I have four times now witnessed hundreds of people go on hundreds of dates in only a few hours. I’ve then analyzed their post-date opinions about each other, and paired them off. How? I organized literary speed dating events at the bookstore where I work. Although I have not been speed dating myself, organizing and witnessing speed dating led to some interesting observations and reinforced some trends about courtship.
For the uninitiated, this is how our speed dating works: 35 or so women and 35 or so men sign up for the event, and we set them up based on age and literary interest. Each participant went on 10 to 14 six-minute dates. Since each woman would not have the opportunity to meet every man, and vice versa, because of the size of the event we also offered a post-official-dating mingle time for people to hit on each other the old-fashioned way. At the end of the night, participants turned in a provided list of all the people of the opposite sex, indicating who they were interested in talking to again. (We did one of these events for queer women, but most of them were for straight men and women and most of my observations come from that.) If both participants indicated interest, each received the other’s email address and they’re invited to take it from there.
I like to think overall the setup is similar to online dating, which I have done, but I have often thought of as parallel to trying to meet someone at a bar. Some of the people you think you’re attracted to are probably jerks, and some are diamonds in the rough who you wouldn’t realize are awesome until you talk to them. But in real life, at least half of these strangers would be secretly coupled or otherwise uninterested. The advantage, both when online and speed dating, is that you can at least reasonably assume that everyone in the room is at least 1) single and 2) straight. Therefore, by the law of deductive reasoning (aka science), these speed-dating lessons therefore apply to online dating, which therefore apply to all dating. Totally scientific.
People are picky. Especially men
On average, men were stingier about the number of women they indicated interest in. Although more than one man has written “I’m interested in anyone who picks me,” which is kind of disturbing in its own desperate way, and plenty selected a handful of gals to see again, overall men were much more likely to indicate interest in only one or two women. However, one time I made fun of them for it in the opening remarks, and it changed: at that event, most men picked more than two women. So they might just be lazy, which won’t surprise most women who have attempted to date men.
The more chances you take, the more dates you will have
It’s obviously OK to not want a lot of dates, but just know — and I know it’s pretty obvious but really know — that if you’re imposing restrictions like height, other physical attributes, age, etc., you are dramatically restricting your potential dates. I personally think a “type” is bullshit, though I understand that it might be hard to get past certain ingrained expectations. One of the reasons everyone signs up for “organized dating” is to meet new people. So meet new people. One woman I followed up with noted “I was less picky than I usually am when I chose who I’d like to see again,” and was pleased to get matches as a result. A couple participants noted that they met people they liked whom they know they never would have met outside of the “controlled” dating environment. The tall, dark, handsome David Foster Wallace fan? You’ve been there. Go talk to the Game of Thrones guy.
More people than you realize are super into you
Most people at our speed dating get one to three matches. However, for example, one woman who matched with two people had nine men who had indicated interest in her, out of 11 dates. Almost all — I haven’t actually done the math, but I would venture around 95 percent — participants had multiple people that were interested in them, but whom they hadn’t indicated interest in. Sometimes, sure, it’s simply a missed connection, but I think it goes back to being more open in general. Remember, with dating you’re only committing to spending more time with this person. I’m sure not everyone is at their best during a six-minute speed date, so if the answer to “would you continue talking to this person” is yes, give it a shot. Worst that happens is you get a good story out of it. I feel very similarly about first dates: I would venture every human is nervous on a first date, because it’s weird and awkward and shit, you didn’t know she doesn’t eat gluten, and do you kiss at the end, and please don’t high five because someone did that to me once and it was horrible. Second dates, on the other hand, can be amazing. You’ve survived the first date, some of the pressure’s off, but you’re (hopefully) still in that magical early place where just accidentally touching skin is thrilling and there’s still so much to learn about each other. Outside of dire incompatibility, always go on a second date.
Women tend to make friends with other women whilst seeking men, which is awesome
I went through an odd period in my mid-20s where I would go out to bars and parties and accidentally pick up women-friends instead of dudes to make out with. It was sort of great, and I think part of the decision to “put yourself out there” in a bar on a Friday night or while speed dating in a bookstore is somehow pheromone-ally discernible or something, even in a platonic way. At speed dating I noticed some women exchanging information with each other, although one participant told me she “did meet some hilarious ladies, but we didn’t stay in touch.” I have not noticed men doing this at speed dating, only women. One participant told me “I considered the other men at the event as rivals in a somewhat unsophisticated animal-battle kind of way and made no friends with any of them.” Women have also more often requested there be an option to indicate interest in men as friends only. Even though this sounds kind of sexist, along the lines of “guys secretly want to bone all the girls they’re friends with,” it’s true. So, be warned.