Friday, August 15, 2003

Romance rotisserie matches its meets at Kroger




Maggie Downs

It takes eight minutes to:

Soft-boil an egg.

Work your abs.

Find your soul mate.

At least, that's what the people from 8 Minute Dating are hoping with that last one.

The concept is simple. You go on eight one-on-one dates that last eight minutes each. Because, you know, there's only one thing better than one blind date - and that's eight of 'em.

The matchmaking company held its first local function Aug. 12 with 24 participants, all young professionals ages 25 to 35. Some were looking for love. Some were looking for friendship. Others, like me, were just looking.

This event was held at the Hyde Park Plaza Kroger, a place notorious for being a meat market. And no, I'm not talkin' rump roast.

Initially, the whole eight-minute concept seemed weird until I thought about other bizarre breeding behavior I've done to attract a partner. Flaunting elaborate and colorful plumage. Challenging rival females. Participating in ritual dance. Making late-night mating calls. Playing dead.

For this, you basically move from table to table every eight minutes.

After each date, you mark a scorecard with your date's name and their special code number. (For example, I was Maggie920.) This part reminded me of the game Battleship: You face off with your opponent, raise one side of the scorecard to hide what you're doing and keep track of hits and misses. The big difference is that in Battleship, you tell your enemy when he's sinking.

A surprising amount of conversation can be squeezed into just 480 seconds.

"Wine is my passion," said Todd215.

"My TV is on a roll-away cart in a closet, so I won't be tempted to watch it," said Michael200.

"You listen to Q102?" quizzed Remmy202.

If you're at a loss for words, the back of the dating scorecard offers a few conversation starters like, "Do you keep up with current events? What do you think about (pick a news item)?"

Having the dates at Kroger actually was a boon in this area. During a couple of dates, I resorted to discussing some of the extraordinary bargains for Kroger Plus shoppers. "Oh, look. Tide is on sale."

Really, the point isn't to know everything about the person in such a short time.

"It's like you're prescreening people before you take them in for the final interview," said event organizer Susan Valentine, 37, of Mariemont.

Halfway through the night, there's an intermission so you can mingle with any singles you haven't been hooked up with yet. I had some fun chats during this period. Meanwhile, random grocery shoppers used this opportunity to gank cheese and Triscuits from our group.

Almost every one of my dates said they were having a difficult time meeting people in Cincinnati. One guy was a medical student - his free time has been stolen by books and X-rays, leaving little opportunity for socializing. Another has several difficult duties at work - by the time he leaves for the day, he's too exhausted to hit a bar or club. One was new to town - he's found local people to be close-minded and unfriendly.

"This is a tough town to be single, but here is a very professional way to get to know a lot of people in an open setting," Valentine said. "And if it doesn't turn out to be a love connection, well, you can never have too many friends."

Though my dates were attractive and nice, I did not meet anyone I would like to see again romantically. (Disclaimer: Take my experience with a grain of salt, since I recently met someone who has me smitten.)

However, I did meet good people. Tony213 and I had a good talk, though it was cut short. Matt217 and I raved about the new Harry Potter book, then joked about killer donkeys. (The two aren't related, but trust me - the conversation was really funny.) And Don212 was a great guy, someone I wouldn't hesitate to set up with one of my friends.

Traditionally, the events have more than a handful of couples. The next one, Sept. 16 at Dave and Buster's, will have a larger group of about 100.

It will also be a more intimate venue. A barrage of "Cleanup in aisle 3" isn't exactly conducive to romance - even with the hired violin player who tried to add some ambiance by playing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" near the checkouts.

The company also holds more specialized events, such as for African-Americans or homosexuals. Plans are already in the works to include different age groups - one for ages 35 to 45; one for 50 to 60.

Last Tuesday night I didn't find the love of my life. But I did make a few friends in just eight minutes.

And just think, I could have been boiling an egg instead.

For more information: Go to Web site, or e-mail event organizer Susan Valentine at susanv@8minutedating.com

E-mail mdowns@enquirer.com




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