Robert Broussard is a 49-year-old software developer who can ride a unicycle. He is also “spontaneous.” Also: “I go skydiving; I can cook; I ride my bike 100 miles in a day; I drive a motorcycle; I go on international trips without any hotels booked and I’m a competitive swing dancer.”
Discharging such a salvo would normally be inadvisable, but it’s a crucial skill to master if one is to be successful in the hyper-competitive world of speed-dating, something that Broussard has not been up to this point. In fact, after attending a dozen or so events of this type in Houston, he is, by his own measure, a “historical flop.”
Still he is here, gamely milling about the Momentum Volvo showroom in Southwest Houston on a warm evening, because, well, this is different. This is speed dating in cars.
“They always take place at bars and that creates this weird pressure and expectation,” he says, even as we resist the urge to remind him that car showrooms are not exactly immune to pressure and expectation. Indeed, Broussard seems buoyant, happy to be free from the one-night-stand stigma attached to bars. “I know it’s not really a guy thing to say, but I actually want a nice, solid relationship,” he tells us.
Furthermore, this is a Volvo showroom. Is it completely illogical to assume that a solid, long-lasting relationship might be found in a vehicle built with the same qualities in mind?
The recipe for the event, or “Test-Drive Speed Dating” as it is known, seems familiar enough: Take a group of lonely people of varying ages and attractiveness, add plastic cups of white wine, various trays of sandwiches, pretzels, and broccoli, and stir. The novelty here is in what will happen next. Ten men and ten women will be randomly paired up, both with each other and a bright blue or maroon or silver 2013 Volvo S60, where they will go on a “mini date” in the backseat. Three minutes later all the men will rotate, test-driving a different car/woman, and on and on. Eventually, score sheets will be collected and those pairs deemed genuine matches will be sent on a longer “maxi date” in the far more spacious XC90 SUV, chauffeured around by a Volvo salesman.
Today’s event is cohosted by Houston Social Source, the same company that brought Houston the “Pheromone Party,” the “Texting Party” and something called “Cougar Boy Toy Speed Dating.” The idea, according to Renee Edd, the company’s events coordinator, is to bring “extreme” dating, such as you might find in London, New York and elsewhere, to the Bayou City.
“Houston is the fourth largest city in the country and yet we’re kind of left behind in the way that we date,” says Edd, who, in the enduring tradition of self-styled matchmakers, is also single. We mention that we’ve noticed quite a bit of online dating, which hardly seems behind the times.
“eHarmony is crap,” she cuts us off.
The mini-dates completed, a DJ—carefully positioned behind a midsize SUV with a MSRP of $39,700—begins to spin some upbeat Justin Timberlake tracks while score sheets are being evaluated. We notice a minimal rhythmic reaction from a group of middle aged alphas in pleated khaki pants and golf shirts. On the opposite side of the showroom, the women appear to be assuming a defensive position near the wine bar.
But where, we wonder, is Broussard? We find him sulking outside. It seems an organizer had told him he was too old to participate. This turns out not to be true, however, and he is quickly reinstated, just in time to hear the names of those chosen for maxi-dates announced over a loudspeaker. Sadly, his is not among them. But Broussard is not deterred. He feels confident that one day he will be matched up with the proper speed-dating event.
“I felt a connection with one girl and it was obvious,” he says. “But you never know how they score these things. I would do it again though.”