If you’ve ever been to a dating event — especially a speed-dating session during which you get three minutes with each potential love interest — you might know what I mean when I tell you that my mind fills with a loud variation of: “Get me out of here. I’ve changed my mind. This is definitely not for me!"
My second-to-last date (hatched via a well-known U.K. dating website) ended with the classic line (his), “You are well above the average Giovanna,” and the mildly shocked and somewhat angered response (mine), “I’m not sure how to answer that.” We did not meet again.
Apparently it was my fault, an experienced Internet dating friend assured me. I had answered my date's message before seeing his photo; I did not vet him beforehand by phone; I didn’t analyze the aforementioned photo (once it did arrive) to check for telltale signs of non-beauty.
I was filled with trepidation when one of the many eco-related mailing lists to which I subscribe recently advertised an eco-dating event in Carshalton Beeches (not a beach but a pleasant, green and suburban area just south of London). I did, however, sign up. At worst it would be material for an article, I thought; at best I might meet someone who knows that his current lifestyle requires at least two planets to sustain it. And is moved enough to do something about it.
The eco-dating event (the first in London, apparently) was organized by Carshalton Lavender, a community group that manages three acres of lavender fields in South London and organizes an annual harvest for the public. (The rest of the flowers are distilled into lavender oil and sold.) Our task as eco-daters was to weed the fields. Not very glamorous, I know, but fortunately I did not find this out until I got there!
On the morning of the event I woke up late, leaving myself little time to consider my wardrobe. Since I had been told to bring gardening gloves (if I had any) and waterproof clothes in case of rain, I knew that heels and a small clutch bag were not on the agenda. This took a considerable amount of pressure off. I opted for jeans, a pretty organic T-shirt, a waterproof jacket and trainers (sneakers for all you Americans). I put my hair up in a ponytail and even forgot to put mascara on or insert my contact lenses. (Maybe I took the non-grooming thing a little too far?)
It was one of those rare but beautifully sunny London days, and as soon as I got off the train at Carshalton Beeches I was surrounded on all sides by tree-lined streets with incredibly lush and flower-filled gardens. Once I reached the fields, I was assigned a number, given a trowel, gardening gloves and a mat to lean on and told to join one of the 10 male participants in the first row. And that’s when I realized I was finding this quite enjoyable. Maybe it was the extra time (we had 10 minutes with each person), the dazzling sun and fresh air, or the handmade goodies we munched on between sessions, but the whole thing felt about a million times less artificial than speed dating, and almost as many times less alienating than doing it in a chic and trendy central London bar.
There’s something about handling plants and earth (dirt in U.S.-speak) that makes you feel connected to the planet and others. As Jane Durney, the lavender project’s treasurer and eco-dating organizer, put it afterward: “Having a shared activity took the pressure off chatting to strangers, and wearing clothes suitable for outdoor work meant that people were more relaxed.” The fact that we eco-daters actually worked — several rows of lavender looked much better for our visit — was both satisfying and tiring (in a good way), and prompted me to look into landsharing possibilities for my own back garden, a great way to make the most out of the garden and meet new people.
At the end of the “date”, we handed in slips with the names the people we wanted to meet again. The details of anyone who named us back were sent a couple of days later by e-mail. And though I admit that this event has not led to “love” or even a fling in my case, it did lead to dates with people whose idea of a good time is not taking a plane to another country every other weekend. It meant that at least one of my selection criteria — possibly the most important one — had been dealt with. And, unlike previous dating events, it hasn’t left me with a bad taste in my mouth. In fact it has left me with a slight tan.
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