Speed daters move from table to table in timed increments. See more love images.

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How Speed Dating Works

You've probably heard of speed dating by now. It has so permeated Western popular culture that even those who aren't looking for love know what it is. The concept was introduced to the American dating scene at the turn of the 20th century by Rabbi Yaacov Deyo and his wife, Sue, who founded their own service, SpeedDating. The service is based on an old Jewish tradition: helping young, single Jews meet others in the faith. This tradition of creating a shidduch, or a match, called for Jewish singles to be kept in the dark about each other until the time for matchmaking came.

Today, modern speed dating is still rooted in shidduch, but with formal dating services replacing the role of the Rabbi and his wife as matchmakers. These services compile the data from brief encounters between daters and then inform each attendee of the results, allowing interested parties that scored a "match" to pursue another meeting with each other.

The original SpeedDating service is still intended to help those of the Jewish faith find a shidduch. However, others have extended their scope to include people of all religions, shapes, sizes, interests and sexual orientations. SpeedDating and its offshoots have captured the imagination of popular culture, fitting nicely into the fast-paced environment of 21st-century America.

In 2000, the dating technique reached craze status, spreading quickly to rest of the Western world, taking strong footholds in both England and Australia. Although its overall popularity in the United States may have waned in recent years, it has become an established and accepted form of dating, with speed-dating events held in cities throughout the U.S.

Some cottage industries have even sprouted from the speed-dating theme, including Web sites dedicated to tips for successful speed dating. One site offers hypnosis downloads -- tailored for men or women -- that boast a calming influence to create the best possible attitude for speed dating.

So what is speed dating, and more specifically, how does speed dating work? Perhaps even more importantly, does speed dating work? Read on to learn more about this old Jewish tradition that has become an international phenomenon.­

Speed dating has become a popular form of dating in Beijing, China.

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The Rules of Attraction

There are many companies that offer speed-dating services and just about as many different techniques. But while some details may change from service to service, the general rules concerning speed dating remain the same.

Speed-dating events are most often held in restaurants and bars, although events are cropping up in other places, like student unions on college campuses. Participants are asked to register ahead of time to ensure an even ratio between men and women, although some services now offer registration at the door. Events cost approximately $30 to $40 per person.

Inside the venue, speed daters will find that tables are arranged to accommodate two participants at a time. One set of the speed daters, usually women, stay seated at the same table, and the opposite group moves from table to table. This table-hopping method has been compared to musical chairs. The difference is, when the bell rings or buzzer sounds, the next seat the dater takes is predetermined. The speed dater progresses from table to table until each participant has had a chance to meet the other.

Depending on the company, a speed date may last from three to eight minutes, although some go as long as 10 minutes. At the end of the date, each dater makes a note if he or she would like to see the other person again. After that, the speed daters move on to the next table, and a new date begins.

The number of dates held in an evening can vary, but most services hold 10 or less. SpeedDating, the original company organized by Yaacov Deyo, holds seven, seven-minute dates in one event. In less than an hour, each person has seven chances to meet the love of his or her life.

After the event, the speed daters turn in their date cards to event organizers. They may be contacted via e-mail the following day, or asked to log onto a Web site to enter the names or ID numbers of people whom they would like to see again. If two speed daters have registered a mutual interest in seeing each other again, the pair receives each other's contact information. From there the couple can contact each other to arrange another meeting or date.

8 Minute Dating, a speed-dating service based in Boston, Mass., maintains the policy that none of their speed daters are allowed to ask for anyone else's last name or phone number. Other services ask speed daters not to discuss what they do for a living or where they live. The idea is for the couple to pursue a connection based on mutual attraction rather than one person doggedly pursuing the other.

Companies like SpeedDating and other, similar companies, including Hurry Date and 8 Minute Dating, can hold different speed-dating events scheduled at the same time in different cities by franchising their services. Events are put on by local organizers on behalf of the company. To this end, most Web sites for speed-dating services have a page dedicated to becoming an event organizer.

In the next section, we'll look at how speed dating can be customized by interests.

British clowns in full costume enjoy a drink as they gather for a speed-dating event at a circus in northern London.

AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis

Specialized Speed Dating

While the concept of speed dating itself is already tailored to help busy people meet the right person, it can be even further customized. Most speed-dating services offer specialized speed-dating events. Some match tall men to petite women; others are held specifically for members of the Jewish, Christian, Muslim and other faiths. Still others are designed for people who share a love of Broadway plays and musicals, differently abled singles, iPod junkies, single parents and even millionaires (see the video link on the Lots More Information page).

By hosting events for people who already share at least one thing in common, organizers can assure a better chance for a match. For example, a "single athletes" event may be more likely to produce a connection between two people based on their shared enjoyment of a particular sport.

Just about all speed-dating events also have age restrictions. Some are wide ranging, and some only require that speed daters be 21 or older to meet the age restriction of the bar where the event is held. Others may require that participants fall within the ages of 25 to 35 for one session, and 40 to 54 for another session later the same evening.

