Valentine’s Day is the perfect time for swiping through dating apps to find a potential match. Or, if you want to skip the awkward texts and get right into the awkward conversation, you could try speed dating.

Speed dating as a matchmaking practice began in 1998, when Orthodox Rabbi Yaacov Deyo brought together a group of single men and women at a coffee house in Los Angeles. Deyo’s intention was to facilitate meetings between single people looking for partners in efficient 10-minute chunks. These brief dates were meant to potentially lead to less structured dating, and later, marriage. 

Speed dating has continued to evolve since Rabbi Deyo’s experiment in 1998. It has become a popular research method in social psychology because of its high efficiency, replicability, and external validity. Since 2005, the concept has been applied to academic and professional relationships in ‘speed networking’ events.

On February 10, the University of Guelph’s Caribbean Culture Club (CCC), in conjunction with Western University’s Caribbean Students’ Organization (CSO) and U of T’s West Indian Students Association (WISA), held a virtual speed dating event aptly titled ‘Caribbean Cupid.’ The event, which occurred over Zoom, was targeted toward university students — including students of all gender identities and sexualities — looking for platonic or romantic relationships. 

I attended the event as a participant. During my experience, participants were randomly matched with others. The matches then went into a breakout room together for approximately five minutes before coming back into the main room to be re-matched. After five rounds of matching, participants could choose to reconnect with a person of their choice in a breakout room. 

Research has found that, in terms of finding a compatible partner, speed dating is more effective than its more time-consuming counterpart: blind dates. However, dating coach Marc Katz suggests that, in comparison to speed dating, the ability to choose your dates in an online dating context results in a higher return on investment. This places speed dating above blind dates and below online dating in the hierarchy of effective dating methods.

The CCC, CSO, and WISA executives did their best to create a fun atmosphere at Caribbean Cupid, which is often difficult to do online. After some technical difficulties with the breakout rooms, around 45 attendees participated in icebreaker activities. Then, armed with the executives’ excellent advice of “don’t be creepy,” I ventured off on five rounds of dates. 

The conversation with my first date was initially awkward because we relied on the generic dating questions that the event organizers had shared with us. But, as time went on, we became more comfortable with each other. Soon, we were cracking jokes and talking about The Song of Achilles. Even though we had an incredibly surface-level conversation, it was still fun and indicated moderate compatibility. The date lasted 10 minutes. 

In the second round, my sense of awkwardness was not so easy to overcome. I matched with another self-proclaimed awkward person. We relied almost exclusively on the guided questions, and both gave answers with very little elaboration and laughter. Part of the awkwardness was because there was someone else in the room with my date off-camera, so it felt like I was on a speed date with three people — not a deal breaker, but unexpected nonetheless. After six minutes, the 60-second countdown to close the breakout rooms appeared and she seemed eager to leave. I began to wonder if the event’s promise of finding a compatible partner would come to naught. 

In the third round, my date smoked a cigar the whole time, which was somehow simultaneously cool and off-putting. The conversation had fewer lulls than my last, but it was stilted because I was overcompensating for the awkwardness of the previous round. We experimented with a free-flowing conversation, which included a pickup line about socks and the question of what we would do if we were the strongest people on Earth for a day. But, inevitably, we defaulted to the guided questions and bid each other adieu after eight minutes.

The fourth round was the most serious of all my dates. We discussed the inherent superficiality of online dating and how difficult it was to make friends during the pandemic. Then, the conversation drifted into culture shock — we’re both international students — and the way capitalism facilitates delayed gratification. At this point, I had no expectations that the dates would lead to anything substantial. Nonetheless, it was interesting to share my thoughts with my date for 10 minutes.

By the fifth round, I had found my groove. I matched with a U of T student, so we chatted about Robarts’ prison-like architecture, and he tried to convince me to finish Attack on Titan. Overall, the conversation was interesting, but the vibe was distinctly platonic. After 12 minutes, we parted ways with a promise to connect on Instagram. 

After five encounters with mixed results, I left Caribbean Cupid. The prospect of having to share details like my program, how many siblings I have, and whether I liked online learning with another person made me want to move to a faraway region of Alaska. However, I appreciate the opportunity to meet a variety of other people from the Caribbean and will attempt to attend more WISO events in the future. 

Would I go to another speed dating event? Probably not. It was a good way to meet a lot of people in a short amount of time, but the breadth of the event offered meant it sacrificed depth. The time constraints meant that I had to make snap judgements, which made me harshly scrutinise the people I met. In any other situation, I would have been more accommodating because I would’ve gotten to know my dates as multifaceted beings. Besides, the impression I gave my matches was false — if any of them are reading this, I’m funnier in real life.

Perhaps a more quantitative approach like The Aphrodite project would have yielded better results. Or perhaps the formation of human connections is so unexpected that there is no reliable way to ‘hack’ platonic or romantic relationships. Nevertheless, after two hours at Caribbean Cupid, I figured it was time to be disappointed by my looming midterms rather than my unluckiness in love.