What happened when DoingSomething made me say Balls to Dating

Did you ever go on holiday with your family as a kid to Butlins or Pontins? You know south coast, all pale and pasty, the first time you’d been allowed to taste a drop of shandy and ever seen your Dad’s legs. You got a crush on a ‘Blue Coat’ even though you were only six years old and, yeah, that’s a bit weird. Then you made best friends with a nine year old who dared you to eat dirt and who you can’t remember the name of.

No, me neither…

But I can’t be the only one who's recollection of playing table tennis is resigned souly to wet weather days in the kids club of a Plymouth family resort.

#BallsToDating was DoingSomething’s idea of an antidote to the wet weather family Easter Sunday and dating events as we know them. So, as I walked into the neon basement of Bounce, I have to admit, I felt a little nervous.

Butlins Table Tennis Champ of summer 96’ was clearly not going to come in handy here.

A sea of singles before me, a barrage of people all desperate for a good time and clinging to the bar. Amongst the chaos, neon and a DJ of the MTV persuasion, there was of course what we were all here for: Ping Pong.

I took a deep breath and a turned to me Wingwoman who smiled and offered unhelpfully, “I’ll follow you!”

I’d brought along one of my most fun loving single Wingwomen, Miss TV. A 20 something I met, as her nickname suggests, when we both worked for the slave driver that is Television. Due to the crazy hours of being in the entertainment TV business Miss TV… How can I say this? She doesn’t get out much..?

But, when she does get away and out she’s just the best company! Possibly because she’s just grateful… (Sorry)

We headed straight to the bar, happily fighting our way through some very good-looking guys. The night seemed to be filled with the kind of crowd who would have already been heading out to raucous bars and parties on a bank holiday. But, had spotted a fun opportunity with DoingSomething at Bounce, and happily headed over for Ping Pong and an alternative to dating.

One of my main gripes when going to a singles night is being confronted with the variety of single who barely leaves the house. A gathering of lonely people brought together by the soul commonality of loneliness and the longing to meet someone else. A gathering reeking of desperation and stilted conversations.

Out of all of the dating companies I’ve reviewed, happily, this is not something that I’m ever faced with at a DoingSomething event. Possibly as the name suggests, these singles really are active and outgoing people. So this singles night felt almost like a night in the real world. Which is not an atmosphere, which is often artificially constructed in the dating world, with it’s organised fun, nametags and ‘ice breakers’.

As we descended further into the party one of the Bounce staff members; a guy in a purple T-shirt which informed us that his job description was literally “Game Maker”, told us, loudly, as was the only appropriate volume, that we should just grab a bat and look for guys we liked. Then we could join their table for a game. Simple.

Simple but perhaps a little intimidating.

For a dating event junkie like myself I was expecting a little more organised fun than just the organic nature of excitement, which was filling the basement around me. I was confused and now somewhat out of my comfort zone.

Put me at a table face to face and one on one with a hopeful single and I’ve found my target audience. I’ve got you for a controlled amount of time and in a limited space, in which I can fill the conversation with, what I think are, witty anecdotes and jokes and frankly, lies…

That seems to be how London’s dating scene has been designed to work. But here DoingSomething was casually turning that on it’s head. I could feel the night trying to swallow me up. So I breathed through my gin and decided to be brave.

One small step for a single girl, one giant leap for a dating blogger. This was the real world contained inside a singles night. It had to be fun.

Eventually we found ourselves at the main table. A table of circling singles, bats in one hand drinks in the other. Running, like the children I remembered at the holiday camps, around a table tennis game. Except here I quickly realised everyone was on show. Everyone was in competition.

Miss the ball, hit the net or knock the ball off the table and away from the crowd and you’re either OUT (something no single ever wants to be when faced with any type of game) Or, you have to dance in front of the group. Yes I was still terrified.

Before we could get up the courage to play there had to be time for another drink.

The bar was heaving and it seemed to take ages to receive the two little gins I’d ordered. Miss TV had stayed by the main table hoping to reserve a spot for us both in the next game. So, now alone, standing at the bar gave me an opportunity to again survey the room. When you’re in a room full of self confirmed single people these gaps between events such as getting your drink, finding your friend, dancing or in this case Ping Pong, are the moments when more interesting events strike.

Alone is also a very helpful visual cue at a singles event and no sooner than I reached the bar did a guy approach me.  He was smiley and clearly willing and straight away he engaged me in a debate as to whether or not this was the weirdest way to meet someone.

