Nearly eight minutes into our first date, I still didn't know Steve's last name. But fueled by orange-flavored vodka and the promise of fresh romance, he had disclosed other significant bits of information: He's a self-styled entrepreneur, 40, in therapy, and just coming out of a string of relationships with "inappropriate women," he said, meaning, in part, not Jewish. "I figured it was time to start making responsible choices."
That's how he ended up with me and 48 other 30-to-45-year-olds at a kosher restaurant in Midtown. We were there for an all-Jewish round-robin dating event, essentially a series of eight-minute blind dates. At the beginning of the evening, each of us received a code number and randomly selected table assignments that kept us moving throughout the room each time a bell rang to mark the end of another 480-second interaction. Over the course of 64 minutes, I met "Steve411" and seven other potential suitors who paid about $30 to look, listen and then log on to a Web site where they rate their dates, identified solely by first name and code number. If there's a match, e-mails ensue and perhaps a dinner with formal introductions.
Express encounters like these have steadily gained appeal since the Jewish educational network Aish HaTorah introduced SpeedDating in Los Angeles in 1998. Today, SpeedDating has spread to more than a dozen cities, although New York's program is temporarily on hold for tweaking, a spokeswoman said. Secular singles of different ages and interests can choose from a growing number of dating services based on the Aish formula.
Tom Jaffee, who founded 8minuteDating.com in Boston two years ago and now operates the service in 55 cities, explained the benefits of an economic approach to the singles scene. "People are really busy," he said. "A lot of single people have experienced blind dates where there are really high expectations," but if there's no chemistry, you're stuck spending a long, stilted evening with a stranger.
Eight minutes is long enough to tell if a person's worth more of your time, Jaffee told The Jewish Week. (Aish HaTorah sticks by a seven-minute rule.) Having surveyed the field, express daters can focus their romantic resources on the most promising unions.
In the party atmosphere of 8minuteDating.com's Jewish event last week at Shallots restaurant, I met and ruled out lawyers and investment bankers, a pest-control-business owner and a snack-foods manufacturer. With Laurence416, a Star Trek fan, I talked technology and intergalactic romance; Phil419 and I discussed the advantages of vegetarianism; but with Steve411, I shared a taste for Philip Roth, self-deprecating humor and a spark of attraction.
By the time the group sat down for our seventh round, I was beat and so was my momentary companion. All around the room smiles and shoulders were drooping. Sixteen minutes later, Andrea427 summed up her seemingly prospect-free experience: "It wasn't great, but would I do it again? Maybe."
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