What Is It
Speed dating has been around for a little over ten years. It's a dating system whose purpose is to allow singles to meet as many other singles one-on-one as possible in a short specified amount of time. Its origins have been credited to a Rabbi who devised it as a way to help Jewish singles meet prospective mates. It has since shown up as a plot device in several movies and television shows.
The first speed dating event took place at Pete's Café in Beverly Hills in late 1998. By the year 2000, speed dating had become very popular. Supporters of the phenomenon claim it saves time since most people quickly decide if they are romantically compatible and first impressions are often permanent.
How It Works
Organizers of these events usually require advance registration with the total number of participants limited to a specific number. Small events have twenty to thirty participants while others are very large such as the recent one in New Jersey with three hundred and fifty participants. Needless to say, there is usually a registration fee which covers the cost of putting on the event and a profit for the organizers.
Each participant is assigned an identification of some sort, usually a number. They are not allowed to exchange personal information such as names, phone numbers, email addresses, etc., during the "dating" process of the event.
Men and women rotate so that they each has the opportunity to meet the other in a series of short dates that last a set amount of time, usually somewhere between three and eight minutes each depending on the rules set down by the organizer. This could be something as simple as small tables with the women sitting on one side and the men on the other side opposite. At the end of each time period, a signal is given and the participants move on to the next date which might be achieved by the men getting up and moving to the next table to begin his date with a different woman. This continues until each man has had a date with each woman.
At the end of the event, the participants each submit a list to the organizers showing which of their dates they are interested in seeing again. The organizers then compare all the lists and when a match occurs, they forward the personal information to each of them and they are on their own at that point.
Events can have a theme or specific requirements of the participants. Older men and younger women or older women and younger men with age ranges pre-determined. Gays. Lesbians. Ethnic groups. Religious affiliation. Maybe groups that share an interest in a certain hobby.
Proponents of speed dating claim it's time efficient and the structure of the event eliminates the need of trying to figure out how to introduce yourself or create a situation where you can start a conversation with someone. Participants can come alone without feeling awkward or out of place.
A 2005 study at the University of Pennsylvania found that most people made their decision to accept or reject within the first three seconds of meeting and issues such as religion, previous marriages, and smoking habits weren't as important as expected.
A 2006 study in Edinburgh, Scotland, found that conversation about travel resulted in more matches than conversation about films.
Various studies of speed dating events came to the general conclusion that women were more selective than men. The above mentioned University of Pennsylvania study reported that the average man was chosen by 34% of the women and the average woman was chosen by 49% of the men.
Several television shows have used speed dating as an episode plot point—usually a prelude to murder. The murder victim had just participated in a speed dating event which provides a bunch of suspects with whom the victim had no previous connection thus making solving the crime more difficult. Especially when the speed dating ended up having nothing to do with the crime. :)
Now, with all this said about speed dating being a relatively new phenonemon…
Many years ago (many, many, many years ago) when I was a freshman in college and pledging a sorority, the same process now referred to as speed dating was the method used by one of the sororities for the members to meet and interview the prospective pledges. Each member had five minutes with each potential pledge then the member moved on to the next candidate for membership.
I have to admit that it all had a very "assembly line" feel, but was definitely a more efficient use of time than a room full of people standing around not knowing who to talk to or what to do.