December 7, 2007

Dating the New York Way -- FAST

I hesitate to post this article because I'd like to sell it, but it would probably need further editing to be published in a specialty publication, so here it is (in the extended entry).

I raced down Bowery Street as fast as my black knee-high boots could take me.

The mistake of hopping on an express train, instead of the local one, landed me six blocks from my evening’s destination. I was almost late, and if I didn’t make it there by 7:30 p.m., my entire night of speed dating in New York City could fall apart, if a walk-in client took my place.

My hair, once artfully curled, hung limp and weather-beaten out of my leather jacket’s collar. But I didn’t pause to arrange it. My throat constricted in the icy air, but I moved on, faster and faster down the street, flying past trendy bar after trendy bar, their neon signs blurring in the night.

But then I saw a name glowing red in the dark.

Katra Lounge.

I arrived with five minutes to spare. But I stood in the cold winter wind a little longer, my hand hinged to the knob. I was breathing a little faster than normal - and I couldn’t blame it entirely on my run.

Dating memories seemed to land like snowflakes in my eyes.

Shy kisses in moonlight. That lost feeling after saying goodbye to my first love. My grandpa trying to set me up with his farmer friend’s son.

This, I told myself, was going to be different. New York was showing this small-town girl from Mt. Pleasant, Pa. another set of options. I could pick what I wanted to eat - Ethiopian or Pakistani. I could ride around in a train or a cab. And now, I could even have a ready selection of men.

But the price is always steep for choices. I bristled at the $40 price tag for the “21 to 31 Professionals” event, but rationalized that I was doing this for the good of singles everywhere and maybe - just maybe - for my own love life.

After a few deep breaths - and a couple of quick prayers - I sidled in.

Justin Timberlake’s “Bringing Sexy Back” blared from the speaker system. The ABC Evening News broadcast simultaneously from two flat screen televisions above the bar. Both clashed violently with the Old World Moroccan d├ęcor of striped orange and red divans, white vanilla tea lights glowing on low tables and high mirrors, glittering with half-lit visitors.

I went through the reception line and slapped on my nametag, which simply read “Amanda #807.”
Only a first name and a three-digit identifying number are offered on the event night to insure the safety of the 8Minute Dating’s clients, according to Jennifer Raskauskas, the event organizer.

I wasn’t even permitted to ask anyone for another date throughout the evening. What a shame. However, additional information is offered when a match is made online after the event, if the interest is mutual.

And matches aren’t just for romance. The people I’d meet, now among 8Minute Dating’s 60,000 customers, are potential business contacts, friends or - if something clicked - coveted, second dates.
But I wasn’t thinking about that just then.

A man wearing a pullover with “Italy” emblazoned across its front was staring freely at my breasts from underneath a tan cap.

I wanted to walk out then. Was this what the Los Angeles rabbi envisioned when he started speed dating? Did he imagine that just nine years after he started hooking up Jews for marriage that this concept would spur a cultural phenomenon, spanning two continents, and eliciting lustful stares from across bars?

I don’t think so, but it has.

Today, the service has exploded into several franchises in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. In New York, many speed dating services like HurryDate, Cupid and 8Minute Dating exist to link Jews, professionals, Christians and athletes, among others. Age groups vary, but most services offer speed dating for people aged 21 to 55.

But before I could punch “Italy,” as I’d nicknamed him, the event began with the cheery chime of a small silver bell.

And my first date was already talking.

Daniel was an Asian man with a habit of sitting as far back on the settee as possible with his arms crossed. He stuttered over his hobbies, but told me in great, agonizing detail about visiting the fruit and vegetable stalls on early Saturday mornings and making multi-colored fruit salads for breakfast.

I didn’t have much to say, except that I liked fruit. I did try to make conversation work, but simply hearing his whispery voice over Missy Elliot’s throaty croon blasting from the speakers was nearly impossible.

Sam was next. We’d chatted a bit in the earlier mingling session, so he knew about my writing background.

And that’s when my rules came in. I’d promised myself that I wouldn’t act a part. And, if my dates asked if I was writing a story about the night’s event, I would tell the truth. But, in the tradition of the American military, if they didn’t ask, I wouldn’t tell.

Sam didn’t press my background. He wanted to talk more about my huge family and his own small one in Spain. The date was rather endearing, but I didn’t sense any real connection.

