Iam single, and I am both fascinated with and aggravated by dating—the chemistry, mystery, selection and elimination. The complete illogic and the (sometimes, literal) romp into the unknown are par for the complex course of finding a mate. Many dates later, I still wonder: Why date?
My friends offer to set me up, but only about as frequently as Halley’s comet orbits the solar system. Dating online won’t provide an answer either; I want to be in the trenches with other flesh-and-blood singles. Instead, I try speed dating, courtesy of “8 Minute Dating,” one of many nationwide purveyors of speed-dating events.
Speed dating is the latest in a long legacy of matchmaking strategies. Participants go on multiple, short dates at one location, one after another. The theory is that you’ll know within the first few minutes of meeting whether or not you’ll want to spend many, many more minutes with each other.
At an 8-Minute-Dating event, each participant gets—according to the information at 8minuteDating.com—“eight great dates, one night of fun,” including time to mingle. You and your date sit at an assigned table. You chat. And you take notes. Eight minutes later, the event organizer rings a bell, and you move to another table and another date.
Currently, in Salt Lake City, 8 Minute Dating offers two event options: one for professionals age 25 to 35, and the other for professionals age 36 to 49. For a woman just shy of 34, these parameters give me no more direction than a crossroad in a Kansas cornfield. Should I attend the event aimed at the older (read: more successful, more established, more set-in-his-ways, more handled baggage) group? Or the younger (read: more energetic, more flexible, more willing, more sowing-his-wild-oats) variety? The event organizers assure me no one would be checking IDs. I register for both.
On the night of the first event, I imagine the opening scene of a reality dating show as I stride across the patio in front of the Hard Rock Café. A cartoon bubble pops up next to my head: “Jenny likes brains and brawn.” I catwalk to the beat of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” which blares from outdoor speakers at empty patio furniture. I turn a corner, pull open the door and feel the imaginary television camera follow me inside.
Round one: age 36 to 49. A quick scan of the room reveals mid-life men in their first-date best button-down shirts and recently shaven faces—just enough to show respect but not desperation, regardless of the individual proportions of either. I pony up to the bar for a welcome $2.50 Long Island Iced Tea.
I try to glimpse at the man in the next seat, but he’s already looking right at me. I offer a hearty “Hi!” He almost jumps off his barstool.
I meet a variety of eligible men: a twice-divorced realtor, a recently-divorced-after-20-years-of-marriage computer programmer, a divorcee with a couple of kids, a business owner who’s been divorced three times and is “not ashamed,” and a straight-gay guy or a gay-straight guy, I’m not sure which.
I also share with my speed-dating partners that I am writing a newspaper story about the event. One of my dates is a sports writer for “a major daily paper.”
“I’d prefer not to say which one,” he squirms. “I don’t need the guys back at the office knowing I’m doing this.”
My remaining dates fall somewhere between a police interrogation, a Catholic confession and an appearance on Access Hollywood. “Make sure to say I’m handsome,” urges one date. I attribute these reactions to the embedded reporter routine, which I decide to shed for round two.
Round two: age 25 to 35. As I wait for my dates to begin, I chat with two women. “Have you ever done this before?” one asks.
“No. First time.” Reporter Jenny goes undetected.
“I’m just here to keep her company,” says the second woman, motioning to the first.
Journalist or not, I find myself rattling off questions and scribbling notes on my official dating card. Most of the men have never been married, or at least “not yet,” one of my dates smiles nervously.
Another date shakes my hand vigorously and shouts. “So, tell me about yourself!” I feel like I’m on a surreal job interview. Yet another prompts me. “Do you have any questions?”
As he recites his personal résumé, I ask myself, “Am I interested?”
Usually, I’m not. During one date, I lose interest less than a minute into the eight, at which point I try not to make it apparent that my eyes have wandered across the room to a more promising prospect.
When all are dated and done, do I have an answer to my dating question? Not really. However, my two-times-eight dates helped me realize that only a small percentage of people are right for me and that I won’t know them until I find them.
Speed dating just gets me 16 dates closer.
8 Minute Dating in Salt Lake City will host its next 36-49 single professionals event on May 27 and a 25-35 single professionals event on June 2. For more information or to register, visit www.8minutedating.com.