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Monday, 5 June, 2000, 14:36 GMT 15:36 UK
You CAN hurry love
Seven guys, seven girls, seven minutes
It could take just seven minutes to find the love of your life, thanks to the new craze for speed dating. By BBC News Online's Megan Lane.

Singles: Tired of hanging out in bars trying to engage an attractive stranger in conversation? Too apprehensive to ask someone out in case they say no?

Then speed dating, the latest import from the United States, could be for you.

It works like this: seven women and seven men gather in a café, pair up and chat for seven minutes. At the sound of a bell, it's all change for the next mini-date.

The rules
Each date lasts seven minutes
Be polite
No judgmental questions about age, occupation or where your date lives
Don't exchange phone numbers
No ducking out to avoid an unlikely prospect

Each person fills out a card, indicating who he or she would like to go on a proper date with. The organisers compare the answers, and put any matches in contact with each other.

Speed dating started in January 1999 in Los Angeles as a scheme for Jewish singles to meet, and quickly caught on in New York.

Aish, the international Jewish organisation licensed to run speed dating events, started weekly sessions in north London a month ago.

Several bars in central London have piloted similar events for non-Jews, but regular sessions have yet to get off the ground.

Fast love

BBC News Online went along to an Aish event - as an observer only.

speed dating
And they're off...

Like any first date, the pressure is on to make a good impression. The singles arriving at Belsize Park's Chamomile Café are all decked out in their smart-casual Sunday best.

Colourful figure-hugging tops and natural-look make-up are de rigeur for the women, and the men have carefully ironed their favourite but-I-just-threw-this-on shirt.

Most turn up with a similarly-single friend in tow.

"He's here for his mum, and I'm doing it for him," says one man.

The first moment - or seven minutes - of truth soon arrives as MC Tim Cowland calls for the assembled daters to take their seats.

He sells the event as a quick way to sort the wheat from the chaff.

"Who needs three-hour blind dates, who needs to buy seven dresses and pay for seven meals when you can date seven people in one evening?"

In seven minutes, you can get a strong intuitive sense of whether this person is on your wavelength

Jamie Cowland

After a short pep talk outlining the rules - "thank your date for the conversation, turn off your mobiles" - they're off.

The room fills with lively chatter, but the body language tells a different story - most sit with their arms defensively crossed.

An archetypal tall, dark and handsome man chats briefly on his mobile phone while his date stares politely into space.

By date two, the glazed I'm-enjoying-this expressions are giving way to genuine smiles. Mr Popularity takes another call.

Between dates, Tim slips in a few soundbites on what makes a healthy relationship: "I want you to focus on the difference between love and lust. Love is giving, lust is taking."

In the background, Whitney Houston warbles: "The greaaaat-eeeeest luurve of all..."

During the half-time break, Julian, "a secular Jewish boy", objects to the homilies.

"If I wanted to come here to get my leg over, I'd do it. No amount of sanctimonious pseudo-religious babble would change my mind."

Good odds

By date five, classic flirting gestures have all but replaced the folded arms and tight smiles.

Danny and Tony say they came along to meet nice Jewish girls.

"I'm in my 30s now," says Danny. "I've had relationships with non-Jews in the past, but I'd like to have Jewish family to keep the traditions going."

Daters Michelle and Leslie
Speed your love to me: Michelle and Leslie get to know each other

Michelle and Debbie think the evening is a fun way to meet new people.

"It's been very well matched up - everyone had something to say, and there were no nebuch (Yiddish for saddos)," says Michelle.

About two-thirds of the singles get a proper date from each event - better odds than at a bar or party, says Tim's brother, Rabbi Jamie Cowland.

"This is a pre-date. In seven minutes, you can get a strong intuitive sense of whether this person is on your wavelength.

"None of these women would have trouble pulling if that is what they wanted to do.

"But they are not looking to stay over somewhere before they get a conversation with the guy."

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29 Jul 99 | Sci/Tech
Falling in love drives you mad
20 May 99 | Europe
A secret affair in Austria
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