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Fire Away

The insider guide to speed dating

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At BarTime, the men congregate at the bar, sipping on whiskey and telling stories about their wives, kids and pets like they've known each other for years. They laugh loudly at one another's past misadventures, swap anecdotes of youthful stupidity and nonchalantly glance around the room to size up the women they'll soon be meeting.

"Hopefully I'll meet somebody and have a good time," shrugs Jim, 53, who met his first wife on a blind date. "We'll see what happens. I don't want a bar drunk, though."

Hal, a weathered Stetson type who tells me he's been hooked in the ass by a bull and beat three bouts of cancer in a single year without chemotherapy treatment, agrees. With thick sarcasm in his tone as he sips a highball, Hal tries to tell me he doesn't much care for bars but that he'll dance the pants off any lady he meets speed dating.

While the men stick close to the bar, the women have ordered themselves cocktails and gathered in a corner of BarTime's martini room. They're a giggling and friendly bunch who are so impressed by one another that they swap phone numbers almost immediately and decide to have a girls night once they get dating done and over with. They're all first timers in the speed dating scene but know exactly what they're looking for in a man.

Two of the women are best friends who came together, "We're just girls that want to have fun," they say. "We want a friend to do stuff with. Hell we'd be happy with two gay guys." They ask me not to use their names (which are clearly marked on their name tags) and then continue. "We're not cooking, though. Not doing laundry ... and we want to be treated well."

I'm not participating in the night's event because it's for 50- to 65-year-olds, an age bracket I have yet to enter, but I tell the ladies about my speed dating experience several weeks prior and offer up the only piece of advice I consider helpful: approach speed dating like a really personal job interview.

Speed dating is a phenomenon that's sprouted alongside such unique Gen Xer-isms as metrosexual and Google. Throughout time poets and peons alike have lamented the fact that life's possibilities seem endless while time itself is all too finite. But today we have search engines that will cross reference the catalog of possibilities with your five-year plan, factor in a host of unknown variables and pony up detailed results complete with analytic commentary and links to other potential methods to optimize your daily interface with life in the most time effective way. Speed dating is evidence that even mate finding has become a Google search, a one-stop shopping experience in which we briefly consume, judge and select an ideal from a pool of goods that will go largely unnoticed.

My own speed dating experience left me a bit ambiguous about meeting people in such a way. After all, I had 12 five-minute dates and after more than an hour of retelling my story to every individual who sat at my table I began to feel a bit naked in front of people I barely knew. Had I ever been married? Kids? Smoker or non? Do I like the outdoors? What do I consider my religious affiliation to be? What are my life goals? Surefire questions that would classify me as eligible or not, depending on my oh-so-truthful responses. And I had less than five minutes to explain it all. In speed dating, a first impression is everything and what you boil down to is a series of hastily scribbled notes between dates. After I watched several of my dates move to the next table and scrawl several words while glancing back in my direction I began to feel like speed dating was more of an exercise in self-confidence than an opportunity to meet someone I would actually spend more than five minutes with. At least in a job interview I would have more time, I would have a resume to prove I was telling the truth, I would have references to say nice things about me. At least in a job interview I wouldn't have been asked, "boxers or briefs?"

Once the dates are over, after the obligatory group mingling over cocktails or coffee, the idea is you'll rush to your computer, log on to your speed dating account, and fill out a form with the names of people you'd like to see again specifying if you're interested in a second date, a friendship or a business relationship. Then the electronic compiling, cataloging and classifying begins, cross-referencing your own answers with the other participators. If Jane 112 picks Joe 341 as a business relationship but he picks her as a second date, there is no match. If they both choose all three options for one another the chances of a match are ensured and the dating service will release e-mail addresses or phone numbers to them.

I confess, after my own speed dating experience I never logged on to the Web site to choose matches. While I was curious to discover if anyone had actually chosen me (if only for the sake of journalistic research ... and maybe a bit of an ego stroke), I decided that logging my choices may lead to connections I was only somewhat enthusiastic about making.

But many people do make lasting connections through speed dating. Both organizers of the events I attended told me success stories of men and women who had been dating very seriously for several months after meeting at speed dating events. Some couples had even been married after spending their first dates on a speed date.

At the BarTime event for 50- to 65-year-olds, I watched participators embark on their first few dates and I eavesdropped as the couples got to know one another and I realized it was just the easy small talk of two strangers. There was no surefire list of questions among this group, no mention of underwear preferences, no interest as to whether children and marriage were a near-future goal, and no probing inquiries into past marriages/relationships/failing/heartaches. In this group of daters, it was assumed that a healthy sum of life experience had been had by all present and the nature of that wasn't necessarily the most important thing about the dater. For this group, finding a life mate was less important than simply meeting nice people.

As for my search in the mate-finding game speed date-style, I did meet some interesting people and given my circle of friends and line of work, I guarantee they are people I never would have otherwise met. I was pleasantly surprised, in fact, by most of my dates and if I ever run into them again I'll be sure to say a few words. But in the future, I think I will steer clear of speed dating until daters in my age bracket realize I'm not just a summation of yes or no answers to a series of surface questions.