And now, Scary-Crayon reviews... Sci-Fi Speed Dating @ Awesome Con 2015 by: Wes

I've waffled on how to begin this article on Sci-Fi Speed Dating. Do I start with a brief summary of my nearly nonexistent dating history? Should I begin by setting the scene with a dramatic description of one of my more memorable encounters from the event? I have to describe the logistics of the event at some point -- should I open the article with those? Or would discussing the history of the event and organization (apparently it's featured on TLC's "Geek Love") make for a more appropriate introduction to the world of Sci-Fi Speed Dating as I experienced it at Awesome Con 2015?

But then, as I perused the articles written by previous participants (all women, interestingly enough; are dudes too embarrassed to admit that they've done this, or is Google just not coming through for me?) and the info on the Sci-Fi Speed Dating website, I recognized the absence of some information that I admittedly felt completely blindsided by when I showed up for the event. It wasn't on any of the posters advertising the event; it wasn't in the Awesome Con program; it apparently remained hidden even to the female daters who showed up for the event. It was, obviously, told to men who signed up for the event at the Sci-Fi Speed Dating (I really feel like I should be using an acronym for that at this point, but I'm starting to enjoy typing those words because they make me think of warp speed and Starfleet uniforms with corsages and boutonnieres) table in the exhibit hall, but I went straight to the event (I didn't know I was supposed to sign up beforehand) and so was kept out of the loop. Anyway, the information that is apparently lacking almost everywhere is this: IF YOU ARE A MAN, SCI-FI SPEED DATING WILL COST YOU MONEY. MORE SPECIFICALLY, IT WILL COST YOU $20. But if you're a woman, it's totally free!

Now, I don't resent their charging men and not women. This is definitely the type of event that would be more appealing to men than women, and the organizers need some way to keep the numbers relatively equal -- so I suppose that making men pay would eliminate some men who would rather spend $20 on something other than talking to strangers in short intervals. (Hell, it very nearly eliminated me.) Also, as noted, women would probably be less inclined to attend an event like this anyway and might be especially disinclined to do so if they have to pay -- and an event like this doesn't really work without women, does it? (I don't know how payment worked with the LGBT sessions, but kudos to Sci-Fi Speed Dating for being inclusive.) Apparently the host told the women at the event that the fee was implemented in order to deter creepers; somehow making men pay to attend would filter out those men with dishonorable designs. (Actually, I question the logic of this. If women are normally frosty to a creeper, couldn't he be more likely to pay in order for guaranteed access to them, even if he only has three minutes to work his creeper magic on each one?) And I've read that the guy who runs the thing donates most of the profits to charity. But since the the rationale is mostly sensible and the philanthropy is admirable, why not just mention the fee up front?

Moreover, even if it does make sense to charge a fee, $20 seems excessive. It's not like participants hadn't already paid a goodly amount to get into the convention, and it's not as if the expense of hosting the event justified the cost: considering that the chairs and space were supplied by the convention center and that the materials used were oh-so-very low tech (ballpoint pens, index cards, and printer paper), I could host a similar event for less than $20 total. Charging $20 for each male dater -- which means that, since there were about 40 dudes at my session, the host pocketed $800 -- seems crazy excessive. In the waiting area, where I learned about the fee -- not from the event organizer and not from any signs to that effect, but from a fellow dater who had already paid it -- the dude who told me offered the rationale that he'd received at the registration table: "Well," they'd said, "how much do you usually spend on a first date?" Granted, I'm 33 years old and have only been on 3 (that's a deliberately deflated figure I like to use because it makes people think I'm a space alien, but the actual number is still < 10) dates in my life, but the last date I went on cost me $10 total. I guess they were trying to suggest that the speed dating event was the equivalent of 40 first dates -- so $20 = SUPER BARGAIN!!! -- but I don't know that 3 minutes counts as a first date and 0 * 40 = 0. Also, unlike my $10 date, no salted caramel frozen yogurt with crushed Oreo topping was served at this event.

Anyway, to reiterate, SCI-FI SPEED DATING COSTS $20 FOR (HETERO) MALE PARTICIPANTS. Cringer's out of the bag, yo.

