Sex + Dating

Turns Out, Speed Dating May Actually Be a Great Way to Meet People in NYC

speed dating
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

While online dating has totally shed the stigma that was long attached to it, speed dating is still largely seen as a last resort for desperate singles who have failed everywhere else in the dating pool... for clueless men and women who naively think they’re going to meet their Prince Charmings and Snow Whites in a Times Square hotel meeting room. At least, that’s what I went into it thinking. I pictured a snaking line of dolled-up girls changing seats at a dinging bell in front of a small handful of awkward, overwhelmed men. Somehow, that wasn’t it at all. In fact, speed dating may actually be NYC’s best-kept dating secret.

speed dating
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

I signed up for a Monday night event with SpeedNY Dating (because what else was I going to do on a Monday night?), and found myself in the restaurant of the Hyatt Union Square. Inside, it looked more or less like a restaurant preparing itself for regular dinner service (dim lighting, candlelit tables), rather than the morose, clinical vision I had concocted of name tags, clipboards, and other trappings of business conferences. People filed in one at a time and checked in with the hostess, who cleared their name from a list and handed them a card for keeping track of dates that night. After I was sure enough that the people at the restaurant were there for speed dating, I rose from the bar, took a seat on the ladies’ side of the tables, and waited for my first prospective match made in heaven.

The rules of the road are fairly simple. Women sit on one side of the table while men rotate from seat to seat in front of them. Each “date” is five minutes long. After five minutes, the men move to the next seat, and so on. After every “date,” you write down that person’s name on the card and rank them based on how likely you’d be to date them again. At the end of the event, you pick the top people you were interested in and return the card. Should there be any mutual matches, the organizers of the event will put you two in touch. If there are no matches, you’ll never know who liked you and vice versa -- somewhat akin to Tinder.

Far from what I expected, the majority of guys I met were… normal. Even, dare I say it, interesting! There was the guy who just moved here from Texas who taught college courses online and was going to Venice for the summer because he could work from anywhere; the man who was raised by parents in the UN who spent his childhood in France, Morocco, Dubai, Rome, and about six other places; or the man who wasn’t physically my “type,” but who made me smile with his over-the-top laugh. The constant flow of visuals in front of my face was also kind of like swiping through Tinder... but better.

But here’s where speed dating is completely different (read: infinitely better) than Tinder and any other dating app -- it accounts for chemistry. On Tinder, there’s no way to judge mannerisms, tone of voice, height (very important in the online dating world), and really, overall personality. How many times have you found yourself on a Tinder date with someone who seemed great online, but in real life wore a ton of man jewelry and pawed at you all night asking why you’re so afraid of intimacy? (Not speaking from personal experience or anything.) Or, how many times have you fallen for someone’s personality in real life, but known that if you saw their photo on Tinder you’d definitely, brutally, swipe left? With speed dating, you’re getting snapshots-in-the-flesh of actual humans, along with everything about their personality that accounts for that little thing we all so desperately need in order for a relationship to work (again, chemistry). And worse comes to worst, if it’s awful, you know that in five minutes, it will all be over -- unlike that horrific Tinder date you went on last week that lasted an hour and a half because you were too polite to leave.

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So who else is doing this? With SpeedNY Dating, people are limited to the age bracket 24 to 38. Surprisingly, there were more men than women -- most of whom were young, professional, and new to New York. Everyone was gainfully employed, sociable (mostly), and somewhat attractive (again, mostly). The best part is that, drastically unlike Tinder, everyone there was actually looking for a relationship, or at the very least a second date. Of course there were a few oddballs, like the guy who was obsessed with his karate prowess and kept insinuating that his skills would come in handy to protect me on our pending second date. But that’s how it is in any social/dating situation, and I’m sure there’s a Pink Power Ranger out there who would swoon over his high kick. There was also the man (whose job I can’t remember) who openly admitted that he loved being able to talk people into paying more money for things that he knew they didn’t actually need. I’m guessing he worked in sales.

I didn’t end up meeting anyone special at speed dating, but I still felt like I’d tapped into this hidden sector of the NYC dating world. What makes speed dating in New York so interesting is part of what makes New York so interesting to begin with -- you’re able to meet people from all over the world, from different backgrounds, with all different kinds of careers, interests, and experiences (and best of all, they’re all right there, in one room, in front of you). You wouldn’t get that at speed dating in Kansas, and certainly not at a bar in Bushwick.

As New Yorkers, we’re constantly complaining that a city with over 8 million people can feel so ridiculously lonely. The majority of the daters at speed dating were new to the city, which makes sense -- you’re overwhelmed by the amount of people, you feel a little lost, and you want to meet someone easily. It’s hard to imagine longtime New Yorkers signing up for speed dating, but maybe the transplants have the right idea. At the very least, it’s nice to know there are still those out there who believe enough in finding love (or at least second date) to dress up on a Monday night to sit in a Union Square hotel restaurant and have a conversation with strangers -- without an app, and without being six beers deep.

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Meagan Drillinger is a contributing writer for Thrillist. All of her dates are tax-deductible. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter at @drillinjourneys.