“No. No boob today.” My cousin said to her one-year-old. We had just finished lunch and her baby was snuffling around her top, for some breast-feeding action.
“I’m pretty sure I’ll be having that exact conversation, this time tomorrow.” I said.
I had just been telling my cousin and Aunt about my date with the Bearded South African Man (BSAM), which was happening the next day.
(He seems like a breast man, and I try not to get my breasts out on the first date.)
When I said I had a date, my cousin said “how did you meet – Tinder?”
I said “No! Good old-fashioned getting shit-faced and groping each other in a club.”
I almost considered cancelling the date. For one thing, I hardly ever see my cousins, and more of them would be in town the next day, clashing with the date. I’d already been ambivalent whether to have a break from dating. I also wasn’t sure what the dynamics would be like between us, after our conversation about mental health.
The date was on a Sunday afternoon.
We were meeting in Camden, at quite an alternative pub. I was a few minutes late due to a slight delay on the Northern Line.
I arrived at the pub and saw him straight away. The whole front of the pub was kind of open to the street, and he was sitting right at the front, pretty much on the pavement.
I think there’s a whole range of responses you can see on people’s faces, when they first clap eyes on you, on a date.
I remember one time, getting off a train, when I was 15 and I was visiting a boy I’d kissed on holiday; when he looked at me across the platform, his dismayed face could not have said “Oh no! You’re less attractive than I remembered!” more clearly.
I’ve seen some completely unreadable faces – I had no idea what they were thinking when they first saw me.
Then there’s the “oh, you are as attractive as your photos!” pleased face you sometimes get. That’s always nice.
This time, we looked at each other and we both smiled, like we were both happy with what we’d ordered. Obviously, we had seen each other before, but that was several weeks ago, in a dark club, when we were both drunk.
“You were easy to find!” I said. He seemed unsure what I meant, so I added “because you were sitting at the front.”
He had already texted apologising for the pub being “not very nice in here at the moment”.
I had been in that pub before, and when I arrived, I thought it seemed exactly as it always was – quite dirty, with a goth vibe, but pretty cool.
He apologised again for the choice of pub, as I took my jacket off.
“I mean – it seems the same as it always is! What were you expecting?” I said cheerily.
“I don’t know – I guess every time I’ve been here, I’ve always been…” He trailed off.
“…more drunk?” I asked, at exactly the same time as he said “…more drunk.”
We both laughed.
He went to get me a drink, and I sat down.
Recently, at work, we’ve had a really nice South African man temping, and when I told him about my impending date, he said South African men tend to be quite gentlemanly. As BSAM loped over to the bar, I thought it seemed true.
I nervously checked my phone for no reason while I waited for him to come back.
He was actually better looking than I expected, and I already expected him to be quite good-looking. I don’t like beards, but he had nice, delicate eyes and cheekbones that counterbalanced his beard.
He was wearing a baseball cap though, so I spent the first part of the date thinking Take your fucking hat off mate.
He came back from the bar. We talked about where we live, and then got onto talking about buying flats. He owns his flat. I told him about my flat sale which recently fell through. We went into loads of detail about leaseholders and freeholders.
“Sorry, this is really boring.” I apologised.
“No, it’s not!” He said warmly and sincerely.
I felt quite comfortable, quite early on. There seemed to be a good balance of him asking me lots of questions and seeming interested, but saying enough about himself too.
It was a really sunny day, but not that warm. We were basically sitting outside.
“Are you warm enough?” He suddenly asked me.
“No, I’m really cold!” I said. We moved further inside the pub.
We started talking about music. I asked him “what’s the most recent song you’ve been obsessed with?” (which I’ve found to be quite a good date question. He said ‘Untitled Smash Hit’ by New Year Memorial. I downloaded it there and then, and listened to it over the next few days. I must admit, it didn’t blow my skirt up.)
We talked about whether we feel nervous or awkward on dates. He said he usually convinces himself it isn’t a date, so he doesn’t feel nervous. I said I might get a bit nervous but I kind of like it.
He said “I feel OK today though.”
I was about to take it as a compliment, until he added “because this is my second drink.”
I thought I’d deliver the compliment myself, and said “and because I’m so good at putting people at ease, of course.”
