Revista Cosas, January 22, 2008

Tendencies, from Washington: I am single and looking for a partner by Antonieta C’diz

In the capital of the United States, loneliness is tied to success. Professionals who are dedicated one hundred percent to their careers need a little help meeting other people. Luckily for them, there is a company that brings them together and helps them connect.

It is almost eight o’clock in the evening in a central restaurant in Washington DC. Twelve perfect strangers sit in pairs across from each other. Despite their nervousness and while perhaps drinking a cocktail, they laugh, they look at each other and they wait. Although they still do not know if they have something in common, their expectations are high. A man standing in the middle of the room tells them that they can begin talking to each other. Men and women initiate their dialogue with a traditional “Hello, what’s your name?” However, after four minutes the magic ends, it is time to move on, and the men rotate to the following table where a new stranger welcomes them with a greeting.

This is not a scene from the movie “Hitch”, starring Will Smith, but a real event organized by the American company Professionals in the City. The protagonists of this story are men and women between 25 and 55 years of age who have two basic things in common: they are single and they are looking for someone. They want someone with a good education, a successful career and a life to share.

Participants are analysts, engineers, and doctors. They are alone and in search of new people to break up their routine. “I work too much and I do not have time to meet people. This type of event helps me do that” says Jennifer, a 26 year old financial consultant, getting ready to participate in a 4 minute dating event. It’s the same reason given by the majority of individuals at these events when asked why they attended.

Washington is one of the most politically active capitals in the world and there is no time to waste. Loneliness often becomes the only companion to highly successful individuals who do not have many opportunities to meet new people.

This is exactly the scene that lawyer Michael Karlan, 39, became aware of when he decided to create Professionals in the City. “In 1993, I moved from New York City to Washington DC and I really did not know anyone. I basically went to bars at night to try to meet new people, but it was very difficult. In 1995, I began organizing parties and 500 people would show up. Then I realized that it was a good idea to organize events where people could get to know each other” says Karlan.

In 1999 Karlan made a decision. He stopped practicing law and dedicated himself completely to his first enterprise, the D.C. Society of Young Professionals. In 2004, he replaced it with Professionals in the City, a company that defines itself as a networking organization for professionals. Today the network has over 100,000 members and it has affiliates in Boston, New York, Washington, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia.

“We have had great success. I believe that my company offers something that many companies online do not, and that is a comfortable environment to get to know other people directly. The hardest part is when you introduce yourself to someone new. What should I say? How should I say it? We make that part of the process easier by providing a relaxed environment,” says Karlan.

Today, Professionals in the City organizes more than 1,000 events a year. Each of those events draws in anywhere from 20 to 2,000 attendees depending on the activity. You can find week trips to Greece, four or six minute dating, golf and glass blowing classes, Halloween and New Year’s Eve parties just to name a few.

The company also offers group events. For example, African-American and Asian dating, cooking or wine tasting activities, and dating for people between 40 and 50 years of age.

John, who is a 42 year old programmer, likes the system offered by Professionals in the City. He says it’s very comfortable and convenient for him. “I have participated a few times. I think it is a good idea to have a company that can schedule these things for you. I like that it has a recognized profile among professionals because that way you can tell a little bit about the participants. Every time I attend, I meet between 10 and 15 women.”

To be part of the Professionals in the City network is free. Members can check the list of planned activities every week on the company website, www.prosinthecity.com. If they like one of them, they simply sign up for it. Prices vary per event. The four and six minute dating events range between $20 and $30, while the galas and parties could cost $50 per person.

Open to Meet People

“This is the first time that I attended this kind of event. I decided to come without any expectations other than to meet new people. When I meet men, I think I will ask them about their favorite hobbies. That way, I will have an idea whether they are boring or interesting,” says Jennifer, before beginning her four minute dating.

Kat, a 23 year old financial associate, points out that the most important thing for her when meeting new people at these type of events is honesty. “For me, it is important to have a sincere conversation. If I meet a man, I don’t want him to sell me an image that is not real. I really don’t have a specific type when finding a partner, but a sense of humor is very important,” she adds.

In general, at dating events,the system to meet new people is the same. During check in, participants receive two sheets of paper, one with instructions and one to take notes about the people they meet at the event. The instructions are clear; the notes sheet should be filled out with the name and number of the participant (which is assigned during check in), and his/her email address. As participants meet new people, they write down each person’s name and identification number and indicate whether they are “Interested” or “Not Interested”. Once the event is finished the forms are collected by Professionals in the City, whose staff looks for mutual matches among participants. If a match is made, the company emails attendees the contact information of the people with whom they had a common interest.

Robert, 50, who is an Associate Professor at John Hopkins University, has participated for about six months in Professional in the City activities. “During the event you talk to many people, you more or less know which of them you like just based on a first impression but that could be right or wrong. When I have had mutual matches with women I have been interested in, we have communicated via email and other times we have gone out. As a matter of fact, I met a professor in last week’s event and we will go out in a few days”, he explains.

Karlan emphasizes that Professionals in the City is not limited to helping people find partners, but it aspires to generate networks of friends, jobs, acquaintances, and even providing fun activities for established couples who are open to extending their network of contacts.

Activities like glass blowing are more appropriate for couples, since the participants in general are as interested in the workshop as they are in meeting new people. What would Washingtonians do without its networks of acquaintances and friends? Lobbying, politics, conversation in hallways and coffee houses are the soul of this city. A phenomenon that Karlan easily identified a few years ago.