A speed-dating event took place last night in New York City with very unusual criteria. The 40 men all had to be wealthy, and the 40 women all had to be beautiful.
Jimmy Cyrus is a 25-year-old New York City bachelor who works 16-hour days.
He also happens to be wealthy, an asset that made him eligible for the Natural Selection speed-dating event open only to "rich guys" and "hot girls."
Cyrus, who works in real estate, was one of nearly 150 well-to-do single men in the running for the Manhattan matchmaking event.
If he made the cut, the ticket costs $500. But for that steep a fee Cyrus may have a chance to meet Heather Tierney, a 27-year-old entrepreneur living in New York, who has also applied to attend the matchmaking event. If the Indianapolis native is chosen, her entrance fee is just $30.
Speed dating is nothing new. For the last few years, single Americans have spent evenings in bars getting paired up with other singletons in four to eight-minute "dates."
But last night's Natural Selection gathering puts a spin on the trend by reinforcing some age-old ideas about relationships: Men go for looks, and women prowl for money.
This is often the case when it comes to dating, according to a couple of recent studies, which suggest that women place high value on income, while men value looks. Still, Natural Selection has been getting mixed reactions, according to organizer Jeremy Abelson, co-founder of Pocket Change, a monthly newsletter that informs New Yorkers about the most expensive goods and services in town.
"The sad thing is not the fact that we would put it together," Abelson, 26, said. "The sad thing is that people will actually pay for it. The beautiful thing is that it exposes innate desires in dating."
But entrance into the upscale speed-dating affair won't be easy.
A man hoping to snag the woman of his dreams will be judged by pretty stiff criteria. Guys who are 25 and under must make at least $200,000 a year, and men between the ages of 26 and 30 have to bring home $300,000 a year. Older than 30? The required income level jumps to $500,000.
Not gainfully employed? No problem. Men who have at least $1 million in invested assets or a $4 million trust fund can apply.
"The man could be worth $2 billion, be 83 years old and can attend," said Abelson, who added that men must show proof of earnings or savings to apply.
For women there's only one guideline: beauty. Five photos are all that's needed to enter the competition. Education, profession, personality and income will not be considered.
Applications started flowing in shortly after the event was announced. Just days after an ad for Natural Selection ran in New York Magazine, Pocket Change received nearly 150 responses from men, along with about 300 applications from women, who have submitted photos ranging from cute poses with dogs to sexy lingerie shots.
New York City matchmaker Janis Spindel decided which "beautiful" women get to attend.
"We'll be rejecting people left, right and center," said Spindel, who's been married for 23 years.
Although the responses have already exceeded Abelson's expectations, not everyone supports the concept. Pocket Change has received hate mail from people who call it "crass" and "tasteless."
One angry woman left a message that said: "How dare you. Shame on you. If I had the power I would tell the next president of the United States … to shut you down. Power to old women. Power to ugly women."
Despite the uproar from some critics, Abelson has also received positive feedback about Natural Selection. Another woman wrote in saying, "I'm already married to my catch but what a way to organize things. … It would have saved me years of scouting to have all the men in one place."
That's exactly why the founders of Pocket Change decided to link up with the New York-based Cupid.com for the event. Abelson said he kept seeing a disparity between what people say they are looking for in a spouse and what they want.
"It's like people aren't allowed to say, 'I'm looking for a successful man,'" he said. "And it's taboo to say that men are looking for attractive women."
Lisa Daily, a 39-year-old dating expert and author of "Stop Getting Dumped!" agreed, and said: "The fact is, no matter what we say, biology compels us. For men, it's an attractive woman; for women, it's a good provider. They are stereotypes, but they are tried and true."
A 2005 speed-dating survey, co-written by Sheena Iyengar, a professor at Columbia University's business school, backed Daily's claims. The survey concluded that women showed a greater preference for men who came from affluent neighborhoods, and that the majority of guys responded first to physical attractiveness.
A similar online dating study, cited in the 2005 book "Freakonomics," suggested that women place almost twice as much emphasis on income as men do, and that a woman's looks are of "paramount importance" to men.
So, are guys really only after hot gals? According to Spindel, many times the answer is yes, especially when it comes to extremely successful men.
"At the end of the day, you can go to Harvard and you can go to Brown … but there's not a chance in China that you'll get a second date unless you're pretty," she said.
But even Spindel admitted that wasn't always the case. She believes romance sometimes just comes down to chemistry. "That's an intangible that nobody can account for," she said. "Men will not have chemistry with a woman unless they're attracted to her."
Spindel should know. She's said her matchmaking skills have resulted in more than 750 trips to the altar. But her services don't come cheap. After a man hires her to find him a wife, she negotiates the pay based on his age, salary and location, which can range anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000.
"It's a small price to pay to be happy for the rest of your life," she said.
Spindel was on hand when 40 single men and 40 single women met at Bruno Jamais, an upscale French restaurant on New York's Upper East Side. An icebreaker got the night rolling, according to Daily, who said the two- to three-hour Natural Selection event would include six- to eight-minute dates.
When the buzzer goes off, the ladies stay put, and the guys move to the next table for the next round. With score cards in hand, participants check off whom they'd like to see again. If both people are interested, then they'll receive each other's contact information.
Cyrus has never attended a speed-dating event before but said before the event that he's looking forward to seeing so many beautiful single women in one place. Although looks are the No. 1 attribute that entices him in a potential mate, he said, "I don't feel like the woman of my dreams has to be gorgeous."
As for Tierney, she thinks the whole speed-dating idea sounds like fun. "I'm not looking for a rich husband," she revealed, but added that monetary status is something she considers when looking for a mate. In the end, though, for Tierney, it comes down to something even more basic. "I look for someone I can have a good time with," she said.