We moved on to a different pub. This time, instead of having a table in between us, we were sitting on tall stools with just a kind of shelf for our drinks and elbows.
As I sat down, he said I had nice legs.
“Oh, I was actually going for more of a breast-orientated outfit as I thought you were a breast man!” I replied.
He seemed both awkward and amused, and muttered something complimentary about my breasts.
We started talking about different countries we had travelled to. He’d been in the UK for a long time.
After a while, we realised we were both hungry. I found a pub on my phone that wasn’t too far away, that had roast dinners with good reviews.
We finished our drinks and walked to the roast dinner pub.
I realised quite early on, that the way he talks makes a lot more sense in person. Over text message, I had found his turn of phrase sometimes made him sound like a robot, but in person it just made sense.
This is an example of the kind of thing he’d said over text:
“The snogging was fun for sure. We seem to have a nice compatibility in that arena.”
The actual content of what he’s saying is really lovely, but it just seems like that sentence has been generated by a computer program, rather than a human brain.
But in person, it just worked and made sense. I suppose the way I construct sentences can be a bit unorthodox too.
In this pub, we started talking about the bigger topics, like politics and religion. We agreed on the most important things. We talked about Harry Potter.
There were some quite annoying children in the pub garden, on the other side of the window we were sitting by, and that got us onto whether we want children. We both casually did.
Even these topics seemed easy and fun.
We didn’t talk about our own mental health, but we talked about mental health in general. I remember saying something about the fight or flight response, and gazelles, and he told me all the different types of gazelle they have in South Africa, which I found cute.
Normally I find it difficult to eat in front of people I fancy, but this time it was OK. He happened to be talking a lot when our roast dinners came, so I just chomped away while he talked.
Also, once he stopped talking and started eating, he seemed quite preoccupied with making sure he didn’t get gravy in his beard, which made me feel more relaxed.
A couple of times he told me “Your breast game is very strong.”
We finished our dinners and it was my round. We discussed whether we had time for another drink. I said “I suppose we could have one more.”
I was starting to stand up to go to the bar, when he leaned across the table and kissed me.
We kissed for a minute or two. It was nice. We do have a nice compatibility in that arena.
I went to the bar to buy our drinks and tried to seem calm and nonchalant, despite the kissing head-rush feeling.
I came back, and we continued talking as if nothing had happened. I noticed he has attractive hands. I gradually inched mine across the table towards his, while trying to concentrate on the conversation. When my hands were sufficiently near to his, I casually held his hands.
He was mid-sentence. He stopped and said “you’re so hard to read! You’re very enigmatic and mysterious!”
I was surprised.
Firstly, I think I’m very easy to read. I think I’m an open book, but then, I suppose I know what it says because I wrote it.
Secondly, I had just been very receptive to being kissed, so I don’t know why he was so surprised I was up for some gentle hand-holding.
We carried on talking while I stroked his wrists, and I enjoyed how much that seemed to distract him.
Soon, he leaned across the table to kiss me again. The problem was, the table was quite wide so I had to half-stand to kiss him.
This is silly. I thought.
I leapt up to walk around and sit in the empty chair next to him.
However, he misjudged why I was getting up, and cried “I’m sorry!”. God knows what he thought he was apologising for.
“Oh, I was just coming round here!” I replied, as I scuttled round to sit next to him.
The kissing continued.
At one point, he said “are you worried about my mental health?” out of the blue.
I said “No. We’re all just struggling to do the best we can.”
The conversation about whether to have another drink, and me saying “I suppose we could have one more” repeated itself about 3 or 4 times, until it was suddenly about 10pm and we’d been together about 8 hours.
A few times he double-checked whether I still couldn’t come back to his, because I had work in the morning.
We half-arranged I might go to his one night soon, so he could cook dinner for me.
He talked about cooking me spaghetti bolognese. “There’s some other nice things in that neighbourhood too.” He said.
“Like tagliatelle?” I said.
“No, South London.”
When we realised what time it was, we walked back to the tube together.
I told him he had nice eyes and cheekbones.
His reaction made me ask “has no one ever told you that before?”
He said “never so succinctly.”