I went on a first date with a guy, and it reminded me of a joke I loved as a kid.
He was another one who recognised the obscure song lyric on my dating profile.
When men recognise the song, it automatically makes me assume we’ll have things in common, so he placed himself straight onto my Yes pile.
He was a couple of years younger than me, early 30s. I liked his profile, which was funny and self-deprecating. He works for a national newspaper which impressed me (but he’s not a famous journalist or anything like that).
From his photos, his face looked like what I think of as a ‘blank canvas’.
For me, a blank canvas guy is a guy whose face doesn’t exactly make me think get him inside me right now! But if I fancied his personality, his face certainly wouldn’t be a barrier.
Lots of the people I’ve really, really fancied in my life were like this, especially guys I met organically, outside of dating. People like friends or work colleagues, with really charismatic, attractive personalities, or who were hilarious, or had a way of putting you at ease and making you feel special; their faces were neither here nor there, but their personalities made me fancy them more every time I saw them.
So this guy was not especially hot, but his face certainly wasn’t a deal-breaker.
We exchanged just a few of messages, where we discussed our jobs, and a bit about writing, and then he suggested meeting for a drink. We exchanged numbers and he texted me on the Friday afternoon, suggesting Monday night, which I said yes to.
I thought we might have a bit of chat over the weekend, but I didn’t hear anything until Monday lunchtime, when he sent me a business-like text with the details of when and where to meet. I was looking forward to it, as he seemed interesting and funny.
Then, I had a nightmare journey home from work. I had to drive my car home first, then get the train to central London. A journey that should have taken 30 minutes took 2 hours, because of multiple traffic jams.
Each train I planned to catch came and went, without me on it, as I sat in traffic, trying to text him safely, pushing back the time of the date. In the end, I asked if he could come to Marylebone, instead of where we planned, as that’s where my train goes and it would save time.
When I finally got home, I texted him saying “thanks for being so patient and flexible. I swear it’s not usually this annoying meeting up with me! I’m finally home – just going to quickly get changed and scream into a pillow about the traffic, then I’ll see you there!”
On the way, I searched on my phone for a good pub, as he didn’t know the area. I had recently been for a drink with my friend (Open Relationship Guy) somewhere round there that was really nice, but I couldn’t remember the name.
The same pub kept coming up in lists of Top 10 pubs near Marylebone; I had a look on a map and thought Yes, that looks like the one I had in mind.
It had been a hot day, but it started pouring with rain in the evening, and on my way out, I had grabbed a raincoat I hardly ever wear, because it’s usually not warm enough. It’s cream-coloured, with black flowers at the bottom. I like that coat a lot, but I always think it looks like a lab coat.
On the train, I noticed it had a mark on the collar, from a chocolate bar I’d eaten last time I wore it. As it was an emergency, I spat on my finger and tried to rub the stain off. This didn’t work, and I ended up with a chocolate stain that now somehow had lipstick rubbed into it.
Never mind, hopefully it’s not that noticeable.
He texted me saying he was waiting near the main entrance.
I replied “Great. Look out for a blonde lady wearing a coat that looks like a lab coat.”
As well as helping him identify me, I thought the coat thing might give us a bit of an ice-breaker, when I arrived.
For example, if he wanted to be nice, he could say “Oh no, it’s nice, it doesn’t look like a lab coat!” Or if he wanted to engage in some banter, he could say “Wow, did you bring your safety specs as well?” Either way, I thought it opened up a few opportunities for the initial, awkward moments of the date.
I arrived at Marylebone, and I saw him, near the entrance, reading an Evening Standard.
I walked over. He looked exactly like his photos.
We said hello to each other and I thought Woah! He’s really anxious. OK, I’ll be super-warm and friendly.
He didn’t say anything about my coat.
We walked to the pub and made awkward conversation. I realised after a few minutes that the pub I’d found online was not the one I had in mind at all, it was in completely the opposite direction and I had misunderstood the map earlier.
When we arrived, I felt a bit embarrassed. It was not the kind of pub I would normally make a bee-line for – for a start, it had a few England flags up, which I generally try to avoid, and it seemed quite old-manish.
I said I would buy the drinks to make up for messing him around, and he accepted very readily.
We sat down with our drinks. So far, it was hard work. He seemed tense. He spent a good five minutes very laboriously and meticulously rolling up his sleeves.
I asked him where he was from, and it turned we were both from the Westcountry.
“Oh my god, me too!” I said. “That’s why I’m drinking cider!” I laughed, pointing at my drink.
We bonded over this less than I might’ve hoped. He was from somewhere I also used to live, and I asked which part. I can’t remember what he said, but let’s say it was Yate.
As we discussed this, I noticed a habit he had, when talking, which continued throughout the night.
