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Group Six

Tired of fighting the odds? Group dinner dates can improve them.

By Traci Hukill

THERE'S NO OTHER way to say it: Come Valentine's Day, it just feels right not to be a Palolo worm.

When those aquatic relatives of the common earthworm are seized by fire in their loins--if worms can be said to have loins--they swarm by the millions to the shallows off certain islands in the Western Pacific. There, gripped by passion, they swim and somersault underwater, "externally fertilizing" as if there were no tomorrow, no danger, no shame. Females release eggs into the warm seawater with wild abandon. Males relinquish sperm willy-nilly. The waters, it is said, foam milky white.

It's a little gross, but then Palolo worms don't have to think about what to say to each other. When lovelorn humans, on the other hand, peruse the eHow website in search of romantic advice, one of the first things they find is "How to Ask Someone on a Date." The inspired tips by the author of "How to Tie Shoes" and "How to Dispose of a Goldfish That Has Died" suggest tactics no ordinary human could dream up unaided--like introducing oneself to the beloved and asking him or her out to coffee.

Luckily, amorous Silicon Valleyites need not rely on the genius behind eHow to make love connections, because there's Table for Six Total Entertainment, a Mountain View dating service with a different kind of shtick: sending people out to dinner in groups of six.

One Friday night several weeks ago, a certain Palo Alto restaurant had three Tables for Six in its dining room. One was a group of 40ish folks, three men and three women, all attractive, all financially fit enough to afford the $1,300 annual membership fee (or $1,600 for three years). The average age of the other two groups in the restaurant was more like 35--again, three men and three women in each, all good conversationalists, sitting boy-girl-boy-girl.

At one of the 35ish tables, three high-tech workers and three commoners discussed topics that ranged from skydiving to travel to art to stocks. As far as Metro has ascertained, no love connection lit the airwaves that night. But the conversation quickly attained a friendly and, given the circumstances, pretty comfortable tone. The whole thing seemed a little like a work party--casual, friendly, intelligent.

CEO and former runway model Julie Paiva explains the logic behind the Table for Six formula.

"Psychologists say that when they want to do group therapy, they choose six," Paiva says, flashing a fluorescent smile. "It's the perfect number for a group dynamic. No one feels left out, everyone's a part of the group, but no one stands out."

Women like it because they get to watch the men interact in a group, she says, and the men like it because they don't have to risk rejection. Or pay for dinner. Besides, it's just plain natural to band together as a prelude to romance.

"All kinds of animals come together for mating purposes," says Michael Kutilek, a biology professor at San Jose State University, intending no pun. He reels off examples. "Many herd animals. Elephant seals at Año Nuevo. I've seen pits of rattlesnakes gathered under rocks in a mating mode."

As egalitarian as the whole Table for Six arrangement is, with the number of men equaling the number of women and no one footing the bill for anyone else's filet mignon, Kutilek says he suspects that the females have the advantage anyway. That's how it is in the animal kingdom.

"In some groups, it seems like the male runs the show," he says, "but really the females are making the decisions. Usually, the female is going wherever she wants and the male is following, just trying to keep other males away."

There is no evidence of that sort of sad-sack behavior at a Table for Six function. Pursuit--if it ever takes place--is done in very discreet terms. If someone at the table likes another group member, he or she just calls the Table for Six matchmakers after the date and lets them do the reconnaissance work. If word comes back that the other person is interested too, well, that's a love connection. Paiva brags that they have 20 of those a week.

And hey, if things don't work out, there's always another dinner. Everyone has to eat, right?

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From the February 10-16, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. MetroActive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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