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“What do you think of when you hear tantra?” says the facilitator of the Tantra Speed Date event I recently attended in Chicago. We were all sitting barefoot in a circle, our ages and backgrounds as varied as the reasons we were there. After a few seconds of silence, some answered with “yoga,” “connection” and even “Sting” (the singer). The facilitator pries: “OK, someone’s thinking it!” Then finally someone admitted: “sex!” 

Tantra — an ancient philosophy that has many meanings, practices and purposes — is most often associated with sex, but there’s nothing inherently sexual about Tantra Speed Date. Think a lot less talking and a lot more eye gazing. And mutual exercises. In a world where online dating continues to grow and thrive, it’s an alternative IRL way to meet other singles. And while it’s definitely niche, it’s catching on within its own circles. 

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A partner activity at a Tantra Speed Date event.

Source The Tantra Institute

Tantra Speed Date is meant to be about connection, explains co-founder Guy Shahar. In May 2017, he started the events as part of the New York’s Tantra Institute, which he co-founded. The goal: to recreate the same experience of puja, a tantra ritual, in a dating setting. He had experienced deep connections with women in previous puja events, but “it felt inappropriate to ask for their phone number afterwards.” So he decided to incorporate practices from his background in acting, yoga and tantra, and apply them to an event explicitly geared towards romantic meetings. 

Your comfort level might be tested … but playfulness and humor are encouraged.

It quickly became a monthly event in six U.S. cities. “I never would have predicted what this turned into, but I guess the power of connection and intimacy is something people really want and benefit from now,” says Shahar. Tantra Speed Date has had more than 276 events in 30 different cities (there are monthly events in 22 cities) with more than 8,000 attendees. They even claim two unions.

The events, for which the tagline is “More Than Dating. It’s Yoga for your Love Life!,” don’t have to be purely romantic. The meet-up “provides a good opportunity to practice connecting,” explains Nathan, who has attended two Chicago sessions and asked his full name be withheld. 

Tanta Speed Date event

A group activity at a Tantra Speed Date event.

Source Epix

And there are plenty of opportunities to practice. During the event, men and women are paired in up to 24 stations with guided verbal, physical and role play exercises (which Shahar says are best left vague as not to spoil the surprises — but you can definitely expect partner “yoga”) and very little small talk. Your comfort level might be tested — you can expect some extended eye gazing, apologies for the hurt men have caused women in the past and something called “embracing stations” —  but playfulness and humor are encouraged. 

Tantra Speed Date’s exercises are “designed to bring more conscious relating to dating,” says Shahar. By focusing on becoming better partners in relationships, this “naturally has you attract people into your life that can help you grow and be better partners for you in return.”

Each station ends in a mini ceremony. If the woman thinks they are a good fit (as with dating apps like Bumble, women initiate the matches) she puts a bead — real or imagined — into their partner’s pouch. Most events are focused on heterosexual couples, but queer events are offered on occasion. 

For some, the idea of some creeper pushing you to “massage harder” might be enough to make you want to run away. But know that the event begins with ground rules on consent, respect and communication. Partners are encouraged to modify or even opt out, according to their comfort level. 

Yet in the modern world of online dating and seemingly fewer face-to-face interactions, “speed dating is not making any sort of a comeback,” explains Chicago-based matchmaker and dating expert Stef Sefran. Events for singles were far more popular before free dating apps, and “there’s a fantasy that you’re going to meet someone without any effort.” And that’s a hard habit to break. 

But events like Tantra Speed Date might provide an opportunity for improved connection, explains relationship and intimacy expert Dr. Carolina Patasky. “Direct encounters allow us to get personal and get to know the person better right off the bat,” she says. 

“It helped me realize that there are some really good people out there, with really warm open hearts,” Nathan says. 

So if you’re looking to find a mate in 2020, perhaps speed dating (with benefits) might be an option to keep on your radar. You can keep your clothes on but also enjoy some declarations of gratitude, partner yoga and dancing. Why not?

Tantra speed dating is available in cities around the world. Check here for dates and locations. Ticket prices: $35-60.

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