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DATING AGAINST THE CLOCK

speed-dating1Thursday night’s speed daters at Red sitting down for a lightning-fast marathon of acclimation. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Speed dating, at first, is much like a middle school dance, but with a bar. Boys on one end, girls on the other, and somewhere in between, an invisible cloud full of shared thoughts, fears and intentions.

But when the bell rings, the only choices are either to get down to brass tacks or scurry out the door.

From there it’s a sped-up Saturday night on the bar scene: What do you do? Where are you from? Do you come here often? Rinse. Lather. Repeat — for about an hour, with a break in between.

Such was the scene at Red Thursday night, where speed dating made a return to Red Bank.

It was orchestrated by Laura Occhipinti, who started New Jersey Young Professionals six years ago with the goal of bringing together — and at times, practically grabbing by the scruff, a la speed dating — the busy, the curious and the new-in-town types in a way that’s easy and different from, say, going to a bar or creating an online profile on a dating site.

It had been a couple years since Occhipinti last held an event in Red Bank — or Monmouth County, for that matter. She said past events earned a lukewarm reception and there wasn’t really a market in the area for them.

But in the last year or so, she said, there’s been renewed clamoring for action in this neck of the county, be it speed dating, happy hour events or speed friending.

Judging by the places people were coming from Thursday night, including Toms River, Jersey City and Manalapan, it’s evident that there’s a market now.

When there are about a dozen members of the opposite sex that you’re guaranteed to talk to within an hour, how, you may ask, would there not be a market?

Which was the thinking of many of the night’s participants.

“I get to meet 10 to 12 guys in one night and can get instant communication,” said Alissa Gelband, of Marlboro. “It’s an experience.”

It’s a rapid-fire type of communication that can’t be replicated with popular dating sites, many of the participants said. In the four minutes allotted to each station — women stay seated and the men, at the sound of the bell, pick up their drinks in Pavlovian fashion and move on to the next station — it’s a fun way tell if you ever want to see that person again, many said.

“It’s like the first day of college,” said Kris Milby, a pharmacist who made her first foray into speed dating Thursday. “I’m not picking out my husband tonight. That would be a little much to ask of in four minutes.”

There are those who do want to find a lasting flame, though.

Greg Egan, 25, came out for his second shot at find lightning-fast love, and odds be damned, he swore speed dating would be his boon.

“I’m going to keep trying it,” he said at the beginning of the evening.

By the end of the night, Egan said there were a couple of females he had hopes for and might have a chance of exchanging information with.

More than that, he said, the speedy scenario, the second time around, steeled him enough to keep at it.

“It was fun, really,” he said. “I’m more confident tonight, definitely.”

Some come to find friendship, others come with hopes of scoring a special someone. Just about every one at Red said they were there for, at least, the experience.

“This is a great way to meet new people, make friends and socialize,” Kim Spinelli, 31, said. “I have gone on dates with men that I’m still friends with. I just sat down with two guys and I was like, ‘Oh, God, it’s you again.'”

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