A few weeks ago I went on my first date since coming out of a long-term relationship. This was with the guy whose texts led me to invent The Formula.
A few days before our date, he told me he had Aspergers’ Syndrome. Since becoming single again, I had been thinking about the fact that everyone I have ever been out with has had some kind of mental health problem.
I would never judge someone because of their mental health, especially as I haven’t been immune myself, but there often ended up being a dynamic where things weren’t equal, because I was sort of looking after them, or that their mental health made things unstable and unpredictable in the relationship. This time I was hoping to find someone with whom that wouldn’t be the case.
So when this guy, let’s call him Daniel (that’s not his name), told me he had Aspergers, and also hinted he’d had some mental health issues in the past, I raised an eyebrow at the Relationship Gods.
Nevertheless, I was really excited about meeting him. A little too excited, really. I had actually lost weight in the couple of weeks we had been texting each other, and I found it almost impossible to eat anything 24 hours before our date. In general, I try not to get too excited about things in life, in case I’m disappointed, so I was uneasy about being this excited. A friend stayed over the night before, and I had been saying things to her like “oh my God, in 24 hours, I’ll be ON THE DATE”.
It was a hot day, and it gets very hot in my bedroom, so when I was putting my makeup on before the date, it was a struggle as my face was sweating.
I finally arrived at the bar he had chosen, I was a bit taken aback. I had expected it to be a nice, normal bar, but it turned out to be the bar of a hotel. A really, really posh hotel. Like, so posh that when I stumbled into the entrance hall, which had marble and orchids everywhere, someone in a suit appeared, to offer me assistance, and called me ‘madam’.
I was directed/escorted to the bar, and I found him on the opposite side of the room. He looked pretty much as I would have expected from his photos: pretty good. Wonderful big, brown eyes, long eyelashes and amazing cheekbones.
I think he got up and gave me a hug or air-kiss, I can’t quite remember, but he definitely said “you look great”. He was tall and slim. He had already ordered me a gin and tonic, as requested, so I sat down.
“So, I haven’t overdone the choice of bar at all,” he said. It turned out, he hadn’t been there before and he had been as surprised as me at how posh it was. I was relieved about this; it had come up while we were texting that his family are quite rich (he went to a private school that is ‘more expensive than Eton’ according to its wikipedia page). I had felt a bit like we were in Pretty Woman when I arrived at the bar.
We were sitting at a table that was underneath a speaker, and basically I only caught a few words of the first few paragraphs he said. After saying ‘pardon’ a couple of times, I was too embarrassed to say it again, so I just started guessing what he might be saying and smiling and nodding.
After a while, I realised the inaudible anecdotes I was nodding along with could easily be white power speeches, so I asked if we could move to a different table where I could hear him better. There was a slight flurry of activity among the bar staff when we moved, as they officiated over the relocation of our drinks, ensuring they remained perched on thick, white napkins, lest they damage the marble tables.
Once we had moved, it was a lot better. We chatted more easily. I had been surprised when we were texting, and he told me about having Aspergers, because he didn’t fit the stereotype in my mind. Aspergers is characterised by difficulties with social communication, which can include trouble with empathy and building rapport with people, and understanding abstract language. Over text, he had seemed very empathic, had a subtle, dry, very funny sense of humour, and seemed to have great social skills. In person, I suddenly felt like I could imagine him having Aspergers after all, but I wasn’t sure why. He seemed a bit more awkward in person, but I kind of liked that (I find someone shy or awkward much more trustworthy than a charming, smooth operator. Maybe this is why all my ex-boyfriends have mental health problems but I’ve never been cheated on).
Maybe it was because he often commented on things that were happening between us, socially, such as “you’re smiling again. You do that a lot”. But it was kind of endearing and made me smile more. It made me feel like the smooth operator.
I realised quite early on that he was doing a lot more of the talking than me, but I didn’t mind as what he was saying was interesting. I felt comfortable and I fancied him. He was making me laugh a lot. I was supposed to surreptitiously text my friend, to let her know how it was going, but I completely forgot, as I was having such a good time.
