On the evening of Wednesday, June 22, I walked into the subterranean depths of the Annex, a few minutes early for my date. Well, actually dates. Make that eight dates. Make that eight eight-minute dates. I was going to participate in Princeton’s newest addition to the singles scene, a speed dating event put on by 8minuteDating.com and its Princeton organizer Ed Tseng (U.S. 1, June 1).

I must admit, I was feeling a little doubtful. Eight dates in one night? I haven’t had eight dates in the past year. Eight dates in one night isn’t any dates, I thought to myself, it’s a parlor game. As soon as I entered the bar area, my misgivings were partially erased by a very friendly young woman named Thanusha Puvananayagam, who took me to a small table to provide me with a name tag and a Dating Card.

A Dating Card is a small piece of cardstock folded in half that becomes your guide for the night, not unlike a 21st century version of a 1950s era dance-card, as one of my "dates" later pointed out. There are instructions on the front, "Don’t lose this card," and some suggested conversation topics on the back, which range from "What kind of work do you do?" to "If you had unlimited money, how would you spend your time?" (Another question might be: "Would evenings of speed dating at $35 a pop be the answer?") On the inside of the card are more detailed instructions, space to take notes, and on a small piece of paper stapled to the Dating Card, your table assignments: "Date 1, table 8, date 2, table 12, date 3 …"

After almost a half hour of shmoozing-around-the-bar-time you are given some final instructions and then asked to take a seat at your first table. From here the night proceeds much as would be expected. You sit opposite a person of the opposite sex (although from their website I gleaned that they do host gay and lesbian events) and talk for eight minutes. Then the host of the event rings a bell and everyone moves on to their next assigned table (except for the regular customers at the restaurant, who get a much needed break from the din of 40 people talking all at once.) After the fourth date, there is a twenty-minute recess while the bar makes some money.

So, what was it like?

My guess is that most people have no idea. I knew I was going to have to write an article about the night, and I can still barely remember anything about any of the people I "dated." Imagine that after a long day at work, you are put in a room of people who you have never met and then asked to converse with eight people for eight minutes, each in quick succession. Add a couple of gin-and-tonics (maybe 2/3 of the people had a drink in their hand throughout) and you simply have no chance of remembering very much at all your dates.

That said, the conversation that I can recall was not that bad. I was expecting at least one or two sessions when it would be a struggle to make it through the eight minutes, but I was pleasantly wrong. Topics of conversation ranged from Thai cooking to dystopian novel recommendations to analysis of the night, to the most common, the so-what-do-you-do conversation. Still, even those had promise. Some of the occupations of the women I spoke with were quite interesting: several school teachers, an event planner, a German scholar, a food scientist, and a pregnancy prevention counselor who works with adolescents.

At the beginning of the event everyone is issued a nametag and is instructed to write only their first name and their digits (not their phone number, their dating code) on it. This leads to an awkward few moments at the beginning of the "date" when the two people squint at each other’s shirt and then record the information on their dating card. Needless to say, the only woman wearing a seriously low-cut top had affixed her nametag to her purse, which she quickly showed to the person opposite her.

Do people go alone or in groups? I would say it was split about half and half. I met a mixed group of people who had met through another singles group and several pairs of women who had come together. I don’t know about the men, because I talked to them less than the women, but I would guess it was about the same. There was certainly no shame in being there alone. If anything, people seemed slightly impressed that you would enter the intimidating world of artificially brief, relatively anonymous dating without the comfort of a friend nearby.

On the subject of fashion, I had considered wearing my bright yellow button down shirt. This is no ordinary yellow – I would describe it as fire-truck yellow – it even distracts me when I wear it. Instead I settled for a very thinly striped blue and white shirt, a pair of gray pants, and some black shoes. Normal work attire. Nothing too flashy, nothing too drab. I chose blending in over standing out. Most of the other men seemed to have made similar decisions. Outfits ranged from khakis and polo shirts to khakis and dress shirts. The women were wearing somewhat conservative clothing. Nothing that you would wear to a club, but maybe a slight notch up from what you might wear to work.

The event was unequivocally for "young professionals." While on the surface, as production manager for this newspaper, I do fall into this group, I normally ignore this scene for the intricacies of the New Brunswick bar scene, which is more college-aged… or at least less professional. Here I was acting not just as an interested single person, but as a reporter. The experience could be totally different for someone in different circumstances.

When the event’s over, it’s not really over. You have to participate in some post-event gossiping – with a computer. I went to the eight minute dating website and logged in with my name and password. I was first asked to answer a set of questions about how well I thought the event was run. I later learned that Ed Tseng, the manager of the Princeton area received a 4.6 out of 5 rating on this event.

