10 dates in 30 minutes: Another day at the office
By JOHN THOMASON | Forum Publishing Group
September 24, 2008
It happened just like in the movies: The best was saved for last.
For the past 27 minutes exactly, I'd met nine eligible bachelorettes, chatting with them for three minutes each inside the comfy confines of Boca Muse. The elegant bar/restaurant, formerly known as the Red Lion Pub, recently played host to the return of 3 Minute Mingle, a Palm Beach County-based speed dating service run by Cary Roman, the operator of the networking site LivingFLA.com.
Notebook in hand and Forum photographer in tow, I spoke with the nine ladies — aged 24 to 35 for this event — both as a reporter and a participant. And while some discussions were more interesting than others, they created a collective sense of déjà vu: a breathless and redundant traversing of the same conversational terrain nine times over: What do you do for a living? What's the notebook for? Where did you go to school? What do you do for fun?
Well, I'm an entertainment editor, I'm writing about this event, I went to school in Orlando as a cinema studies major, I play Scrabble competitively, yada yada yada ...
In typically dramatic fashion, it wasn't until the last participant I spoke with that sparks flew, chemistry was achieved and digits were exchanged. Our dialogue was natural, funny and not a bit forced, and it even took an unexpected turn toward politics, a usually taboo subject for any first encounter.
And what do you know? I got a date out of it a week later. I was skeptical going in, but speed dating can work.
In the Internet age of personalitymatching Web sites like eHarmony and Match.com, it almost seems quaint and old-fashioned. But the practice of speed dating has only had a life span of 10 years. It began in a Beverly Hills cafe as a way for Jewish singles to meet and marry, and it eventually spread into meet-ups across the globe for all demographics and faiths.
Most of the speed dating events in South Florida are coordinated by an oligopoly of nationwide groups such as 8 Minute Date, HurryDate and Pre-Dating, all of which have online sign-ups for events across the country. Most run between $20 and $35 per admission.
By contrast, Roman's locally based 3 Minute Mingle is like a mom-and-pop coffee shop in an industry dominated by Starbucks. First of all, his events are cheaper — $10 in advance and $15 at the door if slots are still available. Secondly, he feels that his events fill a need in the community for singles events that are more casual.
"We're friendly; we don't say to people, 'You can't do this,'" said Roman, whose Web site hosts events, singles or otherwise, every night of the week. "I've been to some events where you can't exchange numbers, you can't talk to anyone before the bell rings — we just want people to have a good time and talk."
He also tries to combine his singles meet-ups with other events; the 3 Minute Mingle I attended included a rum tasting. But more than anything, participants at the event said they enjoy speed dating because it's an alternative to the traditional forms of meeting people in bustling bars and thumping clubs.
"Meeting people in bars and clubs is hard," said Eric, who asked not to be identified by his last name. Eric had been in a long relationship that ended and was tired of meeting drunk people in bars. It was his first attempt at speed dating, and he had no expectations about it. "I'm just going to have a good time."
Heather, who also declined to provide her last name, agreed. "Normally you go to a bar, and it's completely packed. Here, you get to meet all different kinds of people."
My verdict on speed dating is that three minutes is enough time to gauge whether you like someone or not. If the time flies by in the blink of an eye, the mini-date was a success. If your conversation is punctuated by awkward silences and the three minutes feel like an eternity, then you're saved by the bell; you're not subjected to an entire night of dinnerand- a-movie agony.
For a list of events, visit www.livingFLA.com and www.3minutemingle.com. Boca Muse is at 7136 Beracasa Way, Boca Raton.