As I approached the cafe, I began to feel nervous. What if we had nothing in common? What if it was awkward? What if the conversation didn’t flow?
I pushed my concerns to the back of my head, put a smile on my face and pushed open the door. I was greeted by a lovely lady with an enthusiastic and welcoming ‘hello’, who gave me a name tag and encouraged me to get a drink and then join the crowd of equally nervous, but determined-looking women, who had already started congregating at the other side of the room.
Tea will help, I thought. Everyone knows that tea helps people to connect. But I wasn’t at a speed-dating night, as you may expect, I was at a speed-mating event.
Organised by Girl Gang, an organisation dedicated to bringing together women for fun events, like film nights and exhibitions, the aim of speed-mating is to help ladies of all ages to make new friends.
“Think Tinder, but for friends,” co-producer of Girl Gang, Megan Marie Giffith, told me when I caught up with her before the evening began.
“We realised that so many people want to make new friends, but there’s no app for that in the way that there is for dating, so we decided to create this event instead.
“We’ve taken inspiration from dating shows, business meetings, and teenage sleepovers to get people involved in creative challenges and striking up conversations.”
I attended the first speed-mating event in Sheffield, but the team also run events in Manchester. The first Sheffield event sold out within two days of tickets going on sale, and after the great success of these sessions they are hoping to run speed-mating in Leeds, Liverpool and Newcastle.
“Seventy women bought tickets for this event, and we had forty on the waiting list, so it just goes to show how much people want an event like this,” added Megan.
“It’s women of all ages who want to come too. The majority of girls are in their late twenties to mid thirties, but we have people younger and older than that who come along.
“There’s so many times in your life when circumstances change and you find you need to add to your social circle. Sometimes it’s leaving university, moving to a new city or getting a new job. Some people come to our events after all their friends start getting married and having children but they don’t want to follow the same path.”
Once everyone had a chance to get a drink, we were taken upstairs to a wide open space with a screen, a microphone and a speaker in it. Despite the vast area available, everyone stood close to the wall. Everybody appeared to be as self-conscious as I was. Megan picked up the microphone and addressed the crowd.
“Female friendships are so important and we believe they are something which should be invested in, because your friends do get you through a lot in life and help to keep you happy and healthy,” she said
The powerful statement seemed to bring out someone’s inner Beyonce, who shouted an appreciative ‘woo’ from the back of the room. It was the collective ice-breaker we all needed and everyone laughed.
Megan introduced the first of a series of games, where we were given a sheet full of questions and asked to find as many people as possible who can answer yes to each of them.
Questions ranged from ‘do you religiously watch a soap?’ to ‘have you eaten a tub of ice-cream in one sitting?’ I got chatting to Lauren and we both quickly discovered that neither of us can drive. It’s a topic that bonded us instantly, as we moaned about the expense of lessons.
‘I might have made a new friend’, I think with excitement. It’s similar to being on a first date and your companion says something you agree with. The joy at finding a subject you can both talk about gives you hope that the relationship could blossom as you use that as a platform to share more of your likes, dislikes and values.
We played a variety of other games, all designed to help us relax and reveal more about ourselves. Different questions appeared on the screen to help guide our conversations.
With each new game we were asked to make sure that we were talking to someone we had not yet spoken to so that we had the best chance of forming as many new friendships as possible. A soundtrack courtesy of divas like Whitney Houston signalled when it was time to change partner.
Some tasks were silly, such as having to answer questions like ‘would you rather name your first born child iTunes or have to read the full terms and conditions on everything for the rest of your life?’, while others were more thought provoking and asked us to share our problems and offer advice.
I discovered that Celia would take a pot of hummus on a desert island and Ellie was still striving for the perfect amount of sleep.
Throughout the evening, we were reminded that we could sit out of a task if we did not feel comfortable with it, but nobody did. Everyone was friendly and open-minded, and a excited buzz and positive energy filled the room.
It was wonderful to hear so many women giving each other compliments too. I heard ‘you have a really cool dress sense’ more than once.
It was another element that is similar to dating. Quite often, when you first meet someone the only thing you know about them is what they look like because they haven’t had chance to tell you anything about themselves yet; it’s not shallow, it’s just fact. It’s how many relationships begin as it’s a good conversation opener.
During a game where we were asked to draw pictures of our new found friends, I find myself paired with Choy who told me she likes the flower in my hair and I was pleased when she made it a feature in her drawing of me - which was really good.
Sadly, my artistic skills did not match hers, but we laughed about it and I felt at ease instead of embarrassed. She told me that she was having a great time and didn’t want the event to end.
I felt the same way. When I first arrived I wondered how I would fill two hours talking to strangers, but I was shocked when I realised that it was already 9.15pm, (the event was supposed to finish at 9pm).
I wanted to carry on chatting to my new friends and find out more about them. Sadly, it was a Monday evening and most people had to get home to prepare for work the next day or look after their children.
But, we had been given a contact sheet which we were encouraged to use to ask for people’s phone numbers and social media accounts so we could keep in touch.
I felt nervous, asking for people’s phone numbers after only a few minutes of chatting. But, I knew I had to be bold if I wanted the chance to build on the foundations of these potential friendships.
All the ladies I asked seemed happy to fill in my sheet, telling me it had been lovely to chat to me. Again, those typical dating questions flooded my mind. Did they really mean it? Had they actually given me a fake number? Would they get in touch?
I needn’t have worried. Half an hour later I got home to find that my Facebook and Instagram was buzzing with new connections and friend requests. Each person I spoke to said they were glad they had pushed themselves out of their comfort zone and gone along because they’d met some smart, interesting, unique women.
Now, it’s up to us to see if we are going to have second dates with our speed mates.
The next Sheffield speed-mating event is on March 2. Search ‘Girl Gang Sheffield’ on Facebook for details