But as the session progresses, we all relax. There's a lot of laughing and lighthearted banter. Talk quickly moves away from basic introductions into more intimate conversations where confidences are exchanged.
Young Kiwis say they struggle to make friends. Afterwards, I catch up with Sarah, an articulate and softly spoken woman in her early 40s, with curly blonde hair and a penetrating gaze. She came up with the idea for The School of Feminine Arts and friendship speed dating while working with women in private practice, she says.
Many women feel terribly lonely, and have no idea what to do about it. I thought, let's resolve this. A report found that Those aged between 15 and 24 were the most lonely at Sarah is choosy about her friends, which is an absolutely okay way to be, she says. When I tell her that, at the event I just attended, I thought about writing down every name to spare others' feelings, she tells me that's a bad idea.
It's fine to be selective about who we spend our time with.
Selectiveness, of course, is the basic principle behind friendship speed dating. Participants spend a few minutes with each other, noting down names and other salient information "Cyclist, blue jumper. Afterwards, you write down the names of the women you'd like to see again, and if you match, Sarah passes along your contact details.
I tell her that the New Zealand General Social Survey found that 40 percent of women in New Zealand felt lonely to some degree in the four weeks preceding the survey. The figure for men was a little lower, at 32 percent. Sarah isn't surprised by the figures. Living in nuclear family units in a patriarchal society where women are encouraged to compete against each other means we find it difficult to find connections, she believes.
If we feel if we're not sharing our thoughts with other women we feel removed from society. When I ask if she thinks opening themselves up to rejection might hinder rather than help lonely women, there's a long silence.
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We're here because we want to make friends. Because we're all a little bit vulnerable that competitive stuff is stripped away and we're just there going, 'I hope you like me'. She mentions a woman with questionable hygiene who attended one of her events and didn't get a single match.
She remembers this because it was one of only two times it's happened. So that woman might need to come along to 15 gatherings before she finds someone with whom she feels she might resonate. Some of us find it easier to fit in with a crowd, while others are unique and it will take them longer to find their own tribe. If one friend is considered enough, then Nicola from Tauranga hit the jackpot when she attended one of Sarah's events last year, ending up with a small gang of like minded companions.
Nicola and her husband abandoned Auckland's overheated housing market for Tauranga four years ago. For a long time, she thought she'd made a mistake.
In Auckland, she'd had plenty of friends she'd made through her children's school, and at work. However, in her late 40s, with grown up children and an illness that left her unable to work, she felt isolated. While her husband is "lovely and supportive," he works away a lot, she tells me on the phone.
This took a toll on her mental health, and her marriage. I thought about leaving him and going back to Auckland to live with my kids. Last September she signed up for a local speed dating event. She was excited, but when the day came she nearly bailed out. Chairlift speed-dating a sell-out, loneliness is a really fast there are signatories and equipment including postcode.
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