The Speed of Date

Can true love blossom in just five minutes?

So there I was, in a dimly lit lounge with what seemed to be a mix of techno and Arabian music in the background. A small candle illuminated a smiling, brown-eyed brunette I’ll call Alice. She wore a low-cut reddish-orange dress, I sipped a Corona, and we made small talk while flashing gang signs to each other.

Then somebody blew a whistle, and she left for her next speed date.

I had decided to try speed dating after concluding that there are almost no single people left in this world. Seriously, I think within a year I will no longer have any more single friends: Everyone will either have a steady boyfriend, girlfriend, fiancé, husband, or wife. So what is a single guy in his late 20s supposed to do these days? Luckily, my fifth time watching “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” gave me a solid idea: Go speed dating!

Before I went, my friends all said the same thing: “How can you get to know someone in five minutes?! That’s clearly not enough time! It doesn’t work like that!” Well, most employers decide whether they’ll hire someone within the first two to five minutes of a job interview. We all have that animal instinct when encountering a stranger. Ever since the days of the cave man, every adult has an instantaneous bond-or-break reaction to fellow human beings. Either we want to ally ourselves, or the hairs on the back of our necks are standing. And this obviously applies to dating.

Speed dating is a double-barreled attack. First off, I get to be in a room full of single people, and everyone I meet is looking for a date. Try finding a local bar like that! And second, each speed dater is guaranteed to meet between 10 to 20 people in one night. Now that’s efficiency. So here’s the basic setup: each person signs up and registers, pays the fee (between $20-40 depending on the speed dating service), gets an ID number and note card and pen, grabs a drink, and waits for the whistle. Once that whistle blows, everyone follows a predetermined pathway from table to table, meeting potential dates at each stop.

That leads us to the heart of the matter, the potential dates. Each city has a different array of speed daters: In Washington, DC, they tend to be teachers, lawyers, and government employees, while in New York City there are musicians, fashion designers, and corporate suits. But whatever the city, all speed daters have a similar MO. Everyone is typically over 23, has a steady job, is highly educated, and is completely tired of meeting people at the bar scene or hoping to meet someone at a friend’s party. A person at a speed dating event is intensely curious by nature, isn’t embarrassed at trying new and different things, and is an optimist. And so am I.

Which is how I ended up talking with Alice, number 12. She sat with her legs crossed and back straight, like she was about to get a job evaluation from her supervisor. We walked through the ice-breaker bullshit such as what’s my job, where she’s from, where I went to school, blah, blah, blah. I mentioned I was from a town southeast of Poughkeepsie, NY, but she thought I said “South East Po’Keepsie” and jokingly threw me a gang sign. We laughed about that for the rest of our five minutes.

Every once in a while during the speed dates I’d find an interesting fact about someone, like, “Oh, your little sister goes to Michigan? My little brother goes to Michigan!” or “Oh, shit, I love Vegas too! So have you been to Sapphire?” And every so often, I’d lose myself in great conversation about how hard it is living in a new city, what we love about living here, the best place for sushi in Tribeca, etc. But not with Alice. She was friendly, polite, but not for me.

Number 6 — I’ll call her Kelly — was incredibly shy and nervous but very sweet. She held on to her neon orange-colored drink like it was a life preserver. Her wavy blond hair was carefully brushed to the side while we discussed the merits of the British version of “The Office” versus the American version. “No matter how addicted I am to the American version, I will always love the original British version,” I said. Her smile was a clear sign of agreement between us — but before we knew it, it was time to move on to the next table.

And so it went, on and on until I met everyone. It’s a beautiful system. We each wrote down which people we wanted to see again, went home, and checked off their names on the organizer’s Web site. If they agreed, then contact e-mails were exchanged and the flirting continued.

So how did this evening’s event go? I met some great women, I have to admit. One woman was able to quote entire scenes of “The Big Lebowski,” and another woman knew how to belly dance. Sadly, I didn’t get to date any of them afterward.

But it’s okay. This isn’t the first speed date I went on, nor will it be the last. I went on a speed date several years ago, and a relationship came out of it — a good relationship. So I’m hopeful. And efficient.

Article © 2007 by Rob Roan