He said “I’m from…
This is how he talked! He kept leaving the longest pauses, halfway through his sentences. It gave the impression either that what he was saying was so boring, even he had lost interest before reaching the end of the sentence, or that he was hiding an absolutely fascinating secret, and was quickly thinking of a fake answer. It made me feel stressed out as I waited.
I tried to be interested enough for both of us, in case the reason for the inexplicable pauses was that he was boring himself.
It reminded me of the joke “A polar bear walks into a bar, and says ‘Can I have a pint of…
… beer please?’
And the barman says ‘Why the big paws?'” (pause).
Remembering that joke was probably more fun than the whole date itself.
We talked a bit about the terrorist attack, which had only just happened. Then he said “Sorry, we probably shouldn’t talk about this.”
I didn’t agree, and thought it was a completely reasonable topic, but said “anyway, this is an exciting week, isn’t it!” to change the subject.
He sort of nodded, before saying “actually, sorry, why?”
“Because of the general election on Thursday?”
“Oh yeah. I forgot about that.” He replied.
“I thought you worked at a national newspaper?!” I said, incredulously. “Surely it’s pretty much full of the election at the moment!”
We moved on to writing. I talked about a novel I’m writing, and he seemed genuinely interested in that. He also seemed impressed I’ve nearly finished, as he also wants to write a novel but hasn’t started yet.
I sympathised because his job is more in the editing side of journalism, and I explained my theory that you have to start by switching off your internal editor. I think you need to be good at editing, but not at the start; you have to be happy to just get stuff down, even if it’s rubbish, and know you’ll go back and make it better later. If you try and make the first draft perfect, you can’t write a sentence, because a Doubting Thomas in your head is criticising every word as you think it.
I also told him my idea for a TV show, about mental health, which I want to try and write a script for. Then it seemed like a good idea to tell him my idea for my second novel, because the writing conversation was going the best out of everything so far. However, a few sentences in, I faltered, as my novel idea is about sex, and it didn’t feel appropriate.
“Err… trying to work out what is appropriate to say!” I said, before going on to give a sanitised, euphemistic description, which still felt awkward.
The idea is about how the realities of sex don’t match the way sex is depicted in films and TV and porn. Sometimes, I’ve talked about this to a boy, and even though I’m hinting at the less sexy side of sex, just the fact we’re talking about sex has cranked up the sexual tension.
That was not the case here. It felt as awkward as if I’d asked my boss his favourite position.
We moved on to other stuff, like what TV shows we like.
I had finished my drink some time ago, and as I bought the first round, I was waiting for him to go to the bar. He was drinking as slowly as he talked, and my dry glass didn’t seem to be on his radar. When there was a natural pause in the conversation (that was not in the middle of anyone’s sentence) I said “shall we have another drink?”
There was an awkward, mumbly moment where we both tried to assess if the other person actually wanted another drink, before he finally went to the bar.
He came back with my long-awaited second drink, and a glass of coke for himself. He still had an inch of beer left, which he didn’t finish.
He’s off alcohol now? I don’t think this is going to work.
The conversation did start to flow a bit better, as the night went on.
Towards the end of the evening, somehow we were back on politics, and he asked what I thought might happen with the NHS in future (The National Health Service – the wonderful thing in Britain where everyone gets free healthcare).
I said people think the main threat to the NHS is that it’s underfunded, but it’s actually more complicated. As well as lack of funding, the Health and Social Care Act has completely changed the way the NHS works, making it very vulnerable to privatisation.
I appreciate that my answer was probably longer, and more boring, than he was expecting, but I was a bit annoyed to see him surreptitiously checking his phone when I was talking!
After finishing our second drinks, we walked back to Marylebone.
I looked at the board and saw I’d have to wait half an hour for my train. I was worried he might gallantly offer to wait with me, but he didn’t.
I gave him a hug, which he didn’t seem thrilled about, and said something vague and noncommittal about potentially doing it again. I didn’t really want to, but as he had seemed so anxious, especially at the start, I didn’t want him to think that seeing him again was a completely horrible idea to me.
I stood in my lab coat and texted my friends about his long pauses, as I waited for my train.
That Friday, I was having a glass of Prosecco with my flatmate, Joe, to celebrate the election results, when I got a text from him.
“Hey, hope you’ve had a good week, sorry for not texting earlier. It was really nice to meet you on Monday but I think maybe there wasn’t that much of a spark or whatever – good luck with finishing your novel though!”
Normally when I don’t want to see someone again, and they don’t either, it’s a pleasant relief, but this made me feel irrationally annoyed.
I felt like texting back “I DIDN’T WANT TO SEE YOU AGAIN EITHER!” in capitals, but thought that wouldn’t convey my indifference very well, so I said “Yeah, good luck with everything.”
What I wish I’d done now, is sent “Yeah, good luck with”
And then a week later “everything.”