She Says …
Looking into the soulful blue eyes of a professional cellist named Dan, I felt myself relax into my first adventure in speed dating. (Music has charms, right?)
“I perform with a local symphony and I teach at a college in the Bronx,” he was saying.
I nodded, trying to flow into the rhythm of the sixth conversation I had had in half an hour.
“What do you do?” Dan asked.
The warmth of Dan’s tone made me want to confide in him.
“Well, this is a dual-purpose mission,” I said. “I’m genuinely looking for the right man, and I’m also planning to write about this.”
“Cool,” Dan said, his smile broadening. “A secret journalistic mission.”
As a free-spirited writer who has thoroughly enjoyed the single life, I have clocked my share of time at New York City singles events, clubs and parties. But, alas, that clock (biological and otherwise) ticks on. And since my goals for the year include increasing my efficiency in all things, including the search for love, I figured it was time to give speed dating a try.
When I signed up via Hurrydate, the speed-dating company accessible via JDate, I learned that since more women than men were signed up for the party I wanted to attend, I would need to bring a male friend to guarantee my entry. So I corralled my friend Josh. (That would be Lipowsky, who wrote the accompanying piece).
Before the big night, I was excited and a tad nervous, but mostly curious. Would it be embarrassing and awkward? Would people be rude, or blatantly looking to hook up?
I shared these concerns with Josh over Indian food before the party. “Oh, come on,” he said. “We have nothing to lose but our dignity.” Contemplating that possibility, I had mixed feelings about having a pal along. On the one hand, it was good to have an ally. On the other hand, there’d be a witness.
Walking to the Midtown sports bar, I struggled to keep pace with Josh, who is 6-feet-4. We haggled a bit over our walking pace.
“You’re super fast,” I said. “I’m pretty fast.”
“Those are good lines for speed dating,” Josh quipped.
We arrived early at The Stellan. The music was blasting. We found our way to the second-floor lounge, where our Hurrydate hostess, Alison, was signing people in. Since we were the first to arrive and there was no alcohol in sight, we went downstairs to get drinks.
A tall, thin guy behind the bar told us, “I’m not the bartender,” then said we needed to start a tab — but we’d get a discount.
“I guess this is the early-bird special,” I told Josh.
After a few minutes, we carried our cocktails back to the second floor, and to Alison, who struck me as a cross between a peppy cocktail waitress and a drill sergeant.
Alison explained the protocol: each of us would get a numbered nametag and “scorecard,” which would allow us to write down the number of each “date.”
Alongside the space for the person’s number, there was a “y” and “n.” After our “date” (which would consist of a few minutes’ conversation), we were to circle “y” or “n.” The day after the party, we would log in to Hurrydate.com, enter our responses and the computer would match us up with anyone at the party we liked who had also liked us.
The first several Hurrydaters to arrive were nice-looking men. During the pre-event, Josh and I talked with a couple of them.
A few more guys of varied shapes and sizes arrived, including a Jerry Seinfeld look-alike and a dead ringer for Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). A few seemed to be pushing the age limit (30-43) but who was I to judge?
After some women drifted in, Alison said it was time to get started. The first surprise of the evening was that the odds were in my favor — there were nearly 20 men and about 12 women. So, Alison announced, the dates would be a bit shorter than the standard 10 minutes (presumably so the men who were without female companionship wouldn’t have to stand around waiting for too long). “That is bull&%$#!” one guy erupted — whereupon he and his friend bolted out.
Alison told us women to sit on the comfy leather couches positioned at angles around the large room. The men were to circulate, moving from woman to woman. We’d have about five minutes to talk with each “date.” When she blew the whistle, the men would have to keep moving. “No matter how cute you may think she is,” said Alison, very no-nonsense.
She blew her whistle, and we were off.
My first speed date was Isaac, who reminded me of the sweet boy who sat behind me in high school homeroom, plus about 20 years. Next came a shy doctor named Louis, followed by a Ron Howard look-alike, fittingly called Ron.
At one point two men came over, thinking they were next in line to speak with me — and one needed to step back. When Bachelor No. 2 eventually sat down, I was as friendly as I could be, but he seemed a little bent out of shape and said with an eye roll, “Oh, you must just be loving this. So many more men here than women.”
“Well, now you know how Manhattan women feel!” I said.
He didn’t crack a smile.
A school security guard named Herb and I had an interesting discussion about his work, and then came Kevin, who was extremely cute though nothing he said was memorable. (Why is that so often the case with the knockouts?)
Next came Dan, the cellist, who talked about his parents’ long-term happy marriage and asked several questions about me.
With one man I discussed the advantages of speed dating over online correspondence. “This is better for people with a personality,” he said, and I agreed. He added, “Pretty girls don’t write back to me online.” I gave him a “yes” for what seemed like sincerity.
The next day I filled out my online scorecard and waited with some anticipation. I had “yessed” 12, and nine of those had “yessed” me, so I had nine matches. (Kevin, who’d made my list on looks alone, had passed on me).
