By Sathnam Sanghera
Financial Times; Jan 18, 2003
Fifteen men, fifteen women. Did they find true love?
London is very good for very many things - theatre, food, taxi drivers who know exactly where they're going - but it has never been a good place to date. Courtship in London largely involves men and women "going out together a couple of times" to "see how they get on". This may or may not end up in them "going out".
But the codified ritual of "dating" has never really established itself - in contrast to US cities such as New York, where it is up there with eating, working and sleeping as a pastime. Londoners generally find the whole candlelit tête-à-tête thing excruciating, to the despair of American visitors such as Oscar-winner Gwyneth Paltrow, who recently complained that "British people don't seem to ask each other out on dates - if someone asks you out, they're going out on a limb".
But a collection of entrepreneurs now believe they have found the perfect solution for the increasing numbers of singles populating London: "speed dating". Originally devised around two years ago by an American Jewish educational group called Aish HaTorah, which used it as a way of encouraging Jewish marriages, the concept combines elements of blind dating with elements of musical chairs and has already been a big hit in the US, where one company now even offers special three-day "speed dating" cruises.
Speed dating involves 10, 20 or as many as 40 men and women getting together and dating each other in one evening: you have between three and eight minutes with someone before a bell rings and you move to the next person. Rejection is not something you have to endure face-to-face: you simply make a note of the candidate's number and tick a box on a sheet of paper saying whether or not you'd be interested in seeing them again and the organisers contact you by e-mail later to tell you whether you had any "matches".
"It's the perfect solution for single people in London," gushes Simon Prockter, founder of Speed Dater, which runs two events a week in London and events in four other cities across Britain and claims to be the UK's biggest speed dating agency. "English reserve means Londoners are generally awful at asking people out on a date: they hate the idea of immediate rejection. And on top of that, Londoners find the idea of spending three hours having dinner with a stranger painful. Speed dating takes all these anxieties away."
But while the phenomenon is, judging by the number of speed dating adverts in listings magazines, the biggest US trend to hit Britain's capital since the arrival of line-dancing, is it really a feasible option for Londoners, who are too reserved, too shy, too self-deprecating or too drunk for traditional dating? Well, there's only one way to find out: check it out. So, posing as a 20-something male lonely heart, I went to a recen
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