Illustration by Louise Leong.

I felt weird and out of place Friday night at Colleges Nine and Ten’s Third Annual Speed Dating event.

The colleges’ multi-purpose room, which has served for dining hall overflow and career fair exhibitions in the past, was transformed into a soft-lit meeting place, complete with chocolates, overly strong mints and flickering candles.

I had harbored reservations about coming there that evening, mostly out of pride. To me, speed dating symbolized a shameful inability to engage with women in a social setting. Beyond bruising my cowboy ego, however, there was little else to lose in going.

Admittedly, I also harbored a nagging desire to be there. I was single, and there would be hundreds of other singles there. But this didn’t stop me from trying to convince myself, those who would ask, and even those who didn’t, that the only reason I had to be there was to write this column.

I wasn’t alone.

Everyone had their reasons why they felt forced to be there: to support a friend, because they had nothing better to do, and — my personal favorite — because their significant other doesn’t go out much.

Everyone would have had you believe they didn’t care to be mincing words, but that didn’t stop the hundreds of them from showing up — a mob of denial if I’ve ever seen one, and me at the front of the line.

Here are the rules of the game: Every two minutes, you shuffle seats, introducing yourself to the next person in line. If you liked how things went with any one person, you write their ID number on an index card that is turned in at the end of the night. In the days to follow, the event organizers e-mail contact information to the pairs of people who wrote each other’s numbers down.

Simple. Controlled. Safe.

In practice, I found the time element to be the biggest issue of the night. Maintaining polite and interesting conversation — oftentimes the same, repackaged conversation — with a new person every two minutes for three hours proved to be exhausting.

There was too much time when conversation fell short, too little when it got interesting, and none at all with at least two-thirds of the room, who I wasn’t able to meet within the three hours I was there.

How I was expected to describe who I am and get a sense of who I was talking to in such a limited time frame, I’ll never know. To be frank, having two minutes means I only had enough time to decide whether I’d like to date someone based on their looks and their passion for art,

if that.

Perhaps a veteran speed dater might know a more efficient means of shooting the breeze, but then again, who would trust the advice of a “veteran” speed dater?

Yet, despite my initial hesitations about speed dating and the monotony of some of the conversations, I did end up enjoying myself. In the handful of instances when conversation escaped the awkward boundaries of introduction, I found myself engaged, interested and attracted to the ladies I was speaking with.

Even though the speed dating event made it easier to interact, the daters still seemed too wary to take a leap.

Who are you fooling — besides yourself — by saying you’re content to let your dream date pass you by without a word? You have to meet them halfway.

Dating implicitly means straying outside of your comfortable boundaries. But we are so preoccupied with abiding by social rules and maintaining proper public appearances that it becomes far too easy to simply not introduce ourselves to a beautiful stranger.

Even in a setting as solid and secure as the colleges’ speed dating event, people piled on excuse after excuse, convincing no one.

Look, while I may have been writing a column and you may have been there to support a friend, we both stood in the same line, talked to the same people, and did the same old song and dance. I’m not going to kid myself — I’m anxiously awaiting an e-mail or two.

Be it a bar or dining hall, party or speed date, we can’t choose when and where that special someone will drop into our lives.

We just have to talk to them when they do.