Isaac had sent a sweet yet confusing e-mail calling me interesting and referencing my hometown of Pittsburgh, but lamenting that we “did not have a match.” Yet when I checked the computer, according to Hurrydate, we had “yessed” each other. I e-mailed Isaac to thank him for the note and point out that we did have a match, but he never replied. Oh, well, I guess it was too much commitment for him.
There was an e-mail from Dan, subject line “enough info for an article ;-)?” In the note, he referenced my “secret journalistic investigation” and asked to take the conversation offline.
Investigation pending. Cue the cello music.
He Says …
“So do you come here often?”
Always open with a joke, they say. So when I found myself zipping through a dozen dates in less than an hour last week, humor seemed like the way to go. And my line seemed a little better than, “Are you Jamaican? Because Jamaican me crazy.”
“Nice opening line,” the girl in front of me said. Both of us were runners and we were comparing notes on marathons when a shrill whistle brought our short date to an end. It was nice to meet you, we said to each other as I stood up and moved to the girl sitting next to her.
One night, 12 dates. For a single guy on a graduate-student budget, it sounds great.
Living in a very family-oriented — and very Orthodox — New Jersey suburb, I typically get the same reaction when I tell people I’m single: “Are you looking to be set up? Rivka, who do we know for Josh?”
Being single in the Jewish community means being treated, almost, like you have a disease. It’s what people whisper behind closed doors: “Oh, that nice, young man,” they’ll say with a twinge of sadness because I don’t yet know their wedded bliss.
“He just hasn’t found the right one yet – but we’ll fix that!” And suddenly every well-intentioned person becomes a matchmaker extraordinaire. Amazing, isn’t it?
I’ve become somewhat of a professional bachelor — meaning my dating life has become the stuff of newspaper columns, starting with the one a makeover by a friend a few years ago and then more about a singles Shabbaton and other typical activities within the world of Jewish dating. I even started a young professionals group in New Jersey (“young professionals,” for those not in the know, is code for singles). So I’m no stranger to the singles scene — pardon me, the young-professionals scene — and when Heather Robinson, the new Blueprint editor, asked if wanted to provide a man’s perspective for a dating column, I thought it’d be fun.
Then she said it was about speed dating.
Speed dating — just the sound of it makes my ulcer act up. And I don’t even get ulcers.
The last time I did speed dating was about four years ago, also for an article in a Jewish newspaper. It took place at a kosher meat restaurant in Teaneck, N.J., and the shtick was that every time the guys moved to a new girl, we’d get a new tasting course from the menu. Sounds good, right? The food lasted only five dates, however, leaving the other 20 or so dates scrambling for conversation starters. It didn’t help that I ended up sitting across from two girls I had previously gone out with, or one woman who was obviously beyond my age range, realized it immediately, and decided that staring off into space was less of a waste of time than casual conversation.
So when Heather, proposed that we go to speed dating together and write about it, I was a bit hesitant. I thought back to my first experience with a singles Shabbaton, however, and all the negative things I had heard from people about those things. As I learned from that experience, it’s best not to go with the expectation of finding your bashert and just try to have fun.
So I was going to be positive, darn it!
When Heather and I arrived at The Stellan, a sports bar and lounge in Midtown after a delightful Indian dinner — my bribe for agreeing to this thing in the first place — I braced myself, downed a beer, and tried thinking about those movies where there’s always one guy and one girl who get dragged to speed dating and end up hitting it off with each other.
There are always more women than men at Manhattan events, Heather told me repeatedly, ensuring me that the odds would be in my favor. In the famous words of Han Solo, never tell me the odds. While a number of women had indeed signed up and Heather was allowed to go only if she signed up a man, apparently not all of these women decided to show up — they must’ve heard Heather was coming and decided they just couldn’t compete. This improved her odds but left me standing with my drink in hand — literally. With 12 women sitting around the room waiting for potential suitors, about 20 men stood around looking confused. Alison, the Hurrydate rep running the event, sent the first round of men through the cycle and lined up the rest of us to wait.
So there we were, standing in line, waiting … and waiting … and waiting…
Finally, after I don’t remember how many blasts of Alison’s whistle signaling it was time to change, it was my turn to begin a round. I launched into my spiel with the first girl, a corporate recruiter. Next up was a copy editor — ah, a copy editor! This is my kind of girl, I thought, envisioning an evening of trying to stump each other on the Associated Press Stylebook.
(Yes, I’ve done that on a date and it was arguably one of the most fun I’ve had. Go ahead, call me a nerd.)
Nobody was really clicking, however, and with only five minutes to have some sort of deep, meaningful conversation, it was easy to see why.
My last date of the evening was this very pretty Chinese girl who spoke very little English as she had arrived in the country just a few months earlier.
And when I asked if she was Jewish, her response of “What’s Jewish?” made me laugh and cringe at the same time. I hope somebody — besides every guy there — told her she was at the wrong event and offered a refund.
Live and learn, right? In the end, it wasn’t as painful or awkward as I had envisioned, but I also didn’t end up with a real date after. And now, a week later, as I pack my bags for an upcoming vacation in Atlantic City, I think about my favorite casino game, roulette. Speed dating is remarkably similar.
I just hope that AC is kinder to me.