Single and ready to mingle

Get ready for the shortest date(s) of your life

It was like any other night before a big date. I went through three clothing changes, I spent an hour fixing my hair, I struggled to think of things I would say. And, of course, I daydreamed about the story I would tell our kids about our first date.

Except on this particular night, I had a heightened sense of anxiety: Instead of going on just one date, I was going on four. All in less than one hour.

Up until this point, speed dating had seemed like a myth to me. My only knowledge of the practice came from scenes in Sex and the City and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. It never occurred to me that people actually speed dated, let alone in small-town Chico.

But on a Sunday evening I found myself ready to meet a group of men that could potentially include my future husband. It wouldn’t be totally improbable.

Shawn Davis, owner of Dinner for Six, the singles club that puts on the speed dating event, met her husband through an event much like speed dating.

“He thought I was off limits because I was the leader of the events,” Davis said. “I was looking for someone, too.”

Davis has owned and operated Dinner for Six for the past 11 years. The club provides opportunities for members (and others who want to drop in) to meet several potential life mates in a short amount of time. Or to simply have a good time—Davis cautions participants about jumping head-first into a relationship developed in speed dating.

“I always tell people it’s a game,” she advised. “All you can get in five minutes is an attraction.”

When I showed up at The Market Café and saw the small, round tables where my “dates” were to take place, I calmed my nerves by reminding myself I was playing a game of Truth or Dare, and only picking “truth.”

For those who can’t fathom the idea of holding a conversation with a complete stranger, Davis provides cheat-sheets to help steer the discussion. Each one has a space for the dates’ names, along with a list of topics to discuss, such as movie preferences and recreational activities. Nowhere on the sheet did I find a place for a phone number or a last name.

Davis said it’s a rule she employs to maintain security for club members.

“There’s no exchanging phone numbers and no asking anyone out,” she said. “I try to keep the pressure off people to pair off.”

LOVE, AMERICAN STYLE<br>Allen, whose daughter met her future husband at a singles event, tries his hand during a recent speed-dating event held in Chico.

Photo By Toni Scott

Instead, Davis suggested that I take notes throughout my dates and at the end of the night come back to her with the names of people I might want to pursue.

“It has to be mutual to get a phone number,” Davis said. “I have everyone write down their possible matches. If someone they wanted to go further with writes them down, too, then I e-mail them each other’s phone numbers.”

I didn’t think I would want anyone’s number. When I first showed up, it was time for the first round of Davis’ speed dating event: the “Over 40s.” At 23, having a date with a man older than my father wasn’t on my to-do list.

But Davis told me I needed to wait an hour for my age group: the Under 40s. Until then, I could watch the process unfold.

I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of conversation that was bubbling up. And at the end of five minutes, it was almost a struggle for Davis to get the daters to move on.

Davis rang a Bavarian cowbell that was given to her by a German exchange student, which signaled the women to move clockwise to the next table in the circle. The 10 or so small round tables were filled, and some women stood up to jump in the mix. With no guarantee of an equal number of men and women, some had to wait a few minutes to start dating, while others finished their round before everyone else.

Davis said the Over 40 group is where she sees the most action. Members of this age group often have more problems meeting singles like themselves.

“It’s hard for people to always meet quality singles,” Davis said. “And most of our more mature crowd are starting over again. It can be really scary and difficult for them to be single again after years of marriage.”

Which is why Davis says her club is so important. She coordinates a number of events for the 300-plus members in Red Bluff, Chico, Paradise and Marysville. Each pays $150 for a lifetime membership, which allows them to participate in the events.

Although she says people initially join in hopes of meeting a mate, Davis likes to emphasize to her members the fun of being single. “It’s not just about meeting people, it’s about enjoying this single stage of your life.”

So I took her advice and tried to embrace my singleness.

As the Over 40s wrapped up, I sat waiting for the men in my age group. Davis could sense my nervousness and looked over reassuringly.

“What’s the worst that can happen?” she said. “It’s no different than going to a bar and not finding someone. And there’s nothing keeping you from walking out. You aren’t chained to the table.”

Shawn Davis has owned and operated Dinner For Six since 1997, and also met her husband at a similar event.

Photo By jennifer lazdins

Her motherly advice did re-energize me—which is probably why the warm and humorous Davis has had so much success in bringing people together.

I met Allen, a smartly dressed man from the Over 40 group with brown hair that had just a hint of gray, who was one of the daters attending that night. His daughter actually met her husband through one of Davis’ events.

His friendly personality drew me in. Allen told me how he had initially signed his daughter up to attend the singles events and that he was concerned about her traveling for dates. She came to a dinner that Davis hosted, and on that first night met the man she now calls her husband.

“It was one of those Kodak moments,” the retired naval officer enthused.

Allen was hoping the luck would run in the family, and as he chatted with me, two women sitting nearby looked on, hanging on his every word.

I retreated back to the dating area just in time to begin. Three men and six women had arrived to begin speeding through their night.

Although the group wasn’t nearly as large as the 30 or so who were in the older age bracket, I wasn’t disappointed with the men I saw. None matched my conceptions of creepy, unattractive shut-ins. They actually all looked relatively nice and friendly.

I sat down at the first table, a little awkwardly, and introduced myself. Brad was my first date of the evening.

As we talked about our jobs and how weird speed dating was, I found that the conversation actually wasn’t half bad. Sure, it was a bit odd to know that in a few minutes I would be moving on to someone else, but we glided through small talk with ease.

When the bell rang I moved over to Jamie, who knew right away that I was a reporter—I guess scribbling in my notebook was a giveaway.

But Jamie was interested in what I was doing and didn’t shy away from talking with me, even though he knew the experience would end up in the pages of a newspaper. The trust he showed in me was endearing, and I was a little disappointed when I had to move on.

I continued with my “dates"—four total. My final date was with a man who Davis said was a “double-dipper,” meaning he dated in both age groups. I could tell immediately we wouldn’t be a love match, but that didn’t dissuade us from having a decent conversation.

I watched the other women finish up and almost felt a pang of jealousy when I saw some laughing and connecting with the same men I had just spent time with. But it quickly faded as more of us finished up and talked among ourselves. These women weren’t my competition; they actually were just like me—single and ready to mingle.

Davis said the friendships among women are a huge by-product of the club. “I have women tell me after an event, ‘The men were nice, but the women were really fun.'”

I was too scared to put my matches in the basket. But I’m kind of hoping I run into one of the guys I met that night. And who knows? Maybe we could make some Kodak moments of our own.