Whatever the age, the question still remains: Does speed dating work? Could be. Science has been busy uncovering facts about love and attraction that may support the concept of finding love in 10 minutes or less.

In the next section, we'll look at the science behind love. ­

A statue of Eros, the god of romantic and sexual love.

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

What is Love?

Depending on where you fall in the age-old ardent egghead/hopeless romantic divide, love could be one of two things: It's either a series of electrochemical processes taking place within the brain, or it's the single most important ethereal experience we mere mortals can possibly encounter.

For as long as humans have been able to express their feelings, love has been considered a sacred, instinctual human experience. In Greek mythology, Eros, the god of romantic and sexual love, was responsible for getting earth (Gaia) and sky (Uranus) to hook up, and it was this love connection that gave rise to many of the other gods that followed [source: Encyclopedia Mythica].

When the Romans adopted the Greek pantheon of gods, Eros became Cupid, whom we recognize most often as a chubby little boy with wings and a quiver of arrows at the ready to inspire love in the hearts of mortal and god alike.

Cupid aside, researchers have managed to progressively study love, both as a concept and as a brain function. The 21st century has been a boon for these studies, resulting in several breakthroughs in the examination of how love works.

One field of study has applied itself into the investigation of whether what we call "love at first sight" can exist. In an Ohio State University study, scientists found that people can tell in the first minute or two whether they're interested in a relationship with another person. What's more, after nine weeks, they found that the initial ideas of the potential relationship served as a fairly accurate predictor for how the actual relationship turned out.

But love at first sight is shallow; it's based on superficial factors like physical attractiveness or personality traits. So love at first sight should be more about sexual desire than about long-term love, right? Not necessarily. The research suggests two things: that love at first sight can serve as an impetus towards a long-term love, and that our own early opinions about how we could feel about another person can prompt us to try harder to have a relationship with that person.

Since speed dating is based on a series of brief encounters with a number of people, the basis is actually just a parade of chances to get an initial feel for another person and decide whether or not he or she is worth your time. The goal is not to meet another person to go out on another speed date with. Instead, the goal is to meet someone with whom you would like to go out on a traditional date. In this sense, speed dating serves as a kick-start to regular dating rather than as a replacement for it.

In the next section, we'll examine if speed dating really works. ­­

College students have been among groups studied by researchers to determine if and how speed dating works.

Photo courtesy Lana Lee, The Daily Targum

Does Speed Dating Work?

Studies like the one at Ohio State University suggest that speed dating should, in theory, work. If we can determine whether another person is a good match for us in just a minute or two, then speed dating is an optimal approach to selecting a mate. Why waste time on some jerk when you've already decided that you'll most likely never speak to him again? Speed dating also offers a structure that -- in its brevity -- encourages polite behavior. And with the speed-dating service ringing a buzzer that signals the end of a couples' time together, participants can relax knowing that they can largely avoid any awkward end-of-date moments.

But do the rules of attraction still apply in speed dating? University of Pennsylvania psychologists examined more than 10,000 client responses from Hurry Date's database and found that in the context of a speed date, the usual rules of attraction go out the window. Factors like religious affiliation and earning potential -- usually viewed as very important in dating -- are replaced by behavioral cues. These cues provide the basis of attraction in a setting where time is of the essence and split-second decisions are made.

The University of Pennsylvania researchers determined that Hurry Date's three-minute format was longer than necessary -- three seconds is about all it takes, said one researcher [source: University of Pennsylvania].

Another study conducted by Stanford Business, Harvard and Columbia University researchers also found that women in the speed date setting throw out traditional requisites for a mate, like intelligence and sincerity, and go instead for physical attractiveness. So, too, do men, but this represents no change, as men traditionally report physical attractiveness at the top of their list of desirable qualities in a mate.

This same study also found that the smaller the pool of potential candidates, the more likely women were to want to see any of the given men. As the number of men at the speed date simulation increased, the number of men the women wanted to see decreased [source: Stanford Graduate School of Business].

Scientific study has come up with quantitative evidence that speed dating can work in the selection of a mate. But there's also plenty of qualitative evidence suggesting that speed dating can fail. Some speed daters report the scene is fraught with sleazy and insincere individuals. Others find the candidates somewhat lacking. "I've never seen so much desperation in one area," reported one college student who tried speed dating at an event at the University of Buffalo [source: Generation]. Speed dating, while comprised of brief, timed encounters, also generally requires that the dater sit through the entirety of a date, with little or no chance of escape usually found in other, less structured settings.

In stark contrast to these objections, speed-dating service Web sites are brimming with anecdotal evidence that the technique works. Most sites are long on success stories and display wedding photos of couples who met through their service's events. 8 Minute Dating boasts that 62 percent of its clients find a mutual interest with another speed dater. "Compare that to the bar scene!" the Web site dares.

For lots more information, including cool links, check out the next page.

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Lots More Information

Related How Stuff Works articlesMore Great Links

Sources

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