Frankly, I wouldn’t have attended the speed-dating-for-friends event if I’d realized that it was advertised far-and-wide in the Washington, D.C. area. The woman who organized it had indicated it was a semi-private event — or as semi-private as possible when it was advertised in a closed, area-women-writers-only Facebook group.
“So explain to me again why you’re going to a speed-dating event,” asked my husband the morning of the event. “And why it costs $15.”
I again described that the early evening event was not about dating — as traditionally defined — but more of a "speed gathering" of professional women from the DMV (District, Maryland and Virginia — or "Metro DC" as everyone else knows it) in a coffee, pastry, and wine shop located in a trendy Northern Virginia suburb. The fee we paid offset costs of refreshments and having a dedicated space.
“Basically, it’s just a way to meet more people,” I said, adding the event was organized by another writer. “Why not check it out?”
Certainly, the 100-plus degree weather and soup-like humidity would have been one reason to pass, I thought, as I fought to ignore the sweat dripping down the back of my “business casual” blouse while trudging several blocks from the public parking garage where I left my car to the event locale.
Once inside, my eyeglasses filled with steam as I made my way to the back of the shop where attendees would gather.
“So, would you object if I had a glass of wine?” I asked the organizer, after we exchanged pleasantries while she positioned a coffee urn and a selection of pastries near the end of a large rectangular table around which we’d gather. “It’s hot out there.”
It was hot in the shop, too. Wine glass in hand, I noted the glistening foreheads of the other women who entered the shop and perched on folding metal chairs around the table. Apparently we had at least one topic we could discuss!
Speed Dating for New Friends
The organizer called for quiet and briefly explained she’d signal for us to change seats every three minutes so as to converse with every other attendee one-on-one. She had set a list of pre-written questions — one was “What is the oddest thing you've ever eaten?” — in front of each place setting. We could use or ignore those as we saw fit.
The organized started us out by asking us to state our favorite color — mine is green, my across-the-way neighbor’s was orange — and then launch into our one-on-one chats.
I don’t know what I expected, but I didn’t expect to meet an antitrust attorney, a nationally recognized writer, a medical professional, and other professional women who each confessed to friend-meeting struggles due to time constraints, work reassignments, and other issues.
Some people might find it odd that many of us (me!) used the event as somewhat of a networking opportunity. I didn’t really care what unusual things people ate; I did care what the other women did for a living, where they grew up, what passions they pursued.
I'm in my 50s, and I'm always game to hear what other people enjoy, where they travel, where they work. Once I realized the other attendees weren’t all writers, I wanted to learn about other professions. I wasn’t too worried about making new, lasting friends, but it happened anyway. (Yes, I met two writers who became personal friends!)
Loneliness Is Common
But no matter our differences, we all agreed that once a person left college or became an Empty Nester or didn’t have kids or worked odd hours, or moved to a new town or experienced any of the other events that define adults, it was difficult to make friends. Long-established alliances developed among those that grow up together, are members of the military, or have other solid connections make establishing new friendships doubly tricky.
And in a transient area such as Washington, D.C., where it’s often said people are defined by their professional status, that obstacle is especially pronounced.
“You know, you can be the coolest person in the world, but some people seem almost to have a ‘friend quota,’ said one participant, noting she often found that mindset in born-and-bred Washington, D.C. residents. “And once that quota is filled, they don't have an interest in getting to know other people.”
As I looked around the group of attractive, articulate women, I found that surprising. I couldn’t imagine not wanting to develop at least a casual friendship with any one of them.
We also agreed that the heat in the shop was almost overwhelming.
“I keep apologizing to the next person who will sit in the seat I leave,” said one attendee.
After about 90 minutes had passed, the organizer led us to outdoor seating in front of the shop. I sat at a table and watched as people who found commonalities paired off, exchanging business cards, moving into huddles and otherwise connecting.
I later learned that events such as this two-hour speed-dating-for-friends event are relatively common throughout the United States. Companies sponsor some of those events; individuals organize others, such as the one I attended.
Feeling Shy? You're Not Alone
No matter their age, profession or lifestyle, many participants — certainly at the event I attended — were hesitant to attend. And my guess is many critiqued themselves harshly.
One sample post on social media used with permission of the attendee stated:
“Put myself out there to try to make some local friends tonight. It wasn’t easy, and I don’t think I did very well. I want to thank all of you who have found room in your hearts for me despite all my silliness. I appreciate you.”
What was most surprising about this woman’s impression of herself was that she was one of the more personable, funny and smart women at the event — no small feat in a room full of engaging professionals.
The other surprise was how easily those of different generations mixed and struck up friendships. I had thought my friendships with some decade-or-so-younger-or-older women were unusual. I now realize they’re the norm. And pretty darned healthy, too.
Experts note that intergenerational friendships broaden perspectives. In my case, it also introduced me to new interests. But the rhythm and benefits of friendships come later.
For now, I’m glad I reached out. You might well enjoy such an event, too. At the least, you will meet interesting new people. And chances are pretty good some of them will develop into friends.
This essay was written by Nancy Dunham, an award-winning freelance journalist based outside Washington, D.C.