Sunday, September 16, 2007

HurryDate: The Shock of the Real

This post first appeared in JMag, the publication of JDate. Its introduction said: JDate member Van Wallach writes candidly about how he found success using HurryDate, an alternative that brings online dating offline.
Despite my experience with online dating, I still felt nervous heading toward my first speed dating event in New York. Compared to the layers of emotional cushioning communicating online providesa Jewish speed dating party promised to close the digital distance in real time. Participants have five minutes to go on 10-15 dates. The image came to mind of cake ingredients thrown into a blender; we’d either mix or not.
I thought carefully about presentation. The women would see the 3-D me, not just pictures. Deciding to go upscale, I wore a sports coat, a blue button-down shirt and a confidence-inspiring Jerry Garcia tie. The ensemble said, “I pay attention. You’re worth a guy who dresses nicely for our first encounter.”
I hoped speed dating would work better than other singles events I had attended. I wilt in loud, crowded, alcohol-driven venues where men are challenged to blast into a tight circle of women friends standing together. Typically, the noise, the crowds, and the lack of information about the women inhibit me. I feel adrift and out of my element.
I walked into the bar on Bleeker Street in time for the half-hour of socializing. I scanned the group to check out the women, and the men. The organizers waited a few extra minutes to let stragglers arrive, then began. They explained the mechanics: women stay seated, men rotate every five minutes to the next table for a new date whenever a whistle was blown.
The first date got the speed dating concept off to a very pleasant start. The woman was intelligent, educated and attractive. Information about her children suggested she was probably older than me, but I wasn’t going to let that be a hindrance. I marked her “yes” on my score sheet, which offered only yes-and-no choices. A HurryDate party leaves no room for ambiguity.
I moved through other dates, with each conversation having its own rhythm. What do you do? Where do you live? What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? (I asked that, but nobody asked me). Several times I had to explain the origins of my highly un-Jewish name, Van (and yes, that’s my real name; I’m named after a car, but that’s a story for another time).
I kept my eye on the approaching women as the whistle-signal led to another round of musical chairs. You see, I recognized two of them. One I had met on JDate and dated a few times several years earlier, and another I had written to on JDate and never received a reply. I had contacted her in recent weeks after she changed her pictureI told her I liked the new picture. I never heard back from her.
Two women had the same name and I couldn’t tell from my notes which I was interested in, so I marked both and rolled into a date with the no-reply woman first. We did the usual getting-to-know-all-about-you chatter, then I said, “You know, I wrote to you on JDate and you never responded.” She explained she had had computer problems, and other people had also been concerned when they didn’t hear from her. Our conversation had more of an edge to it, based on a history, albeit a one-sided one. I marked her as a “yes.”
My very next date was the woman I met on JDate in 2004. We went out a few times, then I got involved in something else. She also remembered me, and even mentioned an old screen name of mine. We knew enough to get caught up on work and kid issues, and that felt good. I marked her a “yes,” also.
At home, I logged on and cast my votes. I marked “yes” for four, “no” for the others (I would have marked only three, but two women had the same name I couldn’t tell from my notes which I was interested in, so I marked both). I couldn’t fake enthusiasm for women where I felt no connection. I could tell when I would be interested, on emotional, social and, yes, physical grounds.
A day later, I had three matches, the three I wanted. The evening achieved exactly what I wanted; the confidence-building Jerry Garcia tie worked its magic.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Matthew Polly: Transformation in China

Here's a Princeton Alumni Weekly profile of Matthew Polly '95, a martial arts expert who wrote a book about his experiences. The story says:

Polly’s book, American Shaolin: Flying Kicks, Buddhist Monks, and the Legend of Iron Crotch: An Odyssey in the New China, is a raucous, wry look at his transformation from a “weakling” to a fighting machine. Despite his lonely status as the only English speaker at his academy, Polly persisted in the training and language study so that after a year, he says, “I began to understand the culture. The people let me in.” Published by Gotham Books in February, the book recounts his picaresque adventures as he traveled, clashed with Communist Party functionaries, and switched from kung fu to kickboxing.

Car Stories

[For an open-mic performance of this essay, follow this link .] My name is Van. I’m named after a car, the 1950s British racecar called ...