Who Made Speed Dating?

At a matchmaking event he organized
in 1998, Rabbi Yaacov Deyo brought
along a gragger , the noisemaker Jews
use during Purim. That night, in a
Peet’s Coffee & Tea in Beverly Hills, the
Orthodox rabbi twirled his gragger to
signal when it was time for the single
men and women present to switch
partners and spark up a conversation
with the next stranger. “We thought 10
minutes for each date, because that was
just an easier number to use in a busy
coffeehouse,” Deyo says. This entirely
practical measure would inspire
matchmakers all around the world —
Jews and Gentiles alike.
Weeks before, Deyo invited a group of
friends to convene in his living room
and brainstorm about how he could
best serve the local Jewish community.
This being L.A., Deyo’s group included
several entertainment-industry people,
including someone who produced game
shows. The rabbi and his think tank
decided that Jewish singles needed to
identify marriage partners with
maximum efficiency, and they designed
a wacky game in which participants
would table-hop their way through a
dozen dates in a night. Soon they began
their experiment (under the auspices of
American Friends of Aish HaTorah, the
nonprofit group that employed Deyo),
using an Excel spreadsheet to keep
track of the singles and their responses
on feedback cards. Within a year or so,
the speed-dating idea had gone viral,
with imitators around the country.
Some of the knockoffs made Deyo
uncomfortable. In 1999, Deyo was
horrified by a TV program that hyped
30-second dates in which couples
jabbered at each other like auctioneers.
When he called the producers to
complain, “no one paid attention,” and
Deyo did not pursue the matter. “It
was,” he says, “just another case of
rabbi meets the commercial-industrial
complex.”
After he and his friends trademarked
SpeedDating, they began the process of
filing a patent. But as the trend
exploded, Deyo realized he had lost
control of the idea. “I don’t want to
spend the rest of my life writing letters
to a roadhouse outside of Atlanta to tell
them they can’t do an event,” he says.
And so he decided to release it into the
world. “In Judaism, there’s a concept of
zechus — the merit that is created by a
good action,” he says. In other words, it
would be good karma to give away
speed dating to anyone who wanted it,
and — God willing — it would produce
lots of marriages and babies. “To see
your actions unfold in a good way
makes for a happier existence,” Deyo
says. “And I’m a happy guy.”Is speed dating a good way to meet
people? The problem is that you get a
random sample of people, the same as
if you walked into a subway car and
threw a dart. On Match.com, you might
not meet as many people in a month,
but you will get to choose those people.
Online dating has better return on
investment.
What about people who hate online
dating? Saying that online dating sucks
is like saying that the gym sucks
because you’re not losing any weight.
It’s great if you know how to use it. Of
course, speed dating is good for
practicing real-life interactions. It’s
another tool in the toolshed for my
clients.
When Yaacov Deyo created speed
dating, he included a reputation-
management feedback form, similar
to eBay’s. Participants who were not
polite or respectful would be banned
from future events. Can that be built
into online dating? People have tried.
But it’s hard to get honest feedback.
Dating is way more personal than
“Hey, I didn’t like this book on
Amazon.” If I went out with someone
three times and hooked up a bit, I
might decide “She’s O.K., but she’s not
the one.” And that’s fair. But she may
report, “He used me.” It’s hard to
prevent someone from coming home
from a bad date and ripping someone
a new one.
How will dating change in the
future? On the one hand, technology
flattens the world and gives us access to
people everywhere, but it also makes us
look past people or screen them out.
We treat people as disposable. And that
reminds me of another point in favor
of speed dating: Online you might not
go out with that 5-foot-9 guy, but if
you’re meeting him in person, you give
him a chance.
Will new technologies affect our love
lives? In the novel “Super Sad True
Love Story,” by Gary Shteyngart, the
characters walk around with their
social-media profile displayed on a
necklace. It tells other people whether
you’re getting laid. I can’t say I like it,
but it feels inevitable.