It's a modern phenomenon that conjures up hideous images of frantic singles speed-talking their way through pointless encounters. Or, worse, just staring at each other, mute with boredom and fear.
No surprise, therefore, that when Geoff, Roger and Eric walked into a restaurant in downtown Toronto for a 25dates.com speed dating event, they were wracked with angst.
Eric, 31, an aircraft mechanic, was haunted by "horrible preconceived notions of antiseptic tables lined up classroom-style, rehearsed speeches, nerves, nerves, nerves."
Geoff, 34, a manager of programs for university students, had attended a previous speed dating event that he didn't enjoy (run by a different company), and he dreaded seeing a similar assemblage of less-than-attractive people.
Roger, 32, a high-tech marketing manager, worried that it would be like an assembly line, with no time to make a good impression.
Yet, when they scanned the scene, they were pleasantly surprised. Eric liked the intimacy of the set up, "with small tables scattered about the room. The ambiance was well-suited to the task at hand."
"Lots of attractive people," Roger thought. "An upbeat, friendly group."
Geoff spotted "a few gems" right away.
Each person was given a pen, an identification number and a match card, along with hors d'oeuvres. Ragna Stamm'ler, 36, who co-founded 25dates.com in 2002 with Erin Hunt, was there to greet the clients. With weekly events in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver, including targeted evenings for gays, lesbians and single parents, 25dates.com is the biggest firm in its field in Canada. And Stamm'ler is her own best advertisement: Three months ago, an attractive man walked up to her at one of her events and asked for her phone number. "I couldn't resist," says Stamm'ler, who is "very happy" about the relationship.
Speed dating was created in L.A. 10 years ago by a rabbi searching for a quick way to hook up the singles in his Jewish flock.
"It's hard to meet other singles if you don't want to hang out at bars all the time," Stamm'ler says.
"It's more effective to spend a few hours, meet 25 people, and talk to each one for three minutes. Contact information is exchanged only when both people want to meet each other."
On average, 75 per cent of clients receive at least one match. "Those who don't get one are invited back for free, which makes the odds pretty good."
Roger was concerned about the odds. "I worry that I'll never be able to impress someone in three minutes, or an hour for that matter."
"A polite bell," in Eric's words, marked the three-minute intervals. The 25 women were each seated at a table, with the men making the rounds. That gives women the advantage, Geoff noted, of seeing the men coming and going, backward and forward. After each three-minute chat, the men moved to the next table, with everyone busily marking their scorecards, checking yes or no against an ID number and first name.
"By the end, my voice was burnt out!" Eric says. He found it easy to talk to the women, "since we were all there for the same reason." He appreciated the variety of "occupations and interests represented." Relationship coach Frankie Doiron's advice popped to mind: Be clear about your "requirements."
A woman who admitted she was overly dedicated to her work elicited a "no" from Eric, even though he liked her.
Geoff tried using his "chill/relax Vancouver style" on a woman who seemed nervous. A few women suggested he seemed "aloof," or "giving off a West Coast vibe." A recent transplant from Vancouver, Geoff was told, "You are definitely not from Toronto."
He was amused by "the gal with the blue mascara who clearly conveyed to all, `This is such a waste of my time.' Too bad Tinkerbell, but I am going to bust you for trying to tell others you are too important or above this!!"
Geoff has a cautionary note for guys: "DO NOT ask the gal if she has `chosen you.' The guy in front of me would leave the table when the bell rang, but then come back to ask the gal if he `made the cut.' Embarrassing for all of MANkind!!!"
Roger had fun "it was really well done" but he fretted. "The challenge in any dating situation is to instill a sense there's more to come. If you go in looking to find Mr. or Mrs. Right in three minutes, it won't happen."
The good news is that Roger and Eric got matches, and Geoff got a free pass to try again. Maybe he's up against a cultural difference, Toronto versus Vancouver.