Sci-Fi Speed Dating: A Match Made in Fandom. Not mentioned: $20 entrance fee.

So now we know how much the event cost certain participants; let's proceed to how it was run. Speed dating rules vary from venue to venue -- but, as far as I can tell, the activity always plays out almost like a slightly more structured version of those get-to-know-you games from kindergarten. In the Sci-Fi Speed Dating variant -- which, despite the name, was neither futuristic nor science-y in its execution -- roughly equal numbers of men and women (in the hetero session I attended) are gathered in a convention room. The men and women are invited to sit in rows of chairs arranged opposite each other such that, when the men and women take their places, each dater ends up staring across at a member of the opposite sex. Each participant receives a name tag absent a proper name; instead these tags display a letter -- "M" or "F" (for "male" or "female") -- and a number (mine was 7; which I enjoyed because it kinda made me sound like a secret agent). Participants are instructed to refer to themselves using these codenames for the duration of the event. Daters are also given index cards and pens so that they can take notes about the people they meet; afterwards, if they choose, they will have the opportunity to share their contact info with daters with whom they feel a connection.

And then, for participants unaware of the rules, said rules are restated: paired daters have three minutes during which to converse about whatever comes to mind, after which time the conversation must abruptly halt. Men rise and move left, sitting down in front of the woman to the previous woman's right; women keep their places and wait as the next potential suitor seats himself. Then the clock resets. Three minutes later the men promptly migrate; once more the clock resets. And so it goes, and so it goes, until each man has had three minutes with every woman in the room. Daters then stand and move to opposite ends of the room -- men on one side, women on the other. Participants are then instructed to write their numbers atop blank sheets of paper, whereupon those papers are sent over to the other side of the room. There, those daters who found certain numbers interesting can write their names and contact information on their interests' sheets. (This part, by the way, was fucking madness.) Once that's done, I assume (because, when I took my sheet and left, the men were still writing on the women's sheets) the papers are passed out to their owners and participants are sent on their way. Obviously, the duration of the event will vary depending upon the number of daters in attendance, but -- with 40 men and 34 women present -- the session I attended ran roughly two and a half hours.

But those are just the logistics. Was the Sci-Fi Speed Dating event itself worth attending? Well, it was certainly interesting. Being forced to interact with women rapid-fire for nearly two hours with very few breaks (there were more men than women, so thankfully we men had six opportunities catch our breath opposite empty chairs) is definitely an experience that shakes a social misfit out of his comfort zone. Unlike most of the guys there, I convinced myself I was there primarily so that I could write about the event for Scary-Crayon -- so I made it my mission to take some note about every woman in attendance. (I failed on two counts, but I'm still pretty proud of myself.) I imagine that my undertaking made things much more challenging on my part, but it also provided some amusement afterwards. Word of my mission spread, such that, during the part of the event where guys were writing contact info on women's sheets, guys kept coming up to me and asking me for information about particular women (since all they'd done was write the numbers of women they found interesting). It later occurred to me that perhaps I should have been less forthcoming with that info -- after all, these guys were essentially my competition -- but I'm nothing if not a helpful dude.

For your amusement, here are the notes I took about the women with whom I interacted during the event. The notes weren't all that involved -- they were mostly just to remind me who was who, such that I could at least remember the tenor of our conversations if not the specifics of what we talked about -- but still.

F19 -- Looked young! Talked SAT prep
F37 -- NuWho fan; apparently no Dexter
F31 -- Odd ice-breaking joke...
F21 -- Sprint; 1st timer
F34 -- ?
F15 -- Deadpook; mask; 1st time cosplayer
F12 -- Supergirl; DP's pal
F23 -- Hogwarts girl; awful tie knot
F28 -- HA cons, FX makeup
F39 -- Worked SD booth; website chat
F5 -- Batgirl, animated
F13 -- Winter Soldier
F36 -- Necklaces; classic Who
F25 -- Scotch-Irish, 1st con
F17 -- Ceramicist; Pet Shop
F9 -- WWF
F30 -- Supernatural--S5 cutoff
F18 -- Green hair; comics; Buffy fan
F1 -- Photos, Micronesia
F38 -- OtGW
F22 -- Fin. Researcher; Chinese
F32 -- TARDIS
F24 -- Vendor; balloon artist
F40 -- (I only wrote a check mark here)
F20 -- fandoms
F16 -- Shadow Fax pony
F8 -- Jupiter
F4 -- SW charity
F7 -- Loki; cosplay warrior
F11 -- pen jinx girl, snorts
F3 -- Minion, banana; bread = drugs
F14 -- TMNT
F6 -- ~Poison Ivy
F2 -- style; Buffy

