Mantalk: I went to a speed dating event. Where were all the men?
What you need to know:
I didn’t feel quite like I was hunting. I felt like the prey, in a box, like it was all a game, like I was a puppet, and there was a puppeteer pulling strings behind the scenes
What were you doing on Saturday night? It doesn’t matter. My plans were better. I hope you brought your favourite cup because the tea I am about to serve will have you questioning my masculinity. Not that I care—only God can judge me. Better control your high horse then since we all know gossip runs the world and I am about to sing like a canary. Besides, in the absence of confirmed fact, grapevine and rumours are sanctified as truth.
So, what happened?
“I went for speed dating.”
“What do you mean so? How do I say this without sounding condescending?”
It was weirdly fun. Fun because the men were very few, and I am a sour grape. I won’t tell you how many men were there but I will tell you, you could count them on one hand and still have enough fingers left to point out the one you liked. Weird because other than my mother’s chama when they ceremoniously colonise our living room, I have never been in the presence of so many women hunting for mates—willingly or otherwise.
This event was a researcher’s wet dream. The age gap was astounding—what I hoped to be my superpower ended up being my kryptonite. We were all sitting across from each other, a single man at every table, flanked by a bevy of beauties, like a small country president with small penis syndrome. To tell you the truth, can cheat can die, I was scared shitless, but somehow still turned on by the prospects. What could go wrong? It’s human nature to be lured by the power of the forbidden. That is if we do that which we are not supposed to do, then we feel like we are really doing what we want to do.
The poster said “speed dating” but it felt more of a networking event. Maybe, or maybe not I had carried my business cards, because you just never know. I was not looking for love. There is no love in Nairobi. Nairobi is for taxes and loans and foreheads. Maybe they were. Some definitely were. Love, so the cliché goes, is like a butterfly—the more you chase after it, the faster it runs. But if you stay still…blablabla, you know the rest. If that’s the case, then we all needed a rest over how hard we were running to make this thing work.
I really shouldn’t be telling you this but I could tell at least one of those men here was already married. He couldn’t have been more blatant if he blew a klaxon and wore a neon sign around his neck. He was very selective, had no identifying documents and was busy on the phone—presumably assuaging the madam that he was in a small meeting. It was a meeting alright. What’s the difference between a boardroom and a bedroom anyway? Aren’t they all rooms?
And the ladies showed up, all 30-something of them, gazing into their 30s. Well dressed. No grey areas, smelling all 50 shades of sin. They chose their words carefully, and they knew how to put on the right amount of makeup so their faces said “Woman.” Not for the first time in my life I was intimidated. These were women who were here for a purpose. They knew what they wanted and who they wanted it with. It led me to some serious conclusions, albeit with questionable data—most of the single men I told about this escapade would rather mop the ocean than go for speed dating.
Methinks it is because it puts us at a disadvantage. Men love to be problem solvers. Women love to feel wanted; men want to feel needed. Speed dating is the direct antithesis of this, it stinks of, how do I put this in a way Jesus will let me back in church on Sunday—it reeks of despair. It was like listening to Beethoven or Johnny Cash or Leonard Cohen, musicians of cigarettes and sex and quiet human desperation.
In there, I didn’t feel quite like I was hunting. Contrary. I felt like the prey, in a box, like it was all a game, like I was a puppet, and there was a puppeteer pulling strings behind the scenes, a male Marie Antoinette heading for the guillotine. I have to confess I am particularly picky with my women. My friends don’t call me petty for nothing, and I don’t mind an independent woman as long as she understands independence also means I will occasionally invade other countries because I have noticed seeds of dictatorship sprouting in me.
“What are you looking for?” was the question floating on my lips.
“Nothing serious,” was the answer I wanted to hear. “Someone for the long haul,” was all I heard.
I rolled my eyes and thought the same thing that most everybody thought: “These are highly successful women. Beautiful even. Why would they roll a die on their hearts?” My opinions have changed with time. I know how hard dating can be, how the quality of relationships has dwindled. I could tell the ladies there were probably good people, maybe life dealt them a card, as life tends to do; and I could cut the disappointment with the butter knife on the table when they realized that this was as good as they were going to get. At least for that night. Some left early. Most just blended in with the darkness, never to be seen again. You could almost taste the smug satisfaction, that whiff of schadenfreude, something in our puritanical national soul that is sated by the fact that those who fly higher have farther to fall. It seems, at least from where I sit, the higher a woman goes, the farther the prospect of dating, or securing a worthy mate. It’s not ideal, but life’s not fair. And knowing that a fire burns doesn’t prevent burning.
Still, give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. I was not going to waste that gin and tonic. I am terrible at Karaoke but that wasn’t going to stop me from singing Bien’s “Inauma”; which come to think of it was pretty prescient considering the occasion.
Good relationships are like a well-constructed sentence. They need breaks and stops. This event seemed like reading one long paragraph from the middle without any breaks. I am not saying they were all wamama. I am not not saying I cannot be a kababa. Nairobi, after all, is lonely even when it has millions of people going through it each day. The people there might have figured out, as I did not, that loneliness is a puzzle; that the jigsaw is a mirage, not a prison. It is not to dismantle but to conserve it that strength is required, for it will come apart in an instant. It’s a bit like the lone prophet preaching on the rock, telling everyone what the truth is. There’s no debating with a prophet.
Stories like this need a payoff so here goes: I told you I am picky, so I selected one with a great laugh—easy on the eye with the fragrance of baby shampoo and a smile like cocaine powder and skin as clean as rain. Was she into me? I guess. I mean I explained the same to my Wakili friend and he, having dated half of Nairobi and then some, confirmed as much. Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence, he insisted.
I would honestly have preferred taking them back to my place but their place would’ve worked well too, erm, get to know each other better. I didn’t. I had to choose between taking a stranger home or hitting the next club for karaoke night and I chose karaoke. Regrets? I’ve had a few. But not taking a stranger home (my mother would be proud) to sing Inauma the whole night isn’t one of them.