It’s day 41 in quarantine and I’m doing something I wasn’t sure I would ever do again, let alone while still sheltering-in-place in my studio apartment.
I’m putting on makeup.
A month ago, I agreed to participate in a tantra speed dating workshop online. And now, putting on mascara, picking out a flattering shirt, and wondering if I finally have to change out of my worn-out sweatpants, I realize I might have forgotten how to date.
But this is dating in the time of COVID, and I’m not the only one out of practice.
Love must go on, and since the shelter-in-place orders have taken effect, Hinge and Bumble dates are meeting over FaceTime. Interactive dating reality shows are popping up. And Guy Shahar, the founder of Tantra Speed Date, quickly pivoted his popular face-to-face speed dating event to a virtual model.
But Guy actually sees a benefit to moving a first date online. “I think that if you have the right tools, then meeting someone even in a distanced way can be really profound and you can really take the time to get to know someone,” he says. “There’s a lot of things that you can do over a video conference.”
Government-mandated isolation has given people time to reflect. It’s clearer now than ever before that we are naturally social animals, and that you can’t underestimate the importance of human connection. We see it with Zoom happy hours and quarantine book clubs. We see it with virtual yoga classes and online dance parties. And we see it by the numbers: Eventbrite has seen a 2,000+% year-over-year rise of online events published in April and a nine-fold increase in searches for “online events.”
After all this virtual connection, Guy believes there will be an even stronger shift back to IRL intimacy as soon as we can: “Necessity is the mother of invention. This is going to make people more mindful and willing to be more intimate, and this is going to create much more amazing relationships for people that have the tools and know-how to navigate the space.”
Is now, while quarantining, the best time to find love? I’m about to find out.
The Tantra Institute’s typical in-person speed dating event involves 48 singles gathering together in a room. The group is split by gender and you’ll spend a few minutes with each partner practicing different relationship skills and PG-rated exercises (like eye gazing, dancing, and massaging). Surprisingly, the online version isn’t much different except for the fact that there’s no touching.
I log into Zoom and am confronted with a grid of nervous singles. The hopeful faces of 26 strangers and our mediator, Guy, are plastered across the computer screen. He has us all introduce ourselves with a fun fact and we begin a conversation about tantra.
We all know the sexual elements of the tantric practice, but this speed dating event focuses on the less-physical elements of connection and mutual respect. While Guy and The Tantra Institute offer more advanced tantra partner classes, novices need not wince at the thought of a tantra speed date. There’s no nudity, no inappropriate touching, just those more basic fundamentals of tantra (think yoga and meditation). The playful and tame event involves dance, improv, and verbal dyads. These activities are meant to educate participants on relationship skills and break through the boundaries of guardedness and ego and get through to each person’s vulnerabilities. “Every station is a relationship skill, a flirting skill,” Guy instructs.
As Guy breaks us out into three-minute dates via Zoom’s “breakout rooms” feature, I realize it’s actually easier to be vulnerable online. While I never would have agreed to an in-person speed dating event, something about meeting people online seemed like an easy and welcome distraction from the endless news cycle and endless swiping on the dating app-du-jour.
As it turns out, in some ways it’s more intimate to connect with someone who’s dialing in from their living room or home office. One woman’s cat kept poking around the screen, a man had a guitar hanging from the wall behind him, and plants and books peppered the homes of almost every participant. These little details help you learn more about a person, even in a quick three-minute conversation.
Guy has been hosting his in-person tantra speed dating events since 2017. He knew immediately after the first session that he was onto something and quickly took the event on the road to six cities. He’s since expanded to 30 cities and now sees new potential online. This could soon become a global phenomenon, he thinks, and maybe even its own dating app.
For now, Guy is focused on perfecting the online iteration. His facilitators who beforehand only had to lead the in-person activities must now have technical abilities. The daters must now have at least a cursory knowledge of Zoom and virtual chatting. In my session, one gentleman kept losing his signal and logging off while others couldn’t locate the button to unmute themselves while on dates.
As far as the dates themselves? I won’t ruin the fun by taking you through each game, conversation, and activity. Just join with an open mind and know that you’ll be getting more out of those three minutes than you will from a static image and a few quotes on a dating profile.
Guy’s hope is that this event will help all of us become better friends, lovers, and humans.
“I hope that they will learn more about themselves, and they definitely will,” he says. “I hope that they will learn relationship skills, dating, and flirting skills that will make them more fun. And I hope that by being open to this kind of an experience, it will shift their perspective in such a way that they start to attract more of the kind of people in their life that they want.”
As the event is wrapping up, we all go around the grid and each confess one thing we’re grateful for. You can see that the energy has visibly shifted. The nerves have eased into confidence, the anticipation into giddiness, and everyone seems energized despite having just spent three hours in front of a computer screen. All eyes are on me as I share what I’m grateful for: “An opportunity in the midst of a pandemic to take a night off from our harsh reality, a chance to interact with someone other than my cat, and an excuse to put on some makeup.”