- The Washington Times - Friday, July 5, 2002

"Boy meets girl" has become "boy meets girl and girl and girl" in the current fad of "speed dating," or a night of serial blind dating.
Although the process allows busy singles for a price to meet several eligible dates in one night, it has been criticized by some as too fast-paced for making meaningful connections.
Nevertheless, during one recent evening at Donna's, a bar in St. Gregory's Hotel on M Street in the District, 93 singles plunked down $30 each to give HurryDate a try. The New York-based company has expanded its speed-dating events to 16 cities in the United States, Europe and Canada to make dating easier in societies where family and friends are not available as informal matchmakers.
"Our society continues to get busier and busier," said HurryDate chief executive Ken Deckinger. "If you go out one night, you'll see a lot of people you're interested in, but chances are you won't speak to them."
The idea was to bring together singles for up to 25 three-minute dates. Those who resisted being herded from one table to another were chastened by a loud whistle from host Derek Walker.
"All right everybody, let's keep it moving here," he said after almost every round.
Many of the young professionals clasped their $3.50 margaritas and glanced about the dimly lit room. The music was loud, the cologne heavy. Attendees were mostly white with a sprinkling of blacks and Asians.
Most said they were first-timers, coming only at their friends' urging. Those who commented on the record wanted only their first names used.
Ed said he was just interested in socializing and meeting new people.
"I'm a late-blooming Sheryl Crow fan, and I want to soak up the sun," he said.
John, who works for an environmental group, said he attended out of curiosity. "'Why not?' I thought," he said. "The setup makes a lot of sense."
Instead of mustering up the courage to approach members of the opposite sex, men waited as the women, tagged and numbered, took their seats at designated "dating" tables. The men, also tagged and numbered, were invited to "jump in anywhere" and choose a seat across from a random woman.
Mr. Walker's whistle began and ended each conversation. A list of openers like "What is your favorite ice cream flavor?" and "Can you roll your tongue?" were posted in the middle of each table as a safety net in case casual chat slowed.
Most conversations seemed to move easily, punctuated by smiles and quick hair flips. Others dragged. One woman quietly put her head into her hands and retired from dating all together with about five men yet to meet.
Some daters exchanged glances, some exchanged business cards and it was rumored that others even exchanged home phone numbers.
After each encounter, daters discreetly marked a "yes" or "no" on their scorecards to indicate whether they were interested in talking to that person again. If two daters were a match, they received contact information in the days after the event.
This second HurryDate night in the District was designed for 25- to 35-year-olds, although a few men were in their 40s. One man acknowledged that he lied about his age in order to attend. Another gray and balding man appeared to be at least 20 years older than the target age group.
One dater, J.M., said he felt an undercurrent of competition.
"Guys are becoming very competitive and almost having to perform," he said.
Bruce, another dater, said he had participated in the original version of speed dating invented by a Los Angeles rabbi, in which rounds would be timed at seven minutes. That experience was "very different," he said. "This one is a bunch of people for a lot less minutes."
Bruce said he still felt he met women who were both attractive and good with conversation.
HurryDate's creators say this version of speed dating targets young professionals who are looking to meet fun people, not necessarily life partners.
"I like to think our events are more sophisticated," Mr. Deckinger said. "We have more people. The majority of our events have 100 [daters], if not more. HurryDate is not about meeting someone who is a soul mate. If that happens, that's great."
Although HurryDate aims to ease the process of meeting people, the event has its glitches.
Many participants complained that the loud music made conversation difficult. The space in the upper loft of the bar reserved for dating was tight, forcing men to squeeze past each other to reach their next tables.
The combination of alcohol and no scheduled bathroom breaks prompted some daters to scrap a round for a run to the toilet. A male dater sometimes accompanied a female to the bathroom, but the woman most often left her date at the table.
Many daters who showed up for the 7:30 p.m. start of the first round were told it was full and that they would have to wait for a second round. Although four of those daters left after being refunded their money, those who stayed for the second round at 9:30 p.m. mingled with each other.
"We already told the guys to stop asking questions," said Stephanie, a law student and an intern at the Justice Department. She and her friend Divya, a consultant, reserved talk about work for the dating rounds in order to ensure one remaining conversation topic.
Mr. Deckinger says HurryDate has limited success stories because it has been in business for only a year. However, one couple became engaged after meeting at a HurryDate event in San Francisco, where the company began marketing only six months ago.
"Technically, it's just a party," dater Paul said. "For some reason, there's a stigma attached to it."

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