Gay speed dating

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Gay speed dating has expolded - Time Out investigates

  • Gay speed dating

    Mike makes his way through 35 possible dates

  • Gay speed dating

    Mike Dent at Freedom in Vauxhall

    ‘So, you kept the beard then?’

    ‘What? Is there something wrong with my beard?’

    ‘No. I expect that there are some people who like beards.’

    ‘Some people.’

    ‘Yeah. Some people.’

    ‘Shit…’

    My pre-date pep talk with a friend wasn’t going as expected. Up to this point, I’d never been on a blind date in my life, let alone done it repeatedly or at any kind of velocity. Speed dating seems like such an odd idea – after all, isn’t that what the gay scene is for anyway?

    X-Factor Dating is settling into its new home in the club area beneath Freedom on Wardour Street. Toby, the excitable organiser (or Icebreaker to give his official title) explains that speed dating has become something of a growth industry, with numbers swelling every time they hold one of their regular events. We get three minutes with each guy (there are 35 of us), and afterwards you hang around the bar and chat more with the ones you liked, and cast an internet vote for the ones you’re too shy to hit on. I notice that lots of people already seem to know each other – there can’t be speed dating circuit boys already, can there? Apparently not: speed dating is just another night out for some, and being with mates makes it less scary. Some of them say they aren’t even looking for a boyfriend. Outrageous!

    The music cuts out and Toby (and his whistle) corrals us into position. I take a seat and wait for my first guy. He seems nice and we ask the obvious first question: What do you do for a living? I admit that I work for a men’s magazine, and I talk about how the girls sometimes forget to fake-tan their bum-cracks and so on – now he’s laughing! This is easy! Oh. The whistle just went and I didn’t learn a single thing about him. I resolve to be less exciting, and to listen more. ‘What do you do when you’re not speed dating?’ is my next date's opening gambit. ‘Well, I go to the gym, I go out clubbing, I go to bars…’ As soon as I say the words, I realise how incredibly empty my life sounds. Time, perhaps, to reveal some more personal details?

    ‘Actually, I collect Wonder Woman toys,’ I say perkily. ‘I’ve got a really great one from the 1970s, but she’s missing the left shoe from her Diana Prince outfit.’ My date doesn’t physically back away, but then he can’t: he’s perched on a tiny velour stool on the edge of a platform. He doesn’t answer, either: just a big slug of Smirnoff Ice. A really big slug. Maybe I won’t tell him I have a dozen assorted Batmobiles, all in unopened boxes. The next two minutes crawl by, punctuated by silences and nervous drinking. The whistle takes forever, and it dawns on me that this would never have happened on Gaydar – sure, people ask the same questions, but they’re not right in front of you, and you have precious typing time to edit your response, come up with a witty reply, or just realise that what you were about to say makes you look unhinged, to say the least. This is both the horror of speed dating and its genius – you really will get a peek inside someone’s head, because continual three-minute slots of one-on-one is enough to make anyone crack wide open.

    The dates go on; construction site managers, MORI pollsters, students, about nine people all called Andrew… all nice, normal, interesting guys I probably would never have spoken to if we’d been anywhere else, and all saying the same thing: it’s about meeting new people and it’s hard to do that in London, even in a club with 1,500 other guys in it, because they’re just not designed to get people talking. It’s a little odd being forced to spar verbally with a stranger, but then I can’t remember the last time a stranger just started talking to me in a bar – and if they did, to my shame, I probably thought they were crazy for doing exactly that. Anyway, I left feeling that I was probably a pretty good catch, I can actually hold my own in a conversation, and I’m a likeable guy. Then I went home, logged on to the website and found I only got two ticks. Out of 35 people. And incidentally, I was the only one with a beard. Oh well. It’s probably just a coincidence…

    X Factor Dates run straight and gay dating events for all ages. Phone 0870 871 7777 or visit www.xfactordates.com.

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