On a recent Saturday afternoon inside a brightly lighted yoga studio in Echo Park, a group of men knelt on one knee and gazed into the eyes of women they’d just met.
“Thank you for your services to the divine feminine,” the men repeated after an instructor, who was leading the exercise as part of a tantra speed dating event for singles.
Once they were back on their feet, the men closed their eyes as each woman placed a bead into the pouch a man wore around his neck. The bead indicated whether or not she wanted to match with the man. Then in unison, the women shifted to their left to meet their next date until they‘d met everyone in the room.
The male attendees get down on one knee for Jona Xiao, left, and Nicole Monitz during a tantra speed dating event. Attendees hold each other from behind by the wrists. (JJ Geiger / For The Times)
This was just one of several speed dating events in Los Angeles over the summer. Rapid-fire courtship has been having a resurgence in L.A. and other parts of the country, so much so that niche events, such as the tantra experience, are finding a foothold. From 2021 to 2022, Eventbrite saw a nearly 75% jump in speed dating gatherings and search interest surpassed pre-pandemic levels in February 2023 for the first time, according to Google Analytics.
While it may seem unexpected that speed dating would take off in L.A., it has a long history here. The first documented event took place in 1998 at a Peet’s Coffee and Tea in Beverly Hills. Yaacov Deyo, an Orthodox rabbi, and a few of his friends came up with the game-like method, which they thought would be a fun and efficient way for Jewish singles to find partners.
It didn’t take long before speed dating took off beyond L.A.’s Jewish community, as organizations and leaders in cities around the world — including an HIV-positive support group in Long Beach and a Muslim nonprofit in New York — began reaching out to Deyo, who trademarked the speed dating name, about hosting events of their own.
Twenty-five years and a pandemic later, Angelenos are bringing their own flavor to speed dating and remixing it to cater to their diverse communities. Every month, you can find local events for several age groups, gamers, queer folks, anime enthusiasts, various relationship dynamics, people within the BDSM community and more.
“Speed dating was always meant to cater to specific groups,” said Damona Hoffman, an L.A.-based certified dating coach and host of the podcast “Dates & Mates.” “Unlike dating apps that need critical mass to work and savvy algorithms to narrow your pool, speed dating is more effective when you have a group that [shares] common interests and dating goals.”
Young people are making speed dating cool again
When 22-year-old Izzy Richards told her friends that she and her roommate were going to a speed dating event for people ages 21 to 30, they questioned her sanity. “They were like, ‘What is wrong with you?’” said Richards, a sociology student at Loyola Marymount University. “I think that people just have an idea that it’s for older people.”
But after watching depictions of rapid dating on movies and TV shows like “The-40-Year-Old Virgin” and “The New Girl,” she and her roommate thought it would be worth a shot: Even if the experience was “horrible” and they met only “creepy men,” at least it’d make for an interesting story.
What Richards discovered, however, was the exact opposite of her worries. She was one of roughly 40 fresh-faced singles — all of whom seemed “normal” — to attend the event, put on by a local collective known as the Next Fun Thing, which hosts several social events including kickball and cornhole tournaments.
An algorithm determined who they were most compatible, with using answers to survey questions, and directed them where to sit after they checked in on a mobile app. At the end of each seven-minute date, the guests would select whether they liked their date or not. They were notified an hour after the function ended if they‘d made a mutual match.
Although Richards didn’t meet anyone she vibed with romantically, she enjoyed herself and said she’d do it again. “I hadn’t gone on a date in so long, so this kind of took the pressure off of talking to people,” she said.
Speed Dating Quick Facts
Source: Google Analytics
Ariana Coleman, 27, decided to attend the event after receiving a gentle nudge from her therapist — to whom she’d been venting about her dating woes earlier that day — and a free ticket from a friend who couldn’t go at the last minute. (Tickets were $30 before taxes.) It was her first time trying speed dating and she was nervous.
“Media has portrayed speed dating as this very weird, creepy thing and not like this vibe where it’s very cool and chill,” she said, adding that her only frame of reference was the 2005 film “Hitch,” which made the experience seem “impersonal.” “It just felt like it wasn’t a good way to connect with people.”
She added, “Young people have made speed dating cool again. I see it all over TikTok now.”
Speed dating also extends beyond romantic connections these days. The Next Fun Thing offers a version for making platonic friendships. And at a recent free speed dating event at Honey’s at Star Love, a lesbian and queer bar in East Hollywood, each person had to sign up for one of three rounds, fill out a name tag with their preferred pronouns and put on a red (looking for romantic connections) and/or yellow wristband (interested in friendships). Many wore both.
Looking for love — or friendship
Nearly 100 people showed up at the Honey’s event for people in their 30s — or who feel “30 in their heart.” It was the bar’s third speed dating event this year.
The three-minute dating rounds, led by L.A.-based comedian Doris McGill, took place on a dimly lighted patio in the back of the venue. Roughly 20 participants, who were split into A and B groups, squeezed onto a bench during the dates, but no one seemed fazed by the tight space. Laughter filled the room as they drew from a jar of “spicy questions” — as McGill called them — that had queries like, “If you could be famous for anything, what would you like to be?” and “What’s your sun, moon and rising” astrology signs?
While other speed dating events tend to connect people via email afterward, McGill encouraged participants to exchange contact information then or mingle at the bar. If their crush left before they’d built up the courage to make a move, they could drop a note in a “Missed Connections” box, which the bar owners would post on Instagram.
