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‘Go and talk to strangers – it’s fun’: why speed dating is having a moment

‘Go and talk to strangers – it’s fun’: why speed dating is having a moment

As more singles swear off ‘the apps’, a new generation is bringing back an old way of meeting in real life

L ilian no longer knows how many times she’s deleted all the dating apps from her phone. Somehow, she always reinstalls them.

While she says she hates “the apps”, as they are now known (begrudgingly or affectionately, depending on your success), going clubbing or hanging around at a pub is “not where you meet people”.

Lilian says dating apps have made romance feel like another chore to manage. In place of locked eyes and butterflies there’s monotonous swiping, weighing up someone’s potential from a few judiciously selected snapshots.

Calculate wrong and you risk wasting another night figuring out how to leave a date politely. Get too invested in a sure-seeming bet and risk falling into a pit of despair when they ghost.

“I had been single for quite a while and was at a point in my life where I really wanted to meet someone,” the 32-year-old says. But this time, instead of initiating another reinstall-delete cycle, she found an alternative: speed dating.

Lilian is far from alone in her app apathy, and this combined with the difficulty of finding dates by other means appears to be giving speed dating its moment.

The number of speed dating events across Australia has increased over the past decade. Figures shared with Guardian Australia from ticketing platform Eventbrite show there have been 114,000 tickets sold to 4,000 events nationally Indiska kvinnliga personer. But almost half of those events were in the past two years, and from 2022 to 2023 the number grew by 35%.

Shaking off the stigma

When people think of speed dating, Lilian says, they probably think of the TV stereotype that it’s a last desperate bid for love. She knew it wouldn’t quite be like that but still she was nervous.

Her nerves quickly dissipated at the speed dating event she attended. It felt relaxed, she says, and somewhat like an in-person dating app experience. The event was run by Dear Pluto, a group that regularly stage queer and straight dating events across Melbourne and Sydney, mostly for people aged 25 to 35. Instead of swiping through profiles, Lilian rotated from table to table, spending the allotted five minutes – timed by an upbeat MC – with 18 people.

Attendees are asked to write the names of people they would like to see again down on a sheet of paper. If the feeling was mutual, they get an email from the event organisers saying they are a match.

If two people nominate each other, the speed dating event organisers notify them afterwards to say they are a match. Photograph: Jessica Hromas/The Guardian

Two of her matches were called Jess. She organised a date with one, then got a surprise when the other Jess turned up instead.

“I did tell her I got confused and we both thought it was really funny,” she says. “We ended up dating for three months.”

‘A well set-up environment’

Harriet Cronley has worked as an MC at Dear Pluto’s events, which are marketed towards people disaffected by the apps. She says that when dating apps shook the stigma off online dating, speed dating also lost its not “super cool” perception.

Cronley says her job at the events – which can attract up to 90 people – is enabling a fun, social experience. To stave off awkward silences, question cards are placed on each table, with prompts such as: “If you could eat a burger with meat synthesised from yourself, would you?” and “When was the last time you did something for the first time?”