After the feedback section I used a fairly user-friendly webpage to select the people I would like to have either a second date, a friendship, or a business connection with. Any combination of the choices is allowed, and as our host pointed out, all three will give you a better chance for a positive match. If a match is made (you and the other person agree on your future relational potential and both check off the same box,) you and your match’s contact information are swapped.

Immediately after I entered my selections, I pressed a little button to view my matches, and lo and behold, I had a match! Two in fact – one for "friendship" and one for a "second date." I must say, I was a little excited. My match for a second date was the one person whom I was actually interested in having a second (or first, as I like to think about it) date with. So, this little exercise seemed a success; a couple of hours at the Annex resulting in a nice weekend evening out.

Not so fast. I waited a couple of days (as prescribed by my generation’s Emily Post) and composed an E-mail. After all, since we had both declared our mutual interest in front of a group of cyberwitnesses, I thought that the next move would basically just be a formality. Apparently I was wrong. I never got an answer to my E-mail. So either I said something horribly wrong in the E-mail – very possible – or people’s motives are not always what they seem; not even in the rigid world of eight minute dating.

Speed Dating, Tuesday, July 19, 6:30 p.m., Annex Restaurant and Bar, 128 1/2 Nassau Street. Eight minute dating event, single professionals, ages 25 to 35. Register at www.8minutedating.com.

Singles Groups

A+ Singles Monthly, E-mail contactaplus@aol.com to receive monthly invites. Because life is too short for the boring stuff! A+ Singles Exchange presents the "Epicurean Evening Monthly Social" for 35 to 45-year-old set interested in exploring wine and gourmet food from around the world at select venues in Mercer County area. Must confirm attendance through A+ Club. $10 annual membership and disount entry to social.

Central Jersey Singles, 732-723-1585. East Brunswick-based organization that meets in private homes for buffets, speakers, dancing, and mingling. Age range varies. No membership fee, but events cost approximately $25.

Central Jersey Tall Friends Club, local chapter (140 people) of an international social club that dates back to the 1930s. Requirements: men must be at least 6-foot-2 and women at least 5-foot-10. The group meets once a month for a business meeting, and sporadically for formals, museum excursions, beach parties, or barbecues. Contact: Allen Hodgson. Www.cjtall.org.

NEW! Cupid’s Arrow Speed Dating, hosting a variety of fun upscale social events for single peole who are tired of the bar scene. Ages 35 nd up. Call 732-557-5575 or visit www.cupidsarrowspeeddating.com.

Dinnermates, a dinner and networking group for business and professional singles that meets Friday and Saturday evenings at fine restaurants. Mates are grouped together according to age (20s to early 40s) and there are roughly 200 members to date. Www.dinnermates.com.

Fifty Something Singles, 215-493-6494. Buffet and discussion at the Princeton YMCA, second and fourth Thursdays, at 7 p.m. $1 if you bring a dish, $5 if you don’t. Contact: Steve.

Jersey Jumpers, 609-683-9798. Singles and swing dance. Third Fridays, beginner dance lessons at 7:30 p.m., swing dance from 8:15 to 11:15 p.m. No partner necessary, all levels welcome. $10; $7 students. Unitarian Congregation of Princeton, 50 Cherry Hill Road. Www.jerseyjumpers.org.

Mercer County Single Volunteers, www.mcsvnj.org, for all ages 21+. A non-profit with the motto "connect by helping others," organizes volunteer projects for singles to help the community while interacting with other like-minded people. Also hosts numerous social activities. General meeting is the third Tuesday of each month at the Mercer County Library, Lawrenceville Branch, Business Route 1 and Darrah Lane, at 7 p.m. For more information call 609-737-2362. For listings of upcoming volunteer and social events, visit www.mcsvnj.org.

Music and Art Lovers’ Connection, hosts activities each month at locations between central Jersey, Philadelphia, and Wilmington. Concerts, theater parties, and other cultural events. Ages 30s to 60s. Newcomers are welcome, membership is not required. For more information call Ralph Israel, toll free 888-348-5544.

Need a Friend, for senior singles, ages 55 to 75, meets every Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the Prestige Diner, Route 33 East, East Windsor. Call Joyce at 609-448-3378 or 732-625-0605..

Princeton Singles, Box 1457, Princeton 08542 or E-mail prinsings20@aol.com. A 50s-plus social club with more than 100 members who meets for pitch and putt, house parties, theater, dining, and dancing. Dues are $25 a year.

Professional and Business Singles Network, events hotline 800-537-3859 or visit www.PBSNinfo.com. A 30,000-member organization that hosts 30 to 50 activities per month at locations between central Jersey, Philadelphia, and Wilmington. House parties, dances, seminars, cultural events, after work socials, and speed dating. Ages 30s to 60s. Newcomers are welcome, membership is not required, however, $65 one year membership provides member with a lower event activity fee. For more information call Ralph Israel toll free 888-348-5544.