Another great note about these events is that their apparent weirdness (which just can’t be put another way) is in itself a talking point. With the same determination Brits have for talking about the weather so too do singles have in talking about their environment. “This is a cool place!” “Have you been here before?” “Isn’t speed dating cringey?” And in this case: “When was the last time you played ping pong?”

We love to talk about the thing which connects us, but at the same time our ‘Britishness’ means that we run scared from anything too personal or probing. Enter the singles version of “Nice weather we’re having!”

We chatted for as long as it took for the drinks to come but the short of the long was I didn’t fancy him. So I made my excuses to return to Miss TV. Not a problem for either of us. Mr Smiley happily bounded off towards the other ready and available single women and I wandered back to the main games table, where I was confronted with the site of Miss TV, running rings around the ping pong table!

This is why I’d bought her. No fear!

However this gave me another pause between events. I watched like a parent on the side-lines. The girl was good! There were mainly guys left in the game now, the competitive streak strong amongst the boys in the room, as you might expect, and unfortunately the girls had conformed to stereotype. Heels and handbags less au fait with the skills needed for table tennis. So there we all stood, all the girls, as if in an arena watching a few other ladies (mine proudly still one of them) and the men smashing ping pong balls at one and other and darting round the table.

So while I was paused yet again, yet again another single guy approached. Well actually his well meaning giggling Wingwoman bumped into me. Breathed vodka in my face and said “Have you met my friend? It’s his birthday!”

Then she turned and grabbed hold of the poor guy, laughing, “Look, girls! Girls!”

There was no escape and it was as awkward for him as it was for me. He was a little shorter and older than I’d usually go for but I decided he was attractive and ‘normal’. And looking around at the rest of the room I also decided he was definitely the lesser of possible evils.

We got talking and in the end I told him about the blog. This tends to happen when I find I don’t fancy a guy. Isn’t it funny how the less attracted you are to a person the more honest you seem to be able to be?

He was funny and a sweet guy and he certainly kept me entertained whilst waiting for Miss TV’s rein of victory to finally come to an end. He even asked for my number, but again, typical of when I don’t see myself dating a guy, I instead offered him my Twitter handle.

After around half an hour of shouting at each other over the music I was exhausted, The party was not slowing down at the same rate as me and as disappointed at myself as I was, I found that I had to do the unthinkable, sitting down.

Isn’t that breaking rule number one in what was essentially a night club?

Unfortunately I spent most of the rest of the night sat down. I played a little but the status of Ping Pong champion 96’ seemed to have eluded. The rest of the room just had more energy than I was capable of mustering.

The truth is, and if you’re familiar with my blog you’ll know, that I have just broken up with someone. It hadn’t been a long stream of dates and the single status had most certainly not been lifted, but it was at least true that I liked him. Now faced with a never-ending stream of up for it ping ponging guys, all open and willing to chat to girls, I found it hard to muster enthusiasm.

Also I have to confess I’ve never really been the life and soul of the rave and when it comes to dating I personally prefer a platform where I can hear my date. But on this occasion this could just be down to me. On another night and in another mind-set I’m sure I have would been with the rest of the room.

All around me I could see guys and girls hitting it off. Healthy competition and being brave at the Ping Pong table seemed to have translated into being brave at the game of dating.

As the night approached the other side of midnight the basement had tumbled into a seamless movement of swaying hips and flirtation. I was decidedly on the edge of all this and watched in amusement as Miss TV took another guys number into her iPhone. “He’s cute!” She leaned in and alerted me to a guy near by that I should talk to. It was true, and I probably should have spoken to him, but I couldn’t gather the same momentum, which had engulfed the evening.

When we left I was relieved and looking forward to my bed. I’d had a good night, and had I been there without the pressure of the night being a bout dating, I think I would have felt far less exhausted.

Bounce is an awesome spot to play both Ping Pong and at being a kid again. That level of fun and elevated interaction meant that the whole room was far more social than both a regular dating event and in fact a regular night in the real world. In short the idea of Bounce and DoingSomething joining forces was almost genius. Drawbacks? It’s not for the quiet soul. You’re not going to meet anyone on a deep and meaningful level. But sometimes that’s part of the fun.

I left with two stolen Ping Pong balls in my handbag and the image of a couple making out on a Ping Pong table. Miss TV left with numerous guys phone numbers and even the fragments of a plan for a date later in the week. (A date that is still going ahead!)

Another fun night from DoingSomething. I’d recommend it to a young and up for it crowd and those bored of the one on one organised and enforced romance of speed dating.