Down for the Count

Does speed dating really work?

There's art and there's math.

Great lovers of the past--Casanova, Mae West, Pepe Le Pew--approached sexual conquest as an art form. They practiced persistence, with longing glances, languid eyes, bits of conversational intrigue, engaging mannerisms and a leisurely buildup to the moment when resistance crumbles.

But who has time for all that? Pursuing arm candy in the age of instant gratification is more of a numbers game. Guys work their way through a crowded bar nodding to each and every woman they encounter until they bump into someone who responds. By playing the odds they eliminate nagging little intangibles: character, intellect, confidence with the opposite sex and that sort of thing.

Now, when we first considered the speed-dating phenomenon, it seemed like merely another example of the latter approach. Depending on the setup, after all, each "date" requires only a three- or six- or eight-minute commitment from participants before they render a decision and move on to the next victim.

In other words, just a little longer than George W. spends on policy decisions.

Of course, as experiential journalists...um, there should probably be quotation marks around journalists...the Burning Question crew refuses to sit idly in some dismal cubicle, e-mailing out questions and acting on assumptions. Nope, we prefer a more active approach. We participate, even if it requires downing six or seven martinis to find an answer to whichever question we happen to select.

Besides, our editor barred us from the office after a harmless little experiment involving a bottle of 151 went awry.

So, to answer this week's inquiry, we signed up for a couple of dating events.

First, however, we crashed a few parties and stopped by five or seven bars for, you know, comparison purposes. Speed dating pairs men and women face to face for a few moments. They typically provide eight or more potential matches over the course of an hour in a tightly regulated format. After a few minutes of verbal jousting, participants check yes or no and move on. These clandestine X marks become the basis for future real dates. Cards handed out at each event force you to indicate a level of interest ranging from dating to friendship to business contact. The event coordinator e-mails contact information for each match the next day.

The bar scene operates in pretty much the same manner--minus the regimentation. Men and women interact for a few minutes of artificial discussion ("Are those real?" "How much do you make?" and so on). Yet guys approaching a number of women in a bar generally end up with a whopping bar tab and a couple of false phone numbers. While a night out in Dallas hot spots grants access to dozens of potential hookups, men must fend off wingwomen who inject a voice of reason into alcohol-sodden conversation. Women, meanwhile, must check for telltale wedding ring tan lines and such.

"It's not the same as 'Hey, baby, can I get your number?'" says Suzanne Munn, coordinator for 8 Minute Dating, of the speed-dating process.

In a very real sense, then, speed dating simply revises the "night on the town" approach into something less random and less alcohol-drenched.

(Editor's note: Perhaps less drenched for others, but I've seen Dave's expense report.)

Back to our comparison trips: We crashed a birthday party at Obar, an engagement party in some fashionable North Dallas home and a gathering of professionals at The Idle Rich. Three parties, three actual phone numbers.

Bar visits resulted in some notable successes as well. Or so we assume; the last thing we remember was propping ourselves up on the bed in Seven's VIP area with "Raven" and a couple of football players, but we discovered several contact numbers scribbled in our notebook. Let's just say we racked up a five-for-seven weekend.

Speed-dating events, says LeeAnn Zimmerman of Pre-Date, "are not as intimidating, because everyone is in it for the same purpose." Her organization runs six-minute programs a couple of times each month at which, she points out, "You're guaranteed to meet eight to 10 people who are looking for the same thing."

Oddly enough, the slash-and-burn format forces people to look past the obvious. "You have to sit with a woman for six minutes, whether you find her physically attractive or not," explains one female participant. "And if you can manage to get past it, you might find her interesting." Indeed, our conversations were often fascinating and difficult to back away from when the bell rang. Even at our second event, the 8 Minute Dating stop at Cape Buffalo, talk volleyed easily between strangers.

"They are wonderful mini-dates," says a male speed dater.

Few people even bother to employ the suggested opening lines provided by event coordinators. No, not "What's your sign?" or "Nice legs, how late do they stay open?" but more timid icebreakers such as "What do you do for fun?" and "Are you an indoor or an outdoor person?"

We tried "What's your favorite canned fruit?" with little success.

"Your odds are better at something like this," Munn says with assurance. We scored five of six at the Pre Dating event and a less stellar two or four with the 8 Minute Dating crowd, perhaps because of our "canned fruit" approach.

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