Delightfully, I have first-hand experience moving to somewhere new as an adult with zero friends in tow. I even wrote about it here. Many bouts of small-talk, turning up solo to mid-week activities and super awks months later, and you’ll be pleased to know Chester, some people can stand to be around me for extended periods of time. I’m not saying it’s sustainable, but I do alright.
amble is many things to me, and the most unexpected is a social circle of weird, creative, loud, talented idiots, who I’m pretty fond of. Friendship has been an accidental aside, and that’s how I prefer it – don’t we all – when it surprises you out of nowhere.
Stumbling upon, ‘Speed-friending’ for women at Storyhouse recently, made me smile. Where was this event when I first moved here, all shy and socially-impaired? Assuming enough people make the effort to show-up, surely it’s a more direct route to new mates than all the bumbling about I did. Plus, you’re all (presumably) in the same (somewhat empty) boat; either looking to meet people, tired of your existing friends, new to the area, or some mix.
Curiosity got the better of me and I booked in, why not? Can we ever be friendship saturated? And let’s not rule out trading-up if we over-commit. If I compared the new friends to my existing friends and liked them more, so be it. It’s still spring cleaning season.
All that said, I was not looking forward to the night at all by the time it came around. I’d been out all day, drenched in the rain and wanted nothing more than a takeaway, PJs and box set could offer. The thought of trying to be interesting and interested in strangers did not help (as any introvert will know).
After initially failing to get my boots on the right feet, and returning to the house twice for forgotten items, I finally set off, so far away from charming it’s frankly scary. I just needed to get to the gin, then everything would improve.
The £5 ticket covers a drink, so if you’re drinking alcohol (g&t please) the event is essentially free. Staff are on hand to guide any skittish loners to one of the two tables at the furthest end of The Kitchen. My first conversation is with Louise from The Life Orgasm Project, who’s running the night. She’s super friendly and we have a brief chat about her focus on women finding joy, before I’m encouraged to set to work on my sticky name label. Some attendees go to town with colours and doodles, but I’m a reduced shell-of-a-person, impressed with myself when I manage to spell it correctly.
Louise tells us a little bit about Storyhouse Women – there’s a ton of events over the weekend, but the theatre is keen to keep the momentum up all year and want us to suggest the activities and talks we (women) want to see. She explains that it’s a trial night she’s been wanting to put on for a while and there’s more than a degree of winging it. But mostly I guess it’s down to us, the 23 ticket holders, to make a go of it.
Just like with speed-dating, some of us need to stay put, whilst others make the effort to revolve around, so we’re treated to a new face every five minutes or so. With a chink of a glass, we’re off, and the prompt is ‘Botox or not?’ My teammate and I artificially debate this for a while, before slipping into a natural chat about the different areas of Chester. No doubt the purpose of the prompts, to give you a gentle little push into stringing words together until you’re comfortable enough to take the stabilisers off.
For the next hour and a half or so, I don’t think about my long day. I don’t feel tired or check the time. I talk about open heart surgery, ceramics, London, Ginger closing down, The Language Guys, the Street Level festival at Alexanders, the perks of working from home and creative writing. I talk with a student, retired secretary, barrister, ex-college head, a French couple working on their English and an osteopath (amongst others). And it’s a wonderful way to spend a Friday night. Sure, there are people I click with more than others, but the conversation never struggles. We all seem to be in a good mood, looking up dazed at each glass chink, intrigued to see who we’ll be nattering with next.
Louise feeds us a regular stream of prompts, written down on paper across the tables, but for the most part, we make it up. I often ask people why they’ve come to the event, and things kick off from there. It doesn’t take long at all for me to enjoy the randomness, never knowing who will occupy the chair opposite, their age, job or story, and what they’re about to divulge. It definitely solidifies my plan to go speed-dating instead of using Tinder, should I ever find myself flung back into singledom (my husband will be delighted). Because once you’re past the initial self-consciousness, it’s just a lot of fun. I learn about great things going on in the city and laugh my head off when a lady says, ‘We need to stop treating people differently because of what’s tucked in their pants.’ Hear, hear.
Louise asks us to write down what our feminist super-power is. I get the tie-in to Storyhouse Women Weekend but, although by this point my brain is buzzing socially, it’s 10pm and the question isn’t making much sense. My current pal and I discuss the merits of flying over invisibility, then write down that my superpower is having an understanding face. There’s just enough time to swap numbers with a few likeminded friend-seekers, plug David Atkinson’s magazine course to a lady looking to get back into writing, and tell Louise it was a roaring success in my book.
If they put this on again, in whatever form, I urge you to give it a go. Even if you’re scared, or have no idea what you’ll talk about, or, like me, want to hide from a tough day with a minimal effort night. Becuase you might just meet someone bang on your wavelength, or interested in your business, or who knows your mum, or who inspires you to try something different. Show up. Have a drink. Ask for a friendship to-go.