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This article by Angelina Sciolla was prepared for the March 5, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

8-Date Rotate: Navigating the Dating Maze

It was a Saturday night in the suburbs. The streets

were dark and quiet, and the chilly air kept most people bundled inside,

presumably in front of a good DVD.

So what was I doing there — the city-loving singleton who typically

goes into shock at the sight of a cul-de-sac? Good question, and I

have an answer.

As one of those Bridget Jonesian working girls engaged in the furtive

search for my own Mr. Darcy, I decided to experiment with an increasingly

popular method of mingling with the opposite sex; something safe and

free of second-hand smoke, expensive cocktails, and certain ego bruising.

The "Eight Date Rotate" is a variation of "speed dating."

One of the newest matchmaking fads, it compounds the notion that dating

has become not only a social function, but also an industry.

For a fee, which varies according to the type of setting in which

the mingling takes place, you can spend an evening on not one but

eight, nine, or even ten seven-minute dates with other single professionals

who generally regard wit, intelligence, and good conversation as a

prelude to foreplay — as opposed to a few shots of tequila and

a debate over Michael Jackson’s nose.

Sponsored by the Professional and Business Singles Network (PBSN),

a membership organization that has been providing social opportunities

for singles of all ages in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware

for more than two decades, Eight Date Rotate events bring intelligent,

attractive singles together who otherwise might not encounter each

other, except as passing ships in the all-night supermarket’s snack

aisle.

As a journalist who is no fan of Internet match-ups, blind dates,

or other contrived efforts to meet potential partners, I approached

the situation tentatively and with the requisite amount of skepticism.

My nightmare scenario included a lineup of men, drunk on root beer

and mere shadows of themselves, who wanted to regale me with tales

of their last great Star Trek convention experience. I saw lots of

plaid and bad hair in this dream. And I sensed a need for breath mints.

Upon arrival at the Eight Date host’s home, a warm and spacious adobe

on a lovely street in Yardley, my fears melted away. As the participants

filed in and began to circulate, the atmosphere took on a comfortable

and stress-free air, not unlike a cozy and casual house party among

real friends. While there were no Ben and J.Lo types, everybody looked

pretty good. And no plaid.

I was given a name tag and a list of names — first names only.

The list represented the men I would be chatting with throughout the

evening. If I liked one (or two, or three), I would simply indicate

this on the form. If, by divine providence, one of my matches liked

me as well, then an E-mail correspondence would be initiated. And

if no matches were made, no big deal. No one is the wiser and there’s

always next time.

The singles are divided by age group: 20s, 30s, 40s, and 45 plus.

While I was free to mingle intermittently with whomever I pleased,

I would only be "rotating" with men in my age bracket. Before

the rotations began, I scoped out two ladies in my age group for advice,

or at least their opinion of the whole situation.

"The reality," said Carol, an early-30s pharmaceutical professional,

"is that there are a lot of us out there." Single people,

I assumed, not extra-terrestrials.

"It’s hard. No one goes to happy hour anymore," she continued.

"Most of my friends are married and married with infants. At work

everyone is married and has their own interests."

Ditto for Sue, another attractive 30-something who tried the Eight

Date Rotate a few months ago and found it to be a "good experience."

"I matched with a couple of people," she said. "But this

is a great venue just to meet new friends."

Similar remarks were echoed by singles, age 29 to 63 and hailing from

as far away as Reading, PA, and as close as two doors down the street.

Most participants, however, were from the Bucks County and Central

New Jersey area. Soccer coaches, doctors, entrepreneurs, salespeople,

professors, and retirees packed the house, all eager to chat and clearly

relieved of the anxiety and pretense typically felt in other hook-up

settings, like singles bars and nightclubs.

This is perhaps so because of the way the PBSN came to life in 1981.

Organizer and founder Ralph Israel, a perpetually calm father of five,

says he relied on personal experience for inspiration. "When I

became single again, I joined Parents Without Partners," he says.

"I saw the benefit of these kinds of groups — an alternative

for people who don’t have the mechanism to go out and meet each other."

That experience resulted in the creation of PBSN, a singles network

focusing on the adult professional. Israel, now remarried, notes the

Eight Date Rotate, which began about six months ago, is the only PBSN

event that divides singles into age groups. Other socials, dances,

and cultural events, such as the recent Valentine’s Day concert at

Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center, are mixed-age and less structured.

While my conversation skills were put to the test during my quick

dates, (job talk is a no-no, by the way), I did get a chance to speak

to a number of men who placed out of my age range. Their comments

indicated that this kind of event is a welcome alternative for the

formerly married.

"I had an entire life with someone already," explained Bob,

a widower. "But I can’t stay home forever and I don’t want to

spend my time in a bar. I gotta get out there." I hear you, Bob.

No, I didn’t make a love connection that night, but I had a great

time. And I yakked so much about every topic in my repertoire that

my jaw hurt the next day. I’m still musing over the man who wanted

to visit Galapagos and swim with the turtles, and that reserved fellow

with the nice smile and the great herringbone jacket who liked fly-fishing.

In all, it was invigorating, the way you always dream that an evening

of food, friends, and conversation should be.

Alas, the search for Mr. Darcy continues. Still, given the folks I

met in Yardley, I’m hopeful.

— Angelina Sciolla

Professional & Business Singles Network, 800-537-3859,

www.pbsninfo.com Eight Date Rotate Buffet Supper for singles 20s

to 45-plus. Prepaid reservation, $75. The next rotate will be in a

private home in Pennington on Saturday, March 8, at 6:30 p.m. Women’s

places are filled; men may still be needed.

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