“You can’t knock it until you’ve tried it!” Those were the famous last words that I told my friend, in response to her less-than thrilled reaction when we found out that there would be speed dating at the singles Shabbaton we were about to attend. Although my comment might imply that I was all for speed dating, I continued to explain to her that without ever experiencing something, one cannot fully critique it and figure out how to improve it. I admit that I was looking forward to the chance to making of the whole thing. Having never been to an event with speed dating, I too feared that it would be potentially quite awkward. I imagined rows of guys and girls sitting across from each other glancing nervously at one another.
When I thought about it more, I realized that one benefit of speed dating is that if it is awkward, it only lasts a few minutes, as opposed to an actual date where the awkwardness can last for hours. While it is true that some of the bad dates I have been on only became awkward an hour or two into the date, most bad dates were ones in which I could tell that the date was not going anywhere after two minutes. Despite this benefit, I was eagerly looking forward to tearing apart the event and laughing it off. Perhaps my attitude of “I doubt I will actually meet someone this way, so I might as well have fun” was the right choice for me, (not because I met someone- I didn’t- but,) because speed dating was not as big of a disaster as I had anticipated.
One surprising component of the speed dating on the Shabbaton was that it turned out to be group speed dating instead of one-on-one. Meaning that I sat at a table with two friends, while groups of 2-3 guys rotated and came group by group to sit down at our table. This method had its pros and cons. On the one hand it was great because it kept the environment more chilled and less pressured, but on the other hand, in some cases we each ended up only talking to the person directly in front of us, so I did not have the opportunity to meet the other two guys in the group. The best thing about speed dating was what I mentioned before, that things are short enough so that awkward pauses can be almost entirely avoided. By the time you’ve each said your name, what you are doing with your life and gone through the typical follow up questions, it is time to move on to the next person, or in this case, group of people.
Overall, I was surprised at how non-awkward and even fun the entire thing was. So much for my plan to knock it. However, there were two main problems with speed-dating. The first one is that there were guys on the Shabbaton that I had already dated, and so they came to my table as well. Here is where the fact that it was group speed dating was really helpful, as I did not end up sitting one-on-one with guys I already dated. But potentially in a situation where speed dating is one-on-one, this could have been uncomfortable.
The second is that it is really difficult to remember all the people who you meet, and this is especially the case on shabbos where we could not write things down or take notes about the person. In general I have a pretty good memory for names and faces, and often find that people do not remember me, while I will remember them. When I was a camp counselor those I worked with were always impressed that in an hour I had learned the names of all 20 kids in the bunk. Yet after I had speed dated with about 20 guys, I glanced through the list of guys to see which ones I remembered and there were only one or two that stuck out. I could not put a face the names of any of the rest of the guys. At least if it had not been shabbos I could have put stars next to the ones I was interested in talking to further, though there are no guarantees I would remember which ones they were.
Despite these two down-sides (that it is hard to remember each person you meet and that it could be bad when you have already dated a few of the guys), I think that speed dating is a really great idea and should be utilized more in the shidduch world. Particularly in the shidduch world this type of thing has the potential to go a long way. Why? Let me explain. If you break down the process of trying to find the right person there are two components: The person and the paper. The paper consists of background, family, beliefs, values, etc. - things that can be found out in advance, and written down on paper. The person refers to a combination of chemistry and personality. By “chemistry” I do not simply mean looks, but also the interaction between two people. How do they get along? Are they comfortable with each other? Do they find it easy to talk to each other? Do they understand each other?
In the Western world, aside from blind dating, dating begins with the person and ends with a paper. People meet in social settings, such as parties, bars, weddings, social events, and if two people like each other they will start to date, and then as they get to know each other they discover all of the “paper” parts of the person- where they went to school, their family, their religious, political, and other beliefs. In shidduchim we start with the paper and end with the person. This is better then starting with the person and ending with the paper because otherwise you can develop feelings for someone who is not the right one to share your life with. See my post about that here. Additionally, starting with the person would not work in frum circles because most of us have spent our lives in environments where members of the opposite sex have been separated. Putting tons of singles in the same room results in the girls talking to the girls and the guys talking to the guys. Each one is too scared to approach the other. Those who are accustomed to coed environments do not experience this problem to the same extent. For both these reasons, the “start with the person” method does not work.
The problem with starting with the paper and ending with the person is that as we all know, a person is much more than a paper. Two people can seem exactly the same on paper, yet be drastically different in person. (By the way, the reverse is true. Two people may be similar when you meet them, but after getting to know them you might discover they come from completely different backgrounds and hold different beliefs.)
Speed dating is the perfect synthesis of the two methods- starting with the person and starting with the paper. Although the process begins with the person, it is just a small taste of the person and it quickly leads to the paper. While most “start with the person” experiences are casual and informal, which demands one person to approach another, speed dating is formal and everyone meets everyone. This is all granted that all of the participants are generally on the same page hashkafically.
From my one speed dating experience, I would make the following improvements:
1. It should not be done on shabbos, because it is best for participants to be able to write things down and take notes. Each meeting should be followed by 60 seconds to write down these notes.
2. Ideally, speed dating should be followed by shidduch profiles being made available to participants. Singles should approach shadchanim who are present at the event with a list of those who they were interested in, and then shadchanim should see which two people were interested in each other and then continue from there. This did not happen at the event I was at. I would even go so far as to suggest that perhaps the men simply give a list of those who they were interested in, and then the shadchanim could approach those women to see if they would be open to giving it a shot.
All in all, I had a fun time and enjoyed meeting new people, despite my original skepticism. Have you ever been to a speed-dating event? Would you be open to it or do you think it is a terrible idea?