More than 20 years ago, the psychologist Arthur Aron succeeded in making two strangers fall in love in his laboratory. They sat face to face and answered a series of increasingly personal questions. Then they stare silently into each other's eyes for four minutes. Six months later, the two participants were married.
While Emma Daniels, founder of Dear Pluto's speed-dating parties, is no scientist, she certainly has the formula to get sparks flying down-pat. Held in intimate bars, rooftops and warehouses across Sydney and Melbourne, Dear Pluto's dating parties attract creative and media types from 20-35. It's sort of like Tinder IRL, except you know people are there for romances beyond the one night variety. Armed with a trusty date card (which looks like a mini-golf scoring sheet), you go on up to 30 micro-dates of four minutes each and, if you're both vibing each other, Emma pings you with each other's digits.
While this might sound overwhelming, it's comforting knowing you are all on the same playing field. Your four minutes with each potential mate is bound by a mutual vulnerability, a magnetic field that makes everyone else disappear and forces you to open up to people you would otherwise swipe left.
Plus, being noggin to noggin for four tantalising minutes kicks off all of those visceral responses you simply can't access from staring at a screen: pheromones, deep eye contact, touch, dopamine, serotonin and all that good stuff. According to Emma, these four magic minutes have resulted in one couple holding hands the entire time, to another making out across the table and then eloping in Chile. Swoon.
The Dame of the Dating Party, Emma Daniels, shares her thoughts Valentine's Day, dating in the digital age, plus top tips for speed-dating rookies.
Dear Pluto had its beginnings in 2008 with Vintage Sales and Makers Markets. Why did you decide to branch out into dating parties?
I used to have this converted coach house in Surry Hills where I'd host a whole range of events; vintage sales, movie nights, markets and exhibitions. I felt like I was really bringing people together, especially at the movie nights... Personally I'm not a particularly outgoing person, but I do like being pushed out of my comfort zone and being forced to converse with people, even when my natural instinct is to hide my face in a wine glass. It's all too easy to head out, stay in your clique and never speak to anyone new. Sometimes, this is exactly what you want, but other times you just want to meet some cuties and talk about your spirit animal with a stranger. Being "made" to talk to people, takes a lot of the awkwardness out of this process; there's no cheesy pick-up lines, you can talk about literally anything without it being weird, and if the date's not going great, you have an end point, as opposed to a lingering new friend. It felt like the perfect social night!
There seems to be a huge appetite for your dating parties, which is interesting given we are living in the age of Tinder, Happn and Bumble which have arguably made it way easier to get a date. Why do you think this is?
I think all the dating apps have actually assisted in the popularity of our speed dating parties. People are more open to meeting new people, and going on "blind dates", so I find there's less hesitation towards the concept of speed dating - it's almost seen as retro now! We also get all the singles who are either sick of their dating apps, can't use them due to work, or just not really digitally minded. I also hear from people that it's becoming more difficult to rely on meeting people in more traditional ways - in bars or clubs - as people feel less inclined to engage (and potentially face rejection) IRL, so, I feel like our speed dating events are the perfect middle ground. You're still in a bar, warehouse or rooftop, but everyone there is single and everyone's there to have a chat.
I hear that there's been a Dear Pluto speed-dating marriage? Can you share your proudest match story?
Haha yes there's been a few. I think the couple you're referring to would be the two that ran off to Chile and eloped. They've since divorced and she's returned to one of my events. I think she might be the first divorcee we've had at our speed dating parties! I do hope people don't come along to our events with the sole purpose of finding a husband/wife/father to their child. I like to think our events are a bit more low-pressure and casual than that. The way we see it, it's really about having a fun night, and anything that happens afterwards is a bonus.
What would be your top tips to a Dear Pluto speed dating new-comer?
Don't ask "What do you do?" ... Also, I think it's actually worthwhile to prepare some silly or interesting questions. As long as you don't sound like you're rehearsing or reading off your phone. There's a Twitter feed I like to point people to called First Date Questions, by Matt Bellassai, with lots of really great suggestions like "What's your personal record for time spent devouring an entire package of Oreos without breathing?" Oh, and my other tip is write people's names as you go! Because no matter how cute number one was, by the time you get to number twenty you won't remember their name!
Valentine's Day cops a fair bit of flak for being too contrived and commercial, while the opposing school of thought says that it's nice to have an excuse to celebrate. What are your views on this?
Personally, it's not my thing, and I'm very lucky to have met a man who's just as much of a grinch as I am. That said, I love an excuse for a slightly cheesy event; our normal speed dating parties are so dairy-free, it's nice to go full Bega every now and then.
What else is coming up in 2017?
Of course, we've got lots of speed dating parties booked in Sydney and Melbourne. We just did speed dating at Lost Paradise Festival over New Years and we've got Heaps Gay Street Party on 12 February, so doing more things like that is definitely on the cards. We're also looking to expand to Brisbane later in the year (if they'll have us!) We're also putting on a dance class called Heartbreak Therapy on February 15th, for those who didn't get a Valentine. And then we've got Makers Markets and workshops coming up this month too!
For more information about Dear Pluto's speed-dating parties in Sydney and Melbourne, visit dearpluto.com.au