13 May 2016

DATE LAB at Coin Laundry, Exmouth Market

Three things happened to me on the day of DATE LAB. First, I realised that signing up to it on behalf of my blog still meant I had to actively participate. Second, I realised that I'd have to make small-talk with strangers.

Finally, as I stood outside Coin Laundry at 6:30pm, I got stage fright. I stood, frozen to the spot, thinking Oh my God, I cannot do this. I CANNOT DO THIS. AM I MAD?

When I heard about DATE LAB, which was shortly after I'd written a blog post about how I struggle with dating apps, it seemed like perfect timing. This was described as scientific speed-dating, and the previous event - hosted at Coin Laundry back in March - had resulted in a 90% match rate.

The founder of DATE LAB is Joss Wyatt: trained by Matchmaking Institute Founder, Lisa Clampitt, and "Millionaire Matchmaker" Patti Stanger (one of my favourite shows, whatever).

I was intrigued. So, three weeks ago, I signed up. No biggie.

Fast forward to Tuesday morning and it was a different story. I'd never tried speed-dating before, and I was debating with my colleagues how the company worked out the 90% match rate. We were also cycnical about the so-called science behind it. Would it work?

I'd received an "Event Kit" which had given the attendees a few rules. Girls had to wear an all-black, form-fitting (ideally) ensemble. No red was allowed. We were also told that on the night we had to check for wonky chairs, and that both men and women would circulate the room - twice.


The event was held downstairs in Coin Laundry, which - like Ask For Janice - harks back to the 70s with their food and drinks offerings. Think mini chicken kievs, cheese and pineapple on sticks, and sodastream cocktails (of which I had three Pear Rickey's, with gin. Definitely recommend).

I was oddly reassured that the basement bar was quite dim - less judgement by candlelight, right?

Upon arrival we were provided with a nametag and a scorecard, which looked like this:

Before we started I was chatting to a group of girls - we'd all come solo, but interestingly lots of the guys had come with friends, for moral support I'm assuming - and they'd had a fair amount of dating app disasters. Lots of them had become jaded by their existence, and one girl had decided to stop paying a monthly fee "for the internet to essentially reject me". A lot experienced dates that looked nothing like their profile - no front teeth (hence closed mouth smiles), and bald (in all his pictures he'd had an afro, which he revealed on a date was a wig). Eeep!

The form offered a column for names, which you ticked against a sad face, neutral face, happy face or "star" depending how much you liked them. A happy face and "star" (the equivalent of a Tinder "super like") meant that if your date returned the favour, you were a match - hence the former 90% match rate.

The guys took their seats first, and we were told we'd have one and a half minutes at each table before a bell rang, indicating that the girls needed to move to the next consecutive table (all of them were numbered for ease). Then there would be a break after we'd worked our way around, and the same thing would happen again, except the girls would sit and the guys would circulate. Phew.

Now let me tell you - even if you aren't the biggest talker, and you find out quite quickly you don't have much in common - one and half minutes is next to nothing. Even if you did encounter an awkward silence, each table was also given prompt cards with icebreaker questions such as "If you had a superpower, what would it be?" and "What language would you love to be able to speak?" People reached for them for the first few dates until we "warmed up". They were soon abandoned as we bravely manoeuvred the situation with only a drink and idle chit-chat to back us up.

By the time the first round was over - having spoken to 17 guys for 90 seconds each - I was shattered. It's really challenging trying to make a good first impression numerous times, with a short spurt of time to work out if you share common ground and attraction. Kind of like an interview, but with less to lose.

I definitely put one guy off with my sarcasm. I joined his sofa and put my drink down... on a wonky table. "Um, what's going on here then? What's with the wonky table?" He stuttered something about not having time to correct it, and I look at him, deadpan, and shook my head. "Oh man, you've absolutely f*cked it, haven't you?" to which he looked at me startled, like huh? I should have stopped, but it was too funny. "You've completely messed up the science. You're screwed. No matches for you". He wasn't impressed. Woops.

The next round, I made a point of bagsying a sofa so I could get a little more settled and see how close people would get. Just out of curiosity. It was a three seater sofa, and yet I reckon 80% of the guys sat my end - not even in the middle - and one got waaaay too comfortable and for a moment I thought he was going to put his arm around me. No no, mister, that's not how this works.

All the attendees were really lovely. Not to sound like a dick, but I mentally friend-zoned a lot of the guys, simply because they made me laugh and I felt like I could have a really good night out with them, but not in a romantic way. Lots of the guys were complimentary, and as I left one actually stopped me to say that it was lovely to meet me, and how comfortable I made him feel.

This sounds like an odd thing to say - who on earth would try and make someone feel UNcomfortable at such an intimidating event? Lots of people, myself included, had never speed-dated before, with one guy even describing himself as "slightly traumatised" when I asked how he was. But one guy experienced a girl asking him his profession - and then upon finding out that he'd recently purchased his own place, how much he was paid (!), and other personal questions, and he was - quite rightly - completely flummoxed...

Lots of people, upon hearing that I was attending DATE LAB, said that I was very brave. But honestly, once you've taken the plunge and you're talking to the first person, you realise you're all in the same situation, and you just have to take it 90 seconds at a time... The only odd moment I had was a guy on our first encounter asking me about my heritage, and then about what job he'd be interviewing me for if he was an interviewer. Which, y'know, was a bit much.

Once we were finished, we were told the science behind the event - which I won't divulge because it will spoil it if you decide to attend! But rest assured that it made perfect sense, and knowing what I do, I believe this kind of event is definitely better than the usual speed-dating you encounter around the city. So if you're curious, go for it!

We were then emailed the following day with the subject title "You have X matches!" with their names, pictures (you have to submit a picture beforehand, or get a mugshot taken on the night), numbers, and you're told whether they liked (happy face) or super liked (star) you. Then, obviously, you're encouraged to get in touch and go from there.

Admittedly, a lot of the guys I put down that I liked wasn't because I fancied them - it was mainly because I liked them as a person. So maybe I did it wrong! I don't know. But the DATE LAB is definitely something I'll be following closely, and I'm interested to try out the City Mixers which will be coming later in the year, too.

If you're interested in DATE LAB, check them out. The girls's tickets for the next event have sold out, but there are still tickets left for gents. Even if nothing comes of it, at least you'll have a good story to tell.

*I attended DATE LAB at Coin Laundry in exchange for review, but as always, all opinions expressed are my own

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