story and photo by Ryan Saylor
Five women in Van Buren went on dates with seven different men Thursday night (Feb. 13).
While it may seem improbable, it's exactly what happened at the city's public library as it hosted its first ever speed dating event.
According to Library Assistant Amanda Coward of the Crawford County Library System, the event was a way to introduce local singles to each other while promoting the library at the same time.
"We noticed that it's hard to get the young adult age to come to the library, the 20s and 30s," she said.
In response to the lack of users in the younger demographic, Coward said she and CCLS employee Lily Clegg decided to create a community outreach event tied to some sort of holiday that would attract people to the event.
"And so the first holiday that came up was Valentine's Day and we thought speed dating would be a good way (to quickly meet a lot of people). We called it speed dating and speed friending, that way even if you're with someone, or if you just want to meet new people, (you can). There's not really a lot of places to meet new people. There's bars and stuff, but the library's always a good place."
To market the event, the library took advantage of several different marketing methods, including social media, flyers in restaurants and coffee shops as well as use of The City Wire Social, a weekly e-mail notifying subscribers about various events in the Fort Smith and Northwest Arkansas areas.
Once the 12 participants arrived at the library, the task was simple. The five women were seated at tables with the seven men moving from female to female at the sound of a timer. Various ice breaker questions were on printed cards at the tables to help get the conversation started, though many of the individuals found it easy to slide in and out of conversations as they moved from person to person.
Participant Leah Jenkins said she did not know what to expect with the event, but described it as fun once it concluded.
"It was fun. You had these cards, so you always had something to talk about when you couldn't think of it yourself and people moved after a certain time, so it never got awkward. It wasn't bad."
Jamie Narramore was another participant who said even previously living in a large city, he had never experienced speed dating until the event he attended Thursday.
"It was actually pretty cool," he said. "I got to talk to some cool people. Everybody was friendly. Everybody's in the same boat. I'm sure everybody was nervous."
While Narramore may have assumed everyone was nervous, he and others played it cool and did not display any nerves. As for why he participated, he said it was a way to meet people he would have not otherwise connected with.
"I just moved here from like San Francisco and I've only been here for a year and a half. I have not really met people," he said, adding that he had tried the bar scene but found it hard to connect given the fact that he does not drink.
Jenkins said she was excited to meet people outside of her group of friends, adding that it is hard to meet new people in a small town.
"Yeah, I got to talk to people and harass them, I guess," she joked. "I thought it would be interesting. I wanted to talk to people and get cupcakes. And I just thought it would be fun. I thought it would be interesting."
Whether any love connections were made at Thursday's event, participants will have to wait and see. Sheets filled out after each round asked participants to rate their "date." Coward said ratings will be tallied Friday (Feb. 14) with participants being notified by e-mail if there was a match between themselves and another participant, with both showing mutual interest among the following ratings — great, ok, or terrible.
While the event Thursday was small, Coward said response to the marketing for it was quite large from groups not necessarily targeted by the speed dating event, necessitating another event later this year.
"We're planning to have a summer fling for the 40s and up," she said. "Summer fling speed dating. We had two people come in tonight and say, 'Why can't the 40s and up do it?' They wanted to come. That totally shocked me."