Speed Dating: Take a Lesson from "Citizen Kane"
by Gordon Basichis
"A fellow will remember a lot of things you wouldn't think he'd remember. You take me. One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry, and as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in, and on it there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on. She was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second. She didn't see me at all, but I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since that I haven't thought of that girl." --From Mr. Bernstein, as played by Everett Sloane in "Citizen Kane.
We have all stood in a checkout line and wrestled with the merits of chatting up a person we found so utterly attractive. Most likely, you did a little time assessment, calculating how long it would before it was her turn at the cashier and then out the door and gone from your life. Forever. With each ticking second your anticipation grew as you weighed the odds of success versus the usually greater odds of rejection and the added embarrassment of looking like a jerk.. Should you go for it and risk making as ass of yourself? Or would you end up like poor Mr. Bernstein, lamenting into his old age about the girl that might have been?
Okay, you probably just stood there and didn't take the risk, letting inaction bitch slap your destiny. Let's face it, if we were truly made of hardier stuff, we would always be taking greater risks. But if you did decide to pursue your impulses you are indeed the rare one. You are a romantic kamikaze.
Well, now with the advent of Speed Dating you hitting on a potential companion is not as risky a proposition. You get the entire thrill of making a good impression quickly, but in a user friendly environment. In some ways it's like going trout fishing in stocked pond. Nevertheless, it is no secret that Speed Dating is popular all over the world,. Among other places, there are Speed Dating services throughout the United States, the U.K., Western Europe, Australia, and even South Africa.
Speed Dating was founded by a Rabbi Yaacov Deyo in 1999. The idea was established to keep young Jewish singles from seeking their paramours outside their religion. Since then it has expanded well beyond the bounds of its Jewish tradition and has been adopted by different religious and secular groups alike. It is a quick way for people to get to know each other on a fundamental basis. Or at the very least it's a great way to avoid blind dates and fix ups from your mother and pitying friends. Most speed dating services plan, overall, anywhere from sixty to ninety minutes sessions.
For the five people out there who still may not know how Speed Dating works, here is the general idea. Speed Dating agencies organize events at fun but relaxing places. They invite equal numbers of each sex, hand them a name tag or ID number and a scorecard. Couples are paired up for a pre-allotted amount of time, with the idea that couples get to know each other on a basic level. A whistle blows and you discreetly mark down whether you are interested in seeing that person again. You then move on to the next prospect, and follow the same process, until you run through the gamut or prospects.
You then submit your card to the Speed Dating service, and if the person you want to see also wants to see you, they arrange for the hook up. You then move on to traditional dating with the general idea being you are attempting to form a serious relationship rather than a hot night and a tallyho until the next speed dating session comes to a theater near you.
Does it work? Some say it does, and some say it doesn't. They say about half come away with a potential match. Whether this is a result of genuine attraction or a means of justifying the money you laid out for a Speed dating session is anyone's guess. However, the odds of finding someone can't be any worse than your usual blind date or what you can drag from a bar.
Speed Dating advocates claim most people can tell if someone is their kind of person in the first thirty to ninety seconds of meeting them. Skeptics argue that often the first impressions do not always tell the entire tale and that makes people prone to rash decisions. They say sometimes you need more time to find the things you would have in common. Then again, some people spend a lifetime together to find out they never did have much in common.
Perhaps the greatest controversy in the speed dating circuit and among the different purveyors of the service is determining the correct number of minutes prospects should spend with each other before moving on to the next potential love interest. Orthodox believers in the first impression think ninety seconds to three minutes is probably enough time to schmooze and choose. Others argue six to ten minutes is the proper time allocation for preliminary courtship. General consensus is each "date" should be at least six minutes but not more than eight.
The trade off of course is quantitative versus qualitative. If you spend less time with one person, you don't get to learn as much about them. But then you can cram more "dates" into the allocated session. That translates into an even greater selection of people you don't get to know all that much about.
Then again, if you spend more time with one person, there are fewer prospects to look forward to over the course of the night. Perhaps that helps you really focus in on the ones you have before you. Focus, however, is not always a good thing, especially when the person sitting across from you is either boring or obnoxious. Then you start longing for the bygone days of shorter "dates."
I watched a speed dating session on TV. As with football and politics, armchair insights on speed dating may imbue one with the illusion of a sharper perspective. The literal and figure objective distance may also provide keener perception on the quirks and foibles of the engaging parties. For me, I was struck by the repetition of the opening line, which was without fail, "What do you do?" Perhaps there is no better opening than "What do you do?" Perhaps it helps qualify like no other phrase in this world. But when I heard "What do you do?" become a relentless refrain I couldn't help but wonder if there wasn't another way to break the ice. But then in the opening act of the twenty first century we as a general civilization are not much regarded for our originality and witty banter. Culturally speaking, we are a long, long way from the Algonquin and far too close too seventh grade.
I could be called to task for even noting this, if it had not been for the bemused looks on the "daters'" faces as they were forced to repeat the same question--"What do you do?" I could see by contestant number three they were starting to get a little numb, and unless Mr. or Miss Terrific came along pretty soon nothing was about to rouse them from their reverie. After awhile I stared hoping that magic would strike, that chemistry of instant attraction or, better, love at first sight. It was just another guy in a polo shirt and khakis.
Because it was being taped for TV show some of the daters were interviewed. Some claimed they found a genuine prospect. Others mumbled something about possibilities. Some lied. But even the most optimistic, their voices and body language betrayed their true emotions. It was an okay experience, they allowed, but you could tell they were vaguely disappointed. But remember, this was but one session on one TV show. Maybe being on television roused greater expectations.
Well, like it or not, speed dating is growing more popular with each passing and disappointing weekend. There is all sorts of ancillary information as in what to wear and how to behave. For dress,most suggest Khakis or dress slacks for men, with a nicely pressed sports shirt. For women, the sites suggest everything from business gear to jeans, but warn against anything too revealing. Most sites offer gentle reminders about hygiene and good grooming, suggesting showers, clean hands and clipped fingernails. Keep the perfumed scent down so they don't smell you coming nor remember you a day after you left. This goes for men and women.
Frankly, no matter whom you meet and what the speed dating services promise in terms of character and stature, it always pays to run a background check on anyone you don't know and are thinking of dating. If you are a single parent, it is even that much more important to make sure who you bring into your house is not more interested in your kids than they are in you. There are many scumbags out there of one sort or another, and online dating and other modern dating services give them more access to you, not less.
That said, speed dating seems harmless enough and a good way to spend the night. It is a bit like gambling, where instead of seeing if you can win any money you are betting on romance. And like gambling it is probably fun to do now and then, but not too often. I would think frequent speed dating would cause all those names and faces to run together.
As for its bottom line merits, like most romantic pursuits there is no bottom line. Like beauty, it belongs in the eyes of the beholder. If you are successful in finding someone worth dating, then it is an exhilarating experience, I'm sure. If you met no one, then it's another rotten waste of time. But let's face it, if you are anywhere north of twenty one you have already found a thousand different ways to waste time. So what's one more?
Besides, with speed dating you can polish your skills for your short game. You can be a formidable romantic when time is short and the desire is high.
You should be hell on wheels in the supermarket checkout line.
About the Author
Gordon Basichis is the author of the best selling Beautiful Bad Girl, the Vicki Morgan Story, a non-fiction novel that helped define exotic sexuality in the late twentieth century. He is also the author of The Constant Travellers, a sci-fi fantasy Western. The first chapter of Basichis' new book Chinese Takeout, a Roman A'Clef detailing Chinese Espionage in the United States, is featured in a forthcoming anthology, Sleeping with Snakes, Notes fr