Rhythm and Bugs, Hamilton, 609-252-0502. A community-oriented social swing dance held on frequent Fridays in central New Jersey. No partner necessary; 40-50 participants, most of them single. All dances are held at St. Matthias Episcopal Church, 2200 Genesee Street, Hamilton. $5. Fourth Fridays have live swing jazz music, $10. Beginner lindy hop lesson 8 to 9 p.m.; dance from 9 p.m. to midnight. www.patmedia.net/rhythmandbugs.

SingleFaces, 732-345-9900 (24/7 hotline). An upbeat upscale scene that rings singles together at Top 40 dance parties in 30 different north Jersey and Central Jersey locations, $12. Ages 30s, 40s, and 50s. For a schedule of events visit www.singlefaces.com.

Single Gourmet of Greater Philadelphia, 215-732-0260. A Philadelphia-based 750-person social club that hosts three to five restaurant affairs per month, including a trip to Le Bec Fin during the winter holiday season. Also organizes romantic getaways to places like Santa Fe and New Orleans.

Single Moms, Hillsborough/Princeton Area, 908-884-6842. Single moms, ages 35-50, get together once a month at area restaurants. E-mail: mickel123@hotmail.com.

Separated and Divorced Support Group, contact Gregg Flanner at 609-588-0790. Meets Monday nights, 7:30 p.m., St. Gregory’s Catholic Church Community Center, 4690 Nottingham Way, Hamilton.

Single Women Friends Group, Mercer/Middlesex/Monmouth County area. A lively club of single, divorced, widowed, and never married straight women, ages late 40s to early 60s who enjoy dining out, the theater, movies, and single events. To join or for more information contact via E-mail at leclub1996@aol.com.

Singles on the Move, 856-589-2844, www.singlesonthemove.org. South Jersey’s social club for singles age 35 to mid 50s.

Singles Monthly Dinner Club, E-mail mickel123@hotmail.com. Established single women’s group seeking single men, 35 to 50 years old, for food, fun, and conversation. Rendevous at area restaurant on the second Saturday of the month.

Singles Speak-Up Toastmasters, 609-448-6434. Improve your speaking skills while having fun, meets first and third Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Kingston Presbyterian Church, Route 27, Kingston.

Widows and Widowers, Mercer County chapter, 609-587-8959 or 609-896-3818.

Yardley Singles, 215-736-1288. Activities such as movie and pizza nights in Bucks County. Also on hotline, house parties, dining, biking, and excursions, www.yardleysingles.org.

Sporting Singles

Outer Circle Ski Club, Plainsboro-based ski and social club for ages 21 and up, with more than 300 members. Year-round activities and weeklong and weekend ski trips. Meets first Wednesday of each month at 8 p.m. at Good Time Charley’s restaurant, Route 27, Kingston. Contact us at ocscinformation@yahoo.com or visit www.outercircleskiclub.org.

Social Sports, 609-895-0121. Friendly but competitive, co-ed volleyball every Friday night. 7:30 to 11 p.m., St. James Church, Eglantine Avenue, Pennington, $3.

Somerset Hills Single Hikers, 732-863-4909. Meets the first, third, and fifth Sunday morning in the realtor’s lot across Hillside Avenue from Willie’s Tavern, Route 202, Bedminster, second light north of Route 287. Six to eight-miles hikes. Bring water. No reservations are required; hikers are encouraged to just show up.

Gay Groups

Gay People Princeton, Princeton Unitarian Church, 50 Cherry Hill Road, 609-410-7129. The social group for gay men and women (almost equally represented), founded in 1974, meets first Thursday of each month, 8 to 10 p.m. Www.gaypeopleprinceton.com.

Religious Singles

Central Jersey Christian Singles, 609-577-8068. For professionals ages 25 to 45, meets the third Saturday of every month, 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., at Larison’s Corner Presbyterian Church, 1000 Old York Road, Ringoes.

Christian Singles, 609-588-0597. Ages 55-plus, meets Sundays, 2 p.m., at Hightstown Presbyterian Church, 320 N. Main Street, Hightstown.

Christian/Spiritual Singles Professionals, 732-764-9073 or E-mail Diana at angelicbutterfly@iwon.com. Upcoming event: Singles dinner, Saturday, December 11, Annex Restaurant, 128 1/2 Nassau Street, 6 p.m. $5 service fee plus cost of whatever you order for dinner. RSVP required by December 10.

Get-Together, Christian Singles, Ewing. 609-406-1336. A night of friendship and fellowship. Register.

Jewish Singles of Mercer County, A group for single Jews ages 35 to 55. Regular monthly events scheduled. For information E-mail elarsee@aol.com.

Temple Beth-El Jewish Singles Group, ages 25-55, six to eight events per month. Calendar available on www.yazbot.com/tbesg. E-mail at tbesg@att.net.

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