Looking for love in Woods Bay

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  • MACKENZIE REISS PHOTOS | Bigfork Eagle Patrons mingle and sip on drinks before the speed dating begins at Montana Bonfire in Woods Bay.

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    The stage was set for speed dating with snacks, decorations and question prompts to get the conversation started.

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  • MACKENZIE REISS PHOTOS | Bigfork Eagle Patrons mingle and sip on drinks before the speed dating begins at Montana Bonfire in Woods Bay.

  • 1

  • 2

    The stage was set for speed dating with snacks, decorations and question prompts to get the conversation started.

  • 3

  • 4

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, bachelors and bachelorettes tried their hand at speed dating in the hopes of sparking a new romance at Montana Bonfire.

Last Friday, Jan. 30 was the first time Montana Bonfire hosted speed dating at the Woods Bay watering hole. For many participants, it was also their first time experimenting with this form of meeting new people.

“We want to build momentum so people know, ‘Oh yeah, speed dating,’” said event organizer Brittney Rutherford. Otherwise, she pointed out, “How do you meet people?”

The event attracted men and women in a range of ages. As the participants gathered expectantly — and a little nervously —around the bar, they cited a multitude of reasons for their decisions to meet potential partners through the highly-structured event.

For a lot of participants, the dating pool in the Flathead Valley had proven too small and close-knit for finding a suitable partner. A lot of speed daters said these problems were especially acute in small, rural communities like Woods Bay and Bigfork.

“It’s absolutely the area,” said one young woman as she sipped a cocktail. “It’s the whole Flathead Valley.”

Her friends agreed with this bleak assessment as they compared matches on their mobile dating apps, laughing as the three of them continually came across the same few prospects.

One participant recalled when multiple members of their friend group connected with the same potential suitor. Another woman said most of her friends or other women she knows have all dated the same men, so they decided to give speed dating a try to expand their circle.

“It’s my first time ever, but I’ve always wanted to,” one woman said. “I’ve had this vision in my head.”

The slightly outnumbered men at the event seemed a little less enthusiastic, but just as open-minded. Most of the gentlemen hailed from Bigfork, and they said mutual friends encouraged them to come out to speed dating.

One of the men at the bar said he had never tried speed dating, which was part of the reason he decided to show up. He said he thought he would “enjoy the experience” and looked forward to “meeting new people.”

He said he liked the sound of dating in a “structured environment.”

“I don’t say that very often,” the long-haired bachelor laughed.

“I’m curious,” he added, “I want to see how speed dating works in a tiny community.”

“Speed dating works in big cities because you never see the people again,” he said, half-joking.

But he and the other men at the event said they weren’t intimidated or uncomfortable, even though the crowd was made up of more men than women.

“No, not at all,” said one of the men as he looked around the room, waiting to meet his possible dates.

Organizer Brittney Rutherford endeavored to eliminate some of the nerves of small talking with a group of strangers by setting the event up with topic cards and question slips to inspire easy conversation. Cards asked speed daters to share thoughts like, “Do you prefer Apple or Android?,” “What’s the best thing that’s happened to you today?” and “Do you plan on staying in the valley or moving elsewhere?”

For the crowd of largely first-time speed daters, these supplies were intended to help the participants get to know each other and, as much as possible, minimize the awkwardness. They were invited to sit and chat in a dining room decorated with hearts and red tinsel garland as they sipped cocktails and snacked on finger foods.

It’s unclear whether any of the speed daters found love Thursday night, or if the male participant who said he had “given up on relationships” met someone there who changed his outlook on love.

But Rutherford already has plans to continue playing Cupid for the local community, with another Speed Dating event scheduled for Feb. 22 with promotions to bring in even more potential partners, especially men.

“We’re hoping we might have them once every two months,” Rutherford said. »

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