The Look of Love? – Shhh Dating

Together with Toilet Dating, Silent Dating is this summer’s most talked about singles event.

I first heard about Shhh Dating in an article in the Daily Mail, and within hours of the story going to press, blog readers were contacting me to ask me to go along to the next night and review it.

As someone who has always relied heavily on her conversational skills, I’m not sure what I first made of the idea of silent dating.  A few weeks ago Miss32 and I had planned to attend a ‘Dating in the Dark’ event – truly blind dating.  The event ended up being cancelled, however in the run up we both commented that we thought the event would probably attract a lot of unattractive people, benefitting from the lack of preconceptions in the dark!

By contrast, an event which focusses on nothing you say, and simply on non-verbal communication, could arguably be a very superficial form of dating.  You always need some form of spark with someone, but normally it is a person’s personality which colours the framework of the attraction.  Extremely attractive men can undo their good looks with an unbecoming personality (or as one article I read pointed out, simply with a funny-sounding voice!)

How much can you learn about someone without being able to talk to them?

Are you basing your attraction purely on how they look, or on how they respond to the odd dating surroundings?

It was time for me to find out, and working out that it was clearly going to be far more entertaining if I knew some of the other silent daters, I managed to coerce Miss32, and two of my 30 Dates  – Date Two: The One with The Sign and Date Fourteen: The Upgrade – into attending with me.

As I had the farthest commute in to the George Pub, on The Strand, where the event was to be hosted, the others gathered for a confidence-boosting drink beforehand.  Not realising they were still sitting drinking downstairs, I bustled in to the event, fifteen minutes late and soaking wet from the traditional London rain, which has returned this week. Another fifteen minutes passed, and still none of the others had shown up.  Cue a stream of expletive group text messages from me, accusing them all of leaving me to fend for myself!

Thanks to the Daily Mail article, I was already fairly briefed on how the dating event would be set out.  The first rule of Shhh Dating is very simple – no words can be spoken by anyone other than the organisers while you are in the room.  You are allowed to make other noises, and to act or make gestures, but you are not allowed to properly speak.

With the other three yet to appear, I began the introduction stage of the evening on my own.  First we walked around the room, making eye-contact with men and women, and greeting one another non-verbally.  A smile, a wink, a nod of the head…

The next phase involved making eye contact and speaking gobbledegoop to one another.  We did an exercise where when we made eye contact with one another we had to jump in unison, and another where we had to mirror each other’s movements.

Probably the most amusing parts of the introduction stage were the handshake game and the mirroring exercise.  For the handshake game each person had to make eye-contact with another and continue shaking his hand until someone else took his other hand, when he could then transfer his gaze to the second person.  The game turned the entire room into a writing octopus of arms, and someone actually elbowed me fully in the back of the head in the process, reducing me to (allowed) giggles!  The other part I found funny was the mirroring.  Miss32, TOWTS and The Upgrade bundled into the room just as the activity was beginning, and Miss32 was paired with me, with the boys together.  Miss32 and I managed to position ourselves at just the right angle to watch my Dates 2 and 14 mirroring each others increasingly wild and wacky body movements!

Apparently, when my two former dates had met up, the first thing they had asked one another was what score I had given their dates! At 8/10 each, apparently it was fine for them to talk to one another!

After the warm up rounds, we then took up more traditional speed dating positions, moving to a section of the room divided into tables.  The boys all took a seat at a table, and then we were sent through to join them.  It was then a set minute of non-verbal communication with each of the boys.  As there were more girls than boys (the standard speed-dating dynamic), there was a pause in the middle of the rotations, where we each had 4 silent ‘girl dates’, in amongst our more orthodox speed dates … not that anything at Shhh Dating could be called orthodox!

The non-verbal communication phase was actually really interesting.  It’s quite full-on being sat in front of someone at a table and not being able to talk to them.  You suddenly realise how awkward and self-conscious it makes you feel, when you’ve been robbed of the ability to distract someone and sway them with your personality!

At first I spent each of the minute intervals simply mouthing ‘this is weird!’, and ‘I’m writing an article’, though this soon became boring, and I decided to try to truly embrace the Silent experience.  The best way to do that was to completely let the guy lead the conversation.

One guy just death-stared me out for a full minute.  No movement.  No communication.  No nothing!!

Another put on an amateur dramatic show for me, making so much crazy noise and activity, he drowned out those around him.  I found myself mirroring his behaviour and embracing the opportunity to act like a crazy person for sixty seconds!

