Why I ditched my smartphone and went speed dating

In four minutes, you can learn a lot about a person. 

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Once, the fear of being catfished (lured into a fictional relationship) warded singles off the world of online dating. Now, the likes of Tinder and Bumble represent Generation Y’s status quo. There is such distinct internet etiquette these days that it’s easier to tell if Kara, 22, is in fact, Bob, 56, based on what’s been said.

We live in a culture of quick convenience – see self-service in supermarkets, contactless cards or Deliveroo. With bright young things forced to rent further outside the city centre, the swipe function serves as a time-saving filter for gender, age and location.

But how much can a swipe left or right tell you about someone’s personality? Of course, plenty of modern relationships grow from digital roots. But plenty of other online romantics find themselves wasting an entire evening with a buffoon on the basis of a few good profile pictures. Is there really no alternative to this stab in the dark? 

Well, there is one. Speed dating, an ode to the lost skill of introductions.

The concept is not particularly old, at least in match-making terms. It dates back to 1998, when Rabbi Yaacov Devo of Aish Ha Torah in Los Angeles brought together Jewish courters. But in a world of silently checking your phone, it could be considered a little out there.

Nevertheless, I thought it was worth giving a go. And so I found myself in a swanky London bar, being ushered into a carousel of candle-lit tables, under a concave ceiling bearing some strange, Picasso-style art. There were 20 guys and 20 girls, all aged 21 to 31, with guys moving every four minutes.

It might have been engineered, but it wasn’t that awkward - the majority of speed daters tend to be in the same boat and on their maiden voyage. The mix of professions was pretty eclectic: journalists, teachers, lawyers, architects, graphic designers, scientists, actors, bankers and one bloke who analyses betting trends in order to coax people into gambling more. Standards of dress differed greatly, from a crude slogan t-shirt (“man needs head”) to a three-piece suit. I thought the tie was overkill, personally.

Beyond the exchange of pleasantries, the conversation was what you made it. Comparing pastimes, political views, film and music tastes was a common technique.  The tight four-minute window provided both an impetus to get to the point and a perfect escape route if the answer wasn’t what you were hoping for (blonde-haired Spanish architect Christina’s pastimes included “going to the shops and tidying my room").

Speed dating's biggest sell is its immediacy. A match made on an app can lie dormant due to cold feet or lack of intent – some people just "play" to see how many they can get - but speed dating encourages a strip-off-the-plaster attitude. If four minutes isn’t long enough to tell if you want to see someone long-term, it is usually long enough to tell if you don’t. 

Halfway through the event there was a break, during which speed daters could grab a drink or three. This was clearly an essential part of the process for some attendees, but it also tested who could hold their drink (Goth actress-cum-receptionist Kim slurred her speech).

The following morning, on the event’s website, participants told the organisers who they wanted to see again, who in turn sent them the details of their matches later in the day. I liked four of the 20 girls I met, and matched with one. On another night, that tally could have been more or less, and that’s the chance that you take. However, speed dating is a guarantee of meeting 20 actual people, which is more than can be said of spreading your bets from your phone.

For 20 quid, there are certainly far worse ways to spend an evening. If nothing else, it’s a way of forcing you out of your comfort zone and into a swirl of different characters and careers. There are, of course, speed dating sessions which tailor to the opposite – events designed for graduates only, one particular ethnicity, older men and younger women, older women and younger men. Still, speed dating focuses on being human. In this digital age, there is something refreshingly novel about that. 

 

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman