Introducing my new Indian bro as someone I met at a speed dating event was a hilarious icebreaker at these.

People seemed incredibly self-conscious. Most tried to talk about their jobs to break awkward silence. Talking about studying abroad was comfortable for them, so I began mock condescendingly asking, “You didn’t go to Yale, did you?” until I met the one girl who actually did (or at least, the one willing to admit it). School opened the door to silly topics, and I mentioned at least once how students run naked around Harvard Yard the night before final exams. (Though this nudged one girl to discuss her admittedly fascinating doctoral dissertation at length.) The night ended with the organizer reprimanding me for having

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every girl’s phone number before he had paired everyone.

I took one girl out largely because she felt so self-conscious about being the only lawyer among the girls that she was so relieved to meet me. In a cozy downtown bar, I asked what the most exciting thing she did in the last six months was. She asked me to rephrase the question so it would cover studying in London before she joined her elite Singapore law firm. Then she said her mother was rounding the corner to pick her up. (Her firm’s Filipino receptionist received a full report and gave an unequivocal thumbs down.) I went out with another girl who left Goldman Sachs for a complete career change, but she was so intense that talking to her for more than two minutes was just too stressful. The most memorable thing about that evening was how I left my wallet but got dinner and a taxi ride home without having to ask her for a loan. Admittedly, the girls who had the most fun with my speed dating experience were my female clients. One set took me to lunch and offered to help me rehearse.

After a few speed dates, the only person I thought was truly interesting was the girl I was afraid I offended because she was the one from Yale. We had a long dinner in the Raffles Hotel’s French dining room where I realized she was gentle, witty and an extremely well traveled foodie because her parents were a Singapore Airlines executive and a flight attendant and switched countries every couple of years while she was growing up. Unfortunately, I also thought she was focused solely on her investment banking job, Chartered Financial Analyst exams, and Graduate Management Admission Test.

Trying speed dating gave me a new motto: Always talk to strangers. One never knows, and the worst possibility is they are not interested in talking to you, which is where you started anyway. I have kept up with current students in my old school organizations, constantly feeling the invincible energy only naive college seniors possess. I push myself to never huddle with colleagues during large conferences. I keep in touch with friends whose passions have nothing to do with mine. Peter Flavel, now Asia CEO of J.P. Morgan Private Wealth, once gave a talk to my alumni group on how surrounding yourself with people who are excellent at what they do enriches one’s life, and he still draws insights on wealth management from observing his favorite hotel’s customer service.

To emphasize how you should never underestimate anyone, I organized cocktails and met a fascinating fellow discussing social media algorithms in a corner. As a joke, I asked every girl in sight if she wanted to talk about technology with my new, quiet friend. A year later, when the movie “The Social Network” came out, I realized that Eduardo Saverin is a cofounder of Facebook and Singapore’s youngest billionaire.

Life, thus, is more fun when one stops taking it too seriously and opens oneself to what it brings. That said, speed dating in Manila will probably be a more rib-tickling night out if more people embrace this attitude. I am perfectly happy to talk to ultraconservative Chinese-Filipinos and extreme introverts, but no one can possibly find them if they stay home.

Oscar Franklin Tan (Twitter: @oscarfbtan) wants to prove speed dating is perfectly normal. His invitation: Like www.facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan and post your most enchanting or most horrifying experience.

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TAGS: column, Oscar Franklin Tan, speed dating
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