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.

What actually happens at Poly Speed Dating?

Well, funny you should ask. Read on!

A Quick Overview

On the night of the event, you’ll come to our venue and check in; we use the check-in list to make sure nobody is scheduled on a speed date with someone who couldn’t make it. After everyone (about 100-200 poly people!) has checked in and we’ve gotten up on the microphone to welcome you, we will print out a unique dating schedule for each person, telling them where to go and when. (See an example of what a dating sheet looks like below.)

At this point, the dating can start. In each of a series of rounds your sheet will tell you to go to a specifically numbered table. Your date for that round will also be told to go there. You meet at that table and talk. At the end of a few minutes you say goodbye, part ways, secretly write down whether you would be interested in seeing your date again, and go on to your next table. Some of your dating rounds will be blank – this allows you to get a moment to collect your wits, go purchase a drink, and chat with people also having a break.

At the end of the evening you turn in your sheet and we enter the data into our matching system. If someone you are interested in was also interested in you, it’s a match! We will send you an email listing all of such matches, along with the relevant email addresses.

What will happen at Poly Speed Dating (In much more detail)

Step 0: Register.

This is the part where you fill out the registration form online and answer a bunch of questions as to what you want. Based on that information we are going to be able to make matches and schedule an evening of dates with people that have the potential of being mutually interested based on a few characteristics such as sexual preference and desired relationship style.

Also based on this information, we can determine if you are likely to have many or few dates. If you are at risk of having very few dates, we will email you before the event so you can adjust your registration to be more open, or decide whether to come to the event or not.

Step 1: Check In.

When you show up, there will be a line to check in and get your nametag. You can speed this up by having your Poly Speed Dating ID ready (the thing that looks like FZL1102), but we can look it up if you don’t have it.

Step 2: Mingle.

While people are still arriving the social space will be open for chatting, mingling, ordering drinks, quietly reading books while everything around you is chaos, etc. And we do mean chaos: we typically have between 100 and 200 people at these events. You are welcome to talk to people you do not know, if they seem amenable, but this is not a time to be picking people up. It is definitely not okay to ask people for contact information or anything of that nature.

Step 3: Introduction. We’ll stand up and talk, hopefully not for too long. We’ll repeat the things in this email and remind people how to be respectful and awesome toward each other. Then we will hand out The Date Sheets, which look like this:


Sample Date Sheet

And how do you use them? Well, keep reading…

Step 4: Dating.

Your date sheet has 10-15 lines on it, one for each round of dating. During your dating rounds, you’ll go to one of about 100 numbered spots in the room (mostly tables) and meet one or more people to have a speed date with them. Your Date Sheet includes your dates’ nametag codes, so you can tell if you’re talking to the right person.

You’ll have about 6 minutes for each speed date. During that time, we encourage you to tell one another about who you are and ask questions to get to know each other better. The date will end with an announcement from us (something like “Round 6 is ending! Round 6 is ending! Move on to Round 7.”)

Step 4a: Deciding.

After each date, once you and your date are no longer in the same spot, you should take a second to mark either “Yes” or “No” for your date on your Date Sheet. You might also, if you wrote down “Yes”, jot down a note somewhere on why you liked your date so you can remember them the next day. After the event, if you and your date both said “Yes”, we will send you one another’s email addresses. If either of you said “No”, we won’t.

Step 4b: Moving To The Next Date.

Your next round of dating may be at the same table or a different one. If it’s a different one, you’ll have a short time to find the table and meet your next date; if it’s the same table, you get to stay put. We try to keep as many people as possible in the same place, so you may stay put fairly often. Your next round may also be blank, meaning you have a break; everybody will have some rounds without dates so that you can use the restrooms, get food, chill out, or whatever else you want. There will be a designated social area with no speed dates in it; anytime you don’t have a date, you’re welcome to hang out there.

Step 5: Exit.

When all the dating rounds are over, you have to give us your Date Sheet. That’s how we know who you said “Yes” to. We’ll also have an anonymous feedback survey that we hand out near the end of the event; it’s not mandatory, but it is appreciated. Once you turn your date sheet in, you are free to go!

Then sometime soon, hopefully within the next day, you’ll get an email from us listing any matches you had. (You’ll get the email even if you don’t have matches.) It may also list “cruises” (we’ll describe those in a second). The rest is up to you!

Other questions

Q: What do I do if I have a match?
A: If you want to, we encourage you to email the person and say “Hi! We matched at Poly Speed Dating. Want to get coffee sometime?” It doesn’t have to be coffee, it could be anything, but we do encourage you to keep it low-key at first. You can get to know a lot about someone in 6 minutes… but not that much. Following up with more casual friendly conversation is almost always a better idea than diving into dating with both feet. That said, anything the two of you both enthusiastically agree to is okay. Communicate!

Q: How should I behave on speed dates?
A: This is important and you’ll hear more about it: Do not escalate the date. Here’s what that means. While you’re on a speed date at our event, you should not ask for contact information or try to arrange a future date. You should not say “Are you going to say yes to me? I’m totally saying yes to you.” You should not say “That movie sounds fun, want to go see it?” You should not try to connect on Facebook. There are a lot of things that are appropriate in other social situations that we ask you to avoid entirely here; the goal is to meet people without either of you feeling any pressure to send or respond to signals of interest. If there’s mutual interest, you’ll find out when the email goes out.

This rule applies at the event even when you aren’t on a speed date. Which brings us to…

Q: What if I meet someone in the social area I want to keep talking to?
A: Sometimes people meet at the PSD bar or social area and strike up a conversation. But we ask people not to exchange contact information. So then what? Well, we have a mechanism for that! Your Date Sheet has space at the bottom for “cruising” people. To do that, you put their PSD ID (the letters and numbers on their nametag) in one of the blanks. We will then send that person your email address (but we do not give you their email address). Cruising someone does not give you any information from or about that person unless they decide to write back.

As you might guess from the name, you can also cruise someone you didn’t even meet, but just thought looked cool. But since they don’t get any information about you except your name, the odds of them writing back may not be super high. But hey, you probably helped make someone’s day!

Q: I thought I really clicked with someone but I guess they didn’t say yes. Should I find them on social media and ask why?
A: Please don’t. If you weren’t a mutual match, it’s probably best to let that person be.

Q: There are people I definitely don’t want to match with during the event. What can I do?
A: We can prevent any specific unwanted matches. If you know someone’s PSD ID, that’s easy; email us and we will prevent you from matching them. We can also prevent matches at the event. If you see someone during the Mingling phase who you specifically do not want to match, let us know their nametag ID or their name or whatever you can, and we will make sure the match doesn’t happen.

What is Poly Speed Dating?

Speed Dating in general is a social event where people meet a number of potential dating partners. Say you were a dater. During the evening you will rotate though several “dates” of about 5 minutes each. After each date you check off whether or not you are interested in romantically pursuing that person any further. Your choices are collected at the end of the night and if you and your date both were interested, your information will be exchanged via email within the next few days.

Poly Speed Dating is this, but done in a flexible way in order to accommodate people of vastly different interests.  For example, using our system we ensure that people are matched with dates who are open to their expressed gender. We balance out dates so bisexuals get a mix of genders on their dates. And so forth.

This is done by having people pre-register, filling out a form asking them basic questions about what they are looking for. Then, at the event, we check off who is there and dynamically schedule the dates in real-time. Then we are off to the races!

For more information, please visit our FAQ.