I told myself it was a social experiment.
To others, I described it as a low-pressure way to ease back into the dating scene after a painful end to a long-term relationship.
But inevitably, I had to be honest and call the two-hour event what it actually was: speed dating. More specifically, Catholic speed dating.
On one hand, I could easily convince myself that attending such an event (and paying $30 for the privilege) was a fun, practical and possibly even productive was to meet new people, make new friends, and maybe make plans to go on an actual date.
On the other hand, a small part of me feared that the room would be filled with ax murderers posing as well-intentioned Catholics. Or even worse, that the room would contain well-intentioned Catholics unwilling to discuss topics other than religion. I joked with friends that I'd be spending the evening with a dozen men eager to spend their five minutes apiece quizzing me on papal encyclicals.
In the end, my curiosity won out.
Giving it a shot
On the day of the event, I was one of the first people to arrive at the bar. I received warm greetings from my fellow participants, all of whom appeared harmless enough that, when the event organizer asked us to sign a waiver releasing him of all responsibility for what followed, I felt fairly confident I didn't need to read the fine print.
As we waited for the event to begin, I talked to a few small groups of participants and surveyed the room. I recognized one guy from a Catholic young-adult group in the city. I talked for a bit with a group of women who knew each other through a mutual friend at a Catholic church in New Jersey.
Finally, we sat down and the series of 5-minute dates began. I rattled off my name and college and current job over and over again, as I traded statistics with the men who rotated through the seat across from me.
As far as I could tell, there were far more accountants than ax murderers. After the first few "dates," I was pleasantly surprised to find that everyone seemed kind and within some spectrum of normalcy.
But even more surprising was this: Few of the guys seemed interested in religion.
"It's published by the Jesuits," I said, trying to explain the background of the magazine where I work as an editor.
I was met with a blank stare.
"The priests," I continued.
"So it's, like, Roman Catholic?" my date asked me.
I couldn't tell if he was kidding.
My next date showed even less enthusiasm.
"It's run by the Dominicans," I said, trying to offer more details about my college.
"Oh," he replied, looking confused.
"Not people from the Dominican Republic," I clarified. "Priests."
Things were not going according to plan. My head was spinning: Was I that religious fanatic that I'd feared meeting? Why on earth was I going on about various religious orders?
And why, if these guys had little more than a polite interest in Catholicism, did they all sign up for a Catholic Speed Dating event?
But if the guys noticed my perplexed looks, they didn't show it. I decided not to dwell on the topic of religious life and instead spent the next few dates trading stories of sports and siblings and good books and New York museums.
Then Travis [not his real name] sat down. In an Irish accent he asked questions about my job and my life with genuine interest. His level of sarcasm nicely matched my own. He was raised Catholic. Things were going well.
Then he asked, "So, are you religious?"
I took a deep breath.
"Yes," I said, "I'm at a Catholic speed dating event, aren't I?"
"Wait, what?" Travis replied. "This is a Catholic speed dating event?"
We went back and forth for a minute, each unsure if the other was being sarcastic.
Finally, I stated, rather emphatically, that it was a Catholic Event.
"Oh. OK," he said, quickly shifting gears. "So are you one of those Catholics who just picks and chooses what they like?"
Wishing I'd stuck to the topic of sports, I searched for an answer, but before I got the words out, he fired another question at me. His accent and the noise of the bar muffled his statement, but I thought I heard Latin.
I asked him to repeat himself, but still I couldn't quite catch the foreign phrase, though this time I heard enough of the question to realize that my original worries were not unfounded: I was being quizzed on a papal encyclical.
"How about Humanae Vitae?" he said. "When was that published?" he asked.
The amount of concentration required for me to keep a straight face took up most of my brain power. Unfortunately, the remaining portion of my brain couldn't quite remember if the encyclical's publication date was 1967 or 1968. Through a smile, I guessed '67.
He corrected me, but seemed satisfied that I'd been close.
A moment later, the event's organizer called for the dates to change seats. The men shifted, and because one of the participants hadn't showed up, the organizer sat down across from me to fill the time. He described his business and politely asked about my job.
"So you're Catholic," he said when I told him about the magazine. "You know, we have a Catholic Speed Dating event coming up."
I once again attempted to refrain looking incredulous.
"Oh," I said, with a sinking feeling. "This isn't one?" I immediately regretted it.
The organizer looked confused, then worried and possibly amused. "No, this one's just a regular NYC event, but there are a few Catholics here," he said, pointing out the guy from the young adult group.
"Right. Great. Thanks," I said.
The organizer got up, and I laughed, freely this time. With his news, the evening's events made much more sense, and at the same time became even more absurd.
At the end of the evening I took out a piece of paper on which "yes" and "no" was written next to each date's name. I sat down and considered which of the guys I was willing to see a second time. The guy from the young adult group seemed nice, and I noted that on the paper.
Then my pen hovered over the space next to Travis's name. He was a bit judgmental, but then again, I had been too. He was also hilarious, enjoyed his work, and seemed interested in mine. And, well, I had to give him credit for his knowledge of Church history.
Was it love at first sight?
Was the experience what I'd expected?
Was I glad to have taken a chance, to have gotten outside of myself and to rethink my opinions? Was I looking forward to whatever new surprises lay in store? I pressed my pen onto the dog-eared sheet of paper and emphatically circled "yes."
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