Opinion: Speed dating - burgers, booze and a shot at love

A crowd of singles mingle (Newshub.)
Could your soulmate be in this crowd? You have 90 seconds to find out (Eleisha Foon / Newshub.)

Eleisha Foon recently went to a speed dating event. She survived to tell this tale.

OPINION: A man in his early 20s told me he used to be a 'sugar baby'.

He'd signed up to SeekingArrangements.com - a website where wealthy older men and women in desperate need of companionship pay young people to date them.

Being a single girl in a new city on Valentine's Day, I felt both brave and completely bonkers to have signed my dignity away on a blind speed dating event.

He told me he was required to accompany rich businesswoman to formal events and social outings. He set the boundaries, and said apart from the odd kiss, was simply wined, dined and gifted endless items - including a new Suzuki Swift, designer watches and tuition money.

"I'm a student honey - how else could I afford it?" he said, unashamedly.

My jaw hit the ground when he said his best friend was gifted a $100,000 Audi, all for pretending to play the role of devoted sugar baby to her long-time sugar 'daddy'.

I knew this type of dating existed, but I couldn't shake the feeling of disgust and disbelief. It was practically a sugar-coated form of mild prostitution.

"It's something you have to do while you're still young and beautiful… I only did it for three years," he said.

I hoped this encounter wasn't an indication I would be walking into a nest of men with chequered pasts.

Cue music, waiters, and my alter ego. We had an hour to mingle and it felt like any other social event or party, only this time we had name tags and the rate of flirting and cheeky back and forth glances were turned up a notch.

Drinks were flowing, mini burgers made their way through the crowds, but the majority played it safe, avoiding awkwardly getting food stuck in their teeth. Well-played singles, well-played.

From a quiet group of single strangers we soon became a very, very loud clan of outgoing companions - no doubt the beverages were to thank for that.

I played it safe and sat across the table from a boy who resembled Ron Weasley, and yes, the poor guy fit the stereotype and had a similar personality to the Harry Potter character.

Between briefly describing our hobbies, careers and studies, we barely had enough time to take a breath before the next round of men sat down and the process was repeated. Not a terrible first start.

There was no need for conversation starters as the room was buzzing with excitement - so much so, I was having to shout in order to be heard.   

The majority of men I spoke to seemed desperate to find a quick fix to their loneliness. I was asked what I did for a living, what I was looking for in a relationship, my interests and if I was a fan of food.

We were a mixed group of hopeless romantics, star-crossed lovers, desperate singles, in it for the freebies and questionably insane.

What surprised me was the people I spoke to. Many of them were working professionals with impressive titles such as banking economist, international air hostess, apprentice, lawyer. With years of study under their belts, all that was left was to settle down and find the one thing most desired in this world: love.

No one was bitter about being single. In fact, we were the best at it. However, it was universally acknowledged that no one wanted to be left on a shelf to expire.

A woman claimed she'd been on over 20 Tinder dates - none successful - and this was her last resort. The ladies I spoke to said they wanted to settle down, still valued old-school romance and desired to one day be married. Their worst fear was to be the last woman standing, alone amongst their friends.

Tinder app on a phone (Getty)
Tinder - sometimes you get lucky, other times not so much (Getty)

Five rounds of 90-second conversations came abruptly to an end and I couldn't help but feel disappointed. Was that it? It was over so quickly and we were suddenly left to mingle again.

Lucky for me, I did happen to meet someone I got along with. We had a genuine connection and unlike many of the others, he wasn't sleazy, a cheap talker, shy or awkward. He seemed to have a heart of gold.

I ended up spending the rest of the night engaged in an hour-long conversation and discovered his personality was a mirrored reflection of my own. I couldn't believe​ it​. He introduced me to some of his friends and was a true gentleman with no hidden agendas - even offering to walk me to my car. With an open mind I took him up on his offer to see him again.

As I left the venue, I saw a line of couples seated ​against the window of a posh restaurant, cozied up like high school sweethearts - you would never have suspected they had just met ​on​ a blind dating event for the very first time.

I walked away with this in mind​: we need to stop being so spineless and have the courage to say what we believe and be unafraid to ask someone out. For goodness sake, the least they can say is no. Be bold, vulnerable and open to new possibilities. We all need to put ourselves out of our comfort zones once in a while and say, "Hey - I'll give it a go."

Simply put, blind dating is like a box of chocolates. You never quite know which one you're going to get. And, if you're lucky enough, you may just stumble upon a flavour you like.

Eleisha Foon is a journalism student at Broadcasting School, and is doing her internship at Newshub.