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We can pretend that we’re Sandra Bullock, and one day – just one day – we’ll meet someone by saving them from becoming train-track mush. We can keep hoping that we’ll find an unrivaled connection on some deserted mountain like Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist. Or we can do it the McDonald’s way.
Mark Hamel did.
After coming out recently, the Fenton restaurant owner didn’t know a single gay soul. It must’ve been serendipitous then that he stumbled upon an advertisement during Motor City Pride that promoted a September speed-dating event at Ferndale’s Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center, which will host an all-lesbian one on Feb. 23, because he walked away with a new friend – and a man.
But don’t think he wasn’t nervous going in. He was.
“My greatest fear was that the room would be full of 18 year olds,” says Hamel, 40.
And had he known that Affirmations’ social and enrichment coordinator Maureen Jones’ intentions were to reach a younger crowd – those in the 20-to-30 age range who had been calling and asking about singles event – he might not have signed up. Lucky him: It wasn’t a total bust, and his anxiety subsided when he noticed the men were closer to his age, and that everyone was kind. He still had one major concern.
“I found myself thinking that three minutes is really not enough time to get to know someone, but I guess that wasn’t the point,” he says.
It’s not. According to Royal Oak-based psychotherapist Joe Kort, author of “Ten Smart Things Gay Men Can Do to Find Real Love,” the love-on-the-run style builds a foundation, allowing both people to see if there’s chemistry. Then, if both include the other’s name on their tally at the end, they can plan a wine-and-dine date.
It’s Kort’s favorite form of dating. Think of it as an appetizer: “Speed dating demands that there be a second date,” he says. For gay men, who Kort says lack social skills, it’s an ideal set-up for them to push-out their inner Chatty Cathy.
“You get the opportunity to talk with each person in the room equally,” he clarifies.
Which is not – as most of us know – how the bar scene works. People stare at each other (creepy!), rarely gathering enough guts to make a move. Other times, someone you dig is surrounded by his or her entourage, or just interested in grooving to Madonna – or so sloshed they’re wondering how the club transformed into a Disney World simulation ride.
That’s why Tristan Cox doesn’t seek dates there. As a spokesperson for 8minuteDating, whose Web site http://8minuteDating.com advertises itself as the “leader in speed dating,” Cox is delighted to work for a company that guarantees singles will meet a match during one of their events. If anything, it’s a better alternative to Internet dating by definition alone, Cox says, adding that on the Web, “You might figure out, ‘Oh, we have these things in common; let’s meet.’ But people get cold feet. Even if they plan on meeting at a certain time and place, it might not always happen.”
With 8minuteDating, singles mingle with eight others for eight minutes by either attending an event the service holds nationally or by becoming an event organizer. The matchmaking service mostly serves straight folks, but not by choice. Its Web site states they’ll host events for any religious affiliation, age group, sexual orientation – and, heck, even those film fanatics! Problem is: Hosts aren’t necessarily in this because they feel awful that folks live their lives like Sandra Bullock; rather, they want money, and Cox says holding events with professional, late-20-somethings brings in the bucks.
“We really want to (book) more gay events,” he says. “I wish it would take off a little more.”
At Affirmations, it has. Twenty-five men mingled at their first speed-dating event, and so far, 45 women have signed up for their upcoming one. “We keep getting feedback from people,” Jones says of the first go at it, which was inspired after she had learned of the NYC Lavender Lounge, an organization that specializes in connecting same-sex singles through events like speed dating. “Even if they weren’t going to find a match that evening, (they said) it was a lot of fun to meet new people and socialize,” she adds.
But, for those who sweat (like Whitney Houston) just meeting someone new, isn’t speed dating like throwing a shrimp in an oversized aquarium with Jaws? Nope – not according to Kort.
“It works best for those who are shy and have social avoidance in terms of talking to people they like and making the next step in trying to initiate another date,” he says. “In other words, for socially-anxious folks, dating is hell. Speed dating gives them a structure, in that there is going to be a formalized routine established at the event.”
Which helped Mark Hamel meet Brad, who turned out to be charming when the two later dined at J. Alexander’s. Just not enough so to score Brad a second date. Still, the two became buddies, and Brad introduced him to Mike, who he’s been in a relationship with for five months.
One of Kort’s clients wasn’t so lucky. No one wanted an official date.
“He was hurt,” Kort recalls, “and he left upset, but I was amazed he did not let it get to him. He took my advice and recognized it was about those men at that particular speed dating, and there was just not a match for him. He chose not to take it personally.”
Follow Kort’s Q-tip Rule: “Quit Taking It Personally.”
“There is nothing personal about whether or not another person likes you or not. It’s based on their tastes,” he asserts.
After all, did Elle Woods cry the Pacific Ocean, scarf down chocolates like she was Charlie Bucket, and watch soap operas when her fatheaded, Harvard Law School-bound boyfriend dumped her ’cause she was “too blond”?
Yeah, she did. But then she bounced back – with a smarter, cuter, better beau.