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Silent Dating

Learn more about this mute mating game -- the latest dating trend that's gone global.By Amy Keyishian

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What Is It?

The wild jungle of dating has always had a particular soundtrack. Instead of monkeys shrieking and snakes hissing, a typical evening of mate-hunting -- or first-dating -- tends to involve earsplitting volumes of music and the raucous babble of nearby revelers. And more often than not, the cacophony includes a lot of awkward pauses, punctuated by nervous, hyper-fast chatter of the "Did I really just say something that stupid?" variety.

Enter "Silent Dating." Originally the brainchild of Paul Rebhan and Tony Noe, two native New Yorkers who went out one night only to find they couldn't hear each other talk, this quiet concept in clubbing has caught on in several different cities. More importantly, it has led to an eardrum-saving new trend in mate-meeting worldwide.

The idea is simple: People come to a club where the soundtrack consists of soothing strains of instrumental music interspersed with white-noise sound effects like waterfalls and chirping birds. Tables are littered with pens and pads of paper. And rather than engaging in too-fast, too-furious chitchat, men and women -- prohibited from speaking -- engage instead in note-passing, doodling, and clever written banter that's less instant than an instant message, but more immediate than e-mail. Plus, rather than using those goofy =)s and leering ;)s, you can actually smile and wink to your heart's content.

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"I like the idea," says Lynn Harris, cocreator of Breakupgirl.net, a love and dating advice Web site. "Honestly, anything that takes you out of the dating patterns you're sick of, and gives you a fresh outlook on meeting people, is great. You can't fall into your normal, stale patterns, and will have to ditch your socializing autopilot."

"[in] a lot of these other dating setups, like Speed Dating [in which you chat with one person for a very short time, then move on to another], the whole thing feels so artificial and contrived," says Rebhan. "You have 30 seconds to make an impression -- it seems very superficial, like you're on a reality-TV show. [This] is much slower, more personal, almost quaint in the way it reverts to the feeling of an earlier age."

One participant, filmmaker Lisa France, 36, originally from Ohio, attended Rebhan and Noe's Silent Dating event, "The Quiet Party." Though she arrived alone, she made friends with a gaggle of guys and gals immediately. "It's impossible to tell if a group arrived together," she says. "So you sit next to them, and someone's almost guaranteed to send you a note within a few minutes."

In fact, she's been dating a guy she met at a Quiet Party. "He's cute, he's funny, and he's a lawyer," she cheers. "At the party, we were passing notes like crazy, just joking with each other, stealing piles of other people's leftover notes and reading them to eavesdrop. We had a great time. Afterward, we left the party and hung out all night, and I'm still seeing him."

"We did it for fun, not for romance," says Lisa Slade, who hosted a Silent Party for more than 100 people at her home in Los Angeles, organized through MixerMixer, a company that hosts singles' activities. "We had a Whisper Room for folks who couldn't stand to write, and the rest of us did Silent Twister and even Silent Karaoke, which was really just miming and dancing around. It was hysterical. The whole thing was lovely, and respectful, and really friendly!"

A Refreshing Dating Alternative

So could this be the perfect antidote to your dating woes? Or a neat way for you and a potential partner to spend a night out without having your eardrums blasted by an obnoxious band? The answer seems to be yes, as the Quiet Party has attracted "artists, lawyers, and bus drivers -- every kind of person you can imagine," according to Rebhan.

In fact, it seems to be catching on all over. "The Quiet Party" is licensed, so parties are popping up in Florida, Washington, D.C., and even Beijing, China. And other versions, such as London's Mate or Date's Silent Dating party, and the Silent Party thrown in L.A. by MixerMixer, are also a growing trend. Prices can range from free in Los Angeles (the party was a potluck held at someone's house), to $20 including two drinks in New York, to about $40 (20 pounds) in London.

This dating trend is fun for gregarious types -- the ones willing to throw a paper airplane and let out a non-silent guffaw -- but it also works great for shrinking violets, who find that when they have a moment to collect their thoughts and put them on paper, a wilder side has a chance to come out. "Remember, if you have to look down to write your note, you're spared 10 seconds of eye contact," says Harris. "This is a playful way to get past your reservations."

"It's a very friendly, playful atmosphere," says Rebhan. "Some people enjoy sitting back and watching the action, and others go over to the low-talking area by the bar. I tell people that if they really can't stand it, they should run out to the street and scream. And people have actually done that."

Participants in all the locations tend to range from 25 to 35, with a few older folks thrown in the mix. The range has been pretty wide at the parties so far. But "We're expecting a more literary crowd," says Guy Holmes, an organizer at Mate or Date, which is holding the London Silent Dating party. "We've been advertising at bookshops and writers' schools. Professional people who read a lot, that type of crowd." And crowds they are: The L.A. party attracted some 100 people. Some 60 people will be at the first UK event. And the New York parties have gotten over 150 attendees.

Most people think of writing as a solitary pastime, but the communal, public aspect of these pen-fests inspires a more physical, extreme version of writing. Call it social scribbling. "As the drinks start flowing, things get crazy," says France. "Suddenly people can't spell, everything starts being 'I'm 4 this' and 'I 8 that,' and people start drawing pictures and arrows and using hand motions. It's really creative."

Tips & Tactics

If you're planning to hit a silent dating party near you, the best advice from organizers and fans is to have fun. Don't worry about wearing attention-getting clothes, learning sign language, or slathering on the mascara so that your eye-batting will be that much more obvious. Once you get past the initial awkwardness of the surreal surroundings, you've got to take good old Mom's eternal advice and just be yourself.

"The beauty of this is that your true personality comes through, whether you're writing or speaking," says France. "But you're challenging yourself to express yourself in a new way. It's stimulating, even if you don't meet a date."

"I'd avoid dotting my "i"s with hearts, though," advises Harris. She adds, "This is a great opportunity to make up an FAQ [frequently asked questions list] about yourself. Instead of endlessly repeating your vital statistics, you can just hold up an index card!"

If you'd like to find a Silent Dating event in your area, try Googling "silent dating," "silent party," or "quiet party," and see what happens. Or throw one yourself. It's always fun to hear how loud Doritos can get!

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