Michelle Flynn and Nina Kern react to a funny question during a speed dating event in the Kent State Student Center.

Mark Oprea and Ellen Turk

Finding love in the age of fast romance


He said:

You have three minutes to fall for her. Okay, go.

With unabashed simplicity and rose petals, Kent State hosted its first speed dating of the year, presumably to fill seats for its Valentine’s Day events. Satin-black tablecloths and an ambitious DJ set the mood, along with chocolate-covered strawberries that practically screamed romance. The only thing the student center’s Room 306 was missing last Thursday night was a sensual jazz quartet to play the standards. (“Autumn Leaves” would have been dope.)

For those speed dating novices or simply uninterested, the name-of-the-game was simple: Guys rotate counterclockwise every 180 seconds to the next girl waiting to hear what his major was, or how he preferred cats to dogs. And if Mr. Romance wasn’t on his A-game, there were cue cards packed into a fishbowl with one-liners ready to be deployed. (My favorite: “When’s the last time you’ve had a one-night stand?”) That’s sure to bring her home to Mom and Dad.

In the age of Tinder’s dominance and social media up the wazoo, I have to say I had no expectations as a speed dating participant. The only romantic tête-à-têtes that seem to be happening elsewhere are at bars or coffee houses, and implications can easily get lost in distracting static. Speed dating, then, seems like the partial rescuer, a reassurance that good conversation can be sparked without the help of a whiskey ginger. It was nice, for once, to remove cocktails from the get-to-know-you equation.

I remember distinctly not only what my “matches” and I conversed over, but also how — and how long we talked after the bell ringed. What was sweet were the details of a mission trip to Brazil, the playful Henna-painted hand touching, stories from a west coast upbringing. One sophomore shared trepidation over a family illness; another girl and I laughed over a school trip to band camp. What was forgettable did not tend to linger to the next Mackenzie or Laura — I met four Lauras, by the way — and if it did, I made sure to make a note for round two. What I found is that three minutes may just be all one needs to prime for something more.

And there’s research behind this. In 1997, psychologist Arthur Aron published a paper titled “The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness,” which poses the question: “Can people fall in love just by asking each other a series of questions?”

Nevermind you, these inquiries ranged in levity and severity from “Would you like to be famous?” to “When did you last cry in front of another?” Thirty responses later, Aron had his subjects stare into each other’s eyes for three minutes to solidify this connection. His conclusion: Vulnerability fosters closeness. Two of his subjects have been married since.

Other than the fact that this was a carefully executed psychological experiment, it’s important to note Aron was studying interactions between heterosexual men and women. Although it wasn’t advertised in fine detail, the speed dating event last Thursday didn’t seem to recognize students from the LGBT spectrum, meaning some were confused on which side of the “Table of Love” to sit on.

One student, who identified herself as a lesbian, told me that she “felt awkward” deciding whether or not to opt for platonic conversation or not. She thought such confusion could have been prevented beforehand.

“I’ve been to other events like this where they give you a name tag to mark your gender and sexuality,” she told me. “But now I’m playing a sort of guessing game.”

Sexual discrepancies aside, all that is left is time and time only.

Out of the 40-something single prospects who I exchanged travel-sized interests and dreams with, only about three or five left a sizable imprint on yours truly. Or course, there was Maura with her twenty-dollar smile, Emma and her penchant for absurdist literature and Sophia with her lovable wit. (Hi, Sophia!) Those who stuck with me were the ones, like Aron suggests, who were able to be vulnerable around me. Sounds like a stretch, but I’m telling you, it’s true.

By the end of the night, when strawberry trays sat bare and John Mayer’s “Gravity” consoled the unmatched, I was still on a high, as state psychologists call limerence, or infatuation. I thought of those who made an impression, who brought me to honest laughter, made me light-headed.

There was conversation left unfinished around the room. There were reasons to go back. I walked to one of them sitting idly at the end of the table.

“Another round?” I joked.

She looked up and smiled.

“Of course, another round,” she said.

And the rest of the evening had just begun. Those initial three minutes, I’ll admit, had paid their due. (I’m talking second date, people.)

And, no, her name wasn’t Laura.


She said

In this digital age teeming with different ways to engage and connect with others, is meeting for the first time face-to-face redundant? Whether someone is looking for a perfect date via Coffee Meets Bagel or looking for a “friends with benefits” situation through Tinder, the Internet has made finding whatever relationship you desire easier but also more confusing.

As an occasional user of Tinder and frequent bar hopper, I am no stranger to face-to-face interactions or dating app experiences. The one thing I haven’t done — until recently — is attend speed dating.

To clarify, speed dating is an event where guys and girls meet and chat in a sort of assembly line manner. Participants are given three minutes to make a first impression before they are asked to move onto the next person. It’s fast and superficial — much like the “swipe left, swipe right” manner of Tinder — but in real life.

I wondered, could speed dating be a better and more efficient way to make connections and find love?

So, in the spirit of curiosity and making new friends, I went to the Center for Student Involvement’s speed dating event on Thursday, Feb. 5. I had heard good things about the event in the past — rumor has it that last year, it was so popular there was only standing room left.  

With some soft Michael Jackson crooning, the event began and my first partner/ victim/ speed dating accomplice approached.

Conversation with my first “partner” provided a great start to get the night going. He was funny, kind of cute and when I asked if I could eat a chocolate-covered strawberry during our conversation, he offered to escort me to the buffet — a true gentleman.

My second partner was different. He approached with a crazy look in his eye and introduced himself as “Dexter” from the TV show “Dexter.”

When I asked him what he did, he replied that he was a forensic analyst working for the police and identifying blood spatters.

When I asked him what his hobbies were, he replied that he enjoyed executing bad guys who had escaped police detection.

When I asked why he didn’t have a tan, he looked flummoxed and refused to talk to me again.

For the most part, though, speed dating was a lot like any other normal face-to-face meeting. Most of the guys I spoke with were serious about meeting someone special and put in effort to get to know me in the little time we had.

I would definitely say that speed dating was a more efficient and effective way to meet people. Three minutes was more than enough time to determine if I wanted to get to know someone, or if I wanted to never, ever talk to them again.

And honestly, I liked the three minute limit as it provided an escape when I was trapped in awkward conversations.

But speed dating was exhausting! I talked to at least 50 guys, although I may have come off sort of loopy or scatterbrained to the last 10 or so. It was hard generating a brand new conversation every three minutes, but then again, I find sustaining a texting conversation just as difficult.

Either way, I do believe speed dating is a great way to get to know people, even if you find it hard to start or sustain conversations.

During the conversation, some guys utilized the three minutes to ask for my number while others waited until the end.

I did get asked out to dinner, too, and I gave out my number to a few lucky guys — but the rest I’m leaving to the imagination.

Contact Mark Oprea at [email protected] and Ellen Turk at [email protected].