Dating in D.C.: At least these awkward dates end quickly

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Long story short

Speed dating: At the very least, you have an easy escape route.


But few journalists know about the all-important corollary: "Unless you're writing a first-person story about speed-dating and the French girl was really hot. Then go talk to her, you pansy."

And that’s how I talked-to-slash-interviewed Camille Rouget for longer than our allotted four minutes. We had a pleasant conversation for those 240 seconds we sat across from each other at a numbered table in the back room of Chi-Cha Lounge on U Street NW. The red walls, red couches, soft light, soft jazz, and small candles on each table set the mood impeccably.

They were all supposed to suggest romance, or at least as much romance as you can squeeze into 1/15 of an hour. But Michael Karlan, president of the D.C.-area networking group Professionals in the City, says you can usually tell within a few seconds who you can definitely rule out, and who you’ll be attracted to.

“It’s an emotional response, not a logical response,” he says. “That’s the problem with online dating. You can see a list of characteristics you think you’ll like, but then you’ll meet the person and you’re not interested.”

Karlan said he was doing four speed-dating events per year when he started a few years ago; now he puts on six events per week, attracting 30 to 50 people on weekdays and 70 to 100 people on weekends. But even as popularity grows, Karlan says a lot of attendees are still hesitant to tell friends they’ve done it. Engaged couples who met through his programs will often tell people they met at the Chi-Cha Lounge, glossing over the particulars. Every single person I asked said it was their first time speed-dating — no one wants to 'fess up that they're getting good at this.

Based on every previous stereotype, you figure speed-daters will fall into two camps: Those who are there to gather some funny stories for later, and those who are desperate. (Let’s just get this out of the way: No, there was not anyone named Gina there. Yes, The 40-Year Old Virgin was a hilarious film. Moving on.) The key seems to be going in with absolutely no expectations, and the self-assurance that you don’t need to be there. There’s a certain mental barrier you need to cross before you sign up; for some, it’s deciding that they’re merely there for anthropological reasons, while everyone else will be the freakshows. For others, it’s just not caring what comes out of it, figuring the ultimate downside is still going to be hilarious. Meanwhile, there’s always that chance it could work.

"I think it's like a cover letter," Kristen McGrath, 26, said as we chatted afterward. "You get a taste of who that person is, and then you engage with that person to feel out more."

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