The Hurry Date coordinator had only blown her whistle a few times — this game of romantic musical chairs hadn't yet hit halftime — and Caitlin, a sex therapist, had already decided that tonight was not the night.
She sat outside the room at Tavern 17, a modern spot near Rittenhouse Square, unmoved by the potential suitors just a few feet away. Other Jewish men and women in their 30s and 40s had moved to their next dates, their view changing every four minutes.
As the sound of the whistle rang in the background, Ashley Rosenthal — part referee, part cheerleader — approached Caitlin to let her know that her break had ended, that her next date was waiting.
“I don’t think I’m going back in,” said Caitlin, sporting a first-name only name tag.
Rosenthal tried to encourage her, pointing out that leaving this early meant she’d be judging the other side of the tables based on looks alone and that she could be missing out on more than half the room.
But the 31-year-old had already checked out, and after paying for her drink and talking it over with a friend — a fellow dater who also didn’t like his prospects — the two were gone.
Amid talk of the demise of traditional dating, with The New York Times publishing stories like “The End of Courtship ,” speed dating, online dating and everything in-between offer alternatives to the organic approach, a way to meet the right person.
Less than 48 hours before the start of the annual hostage situation otherwise known as Valentine’s Day — send chocolate and flowers or risk losing the relationship — more than 20 people had shown up for the speed-dating event, sponsored by The Collaborative, a Jewish young professionals organization.
Each participant received a piece of paper when they walked in, a scorecard of sorts on which they would write down their dates’ names and any comments (or not), alongside two boxes marked “yes” and “no.” After two hours in the trenches, daters would then return home, enter their results into the Hurry Date website and patiently await — or regularly refresh their email for — news that they had a new pal.
“ ‘Yes’ is someone you would like to talk to again,” Rosenthal told the room. “ ‘Yes’ is not let me call the rabbi and book the date.”
Before she left, Caitlin said she was not saying a final goodbye to Hurry Date, which one attendee described as “J-Date live.” The two are actually owned by the same company, but Hurry Date holds events for Jews and ones for the general population.
The therapist had attended other dating events in the past — including one the night before, that one run by Match.com.
Caitlin acknowledged that she was not much in the mood to go through the process again. But she said she’s found “attractive, dynamic” people at past Hurry Dates. Sometimes even if the chemistry is missing, she’s been inclined to check “yes,” looking to start a friendship. She thinks the events are more worthwhile than resorting to online dating and suggests them to her clients. “They could meet someone and, for people who are a little more socially awkward, they get to practice,” she said.
In contrast, Candice, 30, had never attended a Hurry Date event and said she felt intimidated before entering. But she appeared at ease, joking around about the experience. One of her dates, she said, continued to stare at a woman sitting nearby even after sitting down with Candice, and then, to be sure Candice understood, explained, “I’m sorry. I’m just looking at this other girl.”
“That was fine. I reeled him back in,” Candice said, laughing. She said she did find someone to whom she felt a natural attraction, someone who “likes to travel, a sports guy.”
As Candice and a group of women congregated outside the bar at the end of the night, there were smiles all around. Even with duds, the speed dating experiences provide good stories. And no matter how miserable the conversation, you only have to endure it for four minutes.
Rosenthal said she judges the success of an event, in part, by whether anyone hangs out afterward talking. And sure enough, on this night, at least one pair sat at the bar having a drink. The next day, after reviewing the results, Rosenthal said it looked like everyone had at least one match.
One attendee, referring to the dozen encounters she experienced, told her, “This is saving me from getting dressed 12 times and going out for 12 different drinks.”