news: Speedball

LOVE HURTS. Love can be wonderful.

Not unlike Jason and his Argonauts in eternal pursuit of the Golden Fleece, or the quest for the mythical Holy Grail, people everywhere are finding ingenious new methods of taking that first step on the rocky path to potential happiness. Anything, in fact, is now considered legitimate, other than baring your soul, taking a chance and letting your heart speak.

The growing trend away from letting things take their natural course has now even been legislated for by government. The terms ‘spinster’ and ‘bachelor’ will be officially abolished from December 5 of this year. If that has anything to do with St. Nicholas, I don’t know. Unmarried people will be known as “singles” – a term that today carries a certain stigma and applies to millions of us out here. I say “out” because many of all those happily married couples, secure in their, at times, ridiculously early, created social duopoly, regard us as somehow socially incapacitated.

I never felt inadequate in my role as an independent male, who had not yet found the one (and I believe there is only one outside that bleak landscape of soul-destroying perpetual compromises) until a few days ago. I was almost instantly smitten by Penny, a hated American whose fellow German origins date back to 1622. Certain chemicals in my brain, directly linked with that life giving muscle in our bodies, the heart, burst forth. I felt dirty. The problem? Penny’s husband Ryan, a wonderful guy, engaging, eminently human, a guy I would entrust my sister to, if not pursue myself, were I that way inclined. I felt ostracised in my plainly immoral emotional dilemma. Inadvertant brief moments of physical contact only allowed two means of escape – impossible dreams and interminable repeats of Lucille on the karaoke machine. Fortunately, we humans are resilient and, when thankfully blessed with a conscience, have that almost grotesque ability to forget, to survive.

Falling madly in love, by the way, really does mean you have gone slightly crazy. Scientists in New Jersey have discovered that the afflicted suffer from brain intoxication (no alcohol involved), a form of dementia that causes people to go gaga over the object of their passion. Dr. Helen Fisher’s brain scan experiments show that those head over heels display gushing dopamine, a hormone flooding the deep brain area. The study concludes by stating the obvious – as the temporary madness subsides, infatuation lessens and either a more profound love or a platonic relationship replaces it.

This is too mathematical for me. I prefer more romantic explanations, twin souls and knights in shining armour for the irrational behaviour of those who suddenly find themselves in love. In either case, I am reliably told that a good hug is indeed good for you. Research shows that cuddling lowers blood pressure and wards off heart disease, apart from promoting physical closeness, breaking down barriers and eliminating stress.

Having written all this, it almost seems alien to describe to you the latest craze in the dating game. How and where do singles go, in the current I’m-too-busy-to-wink modern age, to unleash their hormones? America popularised hamburgers, the drive-in takeaway and other high-octane, time saving gems. The concepts of speed dating and, in particular, speed parties have now arrived from the Brave New World – apologies to Mr. Huxley.

In a spacious bar in Parque das Naçõesin Lisbon, recently, the women were the first to arrive, shortly after 8.30pm. Portugal’s first instant party was scheduled to kick off at 9pm and a number of guests ventured along alone, others in the reassuring company of friends, in pursuit of Cupid’s new ballistic arrow. A few minutes before the appointed hour, single men drifted into the locality much to the relief of the assembled female throng, only to be left squirming on bar stools following the announcement that one participant had been delayed by 25 minutes. Reservations are made prior to the event and, upon arrival, a card profiling each 21st century Romeo or Juliet is issued. Be it at the bar or on the raised seating platform, furtive glances are exchanged as the tense atmosphere holds everyone’s attention in a vice like grip.

At 9.30pm, the organiser invites the men to join a lady with a corresponding number at any one of the plentiful tables scattered around the establishment. They have four minutes. A signal then indicates that they must move on in this game of musical love chairs. “Hi, I’m Luís, what do you do? Do you like to read?” As the numbered candidates rotate, variations of the same brief conversations are repeated over and over. There is an interval and the partygoers are allowed to mix informally. Small groups form while others go outside for a cigarette, smoking not being permitted during the happening. Break over, proceedings recommence.

As the hour of truth approaches, notes are collected by the organiser, comments ranging from “in love” to “another meeting” and “no interest”. Everyone goes home spending the next few days waiting for an e-mail informing them that lightning has struck, or not as the case may be. Twenty-three sad, McDonalds type consumers, paying 25 euros each, turned up for this attempt at short fusing matters of the heart. Statistics relating to its success are not available. To me, it smells of commercialism and vulgarity, an exercise devoid of all the bits and pieces that make your heart pound, your soul soar and burst into irrelevant song, of all the beauty of a budding romance. Thanks, but no thanks. Hope is eternal and, as someone once said, “I will survive”, slowly.

By Skip Bandele