On a Thursday night in late January, dozens of people walked past displays of tarot cards and crystals towards a dim room at the back of Full Moon Books in Lakewood. A man at the room’s entrance asked them each to remove their shoes. The smell of burnt sage filled the air.
For a while, people mingled. The event was not to start until 7 p.m., and stragglers arrived until moments before the doors closed. When it was time, a woman wearing a pink velvet robe asked everyone to sit in a circle.
“For all the new people, this is where we’re all going to get naked,” the woman joked. Everyone laughed, and she continued, “There will be none of that. This is just a really fun, safe event.”
Danny Neifert, a facilitator of an event called Tantra Speed Date, was playing with the stereotypical understanding of the word “tantra.” For many people, the term brings sex to mind. Although tantra is a spiritual practice that includes sexuality, Neifert said it has more to do with connection.
“Tonight, for the sake of simplicity, we're just going to swap out the word ‘tantra’ with ‘connection,’” she said to the group. “It's about connecting to yourself, connecting to the person that's standing in front of you, connecting to the room, connecting to the building, the soil, the snow, the stars — you fill in the blank in a way that makes sense to you.”
For the next several hours, the attendees took turns rotating from person to person, doing mindful activities with a new partner at each station. At one, a partner mirrored the others’ physical actions. Next, strangers gave each other back massages. Some stations involved speaking — about gratitude, letting go or joy — and at others, people danced.
This event is one of several forms of speed dating in the metro Denver area, where singles are stepping out of their comfort zones to find hope, chemistry — and maybe even love — beyond the screens and swiping of modern dating.
Danny Neifert (left) leads Tantra Speed Date participants in a playful mindfulness activity with their partners. Photo by Nina Joss.
Guy Shahar is a founder of The Tantra Institute, a New York-based company that aims to help people become “better lovers” through sacred sexuality. The company teaches courses about sexuality, tantra and relationship skills, in addition to hosting events like Tantra Speed Date.
Since 2017, Tantra Speed Date has hosted over 550 events in 40 cities for attendees of all ages.
“Most of the stations are really just about (giving) people instructions that show them how to put their attention on each other,” Shahar said about the speed dating event.
In his eyes, lack of attention is the number one challenge people face in modern dating, partly because of technology and partly because of the number of potential partners.
“A hundred years ago, who could you date? The people from your neighborhood, the people around you,” he said. “Now you can date anybody in the world… You open up any of those dating apps and you could be swiping on a different person in less than a second.”
His speed dating event, he said, is designed to put people in situations where they must focus on each other.
“Like a mirroring exercise, right?” he said. “I’m watching you, and I’m responding to what you’re doing… My attention is on you… Getting people to bring their attentions to each other is a really beautiful way to fool them into connection and intimacy.”
Danny Neifert and her demonstration partner show an activity where partners mirror each others' actions at Tantra Speed Date. Photo by Nina Joss.
Once people surrender to paying full attention, Shahar said it’s easier to tell if there is chemistry between them.
After the initial connection, Shahar said other things become important as a relationship continues.
“That connection isn't necessarily compatibility,” he said. “You might have an amazing connection, or let's say amazing chemistry… but their habits might be totally not compatible with yours. If you want a sustaining relationship, then you need to find some points of compatibility or you need to be able to work with habits.”
That being said, Shahar thinks having the opportunity to initially sense a connection is a powerful way to see if there’s any potential with a person.
“(To) just start your relationship off with that kind of intimacy and connection just seems like a really great, really beautiful way to get yourself off on the right foot,” he said.
Is a few minutes enough?
For speed dating skeptics, it may seem improbable that a person could have any sense of real connection after an encounter that lasts only a matter of minutes.
Dr. Randi Smith, a practicing psychologist and psychology professor at Metro State University Denver, said a few minutes might not be enough to tell a lot about a potential partner – but it can show some things.
“There's some really recent research that suggests that we're able to pick up on somebody's relationship anxiety, their attachment anxiety, in a very brief interaction,” she said. “So can we predict whether this relationship will have legs, whether it will have a future? Probably not, but we might be able to weed out some people whose anxiety might prevent them from having a good relationship with us.”
In addition, Smith said quick interactions can give people a sense of physical attraction and even immediate emotional attraction based on how it feels to talk to a potential partner.
On a deeper psychological level, she said people at speed dating events are probably thinking about reciprocity of liking. This idea is that people tend to like those who like them.
