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Looking for Love? Speed Dating Aims to Get the Heart Racing

District locals looking for love this Valentine’s Day can tilt the odds in their favor by going on 20 dates in one night.

The social networking site Professionals in the City hosts more than 1,000 social gatherings a year, including daily speed-dating events that give Washington singles an opportunity to meet potential partners through a swift series of four-minute meet and greets.

“Unlike many social networking sites, our focus is on people initially meeting face to face,” founder Michael Karlan said. “[But] our most popular events are our speed-dating events.” 

As a five-year veteran of the D.C. speed-dating scene, Alan Clark sees it as a heady means to an end.

“I’ve probably met more than 2,000 women at speed-dating events, and in the past, I was engaged with a girl I met for a year,” said Clark, 49. “I love speed dating. It’s beautifully efficient.”

Karlan’s speed-dating events are typically $30 per gathering and are held from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at an alcohol-friendly venue, which can help to calm the nerves for first-time daters.

He begins the festivities with a short introduction to a room of about 40 men and women, explaining the rules and procedures. Women stay seated at their own table for the entire night, while the men rotate from table to table. The typical date is condensed into a four-minute block, giving participants a short time to make their case. 

Dave Tam, 37, met his girlfriend, Amber, at a speed-dating event last summer. He described the process that daters go through at each table as “very organized.”

“Each woman and each guy is assigned a number with their name tag, so you write down their name and number on a note sheet they provide you with, and you can take notes about them,” Tam explained. 

While keeping track of more than 20 potential mates in less than two hours can be quite a challenge for anyone, Karlan’s system gets to the heart of the matter.

The day after, each participant receives a link with the names and ID numbers of everyone they met. Attendees refer back to their note sheet and go through the list of dates they enjoyed the most and can then send a message to the ones they want to get to know better.

The age-old ritual of exchanging phone numbers also has evolved. Participants check off the dates they are interested in, and if anyone on their list also checks them, the system automatically exchanges their contact information.

Margie Mitchell, a small-business owner in the area, enjoys the speed-dating events but hasn’t had much luck.

“My experience is I haven’t found ‘the one,’” Mitchell said. “But a friend of mine actually met her current husband at a speed-dating event, and I went to their wedding. You can make great friends at these things.”

Misato Saiki, a computer specialist, takes advantage of the group’s seminars and social gatherings that are not necessarily geared toward singles.

“They are very informative, and I also enjoyed the Halloween party and New Year’s Eve gala,” Saiki said. “If you’re looking to get to know people, the group is a good place to mingle and meet.”

Created in 1999, Professionals in the City has expanded its network into Baltimore, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Boston, but the bulk of its activity is in D.C.

“We get a cross section of the D.C. professional community,” Karlan said. “We [also] get a lot of Hill staffers.” 

Anthony Ward, 36, is a senior webmaster for the Department of Defense, and has regularly attended speed-dating events for four years. 

“I have gained a lot of contacts by just meeting people, whether it has been personal, friendship or business,” Ward said. “It is a good networking tool, but you can also meet some nice people that you want to interact with personally.”

In addition to Karlan’s typical singles events, he offers group-focused speed dating for singles by age, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, profession and education level. 

The organization also pulls the political heartstrings of the District’s partisan populace. 

“We offered speed dating for Democrats and speed dating for Republicans,” Karlan said. “We even offered speed dating with the DC Rollergirls,” an all-female roller derby league.

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