Jun 14, 2001 at 2:06 pm

If someone told me 10 years ago I would pay $3.50 for a cup of coffee, I would have said, "Yeah right, and gas will be $2 a gallon." Shows what I know. The point is this: If you want something bad enough, you'll pay for it. Relationships are no exceptions.

I was once a member of Great Expectations. I was fortunate enough to win my membership, because the video dating arena is not cheap. This is what you get for your money: a professional photo shoot, a video of yourself talking about your likes and dislikes and unlimited access to a catalog of potential suitors. I perused book after book containing mini-bios of men looking for love. There was a data sheet, so I'd know instantly if I was compatible beyond the aforementioned photos. If I was really interested, I could view the videos.

My six-month experience with Great Expectations boiled down to this: Every male I selected rejected me outright for a date. The only guy who picked me was rejected by me because he was too old. There's the catch.

You can be picking out men all day, but if they don't agree to go out with you then it's all for naught.

I didn't go out on one single date. If you call Great Expectations and ask about their fee, you will get a lot of mumbo-jumbo. They won't discuss it unless you go in person and listen to a long spiel about how great they are and the wonderful matches they've made. Let me save you the trip: It's in the $2,000 range. And don't forget you may never get a date out of it.

Now the trend is speed dating. It isn't free, but it is cheaper. According to the June 4, 2001, issue of U.S. News & World Report, speed dating services have popped up all over the country. For a fee — typically $28 to $33 per event — you and several dozen singles are paired up in an updated version of musical chairs. You and your "date" talk for seven minutes.

Ping! the music stops and you move onto the next person. You take notes on whom you liked and disliked. When it's over, you give the organizers the names of the ones you want to date. The actual daters are forbidden to exchange last names or phone numbers. If the date you like also turned in your name, the organizers contact the participants to exchange info.

The plus side of speed dating is you meet a lot of people all at once. There's little fear of psychos and stalkers because you only give your first name. And the cost is no more than a night on the town, when you might not have met anybody. The best part is, if you're paired with a loser, it's only a few minutes before you can make your escape.

Our local equivalent to the speed dating trend is It's Just Lunch. The service is advertised in CityBeat. I don't know the expense involved, but unlike speed dating, which I think is not enough time to make a judgment in an artificial situation, you get an hour. No pressure, no problem. If it doesn't work, the organizers break the bad news.

There is nothing wrong with paying cash upfront to find a date. Indeed, it's so right, because in the end you will be paying, one way or another. It's easy to put a price on a service, but not so easy to put a price on your time. So maximize yours, and let the professionals find you a mate.