I had an hour before I was to go on 13 dates with 13 different men, and I was feeling as social as a child getting dropped off for the first day of kindergarten.
Knowing that putting on sweats and gorging on chocolate peanut butter cup ice cream wasn't going to help me write my story, I began to prepare.
I tore apart my closet searching for the perfect outfit — it had to be classy, yet fun. I wanted to be comfortable and not look like I was trying too hard.
I settled on a pair of black pinstriped pants and a small, black sweater. I dressed it up with a funky aqua necklace that matched my eyeshadow, and with a pair of short heels.
Standing in front of my mirror, I laughed at myself — I was going through the normal motions of a woman getting ready for a typical date, but this was anything BUT that. How did I get myself in this mess?
I stepped forward
The truth is, I volunteered. One day at work, I happened to hear about a pre-dating event being held at the Inn at Osborne Hill in Fishkill.
"I'll cover it," I blurted out. (I should really learn to think before I speak.)
The only thing I knew about pre-dating or "speed dating" was from scenes I had seen on TV and in movies — not too much.
This particular event was sponsored by Cupid.com, an Internet dating service that allows singles to post profiles, send e-mails and chat by text message. I contacted Erica Manfred, my "matchmaker," who registered me for the predating event and sent me the following e-mail:
"Predating.com was founded in 2001 and is the largest speed dating company in the nation. We hold events in 100 regions throughout the country. We cater to single professionals of all ages.
"Predating merged with Cupid.com in 2004, giving it access to Cupid's database of more than a million singles. Cupid.com is located in Poughkeepsie and specializes in hooking up local singles."
Then she told me all I needed to know: "Show up," she said.
I think it was curiosity that prompted me to send myself into the pit of embarrassment — food in my teeth, bad breath, accidental snorting, etc. I had to find out what pre-dating was about.
I arrived at the restaurant about 15 minutes early, as instructed. As I entered the front door, my body began to tremble from adrenaline — nothing a glass of wine couldn't cure (probably why there was a cash bar available).
The organizers were very friendly and explained the rules. I was to find my table — table No. 13, which matched the number on my name tag. The men were also given numbers — there were 13 men and 13 women.
At the start, I was paired with a man wearing badge No. 13. When the bell rang, we were free to discuss whatever our hearts desired, but for only five minutes.
At the sound of the next bell, the men rotated to the next table — Man No. 13 went to table No. 1. This occurred 13 times to ensure each person had an equal amount of time to get to know every participant.
With my first prospect, I wondered if this was as awkward for him as it was for me. So I asked him and he nodded with a friendly smile that put me at ease.
The first five minutes flew. I learned that No. 13 was a Nebraska native, new to the area and just wanted to meet someone he could go out and have fun with. Understandable.
We talked about our mutual belief that meeting a potential boyfriend or girlfriend at a bar isn't always the easiest avenue — nor does it often produce the best outcome.
The bell rang and a new suitor sat down in place of No. 13.
For the next 90 minutes, I chatted with 13 very different men. Some were short, some tall. Some blond, some dark. Some interesting, to say the least.
I spoke to a former Atlantic City casino dealer who moved to the valley in search of a steadier life. There was a 29-year-old struggling computer programmer who liked to travel to Las Vegas to get away from his mother, with whom he lives. One man liked to scuba dive and was studying to be a doctor. I even knew one of them!
I stared at some completely dazed — how could one person squirm so much in such a short amount of time? Others were totally in command, strumming off their list of talents, hobbies — including hitting the gym three times a week — and their ideal woman. One recounted being pulled over by police after he had been drinking (hmmmm).
New to this, I asked No. 11, who had been to a pre-dating event once before: "What questions do you ask?" He said drop-dead questions are important — like, do you want to have children, are you a smoker or do you own a cat? Those questions, he said, help him know right away if there is compatibility.
The whole purpose of pre-dating is to get to know a teeny bit about each of these singles, to see if there possibly might be chemistry. You can absolutely tell in the first minute if there is NO chemistry, that's for sure.
In that case, it's better to pre-date those who you don't feel a connection with. It beats getting set up on a blind date with them and going through the uncomfortable situation of locking yourself in the bathroom until your date leaves. (One night I DON'T want to relive!)
Do you like me?
At the end of the rotation, we were told to log on to Cupid.com and decide who we'd want to talk to again. It beats passing them a note that reads: "Do you like me? Circle YES or NO."
The next morning, I went to the site and found that a few of the men had selected me. I received an e-mail from Cupid.com giving me the option of sending them a message. I could also select them and Cupid would notify them via e-mail and on the Web site that they could e-mail me.
I don't believe that you'll find love at a pre-dating event, but I do think that it's a great way to meet new people who may be in the same boat as you — sick of staying in on Friday night or tired of being the third wheel. You'll never know unless you try it.
For me, I've got the love of my life already — an 11-pound miniature pinscher who likes long walks on the beach and snuggles close at night.
Sarah Bradshaw can be reached at >firstname.lastname@example.org.