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Love in the fast lane: New beat-the-clock dating trend arrives in Fargo

It is possibly the most productive 49 minutes of socializing in the history of the Windbreak Saloon -- seven women, six men and 42 dates. The group, meeting at the south Fargo bar in early December, is the first in the area to try speed dating, a...

It is possibly the most productive 49 minutes of socializing in the history of the Windbreak Saloon -- seven women, six men and 42 dates.

The group, meeting at the south Fargo bar in early December, is the first in the area to try speed dating, a national phenomenon that's sweeping the singles' scene.

The rules are ruthlessly efficient: Man meets woman, man and woman talk for seven minutes, man moves on to next woman. Last names, ages, addresses and careers are off limits.

Everything else goes, and it goes fast.

"It's fun, but it would be nice to have more time," says Andrea, 38, during a break in the action.

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After each mini-date, players mark "yes" or "no" on their scorecard, depending on whether they want to see their seven-minute fling for a full date.

Afterward, organizers Kristi Click and Jason McSparron collect the cards and tally the marks. Matches are called within the next few days and given the interested person's name and phone number.

"It puts everybody basically on the same playing field," McSparron says. "You know the people you're meeting are looking to meet people, too."

Created three years ago by a rabbi in California, speed dating, or fast dating as it is sometimes called, has flourished, giving rise to businesses focused entirely on hosting the events. Chicago-based FastDater Inc. has expanded nationally to 13 cities, including Minneapolis, since its inception in spring 2001.

Click and McSparron, who have been dating for 18 months, created Fargo Speeddate after hearing their single friends gripe about their lack of social lives.

"It seems like the older you get, the harder it is to meet people," Click says.

She should know. Before meeting McSparron through an online personal ad, Click suffered through two blind dates, including one that she says made for the longest three hours of her life.

Speed dating appealed to her as a less painful alternative.

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"If you don't like them, you spend five minutes with them and move on," Click says. "I think it'll save money, and it saves time."

Fargo's pioneering speed daters, all of whom were in the 38- to 50-year-old age group, paid $20 to get on the list. To ensure a pleasing mix, Click used informal phone interviews to weed out the extremely shy and the overly combative.

One woman was nixed for male-bashing throughout the conversation.

"I couldn't figure out why she wanted to meet anybody," Click says.

Upcoming speed dates, which Click and McSparron want to hold at least once a month, will cost $25. The next event, for those aged 25 to 35 years, will be held Jan. 7. Another one, for 50- to 65-year-olds, is also in the works.

If the follow-up events are as successful as the first, Fargo Speeddate could catch on fast. All but one of the original participants told Click they would love to do it again. Of the 13 daters, nine found matches. One man came away with four.

But as one speed dater notes, matches aren't always the sign of a winning night.

Tom, a 49-year-old divorced business manager, moved to town a few years ago, and speed dating seemed to him a good way to meet people outside of work.

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"The only reason I'm here is to expand my circle of friends," he says.

Whatever they're looking for, speed daters don't have much time to find it. Whenever Click's kitchen timer sounds, most conversations need another, louder, reminder that time is up.

"Everything is so military," one woman says during a break.

Another tells Click she feels as if she is at a job interview.

"In a way it is an interview," Click says later. "You're interviewing for dates."

For more information on Fargo Speeddate, call Click at (701) 277-3503.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Forster at (701) 241-5538

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