Ashleigh Rolston tries a matchmaking service with a twist.
My alarm blares and I groggily hit the snooze button. Forty minutes later, I grumpily rub my eyes and do the seemingly impossible: get out of bed. I quickly shower, then begin work on my face and hair. Many minutes later, I dab on lip gloss in the shade 'Colour My Ex-Boyfriend Didn't Like' and peer into my wardrobe. I slide on my favourite underwear, then haul my favourite dress off its hanger. It's heavy with jewels and possibly a little over the top, but it's beautiful and, damn it, I will feel like a princess today.
I strap on my best pin-enhancing heels ready for the walk to work. I can wear these now I have no boyfriend to worry about towering over. A few minutes later, I witness the sort of romantic scene I was desperately hoping to avoid. A couple I pass every morning, usually looking wild-eyed or wilted, are today arm-in-arm and looking positively smitten. I turn up my unromantic music and stomp past, banishing the creeping feeling of loneliness to the back of my mind. The girl hears the clip-clop of my heels on the pavement and turns to look at me. She squints her eyes and squeezes her boyfriend closer.
11am. My day changes. A woman from The Edge radio station calls and tells me I have won an all-expenses-paid blind date in Auckland. This came about after my friend, Erin, tired of me being her third wheel and perving at the gorgeous builders next door, decided to post my profile on Check Out My Friend, a New Zealand dating website where friends can dob in their single mates.
At first, I am really excited. I don't win things. Ever. But then the dread sets in. What if he doesn't like me? What if we have nothing to talk about? What if I trip and fall headfirst into a swimming pool full of red wine with my skirt tucked into my knickers? I relax on hearing that my date and I can both drag a friend along. And there will be wine.
"I'm looking at your profile," the radio host says. "You're actually really pretty, and you seem really ... normal." I guess there is still some stigma attached to internet dating. I must admit, I was reluctant when Erin first suggested the idea. I do not struggle to get dates, but the saying "quality over quantity" comes to mind when I remember some of the horrible ones I've had. There was the not-so-subtle hair sniffer and the man who forcibly kissed me in the park and, when I managed to escape, texted me for days with blow-by-blow accounts of what our kisses would be like.
I excitedly fill my girlfriends in on the Auckland trip. Unfortunately, no-one is free to celebrate with me, as they all have canoodling plans with their lovers. As Jaquie Brown says: "Love is what makes the world go round. Well, I guess it has to do something with its time, as it's certainly not spending any of it with me".
I work late and when I finally begin the journey home, I pass love-drunk couples littering the streets. I feel a scowl coming on, but then I see the flowers from my 'secret admirer' resting on my passenger seat, and my heart smiles.
5.40am Saturday. Erin and I arrive at the airport. I am hoping the makeup artist seeing me this afternoon has magical powers when it comes to under-eye lines.
We soon arrive in Auckland and, with tired eyes and jittery nerves, I head to Starfish to pick up an outfit for the night. It has been a long time since I last chose a 'first date' dress, so the pressure is on. After dismissing a few outfits as too sexy, too casual or just not quite 'me', the store manager hands me the perfect dress. Fresh and flirty with a touch of beautiful lace - we have a winner.
A few hours later, my hair and makeup are done and it's time for a quick nerve-killer or two, before I head downstairs to meet my mystery man in the hotel bar.
The first thing I notice about my date is that he looks as nervous as I feel. Something in common already. He doesn't have three eyes; in fact, he scrubs up pretty well. I had studied pictures of him before our date, but photographs are never quite like reality. We have a drink with Sally Wynn-Williams, chief matchmaker from Check Out My Friend, take a few photos and then head to Sails Restaurant, wingmen in tow.
Over dinner, conversation is steady. It turns out we are both design geeks and studied at the same place. As dessert arrives, I decide it is time to put him to the test. My close friends and I had compiled a list of awkward questions with which to interrogate my date. I have a quirky personality and think if he can sit through these questions and still want to date me, he must be serious. Between mouthfuls of chocolate fudge brownie, I ask him which of his family members are criminals and if he finds the elderly sexy (some ice-breakers borrowed from Jaquie Brown). He seems surprised, but answers graciously and, instead of cutting the date short, suggests we head elsewhere for a drink.
Two bars and a couple of hours later, I decide it is time to retire to the hotel. My date accompanies me and we have a chance to talk one-on-one while our chaperones catch up with some friends. While I am not overcome with lust, I feel comfortable in his presence and enjoy talking to him. We both agree the date was a success and decide to keep in touch back in Christchurch.
From once being a sceptic, I have learnt that blind dating is not so bad. In fact, it is a lot of fun. You might meet 'the one' or gain a good friend; all you need is an open mind and a positive attitude. What will happen next with my mystery man and me? Will love blossom? In these shaky times, anything can happen. I guess only a second date will tell.
If you would like to give blind dating a go or have a friend you want to promote, go to www.checkoutmyfriend.co.nz.