Simon O'Hagan reports
The course of true love never did run smooth, but the dating phenomenon that gives people the chance to find a new mate in three minutes flat has hit an unlikely snag a lack of men.
Speed dating has taken off so dramatically that the biggest event yet, due to take place in London at the end of January, aims to attract 3,000 people over two nights. But with women's places booking fast, the event, called Chemistry, is battling to locate those hard-to-find men. "For a lot of men, this sort of thing still seems unacceptable," said Bridget Raithatha, Chemistry's marketing manager. "They feel they should be able to find a girlfriend without the help of speed dating."
When speed dating hit Britain last year, matchmakers hailed it as the answer to every time-poor singleton's prayers. If you were on your own but too busy to look for romance, the supermarket sweep that is speed dating was just the solution. In a couple of hours you could be guaranteed to meet 20 new potential partners. You made your choice, and hoped you got chosen, too.
Women have taken speed-dating to their hearts. The speed-dating companies that have sprung up in big cities report that no sooner have they announced their meetings than women book up. But where are the men? Far from attracting them in droves, the prospect of all those introductions to available members of the opposite sex seems to have trapped them on one side of the disco floor.
SpeedDater UK, one of London's leading speed-dating organisations, has received four times as many approaches from women as from men. "It seems to be a matter of male pride," says Ben Tisdall, a director of SpeedDater UK. "It's as if men don't want to admit that they can't get a girlfriend any other way. But that's to misunderstand what a speed-dating evening is like."
At a SpeedDater UKparty in London on Friday, Matt Leckenby, a 34-year-old account manager at an IT company, was one of those looking for a girlfriend. "I'm really glad I came along," he said. "A lot of blokes would have a macho problem about going to something like this, but where else can you go out and meet 20 single women in one night? You'd have to be stupid not to give it a go if you're single."
Isabelle Goldstein, a 30-year-old who works in PR, said: "I would never go to a dating agency or answer an advert in a lonely hearts column, but this was totally different. I think it's a great idea. We're all young professionals with busy lives and it's genuinely hard to meet new people in London."
A typical Independent on Sunday
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