Deep Dating - rozhovor s J. Hawkenem v The Guardian

Publikováno v The Guardian v pondělí 23. listopadu 2009; autor Christine Ottery, originální článek najdete zde.

I am sitting on a roll-mat and cushion on the floor of a loft somewhere in north London. A man I don't even know the name of is kneeling in front of me about to put his large hands on my face. I feel vulnerable. Relief floods my body as he strokes my face with tenderness.

It's strange to share this kind of intimacy with a complete stranger in front of twenty other single people. But it doesn't stop there. To the soundtrack of the kind of music you'd expect to hear in a vegan café – but sexed up with Je T'aime-style gasping – we swap partners and breathe together, sway back-to-back, dance. Tantra teacher John Hawken and his partner Gabi Rimska guide us through this new concept in meeting people, called "deep dating" – a cross-pollination of speed-dating and tantric techniques.

It takes an open-minded person to try tantric dating – especially since, in the west, the word "tantra" evokes Sting's eight-hour sex marathons. So first of all, let me say: the closest I got to sex during deep dating was holding hands.

Hawden devised the concept as a way for people to connect immediately but meaningfully. He sees a gap in the market created by the frustrations of choosing a partner in conventional settings. "It's always the same questions," says Hawken. "Where do you come from? What work do you do?" Deep dating, in theory, does away with banal conversation, replacing it with ritualised, touchy-feely sessions.

And it involves such unusual ways of relating to people that it might just work. Most of the sessions involve long periods of eye contact. Terrifying and liberating all at once, this is like skinny-dipping in someone's irises, flinging off societal mores as you go.

Of course, eye contact is a big part of courtship whether you're deep dating or not. Scientists have found that men gaze into the eyes of women they find attractive for twice as long as those they don't. The researchers also said that women don't use come-on eyes as much at first – and interpret this as a mixture of mistrust and the fear of ending up a single parent. I take it as a good sign, then, when I can stare somebody square in the peepers after just having met them.

Apart from the extended eyeballing and some pretty innocent body contact, not having to chat someone up is a sweet relief and makes for a surprisingly relaxed atmosphere. And once each individual mini-ritual is over, partners talk to each other, trading a mash-up of insights and giggles. Hawken tells me this can reveal, in a short space of time, the things you need to know about your suitor: "Can they listen? Are they sensitive to who you are? Are they able to talk about their feelings?"

Ritual provides the backbone for the whole experience, and in this the practice taps into some 'deep' truths about sex. The whole of the animal kingdom has fascinating mating habits – whether it's humpback whalesfighting to impregnate a female or insects' complex strategies of procreation. So why should humans settle for "Awright luv, you come 'ere often?"

Tantric rituals are respectful, and anyone who has dabbled in yoga won't find the bowed "namaste" greetings at the start and end of each deep dating exercise too weird. The rituals also act as a strong bonding agent. In his book, The Handbook of Religion and Mental States, Harold Koenigwrites that spiritual rituals can powerfully break down the barriers between our sense of self and of others.

So did I powerfully bond with any of the deep daters? At the end of the evening, you select which participants receive your email address so that, if they wish, they can follow things up. It's way too early to make any pronouncements – and besides, I still had to test out another esoteric group dating event called "Evenings of Love" ...

Evenings of Love

Marketed as a "new concept in love, friendship and relationships", Evenings of Love, run by Events of Love, is a grown-up glamorous love-in. Around twenty of us, in our glad-rags, meet in a room with a bordello vibe above a pub in Islington. The room is dotted with candles and roses, and a cocktail magically appears in my hands.

There is structure to the evening, which is led by the effervescent organiser Emily Gordon, but there's also time between activities to chat to whoever you please, so it's a far cry from ordinary speed-dating. Like am-dram students, the lot of us play trust games and exchange compliments to give each other a boost. We also learn how to be more attractive with tips from a tantra teacher, get intuitive readings from one of the "love experts" and – my favourite – the chance to wax lyrical about our idea of love.

Gordon says the aim is "for people to connect with love, not just with other people but in themselves". There haven't been any relationship hook-ups yet from the events – which started in February this year – but the feedback has been that people have left feeling happier and more focused on what they want.

"The most amazing things have been happening!" Says one Evenings of Love-dater, "Three guys asked me for my number today. One literally chased me when I got off the bus."

I haven't been chased off any buses, nor have I met anyone who rocks my world – although I'd be happy to be proven wrong down the line. But I embraced both experiences and enjoyed spiritual dating – perhaps even more than I would a night in curled up with Attenborough, watching how the animals get it together.