I was fidgety, anxious and dry throated. After waiting at the bar for a while, I ordered another gin and tonic. My date was running late.
‘The panel will include date-a-holic and founder of LMM Sarah Harrison, relationship columnist for MX Emma Merkas, founder of dating initiative Five in Five Andrea Tonkin and dating coach Liam McRae. Hang around for a drink after and maybe put some of your new found knowledge to work,’ Timeout, the co-hosts of the event, wrote.
I was courting the panel and their eager audience mid-week. We’d met up at Loop Bar to hear if Melbourne’s dating scene was dead: if we preferred to ‘hook up’ instead.
The room of professional types, almost exclusively from the ‘25 – 35’ age box, sat obediently in rows, facing the stage for the last word on dating, darted glances at perspective suitors around the room.
If there was a chance at a ‘hook up’, it was unlikely to happen here. It felt like some kind of weird grown-up version of a church group blue-light disco meets a professional networking seminar.
Finally, my date was ready and things got underway after a bit of nervous shuffling.
‘I think we should embrace the date, they’re fun. Let’s go on dates!’ said an enthusiastic Andrea Tonkin, injecting some energy into the room.
‘You may meet someone in a bar after a few drinks and go home together, great. But what you are getting is an edited version of who that person is you don’t really know who they are,’ Emma Merkas offered. ‘There is something to be said for getting to know someone before you jump into bed together.’
It was quickly agreed that a date’s key element was the intent of getting to know someone personally, not necessarily physically. Andrea suggested that this formalised courting was elusive in the dating scene.
‘Maybe it’s an Australian thing, that we need to play it down so it’s not so formal or awkward, but you know when you are going on a date.’
But Sarah Harrison had noticed something; ‘A flatmate of mine had been in New York for a time. We were at a bar and she was quite put out that no men had approached us. In America there would be men lining up to talk to us and buy us a drink. She wanted people to come over and say hi. She felt that Aussie guys were too laid back.’
Liam McRae, as life coach that helps men ask women on dates, dived in. ‘Men tend to rely on alcohol to approach women. I try to help them move away from that.’
Liam’s tone sounded about as convincing as a year ten student who’s dog had made off with his homework, but he had a point. ‘It definitely is a feeling amongst people that the only time they are confident is when they’ve had a few drinks.’
There was general nod from the attentive audience. Amusingly, a few were taking notes, but then again, so was I.
So what about girls asking guys out?
Liam’s company employs a lot of girls to gain their insight into dating. He says while there is a female art to gaining a man’s attention, ultimately they like men to do the asking. For Sarah, things needed to change a bit.
‘I think as long as there is a culture of acceptance that its okay for girls to be approached by guys for a chat to see if there’s sparks then we will go a long way towards that.’
Andrea said that it takes the pressure off men: ‘With Five in Five, girls have to ask five men out on dates and the guys love it!’
One thing the panel all agreed on was the question of who pays? The answer was short and simple: if you do the asking, you do the paying.
After an agreeable chat we were in for our first awkward moment when talking date ideas.
‘A friend of mine takes his first dates to the driving range. He wants to see how compatible they are, how his dates handle the pressure of hitting the ball, how they deal with the challenges and frustrations of a tough exercise.’
Emma Merkas’s friend sounds best avoided unless you want to end up in a Brett Easton Ellis novel. After a nervous cough, we moved briskly on to other dating ideas.
As an alternative to the usual ideas of dinner or drinks, Andrea suggested ‘bringing out your personality is really important.’
Liam agreed ‘Try doing something you enjoy doing anyway, trying to share some of yourself and your world. If you like going rock climbing do it together. If you like grungy music, take them to a gig.’
Timeout had encouraged singles to ‘try out your new skills’ after the discussion. But the bar emptied out quicker than a happy-hour pot glass. The nervous singles scuttled out into the night so briskly, I wondered if they had other plans.
My date had reached its conclusion without so much as a good-night kiss.
Dan Toomey is a staff writer at upstart and Master of Global Communications student at La Trobe University. You can follow him on Twitter: @dan_tooms