Are you ready for micro-dating? The new trend for short and sweet meet-ups

It’s the trend for short and sweet meet-ups that could introduce your perfect match within minutes. Giulia Crouch investigates how to find love on your lunch break.

Illustration: Nathalie Lees

Picture the scene. It’s your first date with a potential partner you’ve been chatting to online. They seem nice but it’s only 7.30pm – half an hour into your rendezvous – and you’ve already realised the most interesting thing at the table is your bowl of spaghetti.

It’s not that they’re unpleasant, but as they brag about their promotion for the fifth time since you met, you find yourself wistfully daydreaming about how much nicer it would be if you were at home, with your feet up in front of the telly. But you have committed a whole evening to this person. All you can do is pray they don’t suggest pudding.

It’s an age-old hazard of dating that has been made more common by the birth of online apps. But some savvy singles have come up with the answer. They are a new and shrewd breed of dater who know exactly what they want and, more importantly, how they’re going to get it. Their approach to finding The One is incredibly efficient because as far as they’re concerned, there is no time to be wasted on a bad date or one that isn’t going to go anywhere.

They are the ‘micro-daters’ – people who, sick of lengthy and costly dates, have begun to implement stringent time limits on their romantic rendezvous. Meet-ups are limited to 15 to 45 minutes only, and certainly never go over an hour. Micro-dating is a trend that has become particularly popular with over-40s whose busy lives and multiple commitments leave conventional dating a near impossibility.

In fact, micro-dating is a concept that is becoming so acceptable that apps are springing up to accommodate it. And there are also big success stories from those who have micro dated, with some mini meet-ups even ending in marriage…

So what actually is a micro-date?

Gone are the days of booking a romantic dinner or whiling away the evening in a dimly lit bar. Micro-dates normally occur during the day – perhaps a quick coffee at lunch or a swift  drink after work before both parties go on to other engagements. Convenience is key, so possible suitors are seen in spare – otherwise unused – snippets of the day.

‘It’s a much more efficient use of your time,’ says George Rawlings, co-founder of the world’s first micro-dating app, Honeypot, which recently launched. ‘It’s also really exciting. You can line up more dates and meet more people. This may sound like a strange analogy but micro-dating is similar to a tasting platter. You can try out a few things, dip your toes in and if you like it plan another date.’

But how does one arrange these short sharp dates? Telling a future partner that you can spare only half an hour is not exactly the most flattering chat-up line.

It’s vital to establish that your encounter will be brief before you meet the person. If you break the news that you’ll only be staying for 45 minutes once you’re on the date it’s a sure-fire way to offend someone.

An ideal micro-date is going out for a coffee. But you could have a sandwich with them on your lunch break or go for a quick glass of wine after work.

‘You just explain how busy you are, but that you would love to meet,’ advises George, who is a huge fan of micro-dating.

What’s wrong with a dinner date?

The world of dating has changed drastically, especially in the past decade. With smartphones has come the explosion of mobile dating apps making the quest for love easier in some ways – and harder in others.

Singleton Scott Gledhill, a 30-year-old software developer from London, explains the pitfalls. ‘Filtering through people on apps is impossible so you have to meet them face-to face to know whether you like them. But I personally find that dates can be very stressful. And I think committing a whole evening to a stranger is a big gesture.

‘Traditional dates are also taxing financially. I could spend £120 on one. And it often means you’re a little hungover at work the next day, since most dates take place midweek because people usually have plans at the weekend. But now, I can micro-date on my lunch break.’

Software developer Scott Gledhill, 30, micro-dates in his lunch break and says traditional dates are stressful – and expensive.

Who’s doing it?

Well, everyone. Micro-dating is far from just the domain of swipe-happy 20-something Tinder users. In fact it seems to be most popular with those searching for love second time around.

Mum-of-two Jacqueline Wright, 61, from Salford, only goes on micro-dates. ‘I’m always busy,’ she says. ‘I work full time and even my days off are hectic. I love dating, but I just don’t have time to spend whole evenings with people – and also, I don’t want to.

‘I used to go on longer dates, for dinner and drinks. But if I wasn’t getting on with the guy – or they were droning on about their ex-wife or girlfriend, for example – I’d think what a waste of three hours that was. I could have been watching Coronation Street.’

Jacqueline, who works in retail, would find there was often a big difference between how  the men she matched with seemed online and how they acted in person. ‘You can say anything you want over an app – you can be very brave. Then you meet up with the person and there’s no banter. I find that a lot.