Then “Italy” sat down. I'll call him Mark, and he is in textbook sales. I had to make something of the ogling incident, so I let him know I knew.

“So, do you make your decision on who to have a second date with based on looks?”

He stammered a bit, turning red, and said it was a factor. Conversation dropped off after that.

John was next. One of his earlobes was curled up, and despite myself, I couldn’t stop looking at it. I couldn’t help thinking what a hypocrite I could be, considering what I just put Mark through.

But I didn’t dwell. There’s no time to, anyway.

He told me he once worked in the film industry, and since I am trying to get into the documentary business, I was interested, but just as a business ally.

Then we had a break. Some daters flocked to the bar, and others to the door.

Eight men returned to the dating event and only five women. I guess they weren’t finding anyone either.

But I had other concerns. I’d been caught - by my next date.

“I noticed you are taking a lot of notes there,” a deep voice said from above me.

It was my turn to stammer. I was caught red-handed - with a notepad. His dark eyes pierced mine with suspicion.

I told him the truth. Neal wasn’t happy. He initially said he didn’t want to be a part of the story if I was trying to exploit the people to highlight weird characters, and was upset that he’d probably had one wasted date because I was doing this for an article.

But I wasn’t daunted. I assured him that that wasn’t my intention, and he seemed to relax.

In fact, he turned into a different person when I crept away from journalism and focused on our shared hobby: travel.

We both have a habit of saving for our next international trip. He’s visited Africa and Asia. I’ve stomped around Ireland and Mexico. We were both Travel Channel junkies.

And then somewhere in the middle of our conversation, I was myself. He seemed to be himself.
Then, after what seemed shortest eight minutes of the night, the bell rang again.

Three other eight-minute dates followed. Bob couldn’t sit still. Fred couldn’t stop talking about his mother and Broadway musicals. And George loved action movies and Robert Ludlum books, which I generally despise.

I kept thinking about Neal, and caught him looking in my direction a time or two while he was on other dates with women down the line. Maybe, I told myself, something could come out of this.

The night ended.

I entered my choices on the service’s Web site, and only one name appeared in the second date category: Neal. I was warmed by the mutual regard.

Over the next few days, more names surfaced and a couple of e-mails resulted, but not much else.
And while I still say options are one of the best things about New York, I’m learning not to apply that maxim to men.

Maybe one good one is enough - if I could find him.

*Names have been changed to protect those in the dating sphere.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at December 7, 2007 11:25 PM | TrackBack

What an experience!!! I love it! :) and THANK YOU. I know you are VERY VERY VERY busy this week!

Posted by: Amy at December 8, 2007 10:01 AM

Not all Italians named Mike are lusty oglers, just FYI. :)

Glad you had a nice time. Hope you got an A on the article! Sorry I couldn't talk more the other night. I didn't end up losing my voice (thankfully), so perhaps we can catch up more again soon.

Posted by: Karissa at December 8, 2007 11:50 AM

That is FANTASTIC. I love it. Want to hear more about it! :)

I'm working on a story about my dating experiences here in Providence. So New York is not too far from me, and I need a trip. Want to hang out? What's your schedule like. If you aren't completely hectic before the holidays or sometime in Jan/Feb, we should get together. I'm sure I can find my way to New York from here. 724 678 2360


Posted by: moira at December 8, 2007 8:53 PM

I enjoyed reading this... thanks for posting it, Amanda #807.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at December 9, 2007 12:40 AM

very interesting, but I don't agree with you

Posted by: Idetrorce at December 15, 2007 6:55 AM

Hey there!

I was on the train with you a few weeks ago and happened to stumble on your blog. This was a wonderful story.

For all of the ways we can connect with people, it seems two things will always remain: that we want to find someone we care about in a transcendent way, and half the people we meet won't even be close :)

ps: I hope your article finished well. I'd love to read it.


Posted by: Adam at December 16, 2007 3:17 PM

Great post! Very engaging, couldn't stop reading it ;)

But I have something to add.

Sometimes it's the most desired thing for us to find a partner who understands us and is appealing to us.

But sometimes, usually after long search, we realize that it was much better to get our ex back, because we experienced the true happiness and joy of life being with them...

Last thing happened with me, so I'm writing just to let you know my opinion.


Posted by: Getting back with ex (Max Corvis) at October 9, 2008 9:24 AM
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