“Speed dating is very strategic, right?” she said. “You have little time, you've got to figure out how to make these choices, and so our brains are going into high strategic, albeit unconscious, responses. And it doesn't make a lot of sense for a person to invest energy and interest into somebody who's not going to reciprocate that energy and interest.”
Alex Zaborenko, who attended the January Tantra Speed Date event, said reciprocity is important to him in terms of relationship goals as well, not only attraction. As someone who is looking for non-monogamous relationships, he said online dating profiles and open communication help him find people who have the same goals in mind.
“I don't want or need just one magic person to connect with me on every level that I might connect with a partner,” he said. “Once I reached the conclusion, then (it) just felt much better that I can communicate what I'm looking for honestly and they can choose what they want to do with that information.”
Are you worth my (client’s) time?
For Abby Rosenblum, investing time and energy in the right people is part of her business model.
Rosenblum is the founder and head matchmaker at The Social: Modern Matchmaking, a Colorado-based service that also hosts speed dating events.
Rosenblum’s services focus not only on helping her clients find potential partners, but also on building their confidence and making dating enjoyable.
“The sad part is I think we're almost taught that dating should be difficult, should be frustrating and should be some kind of just negative thing in your life,” she said. “So a lot of the work I do is trying to teach people that dating can actually be fun, which is a crazy concept to almost everyone.”
When setting up dates, Rosenblum looks for people with values and physical appearances that fit with what her clients are looking for.
“And then the other thing I look for too (is) like, is this person ready to date?” she said. “Are they in a good place? … Because you can meet the greatest person ever tomorrow, but if they're like, ‘I just got fired from my job and I hate everything,’ you might not connect with them in as good of a way.”
Rosenblum works mainly with singles in stable careers who are looking for serious, committed and monogamous relationships. As a matchmaker, she said she helps filter out potential partners who do not align with her clients’ stages of life so she can ensure they are investing their time and energy in relationships that could have a future.
She works mainly with heterosexual clients, but often collaborates with the head matchmaker at Denver’s Cupid, a matchmaking service that works with LGBTQ+ singles.
Like Smith, she doesn’t think speed dating events are a silver bullet for knowing if a relationship will work, but she said they can still be beneficial. Her company hosts speed dating at its events, including a single mingle that happened the first week of February in Englewood.
Rosenblum's company co-hosted a speed dating event at Brewability Lab in Englewood on Feb. 2. Photo by Han Loyd, Hepcat Photography.
In Rosenblum’s speed dating games, participants receive conversation prompts to help people learn something about their partners, from travel dreams to relationship goals.
“It's like, ‘OK, am I curious to get to know them more?’" she said. “That's really the only thing you need to know after that five minutes, because it's hard to know anything else… What's the harm in meeting again?”
A new hope for dating
Andrea Cunningham has been dating on and off for the past 10 years. She decided to attend the January Tantra Speed Date event when her housemate invited her because she thought it would introduce her to spiritually open minded people.
“He actually said, ‘Do you want to go to a woo-woo speed dating event?’ and my thought was ‘Oh, yeah, that might be my kind of people,’ because I'm not finding a lot of woo-woo folks on OkCupid,” she said.
At 58 years old, Cunningham is looking for someone who is compassionate, flexible and open to “more heart-centered ideas,” she said.
Going into the event, Cunningham was feeling skeptical, she said. Mainly, she thought speed dating would be intimidating, but it wasn’t.
“I think maybe my whole idea about speed dating was wrong,” she said. “Maybe you're not just awkwardly trying to talk with people 10 times in a row for five minutes. Maybe there's more to it than that… That was well-designed.”
After her experience (and several dates that arose from the event), she said speed dating might be giving her new hope after taking a pause from dating for a while.
“I was trying to do a little online, I wasn't getting anywhere, I stopped,” she said. “Then this came up — it may kick me into gear again.”
Renewing excitement about dating and personal connection is a goal of many speed dating events, especially in a world where fewer and fewer people feel connected to each other.
In Shahar’s speed dating events, re-connecting is the greatest benefit and goal.
“If you are tired of feeling disconnected from the world, and you want to have a moment of connection, this is a really great way to step into that,” he said. “Is it for everyone? No, I don't think it's for everyone. But it is for people that are like, ‘Hey, I want to create something magical within my relationship life and my dating life.’”