High-speed dating promises a faster ride on the freeway of love. You could meet the man of your dreams. But will you remember his name?
I N THE IMMORTAL WORDS OF BRIDGET Jones, "Oh, holy Jesus." I am sitting in a booth in the back room at Sipango, sipping my third glass of Pinot Noir. The wine is helping me relax, of course, but it may also be impeding my ability to concentrate. And tonight, I need to be sharp. I look up and see a late twenty- to thirtysomething man dressed in the Dallas uniform—golf shirt and khakis—approaching me with a clipboard tucked under his arm. He sits down in the booth next to me, taking the white tablecloth—which hangs entirely too low off the table—with him as he sits, almost knocking over my trusty glass of liquid confidence. He is not the first guy to do this. In fact, he is my 34th date in two hours. Frankly, I’m dizzy.
"Hi. I’m Joe," he says.
"Nice to meet you, Joe. I’m Jennifer."
The next three minutes of conversation are pleasant enough. Where do you work? What do you like to do for fun? Are you a Dallas native? Then the music starts—it’s that old Willie Nelson classic "On the Road Again"—which is Joe’s cue to move on. The minute he’s out of sight, I grab my pen and scribble frantically on my scorecard: "Telecom guy. Lisp."
Too mean? Perhaps. But these cryptic messages are all I have to remind myself of the 30-plus suitors I have met tonight. And the guys get a scorecard, too. Joe could have just as easily written, "Foul-mouthed. Big hair. Greek."
This is how it works at FaciliDate, the Dallas version of the high-speed-dating phenomenon. The speed-dating craze began in Los Angeles in 1999 when Jewish rabbi Yaacov Deyo decided to create a safe and casual environment for Jewish singles to meet. (He also co-wrote a book with his wife Sue called Speed Dating: The Smarter, Faster Way to Lasting Love.) Since then, countless versions of speed dating have sprung up across the country and the globe, and speed dating got some high-profile attention when Miranda checked it out on Sex and the City.
According to the web site, FaciliDate began in February 2002 "out of the pure desperation" of its founders, Frankie and Johnny, who, besides being too cool for last names, fancy themselves pioneers of "something so radical that guys and girls couldn’t resist its allure." Of course, that was in Overland Park, Kansas. Call it what you will—8minuteDating, HurryDate, Accel-a-Date, SpeedDater, 40datesAnight, Date-a-Thon, Six Minute Dates—the high-speed-dating concept is hardly unique. In places as far away from LA as London and South Wales, organizers of these events throw together groups of 60 to 70 men and women and give them three to 10 minutes to get to know each other. (If I had my druthers, I’d ask for at least four.)
Each person gets a number, a nametag, and a scorecard on which to jot down vital stats (how else are you going to remember 35 members of the opposite sex?) and to circle "hit" or "miss" to designate which among the masses you’d like to get to know better. Girls stay put while the men work the room. Forty-eight hours later, you receive a list of matches. The rest is up to you.
FaciliDate held its first event in Dallas at Carsons Palace on February 11, 2003. Now more than 1,000 members are paying $44.99 a pop for parties at the Mercury at Willow Bend, Sipango, Manhattan’s in Arlington, and Sambuca in Addison. Events are organized by age range (from mid-20s to 50s) or by special interest (never married, no kids, sports lovers) and take place as often as five or six times a month.
But does it work? "FaciliDate gives singles the opportunity to meet what some might say is a year’s worth of other singles who are looking, all for the price of a night out on the town with their friends," says Wende Quissell, Kansas City regional manager. She is also quick to add that they’ve had six engagements and one marriage in Kansas City. The jury’s still out in Dallas because it’s just too soon to tell.
And what do the participants think? "The key was going into the event with realistic expectations," says Jeff, a 31-year-old living in Plano and one of the "matches" who e-mailed me in the days following the event. "Did I think I would meet a supermodel with an MBA who wanted me to spend a week in Tahiti? Not really. But what I did expect, I found: attractive, self-sufficient, and career-oriented women, who, for whatever reason, had difficulty meeting people." Of course, there are always exceptions. "The second-to-last girl was just plain drunk," Jeff recalls. "She was lying on the table with her head down. She then proceeded to tell me how she lost her job and had to move in with her parents, but she may have to move out because they don’t like her seven cats." Moral of this story: ladies, watch your alcohol intake. Gentlemen, watch out for ladies who own multiple cats.
I AM HAPPY TO REPORT THAT MOST OF MY would-be suitors were a respectable-looking, well-dressed bunch. Some were even attractive, the kind of guys I wouldn’t mind approaching me at TABC, offering to buy me a drink. They came from all over—Plano, Garland, Mesquite, Fort Worth, Irving—and almost all were transplants. All but two were FaciliDating for the first time.
Some men took a seat and got right down to business; others looked scared to death, like they didn’t have a date for the prom. Conversations stalled only once or twice, making those three minutes seem like an eternity. Surprisingly, each chat was amicable and slightly different from another, depending on who spoke first and what they wanted to know. And, in an effort to protect the somewhat innocent and verbally challenged, I have changed all of the names in this story.
Mike, for example, asked me to name the one item I can’t live without in my fridge and who won the Super Bowl. I answered "cheese" and "I have no idea," respectively. (I might have lost points for the latter.) Sean, a physical therapist, turned out to be a fellow control freak. One of many engineers in this group, Chris, used to live in Tokyo. And Tom couldn’t remember my name. He called me Jessica as he got up to go.
Thankfully, an attractive attorney named Brian slid into the booth beside me. He had a nice smile and kind eyes. I took to him immediately. We giggled about the insanity of it all, and we admitted that we were pleasantly surprised by the number of perfectly normal and decent-looking folks who showed up at Sipango on a chilly Wednesday night. And we were grateful to have met each other. The wheels in my head were spinning. My thoughts turned to a girlfriend of mine. I had plans.
(Quick aside for the men who aren’t following: girls do this. They meet a handsome, charming, eligible man who, for some reason, maybe just because of the way he parts his hair, is not for them. So they decide to set up Mr. Perfect For Someone Else with a single girlfriend. We like to think of it as networking.)
Brian and I chatted effortlessly about where we grew up and our chaotic work schedules and cursed the music—this time it was NSYNC’s "Bye Bye Bye"—when our time together was up. "It was a pleasure meeting you," I said to him as he got up to leave. And I actually meant it.
Two days later, right on schedule, an e-mail from Jamie Baum, FaciliDate director for the Dallas region, arrived in my inbox. I had seven hits and 14 close calls. Not bad for a loud-mouthed Greek girl with poofy hair. I scrolled through the names, and I started to panic. Nothing was ringing a bell. I read the messages carefully. Still clueless. Then I looked at my cheat sheet. I couldn’t connect any of the names with faces or personalities. I suddenly remembered that Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl. Silly phrases like "science teacher in Garland," "loves New Orleans," and "weirdo club hopper" were not jogging my memory, either. I was deflated.
Then I saw Brian’s name on my list. Excellent. I did remember him. I liked him and hoped he would send me a message.
A few hours later, he did, with a sweet "Remember me?" e-mail. "I’m so glad you wrote," I replied. "I have a great girl for you to meet."
Managing editor Jennifer Chininis is currently dating a man she picked up in a bar.