Patricia Handschiegel's dates start like many other couples': "We cook an amazing dinner, grab a little wine," says the 36-year-old Los Angeles entrepreneur.
And then ... ? "We pull out our laptops and get some work done."
Toiling side-by-side for hours, "we laugh and have a great time," she says. "I know it doesn't sound fun," she adds, but working on dates has saved her from a worse fate: No social life at all. She says she is so busy running a Web site, launching a second one and working part-time in public relations, that "I probably wouldn't have left the house or office" for any man if she couldn't bring her laptop along.
You've heard of working vacations. Now comes "the working date." Many single people are so busy with careers that they don't have time for a social life. So they're increasingly blending work and romance. For some, the practice has provided a path to lasting love. For others, working dates are one more way to avoid intimacy or just a major turn-off.
In part, the phenomenon is driven by so many Americans working wall-to-wall hours. But also, more people are plunging into all-consuming entrepreneurial ventures at younger ages; "as an entrepreneur, you don't really separate" work and life, says Beth Schoenfeldt, New York, co-author of "Ladies Who Launch." And more women have high-powered careers, making them a match for men who can't stop working either.
A matching work ethic is becoming a kind of compatibility test for many career-minded singles. A typical working date for Scott Friedman, 47, of Denver, a motivational speaker and humorist, starts with, "'Look, I'm busy. You're busy. Why don't we order in and we'll work?"' With one recent partner who also has a demanding career, they would dine on Chinese food at his kitchen table, admiring the city lights from his windows. "Then we'd work for a few hours," he says. "At least," he reasons, he could glance at his date across the room. After that came dessert or a trip out for ice cream. "The actual social part of a four- to five-hour date would be 60 to 90 minutes," he says. The relationship ended for other reasons, but the dates "made me feel better, because I wasn't always the one saying, 'Geez, I have so much to do."'
A subsequent relationship tanked partly because the woman wasn't as busy as he was, Friedman says. Although she agreed to pass time reading a magazine while he worked after dinner, "it was uncomfortable for me because I knew she was just waiting for me to spend time with her," he says. Feeling guilty, he broke it off. "I decided I was better off by myself."
Some people even regard devotion to work as a plus in choosing a date. True.com says it sees a growing number of new clients who say they're workaholics, often including the word in the headline of their profiles, as if it were an asset. And Match.com says it sees men and women on its site using the term "hard worker" in their postings seeking dates. Both Web sites are among the largest dating sites and claim tens of millions of users.
After starting her own business, Allie Pfister, 25, owner of Bollare, a fashion publicity firm in Los Angeles, says, "work became my life." Thus many of her dates with Hayden Aalvik, 24, founder of a Web-services business, were consumed by work. In addition to working side-by-side on laptops, "you have the TV on so you can say you caught 'American Idol,"' Pfister says.
The couple has since split, with Aalvik heading back to graduate school. But he, too, says he enjoyed the working dates.
"Some couples have mixed doubles on Wednesday nights, but for us it was collaborating" on business, he says. Pfister's marketing skills complemented his technical and financial know-how, he says, so "it was just one more way for us to connect."
On one date, they brainstormed names for Pfister's business. "We spent the whole dinner writing down names and ordering drinks," Pfister says. Looking at the placemats later, "you could see where the martinis started to set in."
Some people may let work intrude on dates to prevent emotional intimacy. Ian Kerner, New York, a therapist who specializes in relationships for Match.com, says working on a date "says a lot about that person's inability to put a relationship first in their lives."
Fa Karamzadeh, a 28-year-old real-estate agent in Newport Beach, Calif., recalls that on some of his dates with an accounting manager, one person would cook dinner while the other worked on a laptop or cell phone. On such occasions, he admits to wanting her "to put a little more focus into me," although he enjoyed her presence.
"I couldn't understand I didn't want to understand all the pressures of her work," he says. Working so much brings to the forefront "all the difficulties and obstacles" in the path to romance.
If the stars line up, working dates can lay the groundwork for a major romance. Liz Dennis of New York City, had many working dates with George Allen. "He works a lot and is always on his BlackBerry, and I do the same," she says.
After ordering in dinner on evenings together at his apartment, Allen, a principal in a private-equity firm, would take conference calls or work on his computer while Dennis picked fabric swatches or designed a brochure for her new luxury cotton-pajama business. Because he scouts fast-growing businesses and she was forming one, they found common ground.
"I think it's made our relationship stronger," she says. Since being married in 2005, the couple continue to work side-by-side and even type each other's e-mails. "For us," she says, "it has definitely worked out."