'Crazy Blind Date': A Web site plays matchmaker in a new and different way

A new dating Web site has been luring adventurous singles away from the other sites by daring them to hook up with a complete stranger.

For all the romance and rapture online dating once promised, it’s also delivered its share of disappointments and dead ends.

First there’s all that combing through endless pictures, heavily Photoshopped, and profiles filled with disconcerting untruths, not to mention tiresome cliches.

“Everyone says ‘I love the outdoors,’” says dating-site veteran Benji Smith, 30, an artificial intelligence researcher in Summerville, Mass.

It can also take weeks of e-mails and phone calls before the Web-crossed lovers actually meet.

To escape the drawn-out drudgery of typical dating sites, such as eHarmony.com and Match.com, some modern singles are testing out a new way to meet a mate that’s actually not so new: a blind date.

Called Crazy Blind Date, the recently launched Web site eliminates online profiles and sets up users on blind dates, sometimes in as quickly as a few hours.

“You can spend two hours a day on Match.com trying to set up one date, or on Crazy Blind Date, you can spend the same time going on three or four dates,” said Sam Yagan, a Harvard-trained mathematician and founder of Crazy Blind Date.

He launched the free site last November, and it now has 10,000 members, who he said have gone on 90,000 blind dates.

The site currently operates in Austin, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, with plans for expansion to other cities in the United States.

The site works like this: You log on and fill out a short questionnaire about the days and times you’re available, the neighborhood in your city you’d like to go out in and what type of date you’d like to have - a mid-afternoon cup of coffee, say, or cocktails in a quiet bar.

You can also fill in your date preferences, such as age, religious background and education.

Or you can choose not to answer those questions, leaving to chance whom you’ll be set up with.

A few hours later - maybe even minutes - you get a text message saying that your date is waiting, requiring only that you log on to the site and pick a place to meet from a list of nearby bars and coffee shops provided by the service.

In the five months the site has been up, Yagan said, its users have had a wide variety of experiences.

Some have formed lasting relationships; others have developed genuine, if unromantic, friendships.

One subscriber, Jenny Benevento, 28, a librarian with The Associated Press in New York City, found herself in a screaming match with her date.

The pair met over a drink in a Manhattan bar when a literary debate broke out over the subject of dragons.

“I don’t know how dragons came up,” Benevento said.

“I mentioned that I hate dragon books, and his voice started getting higher and higher.” He then dragged her over to a nearby book shop to show her examples of wonderful dragon books; she said she still thought they were stupid, whereupon the couple stormed off in opposite directions.

“The date was going really great, but we never saw each other again,” she said.

What some subscribers say they like about Crazy Blind Date is that it forces them to interact with a person as a whole, instead of rejecting someone based on surface characteristics in a profile.

Matt Shafeek, a 29-year-old office manager in Manhattan, discovered while trying other dating sites that he was becoming too picky.

“When you're on Match.com," he said, "you just keep on clicking until you find the perfect height, the perfect hairstyle, and you invest all that energy into that one girl."

And, what with all the date-site deceptions, a face-to-face meeting can quickly shatter the fantasies engendered by online profiles.

Shafeek said he once found someone on the site who seemed to share his interests.

“We had a lot in common on paper,” he said.

“The same birthday, the same initials, we were both video gamers."

Then, after a few weeks of e-mails, phone calls and growing expectations, they finally met and discovered that there was no connection.

“She was really shy and I guess more comfortable speaking on the Internet.

We ended up seeing each other one time and never again.”

Crazy Blind Date, on the other hand, requires no such sifting through profiles and messaging back and forth.

This means users have little time to build up unreasonable expectations that may be dashed to pieces when reality bites.

Whatever the reason, Yagan reports that feedback from Crazy Blind Date users showed that 40 percent of them felt some sort of romantic connection to the person they ended up with on their first date.

“You can invest a lot of time choosing,” said Yagan, 30, the site founder whose own wife of four years was his high school sweetheart.

“At the grocery store, there’s 18 kinds of milk, and you just want milk.

The reduction of choice can sometimes improve the outcome.”

What’s more, psychologists who study online dating say pairing up people at random does not diminish the chances of their finding someone they’ll like.

This is because research has shown that people are bad at predicting what they want in a partner, said Paul Eastwick, a psychology researcher at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

In a recent study, singles were asked what qualities they looked for in a mate.

They were then put through a speed-dating event, where they experienced a rapid series of encounters.

When the subjects were interviewed afterward, researchers found bold discrepancies between the qualities they had looked for and the sorts of people they ended up with.

“Just because you say you want a funny guy, doesn’t mean that you really will like a funny guy,” Eastwick said.

Still, while users of Crazy Blind Date may not harbor high expectations for each outing, you never can tell.

“You know you’re not going to meet your soul mate, because it’s so random,” said Nichoel Ashley, 25, a psychotherapist in Austin, Texas, and a veteran of 16 blind dates, the most of all users.

“But you go into it with a little bit of hope.”