Then, less than an hour into the date, he dropped a bombshell. We were talking about Jewish people, because he was saying his family are Jewish, but not very religious. I said I had a quite orthodox Jewish friend, and said some things about Judaism I had learnt from her. He said “I think the first social worker who sectioned me was Jewish”.
The first social worker.
We talked about that for a bit, and it turned out he had been sectioned more than once, and this first time he was only a teenager.
I work in mental health and I want to there to be less stigma, so I tried to take this information in my stride. I don’t think that being sectioned should stop someone from having the right to dating and relationships. However, I found it pretty surprising.
After a while, we decided to go somewhere a bit more low key. We walked around central London a bit and I enjoyed this, as it was a lovely warm evening and we were having quite a good chat at that point. We decided to stop at a Mediterranean bar/restaurant where we could sit outside, and they had cocktails.
I felt more relaxed here. For a start, we could properly hear each other. By this stage, it dawned on me that he talked about his mental health a lot. For example, we got onto politics (many people avoid this topic for first dates, but to be honest, it made it seemed pretty vanilla compared to his anecdotes about being sectioned). It turned out that not only was he left-wing but we both liked Jeremy Corbyn. However, he managed to get back to his mental health: “I joined the Socialist Workers’ Party once, but I think they took advantage of my vulnerability – I mean, I was living in Supported Accommodation at the time”.
He had also talked about his ex, who was a counsellor, and sounded a bit abusive, a lot. I didn’t really mind at this stage. I felt really comfortable and felt like I could really be myself. However, when I look back, that there were a few times when I thought ‘right, now it’s my turn to hold forth’, when topics of conversation came up that I can talk for hours about, such as the novel I’m writing. But somehow, I found that after a sentence or two, I was self-consciously trailing off with a “so… yeah… anyway…” and looking at my fingernails.
Anyway, there was chemistry. Several times, I looked across the table at him and thought “I really want to kiss him”. Although there was a lot of mental health chat, there was enough good stuff about current affairs and things we both liked (e.g. we talked about the Office for a while) and ‘bouncing off each other’ (as my friend always says) for me to feel like I was having a really good time.
We decided to leave the outdoor place with cocktails and find one more bar before heading home. Somehow, we managed to walk for quite a while without finding a single bar or pub. We reached Marble Arch tube station and were deciding where to go next, when I realised how late it was and that I would struggle to get the last tube home if we left it much later. We decided to call it a night, but we were both getting the same tube some of the way home.
Before we walked into Marble Arch station, he kissed me. I was pleased, but found his kissing style quite alarming. His approach seemed to be to lock lips and then suck really, really hard. However, I fancied him and he had a nice, tall, slim body so it was kind of nice to be held by him.
We went into the tube and chatted cheerfully on the central line to Notting Hill. We then kissed on the escalator, despite my concerns about being that couple on the escalator. We also kissed in an out of the way corner near the district line stairs and might have got told off by a member of TFL staff, but it wasn’t clear if she was saying “Hey guys!” to us. He seemed pretty certain we had got told off, and seemed thrilled about this.
We kissed on the platform while we waited for my train to come, and I tried to subtly direct his kissing style into being a bit less aggressive, which kind of worked.
When we were texting each other, before we met, he had told me a story about meeting a woman via Facebook; a Polish woman was being racially abused by some strangers on some Facebook group or something, and he intervened and defended the Polish lady, and another lady had read the exchange and been impressed, and invited him to her house for sex. She told him the next morning that he ‘fucked like a porn star’ (on reflection, is it a bit weird that he told me this anecdote, quite early on?).
Just as my train was arriving, I whispered into his ear “I want you to fuck me like a porn star” which I thought was very cool and sexy of me. What made it slightly less cool was that he couldn’t hear what I was saying over the noise of the train, so I had to repeat it at least once, but still.