Is Silent Speed Dating As Ludicrous As It Sounds?
Let me tell you about the time I went to a silent dating night. Yes, it’s as bonkers as it sounds. But silent speed dating – or Shhh Dating, as it’s officially called, is the latest trend sweeping over London singletons, and with a nationwide plan of attack, it’ll soon be coming to a pub near you.
To put this in context, I’ve never been one for single’s nights. Forced politeness with strangers and re-telling the same dull stories doesn’t exactly scream romance, does it? But when a friend told me he was about to launch this bizarre event, I was desperate to try it out. If only for a few funny stories and a half decent column.
Turns out my fear of small talk with strangers is common: these nights are hugely successful and since their March launch, almost entirely sold out. And here I found myself, in a private room of a central London pub where 15 men and 15 women are brought awkwardly together and told by hosts, Lucy and Adam, to keep schtum. Like a school disco, men stand uncomfortably on one side of the room, women uncomfortably on the other, everyone sizing each other up. Lucy tells us to take deep breathes and walk around each other, grabbing random hands on the way. We then jump up and down, holding eye contact with a partner. The only eye contact I’m holding right now is towards the exit. I feel like I’m at an awkward team bonding retreat. Any minute now David Brent is going to waft in with a guitar and serenade us.
Then the speed dating portion starts. Here it gets interesting. Men are seated at individual tables and us girls make our way round, granted a minute with each to break the ice without uttering a word. This will feel like the shortest or longest minute of your life, depending on how charismatic your partner is. One man simply stared at me without blinking, another didn’t look at me at all (the girl to my left was far more interesting, apparently) and a third actually got up, walked round and sniffed my neck. This wasn’t going well at all. On the other hand, there were chaps who smiled warmly and gesticulated wildly and before I knew it I was making terrible attempts at sign language and laughing my head off. I learnt that number 15 is a piano teacher, number 12 a personal trainer and number 3 was the only other man drinking and therefore my favourite. We clinked glasses and solemnly nodded heads in agreement: silent dating is one thing, silent sober dating quite another.
A short booze-break -– still in silence –- then it’s the second table-round, only this time there is no communication whatsoever. Just staring. And the dreaded ticking or crossing of your partner’s number on a piece of paper, to be handed in at the end like a dog-eared piece of homework. The hosts will later email those who had equal matches. In the meantime, I’m back to being excruciatingly uncomfortable. I look at the floor, table and exit — basically anywhere other than into these stranger’s eyes.
The thing is, I appreciate spiritual benefits of body language and the idea of communicating on a deeper level than just idle chit chat. And, like an 11pm closing hour, uncomfortable silences on a date are total buzz killers. But I’m a loud-mouth. A chatterbox. A talker. I can barely sit on the tube without striking up conversation, let alone a whole evening. By the end of Shhh I long for small talk. What’s a date without banter, after all?
Yet, I can see why this weird but refreshing dating trend has grown legs. Adam met his own girlfriend on the first night and tells me it has an overwhelming success rate, because people find it liberating and engaging. At the end I spot a couple who have been eye-f**king all night and promptly leave together and at least two others swap numbers.
For anyone looking to shake up their dating routine and try something new, I couldn’t recommend Shhh enough. Me? I think I’ll stick to the talkers of the world.