Toronto
5 min

Two minutes and counting…

Fast food dating torques up the selection - and pressure

TIME'S UP. You get to rate your date. Credit: Josué Menjivar

McDating, the speed dating phenomenon that has swept Toronto’s straight crowd since September 2001, has hit the Toronto gay scene at full force. And that means there’s never been a better time to be queer, single and looking.



First, there’s Gay Hurry Date. For $40, you get a convenient, if brutally efficient method to zip through 25 men in an hour and a half at Five nightclub (5 St Joseph St). That’s three minutes each. It takes more time to veg through a block of commercials on Queer As Folk.



If you’re a softie at heart but royally suck at make-or-break first impressions, there’s Extreme Dating at Timothy’s coffee shop (500 Church St). The Timothy’s marathon-dating event boasts a relatively heaping eight minutes for each of the eight men or women you meet (out of 30 participants; there’s a gay men event and a lesbian event).



I checked out both events – dating will never be the same for me again. From now on, wasting an entire evening on just one guy is a thing of the past. And inventing an excuse to escape a blind date gone horrible dull is way passé.



Yes, the dating revolution has begun. Here’s how it works.



After checking yourself in, you get your name ID number slapped on your chest, you introduce yourself to complete strangers and then see who can ask the dorkiest questions before moving on to the next date. Finally you indicate on a scorecard whether you ever want to see this person alive again. If you do, you better hope Mr The One indicated “yes” on his scorecard, too. If so, you’ll be forwarded one another’s e-mail address and you’re free to set the wedding date at once.



But if the premises of Gay Hurry Date and Extreme Dating are similar, the two games of the testosterone-crammed musical chairs are worlds apart.



The time factor is a biggie. The difference between three minutes and eight may not seem like much, but in gay time, five minutes is enough for a cocktail, some foreplay, and a messy breakup.



Then there’s the choice of beverages. A caffeine buzz at one, a light prescription of beer goggles at the other.



For both events, you are given one of two roles. Either stay in one spot and let them come to you, or be one of those who go around the room.



I was a mover at Extreme Dating, but at Gay Hurry Date I was a sitter. Being a sitter is a joy beyond words. With scores of cute guys hastening past me for inspection every 180 seconds, I felt like I was conducting interviews at a gay-male-only job fair. Not exactly a disagreeable position to be in.



It’s only too bad the sexy, subdued red lighting was spoiled by the white spotlight that continued to flash about the room like a prison search lamp. The guy seated next to me kept swatting at it as if it were an errant housefly, even apologizing to one of his dates for the intrusion, as if he were alone responsible.



Timothy’s dimmed its halogens slightly, but how can one not feel like a caged zoo animal when guys from the sidewalk are cupping their hands to get a closer look-see at the desperate freaks inside. (During Extreme Dating, regular customers are booted out, doors locked and a limited variety of coffee served outside its doors.)



Still, we don’t take the fact that the coffeehouse is all ours for granted.



“We’re the second busiest Timothy’s in Canada,” says Extreme host (and Timothy’s franchise operator) Kristyn Wong-Tam. “So it’s a big production to shut down the store.”



Wong-Tam built Extreme Dating specifically for her store. Many Timothy’s have a partnership with a speed dating company already, but when Wong-Tam inquired about a link with her store and its queer clientele, she was flatly told they weren’t interested in those demographics. “I was hurt and felt rejected,” she says.



Gay Hurry Date comes out of the US, with a core straight business, plus gay operations in New York and Toronto. Karen Ward, head of its Canada operations, says Montreal, Vancouver and London can expect their first event within a year.



Fiscally, the two speed dating services are a good deal. Extreme Dating works out to be $3.75 per date, and Hurry Date $1.60. If you can find a cheaper date anywhere else, you many want to reconsider your standards.



There are, of course, always the no-shows, which lessen the evening’s date count. At Extreme Dating, there were two of them, not including the guy who dashed for the exit after only the first round. His abrupt departure left a slightly deflated cloud in the room, but that was quickly rectified as Wong-Tam swooped into damage control mode.



“He was socially awkward anyway. Let’s move on,” she reassured the men.



On the night I attended, Gay Hurry Date delivered its full promise of 25 guys, but it’s run more like a supercharged foremen would manage his factory floor; the conveyor belt of men moved swiftly. How could it not, when blowing a piercing GI Jane whistle was Karma, a petite young girl who had – by her lips alone – absolute power over 50 anxious, revved-up and (dare I say) horny homosexuals. I knew the pace would be brutal from the start when one of the greeters at the door reminded me: “Be sure to use the loo beforehand, because there are no breaks.” This was going to be fun.



Once inside, the need for speed was driven home by host Rick Matthews who warned us, “No matter how much you want to take the guy home, when the whistle blows you gotta move.”



Only once, the men ignored Karma’s deafening, at times obtrusive whistle, either too exhausted or too caught up in their current date to obey.



“Let’s go guys!” she roared. Like whipped puppy dogs, we do, pumping out questions and fluttering our eyelashes until the damn whistle blew again.



At both places, men didn’t waste time and dropped their questions like a Taliban bomb raid. There were the pretentiously scrutinizing ones (“What do you… do?”), the hopelessly mundane (“Describe your ideal first date,”) and the cute if uninspiring (“If I were a shopping bag, and we went to the mall, what would you put in me?”).



My all-purpose question – “What do you like to do for fun?” – was often met with replies as predictable as a nun’s summer wardrobe. Everybody was some sort of athlete, and no one dared claim to do the bar scene. Instead, it was all hiking, camping, waterskiing, horseback riding, bungee jumping and rounds of golf on a warm, breezy day.



One of the caveats of a three minute date is that, it seems, everybody is Canada’s great outdoorsman.



Still, the optimism in both rooms were high, and awkward moments were limited.



“Run into any ex-boyfriends?” I asked one exhausted bachelor at Gay Hurry Date after the Olympic-like event. He summed it up.



“Hell no,” he deadpanned. “That’s why I’m here.”



Aren’t we all.



* The next Gay Hurry Date is Wed, Aug 14 at Five (5 St Joseph St). Doors at 7pm; tix are $40 and prepayment is required. More info at www.HurryDate.com/gay. The next Extreme Dating at Timothy’s (500 Church St) is to be announced. Info at www.ExtremeDating.ca.