The Drawing Room, Chicago/By Meena Thiruvengadam

Best friends can come from the most unexpected places 

I went speed dating and picked up another straight girl.

My friends tell me I must have done something wrong.

When you go speed dating, you’re supposed to meet someone with whom you could have a romantic relationship. Instead, I picked up Nik, a just-shy-of-five-feet-tall Filipino American woman. Really, I think she might have been my best option, and I don’t just say that because we happen to share a birth date.

Fewer than a dozen people ventured out to try speed dating on that cold Chicago night. Of the available men, there was Raj. That’s not his real name, but he does bare an uncanny resemblance to the Big Bang Theory character, so that’s what I’ll call him. Raj was a skinny guy far too young to have been wearing his jeans up to his chest, but he was a member of United Airlines’s million miler club, and that’s the kind of thing that wins respect from me. We had a nice chat, but that’s all it was.

Then there was the Giovanni. He came on strong when hitting on me before the event but found someone more willing to go home with him. I later found out that he’s a regular who likes to use speed dating as a way to find his evening’s hookup. It’s an interesting approach but not for me.

There were two other Indian fellows. One was a finance guy from a small town in southern India with which I was very familiar. My parents just happened to be there at the very moment we were speaking, and I had spent a week there about a year earlier. I thought it was a weird coincidence, but it seemed to strike a little fear in his heart that I knew his hometown so well and could potentially reveal to his family that he was choosing speed dating over a tried and true Indian matrimonial service.

The other guy was a bit more interesting, but not in a good way. After sitting down and exchanging hellos, we ran out of things to say, a hard feat when I’m involved. So, I asked him what he did. He said that was far too intimate a question for me to ask someone I had just met — that our relationship hadn’t yet evolved to that point. I figured he was a software engineer, which he later confirmed. Our five-minute speed date just couldn’t go quickly enough.

After that last encounter, I was ready for a drink, so I headed to the bar and ordered a glass of wine. That’s when Nik, who organized the event, came up and started chatting with me.

At first she wanted to know what I thought of the evening, but our conversation progressed to other topics like food, travel, yoga and Chicago’s amazing beaches. I found myself enjoying my conversation with her more than with any of the men I had met. I told her that I was relatively new to Chicago, having lived there only a year, and that I had come to try speed dating as a way to meet new people. I had found out about the event online, and since it was meant for avid travelers, it seemed the perfect one for me to try out.

Travel is one of the things I love most in this world. Rarely do I feel as comfortable as I do wandering the streets of a new city, making new friends, and experiencing new adventures in whatever country I’ve happened to land in.

I did consider bailing on speed dating at the very last minute. But it was only a few blocks from home and I had already paid for it, so it seemed I should let my awkward feelings go and give it a shot.

Ultimately, I’m glad I did. By the end of the evening Nik and I had exchanged numbers, and she promised to call. I wasn’t sure she would, and I wasn’t sure I would, either. But few days later she called, and we made plans to meet for dinner.

In the months since, we’ve had countless dinners, brunches, and nights in and gone on several impromptu pub crawls, many of them stretching until 3 or 4 a.m. During Chicago’s restaurant week, she made reservations for us at a different restarant for almost every night of the week. Often when we go out, she’ll pick me up and drop me off after our evening is over, always waiting to make sure I make it into my building safely.

In the short time we’ve known each other, Nik has become one of my closest friends. She’s a person that I can turn to in good times and in tougher ones, someone who is always there for me to lean on, to laugh and grow older with.

Maybe I did speed dating right after all.

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