‘You know whether you fancy someone within 15 minutes,’ says retail worker Jacqueline Wright, 61, who now only micro-dates

‘So I started to micro-date. I just tell people I’ve got previous commitments and I can slot them in for an hour. It’s a perfect get-out. ‘I would highly recommend micro-dating for people of my age group. You know in the first 15 minutes whether you fancy someone and, if you don’t, why would you waste your time for three hours?’

Micro-dating even works as a second date. Busy PR worker Sarah West, 45, from London, says it was the only way she could see the guy she met online. ‘I didn’t have any evenings free before I went on holiday, so it seemed like the perfect way to fit in our next date,’ she says.

‘I know that other people micro-date so that they’re not committing to a whole evening in terms of time and expense, but I did it because this guy and I really wanted to see each other again but I literally didn’t have enough time – I was already booked to go out for dinner. So we arranged a quick meet-up from 5 to 7pm, after I finished work but before I had a meal with friends, which we both ended up laughing about.

‘I think we would have preferred our date to have been the full evening, but it was better for us to see each other for a small amount of time in person than just via WhatsApp. It helped to keep our connection going.’

What are the pitfalls?

While it’s a great concept for busy people, is micro-dating really the way to find a partner? Charly Lester, co-founder of Lumen, the dating app for over-50s, thinks not.

‘Over-50s who haven’t dated for a while are often extremely nervous. It can take 30 minutes just to relax. So you don’t get the full measure of someone on such a short date.

‘Also, coffee is a rubbish first date! You don’t have any distractions, and the face-to-face nature can feel really formal and awkward.’

Retired marketing executive Martin Cooper, from Gloucestershire, can testify to this. Much to his bemusement, after his divorce, the 56-year-old found himself back on the dating scene with a woman who was a seasoned micro-dater.

‘She explained to me what she normally did was meet someone for no longer than 30 to 45 minutes for a coffee or a quick drink. She said she found it much more appropriate than a full-on date. So I went along and, to be honest, it felt like a job interview,’ says Martin, who is now happily married to someone he went on a full-length date with.

‘The conversation was like, “Status, job, hobbies, where do you live?” I felt pressured and came away from our date thinking, “Er, no. I don’t want to see her again.”

‘Saying that, I struck up a rapport with my now wife within 45 seconds. So maybe it wasn’t the time constraint that was the problem, it was just the combination of people.’

Can it really help you find the one?

It may be hard to believe but marriages have sprung from a mere micro-date. Ellie Tew, 30, from Gloucestershire, is now happily wed to a man she had a micro-date with five years ago. She gave her now husband Olivier Sclavo just one hour to impress her.

It’s like more advanced speed dating,’ she explains. ‘For me, it really took the pressure off. I thought, “If it bombs I can leave after an hour. If it’s great we can set up another date.”

‘I strongly believe you know within five minutes whether or not you click with a person. On a traditional date, if you don’t, you have to sit it out because you don’t want to be rude. And before you know it, you’ve spent three hours with a person that you know you’re never going to see again. It’s a waste of time.

Smitten in 60 minutes: Ellie Tew’s micro-date with Olivier Sclavo, both 30, led to marriage last month.

‘The way I think about dates is that they’re a “social interview”. You’re trying to find out whether the other person ticks the right boxes. You want to know whether that connection you had online translates to real life.’

For Ellie, who works for a recruitment start-up, it did and she married 30-year-old journalist Olivier last month. ‘He always jokes now that I gave him more than an hour. I left the date knowing I wanted to see him again. I was intrigued. A good micro-date will leave you on a bit of a high.’

Make the most of the your micro-date

Here’s how to plan the perfect brief encounter

  1. Don’t feel guilty about suggesting a micro-date. A simple ‘I could meet you for an hour for coffee at 4pm’ or ‘I’m free 1-2pm for a quick lunch’ is polite and manages expectations from the outset.
  2. Prepare some conversation starters. On a short date there’s less time to warm up, so have a few opening questions at the ready. A failsafe option is to build on what you already know – for example, something they mentioned in their dating profile, or the mutual friend who set you up.
  3. Stay focused. Before you meet, decide five things you want to know about your date, then direct the conversation accordingly. This way you maximise your micro-date and avoid meandering small talk.
  4. Pick your venue wisely. Going for lunch? Choose somewhere you know with fast service. Coffee? Avoid the trendy café where the baristas spend 15 minutes perfecting the foam on your flat white. And if you’re microdating to stop costs spiralling, skip the bar with the £20 cocktails.
  5. Be punctual. When your date is only due to last for an hour, being 15 minutes late isn’t on – that’s a quarter of your precious time lost already.
  6. End the date with confidence. Stick to your time limit and don’t feel awkward wrapping things up. Say ‘I can’t believe it’s been an hour already – it was lovely to meet you.’