|Illustration by Ben Rubin and Sara Wick.
Love is timeless. It has been the subject of plays, novels, poetry and, yes, even playground songs. We’re all familiar with: “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage.” But would you marry someone after seven minutes? I suppose that depends on the person. For me, that’s right up there with the idea of “love at first sight,” and I’m not a believer.
People spend an infinite amount of time and effort looking for that perfect mate, and, in the process, they experience a whole lot of heartache. They make countless mistakes and oftentimes end up alone while waiting for the next one to come along. It makes you wonder whether they’ve been going about it the wrong way. At least Rabbi Yaacov Deyo of Aish HaTorah, an organization that promotes Jewish pride, thinks so.
The Need For Speed
With an increasing divorce rate, contemporary dating methods seem less likely to result in a “lasting” relationship. Deyo told Harvard Magazine that he believed “short-term bursts, ‘hooking up’ — that’s what people are looking for and doing now in dating.” The dark, smoky and rowdy environment of bars and clubs isn’t really conducive to getting to know a person or making a connection. He believes, “Chemistry can’t be orchestrated, but you can do things that will bring it out — make a space where it is possible.” So, in 1998 at Pete’s Café in Beverly Hills, Deyo held a round robin event where single Jewish men and women conversed for seven minutes before moving on to the next person. The goal of these brief “dates” was to help these Jewish singles meet and marry. That day, speed dating was born. In fact, the single word “SpeedDating” is a registered trademark of Aish HaTorah.
Soon enough, the idea became popular in the matchmaking industry and, eventually, in pop culture. The practice was depicted in movies such as The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Hitch. After it made its way to the small screen with Sex and the City, it was game over. Today, there are hundreds of events dedicated to speed dating scattered across cities all over the world. Websites like http://SpeedDate.com incorporate the same procedure while using instant messaging and webcam technology. They took it a step further by releasing an iPhone app February 3 of this year.
On February 4, Reporter expanded its brand name into the dating service business by holding our very own invitation-only speed dating event. For this experiment, 18 hopeful singles piled into room 1829 in the Student Alumni Union (SAU) that evening, looking for a match. The night began with the consumption of snacks and refreshments — the Ritz Bits cheese sandwiches were a favorite — as the music of Tiger Idol finalists drifted through the walls of the neighboring Ingle Auditorium, doubling as entertainment for the night. At the same time, participants registered and left contact information with the assigned staff. In a typical speed dating situation, registration would have occurred beforehand, usually online. In addition, there would have been a fee to ensure commitment, keep the numbers even and, of course, cover costs. Ours, however, was free. After all, you can’t put a price on “true love,” or the fact that you’re using your participants as guinea pigs.
Each guest was given a number and a “match sheet” to indicate the prospects he or she would be interested in. The ladies were seated at different tables and the men were lined up to their corresponding pair. “You may now begin,” echoed a voice throughout the room and the men took their seats. The true test commenced: small talk. At the end of three minutes, a Taboo buzzer sounded off (which, in ordinary speed dating situations, is usually a bell or glass clinking), indicating that the men had to move down one table and on to the next prospect. Yes, the men had to do all the work.
In between turns, the participants decided if they had just met someone they would like to get to know better and marked their sheets accordingly. The same procedure was repeated until each male had a chance to interact with each female. Of course, things weren’t that simple. In true RIT fashion, there were more guys than girls and this caused some confusion in the beginning. To solve that issue, two guys had to sit out during each round. At the end of the experiment, a survey was distributed.
Once finished, everyone turned in their sheets and surveys to be processed. A day later, emails forwarding contact information for “mutual matches” were sent to the participants. Mutual matches occur when both parties express interest in each other by marking “yes” on their sheets. For the sake of simplicity, a blank was counted as an automatic “no.” What these mutual matches do with that information is totally up to them. They can choose to make a move or wait around. In that respect, speed dating is actually considered more of a “pre-dating” event than an actual date. Think of it as a turning signal on the road to romance.
|The identity of each person has been altered from the original experiment. For example, what is displayed here as M1 is not M1 in the original experiment. Marks within the pink boxes indicate mutual matches.
and the Bad
Every system has its pros and cons. The main argument supporters present is that speed dating provides a quieter atmosphere that regular “pick-up sites” lack. The “heart-to-heart” small talk opportunity is supposed to result in a more meaningful connection. In my experience, it was quieter. Unfortunately, I kept giving in to the temptation of listening to the couple at the next table, especially when my current partner was someone I wasn’t interested in.
