Taking It To The Max

<B>Peter Van Sant</B> Reports On A New Dating Phenomenon

With hundreds of thousands of ambitious, attractive, single men and women, New York City should be the perfect place to find the perfect match.

But ask around and you’ll hear many singles say they need help finding a meaningful relationship.

“When I first moved to New York, everyone was thrilled. ‘You’re going to date the coolest guys. Oh, I bet they’re really smart and really rich and really friendly.’ And I’m like, ‘Yes, but those guys are gay,’” says Serena Hicks, 25, from Tyler, Texas.

Serena works for MTV, but her dating life would make a boring video. She’s lived in New York for three years now, and during that time, she hasn’t had a significant relationship.

Tom Rinaldi, 29, is a native New Yorker, a Harvard grad with an MBA from the Wharton School of Business. A successful investment banker, Tom has had little luck finding a serious relationship.

“I don’t think of it as you know, it’s gone badly,” says Tom. “But you know, in terms of whether I found someone to be with, no, that hasn’t happened yet.”

Tired of striking out in the game of love, Tom and Serena hired a dating coach to help them find that certain someone. Correspondent Peter Van Sant reports.

“There’s a huge need for help in the dating industry,” says Nancy Slotnick, founder of a company called Cablight. “That’s why I got into this business. Because I really felt like people need help with the process. And no one teaches it to you.”

She’s designed a six-month program to counsel discouraged daters like Tom and Serena.

“I think of myself almost like a trainer at the gym, that I’m trying to push you past your comfort zone a little bit, but not enough to get hurt,” says Slotnick to Serena.

Slotnick says that Serena must first learn how to flirt: “You just want to think about a little goal, like, let me just talk to this guy, let me just smile, let me just make eye contact with this guy and look away.”

And Tom admits that a lot of people have told him that he’s hard to read. But Slotnick says he just needs to be a little less corporate with women: “It’s not that hard to read is a good or bad quality, it’s just who you really are might not be coming across.”

What’s her advice to all singles? Send out the right signals so others know you’re available: “It’s all about putting your cablight on. New York cabs have a little light when they say that they’re available. If you start sending those signals that you’re available then, and that your light is on, then you will get dates.”

To help Tom and Serena switch on their cablight, 48 Hours Investigates put them through an extraordinary series of what we call “extreme dates.”

In New York, there’s a whole new industry that helps people start relationships in ways you’ve never imagined.

The first event is called “HurryDate.” At a HurryDate party, you go on 25 three-minute dates in one night. The women stay seated and the men rotate from woman to woman every time a whistle is blown.

“My hope is to meet a nice guy,” says Serena. “Perhaps maintain eye contact as opposed to looking away and running away.”

Serena holds her ground through the tornado of passing men: “It was a lotta fun. I am so impressed with so many of the guys. I’m like a little kid in a candy store.”

48 Hours Investigates showed Slotnick some HurryDate highlights from Serena’s night out.

“First of all, she was like kind of touching her own leg, which is kind of a nice flirty thing that is sort of sensuous without being forward,” says Slotnick. “Also, she was making eye contact. I thought she did really good there.”

Tom, on the other hand, seemed a bit intense, and content to recite his resume to prospective dates. He even resorts to locker room humor with an eighth grade teacher: “Are your students hot for you? Do the boys all want you?”

“The hot for teacher comment was overboard,” says Slotnick. “She’s thinking, all right, this guy’s turning it into a sexual thing. And that’s not appropriate for the first three minutes.”

Serena strikes gold just 24 hours later. “I have six matches,” she says.

And Tom? He only has two, so he’s hoping for better luck at the next dating extravaganza.

Next, Tom and Serena are about to try the strangest dating event that New York City has to offer.

It’s called Dinner In The Dark, the ultimate blind date. Since the singles can’t see each other, they have to rely on something else to attract a potential date – their personalities. The waiters use night-vision goggles to seat and serve these singles.

Is it possible to find love in the dark?

It seems like Serena has fallen hard for her crab salad. But Tom has clearly adapted well to nocturnal life, and starts making out with a woman in the dark.

Candles are finally lit when dessert is served, and Tom looks like he’s already had his. “Very good,” he says.

So after completing all these events, will Tom and Serena find a soul mate? Or at least a Saturday night date?

Ben, from Hurry Date night, asked Serena out for a workday lunch. After two hours, they’re still talking.

“I wish we could have hung out for longer,” says Serena. “But he said that he wanted to see me again and I’m really excited.”

The last time we saw Tom, he seemed to be making out well. But after his date in the dark, the woman he was with later told him that he’d been too aggressive. And his two Hurry Date matches haven’t amounted to much either.

“I traded email with one of those, it didn’t really go anywhere,” says Tom.

“He has to do his homework,” adds Slotnick. “If you take the class and you don’t do the homework, then you can’t pass the class.”

But Tom is now thinking that he just wants to drop out of dating school altogether: “Maybe I’m enjoying the dating process in a more casual way. Maybe it’s coming to light that I’m not quite as urgent about it as some of the other people in the program.”

Meanwhile, dating success has helped Serena see her future in a whole new way: “I think this completely changes the game of my dating life. And by that, I mean game on!”