Speed dating is a new form of matchmaking for the fast-paced world of modern America. A new concept, speed dating brings a group of young people together in a structured environment to help them meet eligible men and women. When examined from two anthropological viewpoints, we can gain a better sense of how speed dating fits into modern American society as well as how it can elucidate certain rituals.
From a structural-functionalist viewpoint, speed dating is simply a new elaboration of the traditional societal structure of marriage. In this case, the specific structure of dating to find a life-long mate remains the same, while the population’s interpretation and representation of the institution is changing. Speed dating was created for the fast-paced, busy world where Americans work and play. Combining the practical institution of monogamous mating with the romantic notion of “the one,” we get the paradigm of speed dating where groups of males and females go on five minute long “dates” to discover the important basics of their partner. This information will allow the individual to determine whether they have found a potential mate or not. Although the criteria for that partnership and the methods by which to acquire it may have changed, the desire to find a lifetime partner has not.
The structural-functionalist viewpoint lacks the recognition that institutions change too. Partnering and the creation of a family have certainly maintained importance in today’s society, but the structure is no longer the same. No longer is the one man, one woman pairing the only way to accomplish these ends. The structure itself is constantly shifting to include new permutations of society.
To take a symbolic anthropology approach to speed dating, one would look at the rituals within the performance. For example, to gather and organize the participants the director rings a bell, bangs a gong, or presses a buzzer to indicate both the time to begin as well as when it is time to switch partners. The specific response to these noises is socially embedded in American customs; for us it is a clear symbol to start or stop any given activity. Furthermore, this symbolizes the linear way in which Americans view events, generally with a clear beginning and end. Once the times-up indicator has been used, the male will stand up and move on to the next female. From a symbolic anthropology and from a feminist anthropology outlook this could symbolize two things: one, the classic chivalry idea of the male having to take on the inconvenience of movement, or two, which seems more likely (and even provides further insight into the previous idea), the mobile male demonstrates the guise of power in dating situations, symbolically similar to a male spreading his seed. Anthropology allows for many interpretations of the relatively new practice of speed dating and how it fits in to modern society.
— Jamie J.