Mantalk: What’s Kenyan speed dating really like? I tried it, here’s a surprising lesson

What’s Kenyan speed dating really like? I tried it, here’s a surprising lesson. Photo | Photosearch

What you need to know:

These were accomplished women, their dating pool getting smaller and finer; while the men in here looked like they could barely tell apart a sidiria from a kamisi

If I told you where I was over the weekend would you believe me?

It’s around 10pm at night. One of those nights when the moon is showing off, the crowds are lit and Nairobi is jerking itself awake. I am somewhere deep in the crevices of Karen, in one of those “home-away-from-home” type cabins favoured by the expats and flavoured by the locals. We are about 10 or so men. And several ladies. Say, almost triple. It’s a “Singles Party”. It is some sort of real-life swipe-romance, point-and-click dating.

While all the ladies could be truly single, I am suspect of the half dozen men whose fingernails are cleanly cut, the ones with Louis XIV levels of self-confidence: l’etat c’est moi. They could be married but identify as single.

Why am I here? Good question. I saw this poster or rather this banner kept on appearing on my feed. Three days in a row. I figured the Lord’s hand must be in it and who am I to question the Lord? I thought to myself, what is the worst that could happen?

As a social scientist, it is my job to do these things so that you don’t have to (ask not what your country can do for you blah blah blah). Besides, the tickets were way cheaper for men, and yes, I’m a cheapskate—some would say parsimonious but that’s spectacularly missing the point. So off! I went, to give Caesar what belongs to Caesar.

We must have been the loudest in that sleepy town of Karen. Success loves silence, that’s why everyone fears graveyards. Death succeeds in the end. Morbid musings aside, the night was packed full of activities. Team bonding, which surprise of surprises, did not involve alcohol? I am always worried about the fact that Kenyan events or rendezvous cannot work without alcohol. It seems that alcohol is the lubricant of all our conversations. Anyway.

The host (a lady) receives us all by hand, and I can tell she appreciates the finer things in life by the kiss she plants on my cheek, in a way Judas might have picked a lesson or two. I was looking dapper, smelling fresh, and almost hired one of those four-legged Kilimani chihuahuas that women seem to swoon over and act as a better wingman than their two-legged counterparts.

Since the lasses outnumbered the men, (but living in 2022, you cannot discard the fact that some could be playing for the other side. Or both sides), we got off with some sort of speed dating. Five minutes per date. By the time the Lord had directed my gaze toward three or four hopefuls—women who looked good from far but may have been far from good— the night was yawning away. This was my Kairos moment. I took my leave.

Everyone is searching for love. Mostly, everyone is more women than men. But like I keep saying Kenyan men don’t give love, we make love. These were accomplished women, their dating pool getting smaller and finer; while the men in here looked like they could barely tell apart a sidiria from a kamisi. By the way, what the hell is a sidiria?

Interacting with the women only doubled down my beliefs. People are willing to pay a premium on love à la Tinder and Bumble and Grindr, looking for those cute online relationships where you no longer call each other by your names.

Look, I have been around the dating block too. I remember this one; two heads taller. With a soul-crushing smile and a will-surrendering aura. The kind where she qualifies for the iconic: “Hot singles in your area”. But I wasn’t looking for love. She wanted something long and steady.

I wanted something tempestuous and unpredictable. So we all put up fronts to get what we want, leaving our hearts as casualties in the ICU ward of undelivered expectations. 

In a way, this singles’ event is the perfect image: like an incessant tongue seeking out a sore tooth, the idea that man is always constantly searching, yearning, to find love, companionship, friendship—whatever you call it. The cozy feeling of belonging to something, someone, fingers, and limbs—entire lives—intertwined. To become one. 

Sitting across one of the babes made me realise how easy it is to assume things. This is an event that you can bet your house on, if only for the fact that for every man out there, getting hooked up was the goal. It all felt strangely apt: paying money to buy love; tempting the gods by disowning their existence—or is it offering them a helping hand? Was this the price of love? We all wore name tags, as icebreakers. My name tag said “Booty Hunter”—clearly I am no better. 

The “heart wants what it wants” is terrible advice. Garden-variety inspiration. It presumes that nothing has been learned and we look doomed to drift on in the shadows of our past greatness. And it must be draining. This constant lookout for the one. 

I have loved and I have lost.

And I have loved and lost some more.

I based my adulthood on the notion of One Great Love. So far, the learning curve has set me straight with stop-start romances: four months, two months, seven years, one month, one year, not necessarily in that order. 

I quickly made out—and this is somewhat painful to admit—that I ended up needing my partners a lot more than I wanted them. It is the kind of mistake young men make, the same sort I used to make. I’ve distilled that love is more of a TV series than a movie. Some seasons are better than others. Some people start on different seasons and catch up. Some never do. More importantly, the series last longer and teach you that you can love different people, differently. 

Five minutes is too short to fully know a person’s motive, but for the vast majority, everyone is walking down the streets with a wound, and love is the salve on your skin. Love and loss. Grief, of course, is a synonym for love. We don’t mourn those we never cared for. I cherish my former flames, the way men hold dear the women who prepare them to be decent before they’re capable. But then again, we hacks always want a story to tell.

Enough with the encomiums, I'm betting that some of you are still reading because you're hoping for the math. You are looking for a payoff, a “what happened then?” Here it is: Dating is hard in this country, no matter how easy people make it look.

And if you are wondering if I got lucky, well, a gentleman does not kiss and tell. Just ask Caesar.