Howard County Times
  November 30, 2004    


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Romance on the Run
By Katie Arcieri
There I was, a petite 24-year-old brunette about to go on 12 dates in one night.

I'd never done anything like this before, and I was pretty nervous. But I enjoy meeting people, and speed-dating sounded like fun.

As with many social innovations, this one came from California. A rabbi, his wife and some of his students there developed speed-dating as a way for Jewish singles to connect.

Our correspondent and the rest of the women participating in a speed-dating event in a Columbia bistro chat with one set of dates. When the bell rings, the men change tables.

The general concept: Put women and men in a room and have each man meet and chat with each woman. Every few minutes, you change partners and start again. Anywhere there is mutual interest in pursuing a relationship, the parties are put in touch with each other later.

"It's one of the biggest dating trends spreading across the country right now," said Ali Leonard, public relations manager for HurryDate, a New York City-based speed-dating company that hosts events across the country, the United Kingdom and Canada.

It's also one that is almost quaint in its contrast with dating services that use videotape or the Internet in matchmaking.
"When you're in a speed-dating environment, you're actually looking at and talking to the real person," said Larry Collins, Baltimore/Annapolis region coordinator for Pre-Dating Events, a speed-dating service based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Susan Yanguas of Ellicott City gets to know her date as well as she can in the span of three minutes.

Start your engines

I was a little skeptical at first, but I figured that if I'm going to do it, I might as well knock 'em dead. So for maximum cuteness, I straightened my curly, blonde-streaked hair, wore a fitted outfit and went with my less-is-more philosophy on makeup as I prepared for my evening at Michael's Pub in Columbia.

Sitting cross-legged at my assigned table, trying to appear cool and collected, I scoped out single professionals in their 30s and 40s, some in slacks and dress shirts, others in skirts and paintsuits, lined up at the registration table.

The mood was one of curious intensity, as sassy-looking ladies and well-groomed gents gathered in the hopes of finding a relationship.

"It's an extremely comfortable way of meeting professional people," said Lena Malone, founder of the Columbia-based speed-dating business.

And talk about efficient: The dates last only three minutes. After each date, a bell rings and each man moves on to the next table. To keep things safe, participants are indentified only by a number. I was No. 101.

On the scoresheet they gave me, I was to circle "yes" or "no" beneath the number assigned to each of my dates. The way gives participants three ways of looking at members of the opposite sex. In addition to romance, you can also express an interest in someone as a potential platonic friend or business contact.

Even if one person circles yes for romance, and the other is interested in friendship or business, will give their e-mail addresses to each other the next day.

"It's a three-tiered way of connecting with people," said Malone, who hosts events at restaurants and bars in Columbia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

I love a parade

My first date _ I'll call him Rico Suave _ was an attractive, dark-haired guy I had spotted earlier in the registration line. He sat down at my table before the event began, so I got a little extra time with him to chit-chat about subjects including Baltimore's club scene and his interest in poetry.

Rico was friendly and easy to talk to, and my speed-date jitters subsided. But then the bell rang, and he was off to the next table with his smooth-talkin' ways.

After my date with Rico, a shy Terry Bradshaw look-alike sat down at my table, smiling nervously.

"Do you like sports?" he asked. That was my cue to rattle on about the Orioles and the Ravens. He didn't even mention the Washington Redskins, which scored major points with me.

He next asked me my ideal vacation. Visiting the lakes and mountains of the Adirondacks, I replied. His? Tropical Aruba. Ding, the bell rang.

Next was Indoors Man, a small-framed, middle-aged guy fond of the city life: museums, movies, restaurants. I like pounding the pavement too, but I've got to have my trees.

A little later, a brawny, hairy-armed guy I call the Hulk _ except he wasn't green _ sat down at my table, and we talked about working out. That was a mutual interest, but we didn't seem to have much else in common.

A few dates later came Mr. Mysterious, a man with a medium build who had a unibrow, dark features and an accent.

Mysterious told me he designs race cars, which I thought was pretty cool. Curious, I asked him, "What kind of car do you drive?"

"Which one?" he replied.

Toward the end of my journey was Mr. I-Like-Everything-You-Like. The bespectacled, mustached man was pleasant enough, but I could tell he was as nervous as a second-grader with the lead in a school play. Guaranteed, anything I was interested in, he would say, "I like that too."

I became accustomed to the three-minute pace, even though my jaw was getting a bit tired and my small-talk subjects were becoming monotonous.

Two minutes too long

Malone had the idea to start a speed-dating business, and after observing a speed-dating event in Virginia, was motivated even more.

"I thought it was a very cute concept," said the Columbia resident, who started the business about six months ago.

So far, she's held about 12 sessions in the Baltimore-Washington area, and says the business has been well received.

"I was looking for a way to attract serious-minded people to other serious-minded people," Malone said of the niche she was shooting for.

Initially, dates lasted five minutes, but Malone read an article about speed-dating that quoted one man as saying that five minutes seemed like eternity. So she trimmed the date duration to three minutes and has gotten good feedback, she said.

"The three minutes is enough to intrigue you," she said.

Malone also is considering putting together speed-dating events for participants 50 and older, and for more specific groups, Christians or writers, perhaps.

At the end of the event, I was exhausted from chatting, but confident my first impression had grabbed the attention of most guys. I went home hoping I'd met my goal. Turns out, 10 out of the 12 had expressed interest in me for romance or friendship. Not too bad for a first-time speed-dater.

E-mail Katie Arcieri


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