Another issue was the time limit. If you’ve ever been on a date with someone and all you could think about was returning home, or if you’ve ever been to a party where someone you’re not interested in is hanging all over you, then you might know what I’m talking about. Speed dating provides you the speedy exit you’re looking for. After a certain period of time, you don’t have to see them again if you don’t want to (ideally). Though, this does go both ways. If you’re caught in a dull date, then you’re going to have to sit through the awkwardness until time is up. Also, if you seem to really get along with someone, then you’ll be forced to leave him or her once the buzzer rings.
Quite a few argued that three minutes wasn’t enough. With the average speed date lasting between three to eight minutes, a number of survey participants suggested that the time limit be extended to five minutes. Personally, for people I had met previously and whose interests I shared, three minutes definitely wasn’t enough. For others, three minutes felt like forever. It depends on the chemistry between the two involved. For larger events with more participants, not everyone gets to interact with each other. Less time would mean the opportunity to meet more people, which means more options.
With speed dating, your options cover a wider range of people. Because of its random nature, you will probably meet at least one person you never would have walked up to at a party. How do you know you don’t like something if you don’t try it? Of course, this also means that you may be forced to interact with some unusual characters. One anonymous survey participant in our experiment suggested a pre-screening process in order to weed out potential “stalkers.”
In addition, if you’re the type of person who hates having to introduce themselves repeatedly, imagine doing so with every new round every few minutes. It can get tiresome. It’s not like you can hold a deep meaningful conversation regarding the philosophies of life given the time limit. How much can you really cover in a few minutes? The truth is, not a lot, so you better come prepared.
Words of the Wise
When pressed for time, decisions are made rather quickly. What you do in those first few seconds may impact your partner’s opinion of you greatly. Some of the major influences listed were the manner one carries oneself, sense of humor, having similar interests, maintaining eye contact and physical attributes, while other factors include the way the person is dressed, the person’s major, minor, or concentrations, the person’s handshake (if they shook your hand at all), facial expressions and body language. Some survey participants commented on specifics such as fidgeting, what you’re doing with your hands (like nervously picking your fingernails) and the importance of a smile.
One major recurring issue that appeared was how well a person could keep the conversation flowing. Things can get really awkward really fast if you’re sitting in silence. It’s usually recommended to prepare a list of topics to talk about and questions to ask. Some of the more overused subjects include year and major, the classes you are taking, where you’re from, what you do for fun or in your spare time, hobbies and general interests such as music, food, and movies. These are all really safe but they’re not going to make you memorable. The best question of the night posed to me: “Imagine you weren’t working right now. If you weren’t paid to do your job, would you still be speed dating?”
More Than Just Numbers
It isn’t just the quantitative data collected that’s interesting. If you take a look at the match sheets themselves, you start to notice a few things. More than half of the women’s sheets had multiple erasures, meaning they are more likely to change their minds more than once. Men, on the other hand, were more likely to avoid the decision all together by leaving boxes on their sheets blank. In addition, guys are more likely to vote “yes” while girls are more likely to vote “no.” Some marks were darker than others, possibly indicating a greater intensity of like or dislike. Finally, girls are more likely to write notes about the people they meet and draw symbols such as stars and smiley faces to reinforce their decisions.
I feel that the experiment was a success and I’m happy with the turnout. Although I don’t think I will ever speed date again, I would encourage you to try it. It’s a pretty odd experience but once you get the ball rolling, it can be pretty cool. You can learn a lot by just observing and interacting with people. Who knows, maybe, in the end, you’ll walk away with five matches just like hottie M3. And in case you were wondering, one of my mutual matches did send me an email back.
A match sheet from the experiment.