Joburg's single circle
I looked at the group and it seemed, in that moment, that when it comes to hooking up for the first time, adults are not that different from teenagers. We stood in a small circle, the early arrivals, drinks in hands, talking keenly about the weather and other interesting topics. When a woman's glass was empty, a guy would step forward gentleman-like and disappear with it for a refill. The air would stir with general approval. Everybody was checking out everybody else, and there was quite a bit to see. Appeal ranged from average to attractive, with at least one blonde bombshell in the mix.
The moment did not last long. More and more people arrived, making the circle unwieldy and breaking it up into smaller groups. The room became warmer and there was the reassuring buzz of people engaging in the serious business of establishing a good first impression. This was how, according to Jan Mannix, you stop looking for Mr or Mrs Right in all the wrong places.
She runs a dinner club for single people in Rosebank, Johannesburg and the thing that I liked most about her was the fact that she really believes she is doing something positive in a time when most of the headlines in the papers are bad. Jan invites singles in specific age groups starting at 25-35 and ending at 55-upwards to dinner on a Friday and Saturday night. She invites about 24 people per session, and seats them at tables of eight, four men and four women. She serves a three course meal and for every new course, the men have to change tables. In this way everybody gets to meet everybody, and more importantly, sit down with them for a while.
One could argue that she is a lunatic in rose-coloured spectacles. Let's face it, all the greatest love stories are tragedies. But is this a reason to slip into your woolly slippers when the sun goes down on a Saturday night? Apparently not.
In spite of overwhelming evidence (personal experience, and what I have seen in, like, art films) that relationships are dangerous, rocky roads, lined with guilt trips and insecurity, most people still prefer to get hooked up, and many seem to profit from helping them do so.
If speed dating is not your thing, and you cannot afford a dating coach (the latest thing in the US, apparently) there are many South African dating sites on the www. A quick Google delivered 25 local ones in five seconds. Datingbuzz, the biggest of the lot, has more than 540 000 members (local and international, just in case you are looking for greener pastures) at the moment. Some may just be looking to get laid, but some are looking for love. Or something that resembles it.
The crowd at dinner generally poo-pooed the idea of internet dating. The horror story of the 10-year old photograph is a familiar one: you think you are going to meet someone that looks like Mat Damon, and he ends up being Jabba the Hut. People lie about their age, their income, their waistline, about who they are. And it is ideal territory for prowlers of all kinds you have to be careful, and you have to keep safe.
According to Jan, this was something that women liked about the dinner club. Bars are never very good places for connecting with responsible adults on a long term basis, and not ideal for meeting someone from the web. The dinner club is safe, and the men who attend are serious about finding someone and settling down. Although, when you speak to the guys, the regulars all say they only come for the food. And then they laugh... "Jokes! I'm joking!" But Jan puts out a fantastic spread. Even if you don't find someone on the first night, you are not going home hungry.
I was not sure what to expect when we sat down for dinner. Would we talk as a group, or would I be stuck with the guy on my right? But it was painless: everybody was there for the same reason. The regulars were at ease and helped the rest settle in. And the guy on my right was quite sweet. He was an ex-vegetarian whose parents sent him along.
"And why not?" he asked me.
"Why are you here?" I asked him in return.
"I am looking for a soul mate and a lover." He had such conviction that I felt he deserved whatever he asked of the gods.
People told their stories. Mick, at the head of the table, recently moved up from Cape Town.
"I work from home, I am new in town, I am divorced... what do you do to meet people?"
He had a point but I wanted to urge him not to talk about his ex-wife so much once he has met them. I thought that would help speed things along.
But on the whole, the guys were charming and interesting. Peter and David, regulars, were back after a stint in couple-dom. Both found a date at the club and made happy matches for respectively four months and two years.
Sharon the bombshell was at my table. She runs a successful business, and I wondered if the little CSL in the parking lot belonged to her. Really, the kind of girl, you would imagine, wading through rivers of men at her feet. But there she was, funny, clever.
And so the courses changed, and the guys switched seats, and the meeting of people began all over again.
After dinner there was mingling, searching for someone they liked a lot, sometimes discovering that person was looking for someone else. But it was easy and friendly, and you laughed a lot. Even so, according to Jan, it was a fairly sedate evening.
"I had a bunch about a week ago... nobody wanted to go home."
I believed her - even Mick found somebody to chat to. There was a warm-and-fuzzy feeling in the room. I thought that if you really wanted to find love... or someone... this seemed like a good place to look.
- Contact Jan Mannix:
- 011 447 4771 or 082 346 8367
- R200 annual registration fee, R200 for dinner (very cheap!), bring your own drinks.
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