Faster, Pussycat! Date! Date!

There are lots of services and resources for singles who have exhausted what (until now) have been thought of as traditional places to meet your mate— through friends, at the bar, at church. The Minneapolis yellow pages lists 15 dating services alone, and there’s truly something for every single. Jeff Feldman, the (single) membership director of Adventure Seekers in St. Louis Park, says his organization is not a dating service, regardless of what it’ s listed under in the phone book. Instead, he says, it’s a “singles network,” a club that holds all kinds of fun events for people who all just happen to be single and whose friends all just happen to be married. Adventure Seekers provides the unattached friends people have run out of, he says.

His clients take hot air balloon rides, check out bands at the Fine Line, and take advantage of happy hours all over town. Anywhere from 20 to 80 people might attend any given event, and although it’s not a dating service, the staff at Adventure Seekers do what they can to make sure both sexes receive equal representation at all events. Did I mention it’s not a dating service?

Feldman has absolutely no qualms about the service he provides. “People are too busy to meet new people, and they’re usually not meeting people out of their circle,” he says. “When they do meet people, they want them to be quality people.” Because it’s technically not a dating service, Feldman and his crew skip the background checks and meet with new members individually only once for about a half-hour. They also don’t do any matchmaking. “Our slogan is this: While people are waiting for the perfect date, they’ve got to have a life first,” Feldman says. But what it will cost, Feldman won’t say. “There’s a lot of competition for the single dollar out there,” he says, by way of refusing to reveal that information to potential competitors. He indicates only that membership runs in the high hundreds. Each event carries an additional (“nominal”) fee.

Lisa Martens, the (engaged) director of It’s Just Lunch Minneapolis, is more forthcoming. Eight matches for $1,100, 12 for $1,300 or 16 dates for $1,500. Martens personally meets with each of her new clients, currently numbering around 3,000, for about an hour. Potential mates are selected according to her ability to size people up, and all matches go through her. Daters, most of them professionals in their 30s or 40s, meet for casual lunches. She requires the daters to check back within 48 hours of the date to tweak the matches. In IJL’s six years in Minneapolis, more than 300 professionally-matched couples have wed. Martens herself is sweet, friendly and incredibly accommodating, often working late hours to schedule clients around their busy lives. She left a career as a headhunter two years ago to become a matchmaker, but she doesn’t have any formal training. Instead, she relies on a highly tuned gut instinct, with an impressive record; her three best friends are currently in relationships she engineered pre-IJL.

Martens says she believes any stigma that previously existed in using a dating service has dissolved. “It’s just a shift in the way dating has gone,” she says cheerfully. People are busy and cliques are tight. And if you don’t have the time but you do have the money, why not use a service? After all, dating services eliminate time that might otherwise be wasted getting to know someone who will never, ever do it for you.

She compares her job to that of a financial analyst or personal trainer. The key to IJL’s success, Martens says, is the emphasis on the casual. Even at around a $100 a date plus lunch tab, tax, and tip, with a hand-picked, screened-for-your-safety prospective mate, no busy single professional wants to be pigeonholed into anything serious, she says. That’s not to say that people using IJL aren’t serious about finding a mate or having a relationship. But regardless of the fact that you yourself are emitting the same perfume of desperation, there’s an important protective wall to maintain. Remember: The person sitting across from you must be single for a reason. Especially if they are using a full-blown dating service.

Even though some of these services will quickly relieve you of much money, you still have a friend in Jesus (or Moses, or Muhammad). Enter the church singles clubs: free, welcoming, and utterly heathenistic. Remaining consistent with their weekly ecumenical services, the nominally Catholic St. Joan of Arc attracts singles of all denominations to their weekly happy hours, wine tastings, and coffee slurpings. People occasionally meet for other events, such as cross-country skiing, and they’ve been known to double in size (this is a numbers game, after all) when they host joint events with the Basilica’s singles crew, the Avenues. Ironically, coordinator Nancy Goedeke (single, Episcopalian) doesn’t believe singles ever meet through church. She disputes the conventional wisdom that Sunday service has as much meet-market potential as your local grocery store. And you better believe you’ve exhausted your friend’s friends by the time you hit your 40s, she adds.

“Unless you have small groups or a service or develop a community on your own, it’s very hard to get connected in this world, especially if you’re older,” she says. Goedeke thinks dating gimmicks and services tend to be superficial. Minnesota natives are renowned for their “our-group-goes-back-to-the-days-we-were-in-diapers-and-we-didn’t-need-any-new-friends-then-either” attitudes. But somebody must be looking for love outside the clique: Goedeke emails her weekly event info to more than 300 subscribers.

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