“There are too many single women at the bar tonight. Are there any single men who would like to date them?”
…really, that happened. It gets better.
I was already sitting at the bar with a girl; we arrived together, on a date. I hadn’t realised that the bar she’d picked was having a speed-dating evening, until I arrived, but we’d been there a good 30 minutes before the speed-dating started so I felt it would be a bit rude if I said goodbye and moved onto the surfeit of single women with name tags on.
“Hi, would you sign up for the speed-dating? We really need one more guy. There’s a free beer in it for you if you say yes”
Well, what was I to do? The girl I was slow-dating actively encouraged me – she got free drinks and a new friend to talk to whilst I was away – and I got a beer and a name tag and sat down at a table where a slew of women came to join me for a brief chat before they moved on.
“So how was it” you ask. I tried to do it properly. I didn’t make up ridiculous stories or ask horrific questions. I did nothing that would make it onto A Bad Case Of The Dates. I made eye contact, leaned towards the girl I was speed-dating and found time for at least one compliment and one personal question each date. I met a fire-eater (or someone who claimed she did that), I met someone so forgettable – sorry Janice (#5) – that I have no fact about her that wasn’t on her name tag, and I wasn’t awkward or uncomfortable the whole time. However, the conversations were brief and vapid and far too short for me to decide if I wanted to see someone again, other than via the shallow appraisal of looks, and there was a quiet look of desperation in the eyes of the girls that was quite unnerving after a while.
The assumption may be that, with Valentine’s Day coming up, these girls are looking for someone to be with on the most sickly-sweet of holidays, or that they’re simply taking the unending heart-shaped everythings in shops as their cue to get out of a rut and start dating, but I’m not convinced that this has anything to do with it. According to the organisers of the speed dating night, this wasn’t an uncommon circumstance, and there’s even some real data to back things up.
In 2007 National Geographic published this map which provides quite a compelling argument for guys to move to the East Coast, girls to move to the West Coast and for everyone to avoid Montana and Wyoming and the other states that apparently only have about six single people in them. It’s based off the US census data and therefore heteronormative and only as accurate as openly-submitted information can be, but otherwise seems pretty solid.
Finally, I was a little upset at the lack of mathematics involved in the speed-dating setup. With some creative algorithms, I’m fairly sure I could have catered for bisexual and homosexual participants, and apparently some groups already do so. These appear to be greedy heuristics, however, and a general solution is probably NP-Hard. The only research I can find in the area is artifically intelligent matching of pairs for large speed-dating groups, which is a lot closer to my main branch of research but far less interesting than the other problem.
Further, the exchanging of email addresses in sealed envelopes seemed a little trite too, and bad for business. The bar would surely do much better if they formed pairs on the night, and then offered some drinks specials to keep their establishment full all evening, instead of everyone slowly slipping away into the night as alone as they arrived. The algorithm for the Stable Marriage Problem (see the link for a fun & non-technical overview) would have done very well in forming pairs at the end of the evening.
At the end of all this, I can’t recommend speed-dating. But I’ve found another area of research to occupy my mind, and I got free beer, so all is well with the world.