Those notes probably mean nothing to you (or sound especially creepy or odd; rather than explain I'll simply let you ponder), but even a week following the event I'm chuckling as I look them over and recall certain daters and conversations. As you might guess from the list, a good number of the woman were cosplayers; their costumes tended to dominate my conversations because they were super easy conversation starters. There were a lot of women with interesting occupations and/or extracurricular activities. Of course, as expected at a convention like Awesome Con, many of the women were interested in various shows and comics and told me things about them. For instance, I learned that I should watch Supernatural, but only through the fifth season. After that, according to F30, the show gets really bad.

I also made some interesting (to me) observations about how physical proximity affected my and attraction to and interest in particular women. With nearly 40 conversations taking place in such a small space, I found it rather difficult to hear many of the women across whom I was seated. With some of them, I was able to lean in closer in order to hear them better, and I noted that I tended to have much more positive feelings about those women after our three minutes concluded. (Which isn't to say that these instances weren't also awkward -- with one woman in particular I felt as if I was preparing to tunnel into her cleavage every time I dropped my eyes to write on my card -- but in general awkwardness is a more positive feeling than rejection.) Some other women, however, were seated with one leg crossed atop their laps or were otherwise positioned such that I couldn't move forward without feeling like I was rudely encroaching upon their personal space, which both barred me from moving closer and gave me a general impression of standoffishness on their parts. (If I'd had more time to pay attention, I'd have been curious to see whether those women sat like that the entire time or whether it was something they did to indicate their particular lack of interest in me.) Not that I was entirely innocent in that respect; I noticed that, with some women, I was more inclined to lean back in my chair than move forward. Now, in those instances it was partly because I had less trouble hearing them, but did my leaning back also stem from an subconscious lack of attraction? So I appreciate that Sci-Fi Speed Dating gave me an opportunity to ponder questions of this nature.

As I moved down the rows and especially once the dating rounds ended, I wrote check marks next to all of the women with whom I'd have liked to continue a conversation. (Aside from the one check mark indicated because it was all I wrote, I've left that information off of the above list.) And honestly? I wrote lots of check marks. Speed dating is weird in that it seems to suppose that one can get a good feel for a person in three minutes, or at least determine whether that person might be good dating material. And maybe that's how it works for most people. But, for my part, I can talk to almost anyone for more than three minutes -- and I would have been glad to continue chatting with most of those women whether dating was in the cards or not. So I wrote my name and e-mail address on a lot of sheets, and I probably would have written it on more if I hadn't been overwhelmed by the tornado of guys furiously sorting through sheets and scribbling down their info during that portion of the event.

Really, the main deterrent in terms of whether I wrote my name on a sheet was the perceived ages of the participants. While the sex of my interlocutors was consistent, their ages ranged from very young (DP and Supergirl seemed fresh out of high school) to well into middle age and possibly beyond. (In case you read my note for F19 and thought I was salivating at the prospect of a recently legal conquest, I wrote that after learning that the woman had a daughter in college.) I don't know how old the men were, but, at 33, I honestly get the feeling I was among the older guys in my group -- and that might have made a difference concerning the answer sheets. As mentioned far above and in parentheses, I left the event before most of the guys got their sheets back -- so I don't know how I did in comparison -- but only four women gave me their contact details, which honestly left me feeling pretty dejected. Out of 34 women only four thought I was worth talking to for more than three minutes? Sigh. I tucked the sheet into my backpack and left. I felt especially bad when the reason for my leaving was a bust: I'd hoped to catch one of the celebrity guests before the con ended that night, but the guests had already departed by the time I made it back to the exhibit hall. So I had lost my opportunity to meet someone I kinda admire and had spent the evening having largely superficial truncated conversations with women who clearly didn't think much of me. I felt a bit better when, on the Metro ride home, I looked more closely at my list and compared it to my notes -- the four who gave me their contact info were actually my four favorites (they'd gotten the hardly coveted double check marks) -- but I still had no idea if anything would come of it.

