To make sense of a typical speed dating event, let’s start with the numbers. Fifteen ostensible bachelors, ages 35 to 45, pay $32 apiece (not including the price of drinks) to mingle with 15 eligible women, ages 32 to 42. They spend five minutes apiece in a whirlwind meet-and-greet that spans almost two hours and — fingers crossed — ends up sparking at least one or two mutual romantic interests. Then you go home, usually alone.
And that may not be such a bad thing, because when you wake up the next morning, there is usually no crippling hangover or unfamiliar bedfellow to greet you. There’s just a short, sweet note in your e-mail inbox: “You have a mutual match!” Congratulations: Somebody you like likes you back.
“That’s the whole appeal of these events: they’re safe ... low risk,” explains matchmaking impresario Jay Rosensweig, who has been hosting romantic shindigs in Queens for nearly a decade — and not just speed dating events. He is also the self-professed inventor of nearly a dozen spin-offs, including speed bowling, speed cooking, speed dancing, speed golf and speed pool.
“They’re all just different takes on the same basic theme: Get people together in a room — especially people who, maybe, need a little more prodding than others — and give them the chance to interact in a structured, non-threatening place, where they run minimal risk of rejection,” he says.
And who doesn’t need a little prodding from time to time? At 8 p.m. on a recent Saturday, the scene at Lucky’s bar in Bayside is not terribly different from the first half-hour of a middle-school dance. Women cluster in small groups near the bar, while guys survey the room from the wall, nursing a beer and not saying much.
They came to interact but nobody is interacting. Enter matchmaker Jay. Sensing the early trepidation, he lays out a stack of cards atop the bar, then urges the daters to pluck a few from the top of the pile.
“What are those for?” asks one observer. The answer soon become evident. At the far end of the bar, a pair of blonde 30-something women furtively approach a couple of 40-something men. The blonder of the two, clutching one of Jay’s little cards, quickly shoots her “icebreaker” question at the gentlemen. “If you were a car, what kind of car would you be, and why?” she asks, while her curly-haired wingmate giggles at the inane proposition, then takes a turn reading her own question. The men smile, and offer their replies.
Jay eyes the two couples. “Nobody wants to make the first move anymore ... My job is to give them a pretense for talking.”
Twenty minutes later, icebreaker questions have led to livelier palaver, and Jay decides to move things forward. Pulling out his stopwatch, the matchmaker ushers participants to their barstools, then lays out the basic routine for the rest of the evening.
Each participant will get one pencil, one clipboard and over a dozen “score sheets” to keep tabs on all 15 dates. After each round, daters get 60 seconds to scribble more notes and, hopefully, decide whether they want a second date, before moving on to the next dater.
“Remember, people, you are not looking to get married after five minutes,” Jay warns, just moments before sounding the starting bell. “You are just looking for a spark — a spark! — of interest. That’s all.”
Four-time speed dater Melissa, 38, of Bayside puts it a little more bluntly: In five minutes, all you can find out is who can’t carry a conversation. Everybody else is a potential.
In either case, the time limit is always the saving grace, says Heidi, 32, of Douglaston. If the date is going well, the referee (in this case, Jay) always seems to arrive too soon, hurrying daters along to their next rendezvous and leaving the pair wanting more. If the date is a catastrophe, the five-minute cutoff becomes a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.
Billy, 39, of Ridgewood, has his own way of averting a disaster. Any time an awkward lull appears imminent, the veteran speed dater whips out a little green index card with a ready-made talking point. Key among Billy’s most outstanding traits are his dreams, goals and aspirations; and other “personal stuff they might like to know,” he says. “Believe me, I don’t just sit there and run everything off from a card,” he explains. “I just like to throw some of these things into the mix, if it’s the right moment.'
What should speed daters know about Billy? “Well, one thing,” he replies, palming his card, “is I believe in always being a positive person. ... If nothing else, it lets them know I’m being honest with them.”
By the end of two hours, the Bayside speed daters are exhausted from putting their best foot forward 15 times over. Many have turned in their score cards and are trickling out of the bar, all of them alone. In the morning, they will find out, via e-mail, whether any of the daters who piqued their interest have reciprocated.
In the meantime, the bar is filling with its regular 10 o’clock patrons — a different crowd that appears to abide by more traditional routines of courtship: approaching after eye contact, buying a drink (or several), getting a number, inviting someone home.
It’s a routine that works for some, but not others. “It’s like when you see that hottie over there,” says Billy, still holding his index card and eyeing a young blond who has just arrived with her friends. With speed dating, “you actually have a chance to go talk to her.”
So why not go talk to her now, after the event is over? Offer to buy her a drink, maybe, then strike up a conversation, suggests an observer.
He pauses for a moment, then shrugs off the idea. “Nah,” he replies, folding his index card in half and slipping it into his pocket. “I should probably take off soon.