adies: Italian men in their 30s, with executive level jobs, who hate soccer and enjoy taking a stroll in the park on Sundays are accepting applications! Yes, these men really do exist. Or so they say. So, where do you go about finding men with such hard-to-pass up qualities?
Two words: Speed Date.
The concept, which only recently started making waves in Italy, works much like Hurry Date in the U.K. and 8-Minute Dating in the United States. In order to speed date, singles first visit a website, www.speeddate.it, seek out events in their respective cities, and reserve a spot.
Once the amenities are out of the way — participants must include their name, age, and e-mail address — singles pay about €25 to mix and mingle. In Rome, the action is at Bar Bar in Prati, where on a Thursday night I found about 200 people looking for a soul mate.
But the money can’t buy you love, only libation — at least for starters. At Bar Bar, you get an antipasto style buffet, one cocktail, and the chance to meet the person of your dreams. Singles are split up into three age groups that range from 23-50. Each participant is given a number, a name-tag, a score card, and a sheet of paper on which to scribble notes.
“Women usually take a ton of notes, whereas the men don’t take any,” says Giuseppe Gambardino, 34, the British-Italian mastermind behind Italy’s public version of the dating game.
Singles are paired up at tables and have roughly four minutes to make a connection before they’re ushered to the next person. Unlike 8-Minute dating in the U.S., Gambardino believes four minutes is just the right amount of time for two people to hit it off or not. “If there’s no chemistry, four minutes can seem like a lifetime,” says Gambardino.
At the end of the night, singles turn in their scorecard with a list of names and numbers, to which they’ve marked “Si” or “No“. It takes matching “Si” markings by a man and woman to get an e-mail address.
The Rome-based Gambardino launched Speed Date in November 2002. He got the idea after reading a magazine article on the success of Hurry Date in Britain. “I’ve always felt like a matchmaker among friends and colleagues,” says Gambardino.
Before setting up Speed Date, Gambardino taught English to business professionals at companies such as TIM and Telecom Italia. Even then, he played cupid. “I used to choose certain students that I thought would get on,” he recalls. “I organized English nights at a local pub where my students could practice their English and hopefully get together.”
Slowly, the Speed Date phenomenon grew into a hit by word of mouth. Gambardino says most women were particularly impressed by the quality in the turnout of men at the events. “‘Finally, some men with money,’ is what the women would say,” says Gambardino. The men’s reaction was of course, ‘Finally, a place to meet gorgeous women.'”
The average age for a speed dater is 35. Gambardino says that’s the age where people still have the energy to seek partners, but have grown weary of the club scene. “A lot of people don’t have the time to meet other single people because they’re often busy with work,” says Gambardino. “We make it easier for them by giving them at least 100 potential matches.” Others, according to Gambardino might just be looking to expand their circle of friends. “One woman I knew came to Speed Date after ending a 10-year relationship with her partner. She lost her entire circle of friends because they were all connected to her ex-boyfriend.”
On more than one occasion Speed Date has received requests from women for email addresses of other women that they struck up friendly conversations with at events.
Speed Date now hosts about 30 events each month in Rome, Milan, Florence, Genoa, Naples, and Turin. Last November, it also promoted a singles cruise to the Greek islands that drew more than 1,000 speed daters. So popular are the events that producer Vittorio Cecchi-Gori approached Gambardino to feature speed dating in comedian Carlo Verdone’s film “L’amore è eterno finchè dura,” which opened recently. The opening scene shows Verdone at Bar Bar in Prati on a Speed Date. But in the film Verdone was married. While speed daters are technically supposed to be single, Gambardino says there’s no real way of knowing for sure.
With all of the publicity surrounding the movie, I decided to find out for myself what the fuss was about. What kind of people attend these events? I decided to investigate by becoming a speed dater for a night. Here are my notes:
I showed up at 9 p.m. at now-famous Bar Bar. I scanned the room to find it packed with young, attractive women. Many of them had decided to attend Speed Date that night as a sort of Girls Night Out.
The men seemed generally older than the women, but largely well groomed. First up, Gianluca, who announced that though the sign-up roster was full, he still wanted my phone number. I’m guessing he doesn’t want to ante up the €25 to play but wants to mooch off the Speed Dating crowd. We chat for a bit and I tell him I’m 25. He says he’s 40. “Ma, non c’è una grande differenza, no?” said Gianluca. I laugh and say, “No, non tanto.”
At about 9:30 p.m., the game begins.
My first victim is a 30-something German-Italian male named Mario. He’s a cameraman and a first-timer. He saw the Verdone movie and got curious. By the time we get to the third question, Gambardino screams, “Cambio!”
End of date number one.
Now, I take the reins and ask all of the questions. What do you look for in a woman? Why are you here? Gianluca, the 32-year-old banker, says he’s tired of the club scene and wants to find someone to relax with. He doesn’t particularly like soccer and loves to read. I’m scribbling notes on my notepad and suddenly Speed Date feels a lot like a job interview.
Here comes date number three, a character. Gianmarco, 36, from Puglia is a hair-dresser. He touches my hair and compliments me on my highlights. Gianmarco, surprise, surprise, also hates soccer. Three guys in a row who hate calcio. Something smells fishy.
Date number four: Alessandro is an international lawyer from Rome. He seems concerned that I’m an Americana and asks about my plans after I finish my Master’s. “And just what do you plan to do after school? Meet a man, break his heart, and then go back to America?” Ouch. Not exactly. But, then again…
I look to my right and I see the girl next to me mouthing to her friend “Aiuto.” Her speed date isn’t even finished but she’s decided to send Ruggiero over to me anyway. He was a close talker; too close. His card only has the word “Si“. All I needed to do was give him my name and he decided I was solare, the kind of person he could get to know because I was full of ambition. All in a name.
After Ruggiero, the situation eases and people get more interesting. After all, you have about 30 encounters if you stick it out. Roberto, an architect, is pleasant. I ask him his age: 42. Seems he lied on the Speed Date sheet because he likes younger women and wanted to enter the younger bracket. He likes dining, reading, and taking walks in the park. Oh, and Roberto only watches calcio when the Italian national teams plays. Hmmmmm.
In total, I speed-dated for 44 minutes with 11 men. Before I left, I scanned the room one last time to note the mood. Several pairs were laughing and chatting away.
So, can you really meet your soulmate? Possible. One thing’s for certain, you’ll know fast if you haven’t.