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The new dating tools: A card and a wink

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TREASURE HUNT: The latest generation of dating techniques claims to offer a superior experience, saying they blend the thrill of real-life romance with the internet's comforting obscurity

Plenty of singles are ditching 'traditional' dating sites like Match.com or eHarmony and cozying up to the latest in mobile matchmaking

Lori Cheek was walking through the meatpacking district of Manhattan when she spotted a handsome man sitting with friends amid the dinner crowd outside Pastis. As she neared his table, she flashed a diminutive black card. "I nestled it in his French fries," she said, "and kept going." As Cheek, 37, disappeared into the July night, the man plucked the card from his fries. It read: "Look up. You might miss something." Below, in smaller letters, were the words "find me," a code and the address of a new Web site for singles.

Move over, Match. com. This is the next generation of online dating. Unlike traditional dating sites where members spend hours on computers writing autobiographies and scrutinising photographs, a raft of newfangled dating tools are striving to better bridge the gap between online and real-world romance. Some companies offer a combination of flirty calling cards and Web pages. Others operate dating applications that use the global positioning systems in cellphones to help local singles find one another.
All of them contend they are superior to big online dating sites like Match. com and eHarmony. com because meeting people is faster, more organic and less formal. And participants are not limited to a database of members: the world is their dating pool. "It's almost like you're shopping online," said Cheek, "but you're shopping in real life." At the same time, these hybrid dating tools still enable users to keep their names and personal information private for as long as they like.

Cheek, an architect who works parttime in sales for a high-end Manhattan furniture company, founded one such venture, Cheek'd, which had its debut in May. Users receive calling cards to dole out to alluring strangers they encounter in their everyday lives, be it in a club or in a subway on their morning commute. Recipients of the cards can use the identification code printed on them to log onto Cheekd. com and send a message to their admirer. A pack of 50 cards and a month's subscription to Cheek'd, where users can receive messages and post information about themselves, is $25. There is no fee for those who receive cards to communicate with an admirer through the site.

Each Cheek'd card has a sassy phrase like "I am totally cooler than your date," or, for those with no regard for subtlety: "I'm hitting on you." Cheek is dreaming up specialised card sets, too. One for New York City singles will have lines like "I live below 14th Street" and "I hope my five-story walkup won't be a problem."

Willa Bernstein, 43, who uses Cheek'd, was recently making eyes with a man at the Soho Grand Hotel but was feeling shy, so she dispatched a friend to slip him a card on her behalf. Bernstein was not bold that night, but the words on her card were: "I'm looking forward to our first date."

"I felt a little bit high school," confessed Bernstein, a former government lawyer who now heads the philanthropy company Manthropy. "It was just a little intimidating to cross the room." No matter. The next morning she awoke to find a message in her Cheekd.com mailbox. "My only regret from last night," wrote the man from the Soho Grand, "was that you didn't come over and introduce yourself in person."

The two have since exchanged messages, and Bernstein hopes to arrange a date soon. Cheek'd is not the only new company integrating calling cards and the Internet. Inspired by their own love story, Rachel and John DeAlto, 30 and 33, founded FlipMe!, which was introduced a few weeks ago and works similarly to Cheek'd.

DeAlto first spied the man who would eventually become her husband while having dinner at a restaurant in Red Bank, N. J. He had been dining with colleagues, and on his way out, he handed a waitress $5 and asked her to pass a note scribbled on a scrap of place mat to Rachel. She waited three days, then called the number and said "I'm the girl from Juanitos." Six weeks later, they were engaged.

On each red FlipMe! card is an explanation for the recipient: "I've said 'what if' too many times . . . not this time." A pack of 30 cards and a three-month membership to flipmedating. com is $24.99. The cards, which all say the same thing, are sold online and in some salons and spas in the Northeast. A cellphone application is in the works. "It's getting me out more," said Christine Langfeld, 36, a food stylist who has tried online dating and has just begun experimenting with the cards. "Instead of running home to my computer, I'm going out for drinks and coffee and just being more social."

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