Is silent speed dating as ridiculous as it sounds?
Let me tell you about the time I went on a silent dating night. Yes, it’s as crazy as it sounds. But silent speed dating – or shhh dating , as it’s officially known, is the latest trend to sweep London singletons, and with a nationwide plan of attack, it’ll soon be coming to a pub near you.
To put this into context, I’ve never been one for singles nights. Forced politeness to strangers and retelling the same boring stories don’t exactly scream romance, do they? But when a friend told me he was starting this bizarre event, I was eager to try it out. If only for a few funny stories and a halfway decent column.
It turns out that my fear of small talk with strangers is widespread: these nights have been hugely successful and almost completely sold out since they started in March. And here I was in a private room of a pub in central London, where 15 men and 15 women were awkwardly brought together and instructed by hosts Lucy and Adam to keep schtum. Like a school disco, men stand awkwardly on one side of the room, women awkwardly on the other, all sizing each other up. Lucy tells us to take a deep breath and walk around each other, grabbing random hands. We then jump up and down, maintaining eye contact with a partner. The only eye contact I’m holding right now is toward the exit. I feel like I’m in an awkward team bonding retreat. At any moment, David Brent will wave in with a guitar and serenade us.
Then the speed dating portion begins. This is where things get interesting. Men sit at individual tables and we girls make our way around, one minute each to break the ice without saying a word. This will feel like the shortest or longest minute of your life, depending on how charismatic your partner is. One guy just stared at me without blinking, another didn’t look at me at all (the girl to my left was apparently far more interesting), and a third actually stood up, walked around, and sniffed my neck. This was not going well at all. On the other hand, there were guys smiling warmly and gesticulating wildly, and before I knew it I was making terrible attempts at sign language and laughing my head off. I learned that number 15 is a piano teacher, number 12 is a personal trainer, and number 3 is the only other man who drinks and is therefore my favorite. We clinked glasses and nodded solemnly in agreement: silent dating is one thing, silence sober from a completely different one.
A short alcohol break – still in silence – then it’s the second round of the table, only this time there’s no communication at all. I just stare. And the dreaded ticking or crossing your partner’s number on a sheet of paper, which is handed in at the end like a dog-eared house. The hosts will later email those who had equal matches. In the meantime, I feel unbearably uncomfortable again. I look at the floor, the table, and the exit – basically anywhere but into the eyes of these strangers.
The thing is, I appreciate the spiritual benefits of body language and the idea of communicating on a deeper level than just idle chit-chat. And like closing time at 11pm, awkward silences on a date are a total buzz killer. But I’m a loud mouth. A chatterbox. ONE Speaker . I can barely sit on the subway without talking, let alone an entire evening. By the end of Shhh, I’m craving small talk. What is a date without banter, anyway?
Still, I can see why this strange but refreshing dating trend has grown legs. Adam met his own girlfriend on the first night and told me she has an overwhelming success rate because people find her liberating and engaging. I end up seeing a couple who have been on their guard all night and immediately go together, and at least two others exchange numbers.
For anyone looking to shake up their dating routine and try something new, I can’t recommend Shhh Enough. Me? I think I’ll stick with the speakers of the world.