Sci-Fi Speed Dating on the right! It's $20, by the way.

And I was still out $20 -- which is kind of a sticking point for me. (Remember, a substantial number the articles on this site are Dollar Tree product reviews.) If you're a woman and can attend for free, I highly recommend trying Sci-Fi Speed Dating -- if nothing else, it'll be an interesting experience. For guys, particularly at a convention with so many other outlets vying for your dollars, I'm less inclined to recommend the event. Yes, you will almost certainly have an interesting time chatting with the various women in attendance. If you're super shy and/or awkward around women, the event will allow you to practice socializing with the opposite sex in a low-pressure environment (despite the anxiety brought on by the constant ticking of the clock). But you'll also be at a convention where you could just as easily hone your social skills by chatting up attendees standing in line or vendors selling adorable plushies or volunteers holding direction signs. Moreover -- I'll say it again -- the event itself doesn't justify the cost. Everything good about the event had to do with the women in attendance (none of whom was paid to be there, except perhaps F39, who actually was affiliated with Sci-Fi Speed Dating) and everything bad about the event (save the lack of guaranteed connection) had to do with how it was run -- which is ostensibly what our dollars were paying for. In fact, while speed dating might make for a bunch of funny excerpts to cut together for a television show, it doesn't seem like an ideal way to foster connections between people. (I'd probably throw a singles mixer combined with one of those info-scavenger hunts we used to have to fill out during school field trips to museums; attendees could be allowed to mingle as they liked so long as they were able to write down three facts about every member of the opposite sex in attendance. It's just an idea -- and I'm sure there would be kinks that needed to be worked out -- but it might be more effective than Sci-Fi Speed Dating. And we could have snacks, which could potentially justify whatever cost we charged.)

Finally -- while I keep reading about how caring the host came across to female participants (though I don't know if we had the same host; these events take place at multiple conventions and aren't always staffed by the same people) -- I really didn't like how he treated the guys. My first encounter with him was when, after talking to the women, he came to meet the men waiting in the hall with these words: "It's $20 to date. If that bothers you, leave now." Later, once everyone had paid and was seated, he said, "Guys, if you're just here looking to get laid -- please leave now. Ladies, if you're just here looking to get laid -- take your pick!!!" Laughter followed the comment -- I glanced around and chuckled nervously -- but I was actually rather offended by the suggestion that the men in attendance were so desperate for affection and sex that any woman in the room could pull any man in the room just like that. And honestly, I think that attitude towards the men who sign up for Sci-Fi Speed Dating is the real reason that the host charges $20 for this event. I think it's the reason that the cost doesn't show up on any promotional materials. (And, insofar as there's any truth to it, it could be the reason so few men who attend are willing to publicly cop to their participation.) The host sees the men who go in for Sci-Fi Speed Dating as pathetic cretins who will pay whatever he charges out of sheer desperation -- but who, for reasons of cowardice or whatever other deficiencies render them so pitiful that they need to undertake speed dating at a geeky convention to find connections in the first place, might back out if they know about the price beforehand. He might have seemed compassionate to the women, but he was an exploitative bully to the men -- particularly when he paused during the speed dating to angrily bitch out the men for not lighting fires under their asses at the precise second he called time.

Of course -- for all I know -- the guy was just having a bad day. Perhaps running a Sci-Fi Speed Dating event is so stressful that it actually does warrant an $800 fee for two and a half hours of work. Perhaps the $20 fee really is mentioned lots of places and perhaps -- somehow -- I managed to overlook every single very public posting of this information. And perhaps I didn't pay $20 solely for the opportunity to chat with strangers and pen this article. Time -- and thankfully more time than three minutes -- will tell.

P.S. For men, Sci-Fi Speed Dating costs $20.

-- Wes --
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