As some of you might have read previously, last year the single life led me to applying for First Dates. Partly because I wanted a piece of the magic, another part being a big fan of the programme. A few months back they called me back with an interest in getting me on the programme. However it struck me there was an issue with this – I’d never been on a blind date before let alone met someone new on camera.

While I’ve appreciated at times the single life, there are other moments where I’ve felt everyone else around me is quickly moving on in life. They’re in long-term relationships, they’re marrying, they’re having babies, they’re buying homes. With the big 3-0 approaching this year, it feels I’m at a stage in my life CV where I haven’t much to show for the past few years.

With that all in mind something different appeared on my radar – speed dating. It’s always something I’ve thought about, but always considered it something you did when you were cracking on in life or pretty desperate. I might be nearly 30 but I’ve always associated it with something you’d do pushing 40. This one was advertised for those in their 20s and 30s, at a reputable bar, and the reviews were good. This put my mind at ease.

That was until the day finally arrived.

I knew early on the only way I’d get through that door was with plenty of alcohol in my system. This probably wasn’t going to be helpful for anyone who had to endure an evening with me, but it was better than them being empty-chaired. So the drinking started just after five until I arrived at the Norwich venue at seven. Then it continued further once I’d arrived, seen the huge room of people, and nervously tried to figure out who was there for speed-dating and who had just arrived for drinks after work. Every so often you’d hear someone discretely mention the main event and the barman would let people know it was in a separate part of the bar. That was a relief given most of them seemed to be getting on a bit.

Despite sharing most of my life on social media I kept this one quiet. If I told everyone I’d be speed-dating through fear they’d only make my anxiety worse. The first people knew about it was when I posted the picture of my ‘speed ticket’ on social media – the booklet you fill out to remember who everyone was. Unfortunately most people only read the first booklet and thought I’d been sent on a course for driving too fast. There were times in the evening I’d have found that more favourable.

I got sat on the table and waited for the event to begin. Everyone appears to be in the same boat as me – first timers all a bit apprehensive about the whole experience. By now I was on to more drinks, which helped the nerves, but was making me look a bit like an alcoholic. I pretended the additional glasses had come from someone else. It was just unfortunate the first person to sit at my table was a doctor, who could clearly see through this lie. The only way is up. In the four minutes we exchanged pleasantries and got the basics over and done with, but the clock soon reached the time limit before you had to move on. This is the point where you have to make some points on your booklet without them seeing what you’ve written and vice versa. Writing in a rush and after numerous drinks is not a good combination. I can’t read my notes after meetings, let alone when you’re trying to write stuff discretely in front of your dates.

Fortunately I wasn’t the drunkest one there – one of my dates was a lady who admitted she was just making up her occupation and interests as she went along. She had been a police woman, a teacher, a stripper, and a doctor all in one night. There was also another lady who was well-traveled, who I was trying to explain about my issues getting a passport to go traveling. But just as the bell rang she exclaimed ‘you’re a criminal aren’t you?’. I had to assure her the story was a lot less boring than it sounded, and would have taken much longer than four minutes to explain. The fact though that I was explaining this while grabbing my coat didn’t give the best impression.

There was also a woman who told me everyone she knew binned the local newspapers that get delivered – including the publications the company I work for produces. She assured me though that she was a regular reader though. And the one girl who wrapped up her introduction by saying she worked in a “religious village” shouting back at me “but I’m not religious!” just as we had to move on.

In most instances I am not convinced four minutes was long enough for me. I’ve had longer conversations with strangers on the bus than someone you’re meant to be dating, it’s definitely not long enough to get over all of the key information. That said, with a couple, four minutes did feel more like four hours as it was obvious there wasn’t going to be compatibility, and it’s considerably longer than the time you might spend talking to some of your matches on Tinder. It did however make a fascinating evening meeting similar-minded people who had grown tired of dating in a digital age and wanted to bring a human element back to it all.

Now it’s for me to try to comprehend my drunken notes and figure out who I met and whether they would be willing to meet up again. It looks like the actual dating might have been the easiest part of the experience…

Written by Jono Read
Jono Read is a 32-year-old writer from Norfolk. He is a social media manager and a journalist. He blogs about politics, popular culture, and marketing.