The weird logic of requiring balancing companions

We get a lot of questions about our restrictions on registration and the logic behind it. Here’s the story.

At our first events, we found that lots of women who signed up to meet other women didn’t get to do so. We wanted to figure out why, and eventually we did.

Our program was designed to make overall schedules to give people as many speed dates as possible. To achieve this we often preferentially match people with fewer options earlier on (well, mostly; see endnote (1)). Why do we do this? Well, imagine a dater who only wants to meet people named Greg. Now suppose there are only two people named Greg at the event! If you pair everybody in random order, the Gregs will probably already have dates by the time you get to our super-picky dater. So we give our dater priority. And there’s another dater who only wants to meet people named Dragon Breath, so THEY will be stranded unless you pair them with Dragon Breath before Dragon Breath has another date. And so on.

But straight people(2) have fewer options than bi/pan people. So this meant straight people tended to get matched first by the computer. And since straight people have an overrepresentation of men, this meant straight men mostly got matched before bi/pan women. Statistically, we were giving men ‘dibs’ on women’s time. This was not okay.

Our fix was to make half of our dating rounds “same” rounds, and half “different” rounds–in the first type of dating round, we make all the same-gender matches we can before we pair off anyone else; in the second type, we make all the different-gender matches we can before we pair off anyone else. (Note: Since gender(3) is “pick all that apply” at PSD, it’s not quite as simple as “same” and “different”. Also, we make other tweaks in order to not penalize other gender categories such as agender and non-binary(4) people. But if you think of it as “same” and “different” or “gay matches first” and “straight matches first” you will have basically the right idea.)

After the preferential matching, we always fill in any matches that are left over (so a straight woman, for example, will still probably get a date during a “gay” round, as long as there are men left over after the gay and bisexual men have been matched with each other, which there probably will be).

But wait! This doesn’t quite work unless the straight people at PSD are about half men and half women. And as mentioned earlier, if we register an equal number of men and women, we will end up with a tilt toward men among the straight population. This is why we wanted to impose some restrictions on registration.

All of this being said, our event is designed to be inclusive and open to all. Because of this, we decided that we would never start registration with any restrictions. Anyone can register independently. We then leave it open as long as possible until the balance becomes worryingly far in the wrong direction, and then restrict registration and hope that as registrations roll in we recover the balance we need. Furthermore, for our restriction we, rather than banning registration altogether for straight men, decided to allow for a “balancing companion” so that if someone registers with their friend they, together, are not making matters (too much) worse. This is our effort to continue to keep things as open as possible.

We recognize that it can be painful to be frozen out of an event. We also recognize that it can put people in an awkward position of trying to drag a friend along. Despite these things, we hope that this solution well serves our community. We also invite any who do feel excluded to reflect on other circumstances where others get excluded, either implicitly or explicitly, from things they want to do. And remember that if you sign up on our mailing list, we will email you when our next event occurs and that you can then register with no restrictions.

Postscripts about gender diversity:

1. You might be wondering whether this insight into our scheduling algorithm means you should be as restrictive as possible on your registration in order to get first priority for scheduling. Well, not quite. As soon as someone gets frozen out in a scheduling round, we increase their priority for the next round. And each time someone gets to “pick” their match, they lose priority. This ensures that the more open daters do not simply get left with the difficult-to-match matches.

2. The restriction is not just on straight men, in part because “straight” is a convenient term to use in a blog post but it doesn’t actually exist in the Poly Speed Dating world. The restriction is on people who don’t want to date men, but whose dates do need to be attracted to men. This latter category includes men, but also anybody who requires their dates to be bi/pansexual, and some groups who choose the “only give us dates that match all of us” option. If you aren’t sure whether you actually fall under this restriction, talk to us.

3. This entire post doesn’t use the words “trans” or “cis” at all, except for this footnote. That’s because being cis or trans has nothing to do with it! One of your faithful organizers–the one writing this footnote–is trans, and honestly feels kind of weird writing something this long about gender without an explicit reference to trans people, because of growing up in a world where people who say “men” often secretly mean “cis men”. But at PSD, that is never what we mean. Cis and trans men are both men, and are both treated the same by this policy. And likewise, when we talk about “same gender” matches, we do not care whether you’re cis or trans; cis women and trans women (e.g.) are the same gender, even though they are different checkboxes on the gender part of our form.

4. You may have noticed that this post sometimes mentions non-binary folks and sometimes doesn’t. This is mostly because when we say “straight” we are specifically referring to binary-gendered people: men who are only interested in women, and women who are only interested in men. But also, non-binary people are, in general, neither making the balance worse nor better, and so are not part of this particular math.

So you want to run your own PSD?

Generally, the way PSD gets started in a new area is someone decides to run it. We original designers of the system are happy to offer support, be we cannot do the ground work of finding a venue, talking to the daters, and so forth. Several different sorts of folks have run their own events, and it is totally doable and often even fun!

How it works is we host the registration site and you run your event by using our tools, which we call DateWrangler(tm), over the internet. The only thing you need on your end is a browser and some hardware including a printer. We do charge $50 for an initial set up and your first event and $30 to pay for 6 months of cloud servers that we pass on to folks who host the application. This is all due before we set up your registration site. Subsequent events are $30 each, plus $5/month to maintain your server. In most circumstances, the door fees you charge could cover this and all the other fees you may incur. We typically do a bit better than breaking even with the events we run, but we try to keep our ticket prices rock bottom.

We ask folks agree to a service contract that basically focuses on equity.  A (probably out of date, but you get the gist) version of such an agreement is this sample DateWrangler Use Agreement.  Also, here is a system manual.  This document talks about what an event involves, and gives some details on the system.  (It is also out of date.)

If interested, contact us after you have read the above agreement.  Put something clever in your email proving you have read this agreement.