I wake up, it is Sunday morning and I immediately consider whether I will go through with it. After all, the ticket was only £11.50. I remember last week when I found a £2 coin in the porch and put it in my pocket, even though I was fairly sure it wasn’t mine because I rarely carry coins these days, and subsequently tell myself that with that financial gain, it’s really only £9.50.
No, I tell myself. Go. Do this. This thing. Vacate your comfort zone. I wonder what the worst thing is that could happen at a speed friending event and then stop doing that because there really are quite terrible things that could happen. I realise that if I am indeed to vacate my comfort zone and go speed friending then I first of all need to vacate my mind.
So I stop thinking about it. And I eat, shower and clothe myself – because this is a better alternative than trying to befriend someone whilst in a state of hunger, filth and nudity – I Google Map the venue and leave the house.
On the tube on the way there, I am more aware of the people on the carriage. I wonder if the man opposite me with a suitcase is going speed friending. I suspect he probably isn’t though because he looks too relaxed. He’s probably going on holiday. I envy him his relaxed state and then stop doing that because he looks up at me. I avert my eyes to the advert above him, which is about erectile dysfunction and to be honest I was expecting something about a bank or a takeaway so I look at another one because I don’t want to be seen to be looking at an advert about solutions to erectile dysfunction.
I get to Oxford Circus and leave the station and it’s bitterly cold. I could still avoid this self-inflicted impending doom, I tell myself, but for some reason carry on walking towards the venue. I approach a crossing on Regent Street and I am delighted that the man just turned red as I get there as it means I can avoid speed friending for a few extra seconds.
I go into an enormous book shop and I wonder if any of these people are going speed friending. I am grateful that the event is all the way up on the 5th floor and I take the stairs rather than the lift because, cleverly, I have calculated that a lift would get me there quicker. I get to the fifth floor and I feel nervous. This is such a bad idea. This is going to go down as one of my biggest life regrets. Of all the anecdotes of failure, missed opportunity and regret, that I will inevitably relay on my deathbed, this is going to feature prominently.
I step past the little ropes that segregate attendees from the public and I get ready to feel awkward and lost and perplexed when something interrupts me:
What the hell is going on? What fresh madness is this? I do not have time to feel awkward or lost or perplexed because someone is saying hi to me. I am awash with relief and any nerves are obliterated.
I converse and laugh and joke with two other people before we go to the bar for a drink. I make a mental to get in touch with the Guinness World Records people because, at £3.65, I believe I have discovered the world’s most expensive can of Coca-cola.
I sit down and chat with people and it’s almost as if this is a normal thing and I am with normal people and I am having normal conversations. Which is, of course, a preposterous notion.
The organiser prepares us for the actual speed friending to commence and tells us we have to write down our top three friends at the end, submit them, and there will be prizes for the names chosen by the most people. This is an horrendous development. One I understand the motive behind – to encourage people to up their friendliness game – but not one I like. I wonder if anyone was sitting there thinking, ‘Well I was going to behave like a total arse to everyone but this nugget of information changes everything’.
The speed friending is underway and I talk to people. I talk to lots of people for four minutes each and I can’t believe how fast four minutes can go by with each section of time punctuated by a whistle blow (I think?) signalling it was time to move on to the next table.
I talk to some people about the event, some about hobbies, some about work, some about travel, some about London, and some about no specific topic at all. I speak about whatever happens to randomly crop up as I take my seat at their table and I realise these are my favourite four minute periods. Unstructured, random, effortlessly flowing and it reminds me of how I chat with my existing friends.
The speed friending comes to an end and I am happy because it has been a triumph and I have met some cool people. I am also exhausted because speed friending involves hours of almost constant conversation and the introvert in me has almost nothing left in the tank. Somebody asks if I want to go to the pub and I do because I like these people. Everyone I speak to is open, friendly and interesting, and I decide that consuming alcohol with them is an excellent idea.
At the pub I talk to more people, some of whom I spoke to during the event and some of whom I didn’t. I realise that actually this feels like a really normal thing to do and reconsider whether this day will in fact feature in my deathbed speech of regret.
I decide it probably won’t.