Sunny
78°
Sunny
Hi 76° | Lo 59°

Speed Dating: You Connect, Or Not, In Five Minutes or Less

  • Randi Bagley of Grantham talks with John Andrews of Lebanon, left, at Tupelo Music Hall in White River Junction during a speed dating event Wednesday, March 13, 2013.<br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>jpatterson@vnews.com<br/>photo@vnews.com

    Randi Bagley of Grantham talks with John Andrews of Lebanon, left, at Tupelo Music Hall in White River Junction during a speed dating event Wednesday, March 13, 2013.
    Valley News - James M. Patterson
    jpatterson@vnews.com
    photo@vnews.com Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ginger Wallis of Thetford, left, and Art Sass of Randolph glance around the room at the Tupelo Music Hall during a break between speed dates in White River Junction Wednesday, March 13, 2013. <br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>jpatterson@vnews.com<br/>photo@vnews.com

    Ginger Wallis of Thetford, left, and Art Sass of Randolph glance around the room at the Tupelo Music Hall during a break between speed dates in White River Junction Wednesday, March 13, 2013.
    Valley News - James M. Patterson
    jpatterson@vnews.com
    photo@vnews.com Purchase photo reprints »

  • David Corey of Bethel, left, makes a joking remark to M.C. Randee Rule, not pictured, prompting laughter from Gigi Murphy of White River Junciton, right, after Rule singled out the couple over the mic during a speed dating event at the Tupelo Music Hall in White River Junction Wednesday, March 13, 2013.<br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>jpatterson@vnews.com<br/>photo@vnews.com

    David Corey of Bethel, left, makes a joking remark to M.C. Randee Rule, not pictured, prompting laughter from Gigi Murphy of White River Junciton, right, after Rule singled out the couple over the mic during a speed dating event at the Tupelo Music Hall in White River Junction Wednesday, March 13, 2013.
    Valley News - James M. Patterson
    jpatterson@vnews.com
    photo@vnews.com Purchase photo reprints »

  • Randi Bagley of Grantham talks with John Andrews of Lebanon, left, at Tupelo Music Hall in White River Junction during a speed dating event Wednesday, March 13, 2013.<br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>jpatterson@vnews.com<br/>photo@vnews.com
  • Ginger Wallis of Thetford, left, and Art Sass of Randolph glance around the room at the Tupelo Music Hall during a break between speed dates in White River Junction Wednesday, March 13, 2013. <br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>jpatterson@vnews.com<br/>photo@vnews.com
  • David Corey of Bethel, left, makes a joking remark to M.C. Randee Rule, not pictured, prompting laughter from Gigi Murphy of White River Junciton, right, after Rule singled out the couple over the mic during a speed dating event at the Tupelo Music Hall in White River Junction Wednesday, March 13, 2013.<br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>jpatterson@vnews.com<br/>photo@vnews.com

Take away the bar and the signature cocktails with racy titles, and you’d have a hard time distinguishing speed dating night at Tupelo Music Hall in White River Junction from the atmosphere before a junior high mixer.

Admittedly, the two dozen men and women in their 30s, 40s and beyond who showed up on a Wednesday evening last month to meet and size up potential mates in quick succession had far more maturity and dating experience than awkward middle-schoolers. But in the interlude between the hanging of coats and the start of speed dating, an event organized by the new group Mix & Mingle in the Upper Valley, there was little intermingling of the sexes, and uncertainty about where the evening would lead.

It took coaxing from friends or family members for a few of the participants to walk through Tupelo’s front doors. At least one came on behalf of curious friends, to scope out the scene and report back. Whatever drew them, most had a pretty dismal outlook on romantic prospects for Upper Valley singles.

“Other than the bar scene, there’s no place to really meet someone,” said a woman named Pat, who observed speed dating from a safe distance at the bar. (Like many people interviewed, she declined to give her full name.)

“And do you really want to meet someone in a bar? ’Cause what does that say about a person?” added Pat’s friend, who didn’t share her first or last name.

No matter where you live, dating is no walk in the park, but being single in the Upper Valley comes with the added challenge of a smaller pool of available people, and few places to meet them.

Prior to founding the Mix & Mingle group on meetup.com late last year, South Royalton resident Ellen Stender found that she was “having a tough time figuring out how to meet people, and where to meet people, so it’s not all at bars.” To broaden the number of activities for singles, and enhance chances to meet one another, Stender has organized regular Mix & Mingle outings, including rock climbing nights, wine tastings, visits to the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, and two speed dating events.

The concept of speed dating was devised in the late 1990s by an Orthodox rabbi in Los Angeles to increase matchmaking among Jewish singles. Though several variations exist, the basic idea is to allow from five to 10 minutes to get to know one another and see if there’s a spark. Participants keep a card to write down the names of the people they meet, and indicate which ones they’d like to contact again. If two name each other as a potential match, they receive contact information.

The Mix & Mingle edition of speed dating followed this model. As a Paula Cole CD played in the background, the women sat at tables around the perimeter of the concert hall, and the men traveled counterclockwise around the room in five-minute intervals — long enough to give each couple a sense of whether they were connecting, but not so long to let a dead-end conversation linger.

The sheet each participant kept to list their preferred dates included a list of conversation ice breakers. “What is your favorite film or movie?” “If you were on Survivor, what would be the one thing you would take as your luxury item?” “Are you an outdoor or an indoor person?” But many strayed from the script, sharing stories about their personal and professional lives.

“How long have you been in the Upper Valley?”

“Is this the first time you’ve done this?”

“Two boys. You?” “Three.”

“What’s more important, where you’ve been, or where you’re going?”

With each new pairing, a little of the awkwardness that blanketed the room before the evening began to lift. And as nerve-wracking as meeting new people can be, many were relieved to be speaking to potential dates in person, instead of scrolling through sites like Match.com and PlentyofFish.com.

“I’ve done dating sites here and there … but it’s a little sketchy, especially when you’re a woman,” said Randi Bagley, a single mom from Grantham. “I usually find that I have to be very vague about where I live.” In her view, the advantage of speed dating lies in the relaxed atmosphere.

Here, “I can meet anyone without the pressure of taking it to the next level,” Bagley said. “It’s much less intimidating than going online and creating a profile.”

Dan Weintraub, an Etna resident, might not taken a chance at speed dating had it not been for the persuasion of a couple of colleagues at the Lightning Soccer Club, where he is a youth soccer coach.

“I don’t come here with the sense that I’m going to meet someone,” he said. “I came to have conversations. And if you end up meeting someone, bonus.”

Katie Beth Ryan can be reached at kbryan@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.