Dating is stressful—it takes us out of comfort zone and throws us into a situation with a new person. We do not know how the date will go, what the topics of conversation will be, and how the date will end (Breakfast? Cold shower? Restraining order?). These factors introduce high levels of uncertainty, and according to Berger and Calbrese, humans do not like uncertainty.
Now imagine a situation that throws these feelings into hyper speed—namely, speed dating. In a typical speed dating event, single adults go on 8-12 dates in an evening that each last about 8 minutes. This modern phenomenon is largely credited to Rabbi Deyo, who explains speed dating started as a way for Jewish singles to meet one another.
Whenever I talk to my students about speed dating, they appear to be judgmental and critical (as most of my students are of nontraditional dating methods, including online dating—a topic we’ll discuss in another blog). But, the value of speed dating lies in its efficiency. For a moment, think of the worst first date you ever went on. You know, the one where that woman just never talked? Or, the date where you showed up at a guy’s house only to be surprised that his entire family was there? Even worse, how about when your first date says, “I love you” and/or discusses “our” kids (yes, this happens).
With these painful memories in mind, now imagine that the terrible date lasted less than 10 minutes. That is one of the greatest benefits of speed dating. We quickly realize when our first date is headed for doom, and unfortunately, we realize this before the appetizer arrives. So, instead of sitting through an appetizer, salad, entrée, and many glasses of wine to self medicate, this terrible date could have lasted about 10 minutes.
The real benefit of speed dating, though, is similar to that of online dating: you and your date share the same goal. Aristotle argued that communication is goal oriented, and findings from Mongeau indicate that individuals go on dates with goal(s) in mind. Has a great person ever hit on you at the wrong time? Perhaps you just got out of a relationship? Or someone is flirting with you at a family party (not a cousin…hopefully)? Sometimes timing really is an issue. At speed dating, though, time is not an issue: everyone is there with the common goal of, hopefully, meeting someone great. This introduces the question of how you make that great first impression?
Research indicates that brief impressions are lasting impressions. Consider the programmatic work on thin slicing by Ambady, made popular in Gladwell’s Blink. A thin slice involves brief exposure, typically less than 30 seconds, to behavior. Studies indicate that judgments made by strangers based on thin slices are consistent with evaluations of individuals who are familiar with the stranger. As one example, Ambady and Rosenthal found that students who viewed 6-to-15 second video segments of professors were able to form judgments that were consistent with judgments of teachers’ actual students.
So, you’re now probably thinking how you can work to make an accurate first impression on a speed date? This knowledge is important, as it can be applied beyond a speed date to any 30-second introduction that is potentially romantic. This question is what guided speed dating research conducted by Dr. Marian L. Houser, of Texas State University, which I also authored.
For 6 months Dr. Houser and I attended speed dating events in 2 major cities. Midway through the evening, we interrupted dates asking participants to make a brief introduction and then to stop their date. We then asked them two basic questions: how do you feel about the person you just met, and why?
Physical attraction was a dominant theme driving positive evaluations; this is not shallow, attraction is biological (we’ll talk about this another time). Communication was also a key theme: individuals liked a person’s smile, his/her eye contact, and good communication (friendly, nice). On the damaging side, men and women cited a lack of attraction as a primary driver of negative evaluations. Interestingly, women further explained a perception of “negative qualities” in the other person as something contributing to their negative thin slice judgments. These results are especially important given the long line of research indicating that thin slice judgments are consistent with long-term impressions.
In a later study with Dr. Houser, our quantitative findings further supported our open-ended responses. Nonverbal immediacy (e.g., smiling, eye contact, open body orientation) along with social and physical attraction helped explain individuals’ beliefs about relational development. In other words, physical attraction along with positive communication behaviors explained variance in the belief of whether or not someone thought they would have a relationship with you. Pretty telling stuff here, particularly since a speed date lasts less than 10 minutes.
Essentially then, when first meeting someone, the advice is clear and simple: smile and make eye contact. Of course, the caveat is that you smile naturally and make an appropriate amount of eye contact…a constant smile and unwavering eye contact can convey creepiness and an unintended level of social awkwardness.
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