by Marty Demarest

Romantic?! Who has time for romantic?" Mary -- that's not her real name -- is a single woman in New York City. She's well-educated, luminous, funny, has an interesting job and spends most of her free energy, as she puts it, "hauling my ass through my life." Hence, no time for anything romantic.

The problem is, like many people in their twenties and thirties, Mary doesn't want to be single. But the traditional -- or at least cinematic -- methods of meeting new people don't fit her lifestyle: bumping into someone in a favorite section of a bookstore, locking eyes across a coffee shop or even encountering a friend's friend. "I've met them all," she says witheringly.

So, like a large number of young, time-starved adults, Mary sought professional help in meeting someone. But rather than use a dating service, a personal ad or the Internet, Mary turned to speed dating.

Speed dating, despite its sports-sounding name, is an increasingly popular way for people to meet. The situation is simple: an equal number of single men and women get together. The event's coordinator pairs them up, and each couple has seven to 10 minutes to talk. At the end of that time, everyone switches partners, and the evening continues. When the event is over, everyone turns in the names of the people they liked the best. If two people name each other, then the coordinator notifies them, and gives them each other's phone numbers.

Like all things 21st century, it's designed to be fast, efficient, yet friendly -- a complete contrast to how dating usually turns out. "My feelings about being single and dating right now is that it's brutal," says Shelli Nemec, founder of FlirtFast, which holds speed-dating events in Spokane. "I want to make dating fun again, rather than something people dread or look at as a necessary evil."

Speed dating, Nemec says, is easier. "It's not forced or awkward," she insists. "It's a little weird at first, but the comfort level goes up almost immediately. The toughest part is just making yourself walk through the door. But after that, it's very easy because you realize that everyone is there for the same reason. Everybody appears, and really is, sincere, which differs greatly from going out to bars, where you don't have any idea what people have in mind."

Another speed-dating veteran, "Jane," agrees. "I can't tell you how long it's been since I met a dozen guys in one night that all wanted to talk to me," she says, "and who didn't get sloppy or get drunk or pretend that they wanted one thing when they were after something else. The only thing they were going to get that night was a few minutes of my time. And that felt great."

After they settle down, Nemec says, people being to talk about "the usual things. It's no different than any first date that they would go on. Interests, hobbies, where they went to school, how long they've lived in the city. Really, that's all there is time for. And I think it's long enough to establish whether it's worth a second chance -- like a 45-minute coffee date or another drink. But I think that people do click, or don't click, immediately. Sometimes seven minutes is too long!"

But Nemec points out that, because of the way she organizes her events, people begin to have an idea of who they might like before the night is over. "[An event] takes an hour-and-a-half to two hours. And there's an intermission. And the intermission is nice, because people are relaxed, and the people who liked each other gravitate toward each other and start talking more."

And if they're just being polite? "There's no risk of rejection. The only ones who meet are the ones who have a mutual interest in each other."

Jane, however, admits that since emotions are involved, feelings can be hurt. "Of course it's disappointing when the man that completely charmed you didn't write your name down, even though you wrote his name down, and you don't get to meet up. But at least you didn't have to waste the time and money to see him in a real date and discover that he wanted to ignore you. It at least saves you that humiliation. You also don't have to go through the humiliation of asking him out and having him turn you down."

Nevertheless, even if an evening of speed dating goes well, there's no guarantee that speed coffee, speed marriage and speed mortgages are going to be just as blissful. After the initial encounter, it's still up to the individuals to find out the real-time version of their matches. "Let's just say that, even in 10 minutes, men can be lying bastards," observes Mary, still planning to continue speed dating. "But you discover that later."

After all, who has time for that now?

The next Flirt Fast event in Spokane takes place on Sunday, Sept. 22, at 7 pm at Players & amp; Spectators. Ages: 25-35. Call 425-922-9510 or visit

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