By Tanya de Grunwald
“And what do you do?” “Do you come here often?” “What hobbies do you
have?” Having been single for the best part of 10 years, I’ve had my fair
share of small talk and dodgy chat-up lines. (The worst being: “How do you
get to work?” Er… What?) Frankly, I can’t take it any more.
Thankfully, there might be a light at the end of the conversationally
challenged tunnel – “silent dating” has arrived in the UK.
It’s like speed dating, but you and your partner don’t speak to each other.
Not one word; not even hello. Instead, you sit in silence for two whole
minutes, just staring. Or giggling. Or “connecting”. And at the end of the
session, there’s a party, where you’re finally allowed to converse.
Sounds like some weird staring contest, doesn’t it? I thought so too. But
apparently silent dating nights (also known as “eye-gazing parties”) are
already a hit in America. There are reportedly hundreds of Manhattan’s
singles on waiting lists, as organisers struggle to cope with demand.
And mute matchmaking is going down a storm here too. “The demand has been
astonishing and we’ve had a huge interest from day one,” says Marcus
Rowntree, founder of Silent Speed Dating, who launched his evenings last
year, charging £10 per ticket.
“Single people are excited about avoiding dull conversation – by not having
any conversation at all. And it can be quite powerful. Lots of people report
an intense connection with at least one person they meet, even without
saying a single word to each other.”
But arriving at the bar in north London where the latest event is being held,
I’m apprehensive. People are chatting quietly, but only to their friends
(singles tend to travel in pairs). Marcus welcomes us and shares tips.
“Don’t leer, don’t wink, and look at one eye at a time to avoid staring,” he
says. “Remember to blink and breathe.” How helpful.
There are 30 of us – 15 guys, 15 girls – and our two-minute “gazes” are split
into two “acts”, with a 20-minute break in the middle. After the two-minute
stare is up, the men must move one seat to their left. Although there’s no
speaking, we are invited to make notes, which we can hand to our partner if
we wish. There must be no chatting between gazes.
My first stare-out is with Dean (we’re wearing name badges) – a tall, slim
blond who seems like a cheerful soul. We try to connect, but nerves kill our
efforts and we giggle and smile a lot. This happens again with man number
two, but by my third gaze, I’m getting the hang of it. In fact, I have one
of those “intense connections” Marcus warned me about earlier.
His name is Yuriy (I’m glad there’s no talking as I’d struggle pronouncing
that) and he’s a cool-eyed Russian (I assume) with dark hair, a big nose and
a black shirt. As we lock eyes, pulsing Latin music begins. Suddenly, I’m in
Rio on a hot sultry night, dancing the tango with Yuriy. We have never
spoken, but he holds me tight. Only in my head, you understand. But now, I
actually feel hot – it is warm in this bar? Keep staring, Tanya. Yuriy
stares back, gripping me with his gaze. Boy, this guy is good. Our two
minutes feel like two hours. Then it’s over. Yuriy stands up and moves to
the seat to his left. I catch my breath. OK, what just happened?
I’m almost a bit relieved when my next gazee Peter does nothing for me. This
time, our soundtrack is soft jazz, so I feel like I’m in a cigar advert. A
couple of the next guys are nice – until one breaks the cardinal rule and
whispers to me: “You smile less than the other girls.” Is that bad? Or good?
Who knows, he’s gone before I can summon up the courage to break the rules
and ask him.
Keen to retain my mystery with the men, I spend the break talking to other
girls. Hannah, a 26-year-old lawyer, reports an intense 120 seconds with a
chap named Mark, but Julia, 28, also a lawyer, says she can’t stop laughing.
Amelia, 27, works in marketing and says she feels like she’s playing
different characters, depending on the music.
I know what she means. The silence creates anonymity, so you can both pretend
to be anybody you want to be.
With the men I like, my mind wanders. (“Who is he? What’s he thinking?”) And
with the ones where there’s zero chemistry, it gets easier to fake stare,
when I’m actually thinking: “Do they do food here?”
In the second half, I’m struck with performance anxiety. Ben hands me a note
saying: “Intense, restless, searching.” Eh? All that from a stare? Another
guy writes me a note telling me I blink a lot – possibly because my false
eyelashes feel heavy and my contact lenses are giving me jip. But I’m not
the only one struggling. One guy seems to actually be nodding off, while
another one is just nodding (which is unnerving for two whole minutes). Then
there’s a heavy breather, who seems to feel more, er, connected than I do.
What’s he thinking about? I’d rather not know. Perhaps this is how Yuriy
felt with me.
Our last gaze over, we’re finally free to mingle at the bar. My first stare
partner Dean asks how I got on, and everyone swaps observations about their
night. The atmosphere is astonishingly comfortable. We do feel like we
already know each other and, because the premise of the evening is so
strange, we actually have something to talk about.
I would definitely come back – it’s been a bizarre evening, but it’s a great
way to break the ice. I spy Yuriy chatting to another girl and consider
saying hello – but decide it’s best to leave it. However smart or funny he
is, his chat can’t possibly top his gazing.
Shouting and sweaty t-shirts
The dating fads that didn’t quite catch on…
Pheromone parties Partygoers swap T-shirts they’ve slept in for three
nights without perfume or deodorant. If they’re drawn to the smell of a
shirt, they introduce themselves to its owner at the end of the night.
Dating in the dark The TV show started life as a New York craze, with
singletons meeting in total darkness to help them focus on “personality”.
But imagine your potential disappointment when the lights come on.
Speed hating Like speed dating, but instead of small talk, you have a
good old rant. It was thought to unleash some passion, but it seems we don’t
really like the sound of listening to someone moan. And surely being shouty