Adrian Valencia of West Covina had never heard of queer speed dating until her friends told her about an event in Oakland at a bar called Friends and Family. So when the founders of that bar teamed up with Honey’s to co-host an event in L.A., she jumped at the chance. She’s been to two of their events so far.
“I love the format because it feels casual. It doesn’t feel threatening at all,” she said, adding, “Everyone’s super nice.”
Adrian Valencia and friend during a queer-friendly speed dating event. (JJ Geiger / For The Times) Speed dating attendees show off their yellow-for-friendship wristbands at a queer-friendly speed dating event at Honey’s at Star Love. (JJ Geiger / For The Times)
“Dating is hard in L.A. and in the country, in general, because there’s not a lot of lesbian clubs. … There’s this and the Ruby Fruit [in Silver Lake],” Valencia said. She compared the lack of lesbian spaces forlornly to the thriving gay bar scene in West Hollywood, which tends to cater to cisgender men.
“Just talking to the older crowd here, their main concern is, ‘I hope this doesn’t shut down,’” she added. “Communities and clubs like this are really important.”
Similarly, it can also be a struggle for people within the kink and BDSM communities to find a place to connect with others. Many event announcements for folks in the lifestyle get “shadow banned” from mainstream platforms like Facebook and Instagram due to terms of service rules. Also, it can be difficult to find so-called munches, which are public gatherings often held at restaurants or bars, and they typically lack structure, said Domina Mara, who’s been a professional dominatrix for nearly a decade. Like many professional dominatrixes, Mara uses a stage name. Many people at kink gatherings use chosen names — a preferred name that doesn’t appear on legal records — to separate one’s private desires from their public persona.
“[Some munches] can get really overwhelming, and you don’t get to talk to everybody,” Mara said.
Mara strives to fill that void with the kink and BDSM speed dating event that she co-hosts with Bloom Community, a platform that posts gatherings for people in edge-of-culture, sex-positive communities such as kink and polyamory.
A safe space for people with kinks and fetishes
At the beginning of the event at the Friend bar in Silver Lake, Mara gave the attendees three rules: Don’t do anything without consent, be clear about your intentions and don’t be rude. And if they felt uncomfortable at any point, they could raise their hand and she’d move them to another table.
The attendees wore color-coded name tags, each of which had different meanings. Red meant you identify as a top, green meant bottom, orange signaled that you switch between dominant and submissive and purple was for anyone who didn’t resonate with the options. Tickets started at $25.
Before each round, Mara gave them a different question to ask during the four-minute rounds, such as: How long have you been in the kink community? If you’re new, what drew you to kink? Are you currently in a relationship? If so, how many partners and what kind?
Miss Mae Ling, who uses a stage name and has been in the kink lifestyle for 10 years and a professional dominatrix for three, found out about the event via Mara’s Instagram account. She was open to meeting new friends, potential romantic partners or clients.
“I think speed dating takes less energy than spending hours on dating apps,” she said. “Meeting someone in person is so much more valuable. So I’m like, let me just bust this out for two hours, instead of spending weeks and weeks and weeks on an app and getting nowhere.”
“I consider myself to be an ambivert,” said 41-year-old Crowdus, referring to someone who’s both extroverted and introverted. “I love talking to people. I love meeting people, but in a general crowd, I don’t necessarily bounce around easily. But in this scenario when you give me and another person a prompt, I’m very extroverted,” the ADHD coach said.
A refreshing way to build a connection
Back at the tantra speed dating event, the participants, who ranged between 30 and 70, partook in a series of three-minute exercises — from giving each other massages to miming each other’s movements. The exercises were meant to create a brief, first-date experience that goes beyond the surface. (The event’s match rate is nearly 95%, according to Guy Shahar, the founder of Tantra Speed Date, and tickets start at $45.)
Toward the end, the host asked them to spread out around the room and get cozy with their partner if they felt comfortable doing so. One woman rested her head in a man’s lap, while a man massaged a woman’s back. Another pair put their arms around each other’s shoulders.
For Melanie Rosenthal, who recently went through a breakup, the interaction felt refreshing.
“Dating can be such a chore,” said Rosenthal, 41, adding that she’s resorted to getting back on dating apps. “Why can’t it be fun? So many of us are starved for touch and human connection. It’s kind of nice to not talk and to get to know someone in a very different way. It’s a relief.”
Evonne Smith, 30, has been to the event nearly 10 times over the last five years.
“I really enjoy the connection games,” she said. “There’s something that’s really satisfying and nourishing for me about connecting with people in that deep way. There’s an agility that you develop. It’s like, ‘How deep of a connection can I forge [with] a new person every couple of minutes?’
“I’m good at it, and I really really enjoy it.”
Will speed dating’s rise last?
Though speed dating is having a revival in L.A., Hoffman, the dating expert, said she doubts it will ever replace dating apps.
“When the world shut down in March 2020, dating apps were one of the ways we were able to stay connected at all,” she said. “People who swore they’d never online date were converted overnight.”
Similarly, people who had zero interest in speed dating are trying it now after having to isolate for months due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Still, “People will usually choose the easier route, and it’s always easier to sit at home and chat on a phone than to get dressed, get in an Uber, go to a strange place where you already feel awkward and uncomfortable and talk to strangers that feel the same way,” Hoffman said. “No matter how dating-app fatigued we are, in-person dating events will always take more effort and yield mixed results.”
But even with this perspective, Hoffman said she still encourages romantic hopefuls to cast their nets everywhere and to try several forms of dating, including rapid dating.
“I’m willing to try anything at this point,” said Rosenthal, adding that post-breakup, she still desires to get married and have kids. “I have nothing to lose.”