Seven women. Seven men. Seven minute speed dates. On Zoom. The concept of speed dating isn't new to me, yet being confined to a small box on a screen added unexpected emotions. Is this what being on a dating reality show feels like? Plus, trying it in Italy adds an extra layer of charm and comedy, and it’s exactly what I needed after my post-quarantine breakup.
Living in Italy makes me incredibly happy, and I almost always have a huge smile on my face. Italians tend to be attracted to this joy, and I often meet new people (single men included) while living my daily life in places like restaurants, museums, the beach, and the airport.
Like most people I prefer to connect in “real” life, but I still stay open to the possibility of meeting someone online. As I recently turned 30, the majority of the messages I received read “ciao bella” e basta (and that’s it). When I do engage in conversation and get asked out on a date, grand gestures are sometimes involved: “want to go for a ride to the Italian Riviera on my motorcycle?” to “let me cook you a pizza!”. Isn’t that a bit much for a first date with a stranger? What if there’s no chemistry? The seven minute Zoom date requires everyone to show up on time and be themselves; plus, I am sure that I am speaking with a real person.
There’s no question that dating apps expose you to a wider net of people, but I find it to be quite impersonal to swipe through profiles with little to no description and a curated selection of selfies. We put the filtered version of ourselves out there hoping to get something real, and then wonder why we’re feeling unsatisfied. After being home alone for over two months, I craved more meaningful interactions and having a world of profiles at my fingertips was actually leaving feeling more lonely than before.
There’s a first time for everything — even virtual speed dating via Zoom. At 10 euro for women and 20 euro for men, the investment was minimal. I had zero expectations and just made sure I had some mascara on. We started off all together with our microphones muted in the main room, and you could see the normal fear and excitement that comes with a first date in everyone’s eyes. How refreshing. These are real people, with real emotions, and the real hand gestures that Italians are famous for.
We were then directed to Zoom breakout rooms to meet each other individually. To calm my nerves, I took a few deep breaths and pretended I was at my favorite restaurant where I went on many great dates. On each of the seven dates, there was an initial confusion about the mix of my Italian name and Mediterranean features paired with my New York accent while speaking italian. This helped break the ice with a conversation starter. As the dates progressed, I got used to diving deep into a rather profound chit chat to then get cut off by a sharp buzzer as we were moved to the next breakout room.
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It all happened quickly, even the dates with absolutely no chemistry that would have felt like an eternity if we’d met for a coffee (which in Italy sometimes lasts longer than you’d expect). Each date was different and the conversation flowed quite smoothly; from Davide who gave me a great recipe for sea bass to Pietro who told me about his recent trip to Costa Rica.
When it was all over, we all celebrated together and shared a laugh. Any weariness in our eyes was replaced with contentment. None of the men were “my type” and I signed off without a love connection, but the hour-long experience taught me how to be more mindful about dating.
My intention is to attract a long-term relationship, which requires having an open mind and heart. In this arena of dating, we all have our unique dreams and desires. I will be more gentle, and remember that everyone is trying their best to find what makes them happy.
We are all hungry for closeness — and now even more so after COVID-19 has changed our lives forever. In this limbo where we don’t get our fill from distracted swiping, but we can’t really get close to potential partners in times of social distancing. I would definitely try digital speed dating again here in Milan, and I’ve even started the practice of looking into people’s eyes with kindness wherever I go. Our smiles may be covered by masks, but we can still transmit joy from our eyes.
Are you living in Italy and looking for a serious relationship? Here are a few of my tips:
1. Invest some time in your initial messages. “Where’s your favorite gelateria?” is a lot more inviting than just a “Ciao”
2. After exchanging a few messages, hop on a phone call or video chat. You’ll get a better idea if you’re really a match
3. Out and about? Strike up a conversation with an interesting stranger from a safe distance. With our “new normal”, there’s so much more to talk about — for example, “isn’t it amazing to be able to walk outside at sunset again?”
4. Get out of your comfort zone. Try speed dating or a new app. Tell people you’re seeking a relationship! Italians like to play matchmaker and everyone has a friend, cousin, coworker or neighbor they can set you up with.
Enjoy your life and love will come. It could happen at any time. I’ve heard countless love stories in Italy that started with a spark with an Airbnb host, small talk while browsing a bookstore, and exchanging glances while riding the metro...