When I got to The Upgrade we had a highly amusing ‘conversation’ about the fact Miss32 was really hungover!  Though he really didn’t get my charades attempt to convey ‘hair of the dog’ – me pointing at my hair, and then barking like a dog.  Cue some very funny, quite worried looks from The Upgrade!  Thank God he’d met me before!

One man chose to communicate by dipping his finger into the (hot molten??) candle wax from the centre-piece and drawing pictures on the table?!  What I didn’t really get was that what he drew was a smiley face … surely something he could have communicated with his own face?!  Apparently when Miss32 was having her one minute date with him, she also dipped her finger in the wax and wrote ‘SOS’ on the table!

Interestingly the guys I was attracted to most were the ones who really couldn’t get the whole concept of not talking!  The two guys who I eventually ticked on my match card at the end of the exercise were the two who didn’t even realise they were talking out loud when they were trying to stay silent!

It’s the kind of exercise which would appeal to someone really into acting or performing arts.  But I think most people who haven’t done something like that since school really struggled.  It’s interesting, because I’m a perfectly confident, outgoing girl, but rob me of my voice, and I can be pretty awkward … seeking solace in my glass of wine, and by making jokes about how strange awkward it all felt.  And so I guess the guys who I was attracted to were those who were responding in the same way.

After the first speed-dating round, we had five minute drinks break, and were given the option of staying upstairs in the Shhh room, and ordering our drink non-verbally, or going downstairs to the normal bar, where we would be allowed to speak.  Unsurprisingly everyone ran downstairs, and we stood at the bar laughing over what we had all just experienced.

If anything the activities were a great icebreaker, and if I had any advice for Shhh it would be to run the first half of the event – perhaps up to the speed-dating – as silent, and then let people speak – because the shared awkward odd experience actually gave us something to talk about.  Whereas at a normal speed dating event, some guys can struggle awkwardly to find any words, when you’ve been denied the ability to speak, it’s all you want to do, and everyone was very approachable and chatty during the break.

We returned upstairs for Round Two of the speed dating.  Another minute with each guy (and four girl dates).  No communication at all.  Just staring at one another and ‘taking the other person in’.

Holding someone’s gaze for a full minute is surprisingly intimate!  In fact I don’t think I’ve stared so fully into someone’s eyes that continuously even when I’ve been having sex – let alone a complete stranger I’ve literally never even spoken to!

I think most of us found the second session the most strange and awkward part of the Silent Dating.  Again, the most ‘normal’ guys in the room were the ones struggling.  I could hear them giggling, or see them moving around, still communicating with their dates.  At times it was really hard to maintain eye contact when someone was moving around behind!

It was such an oddly awkward activity.  One guy had such sad, tear-filled yet smiling eyes that I felt genuinely sorry for him after the minute!  Then the same guy who had death-stared all of us girls during Round One did the exact same thing throughout Round Two!  Meanwhile I played blink wars with several of the guys, turning the awkward eye contact into a more playful staring competition (which The Upgrade will be upset with me telling everyone that I beat him 3:0 playing!).

In between each date, we would be coached to close our eyes, straighten up our posture, take a deep breath, and then open our eyes into the eyes of our new date.  It was all very intimate, and felt perhaps like an exercise you should do at marriage counselling, or sex therapy, not a way to meet new people?

Once we had stared into the eyes of all the guys in the room, we filled out sheets to say who we wanted to share our details with, and then finally we were allowed to speak.

It was a really interesting night, and as TOWTS, The Upgrade, Miss32 and I sat in a nearby restaurant having dinner after the event finished, we all remarked that we’d had a fun night, though more for the humour value than for the potential dating prospects.  It was funny as a one off event, though with regards to actually making a connection with people, I don’t think it was easier to find a match amongst the crowd than it would have been if we had been allowed to speak.

I do think some of the warm-up activities would work well as ice-breakers at a normal speed-dating event.  Probably my funniest moment of the evening was in the warm-up after our drinks break.  We were told to imaging we had a firecracker on our shoes, and draw our names in the sparks.  Then we did the same with our arms.  And then we were told to imagine we had a firecracker up our bum and write our names!  I genuinely had tears in my eyes watching The One with the Sign writing his name in the air!

So a funny, novel night, and something to tell a few stories about, but probably no more of an opportunity to meet someone than a normal speed-dating event, and actually something which might put off a lot of daters!  You have to be quite a confident person to be confident without the help of your own voice!

As one Twitter follower commented – this was how Ariel wooed the Prince in the Little Mermaid.  But I wonder how many fairytale endings will come of Shhh Dating?  The event looks set to keep grabbing headlines for some time, so I guess only time will tell how many people find their perfect match in a silent movie setting.

Miss Twenty-Nine xxx

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