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Ever been on a date that’s descended into floundering silence? Well, why not just cut the awkward chit-chat and make silence the starting point? Silent speed dating is the latest way single Londoners can seek true love. At Shhh Dating that means 15 one-minute dates in one evening and zero conversation. Gone is the pressure to make small talk. No need to have the same conversation over and over again (‘So, what do you do?’). Turns out it’s rather liberating.
I visit one Monday night and join the female daters gathered upstairs in a pub on the Strand. It’s a broad mix of people and everyone’s gabbing over a drink, getting our talk out while we still can, because once the men are brought up it’s strictly schtum for the rest of the night.
Eighty-five percent of communication is non-verbal anyway, host Lucy Baker tells us, before leading a few warm-up exercises. It’s somewhere between a silent retreat and a godawful team building event, but our embarrassment slowly begins to subside.
Then it’s down to business. In the first round, sounds and gestures are allowed, just no words. I take my seat opposite a nice-looking chap who turns out to be an effective mime (eat your heart out Marcel Marceau). I blow him a kiss when the minute’s up. Not a bad start.
The next couple of ‘dates’ seem to be finding it more torturous. There are gritted teeth and flapping hands. One guy is even mouthing words, which is certainly not allowed. But then we start to play. With one ‘date’ it’s a little mirroring game, with another I swap glasses, the next we collapse into giggles.
The second round is completely silent. Shhh founder Adam Tafler instructs us to close our eyes before each new ‘date’, take a few deep breaths and ‘open your eyes to meet this new person’. It’s like meditation, if a bit less wholesome. It’s also very pleasant, I discover, just to share the moment with someone and not have to do anything. And it’s fascinating to really look at someone’s face, which you can’t normally do without the other person shrieking and calling security.
I’m surprised when one man I’d dismissed earlier disarms me with a gentle gaze. With a couple of people I really feel we’ve made a connection, but that’s easily misinterpreted. There’s one guy I think is giving me a particularly intense stare, until I realise it’s actually his extreme discomfort at being here and his pent-up agony is all being projected out of his eyes, ‘Zoolander’-style.
But the night ends with a good few ticks on my date sheet. Lucy tells us we can stay and chat if we want, and the room erupts with animated voices. Whatever the merits of the non-verbal, you can’t keep that other 15 percent down.