There are some dates you feel you should go on, even if you really ought not to.
Maybe it’s because somebody incredibly handsome has deigned to ask you out, or perhaps you are lonely, and your diary tells you this coming Friday is a blank space, its page a polar landscape.
Whatever the reason, sometimes we say yes when we should be raising the drawbridge in an emphatic no. Johnny, 28, is such a no. But his square jaw and icy blue eyes draw me in, and he pets my vanity like I’m a cat drunk on all the milk in the world – he contacts me first and tells me he likes my smile.
I’m flattered enough that I set aside my misgivings about his profile – one of his ‘absolute musts’ is that his date be a “keen cyclist”. I’m keen as mustard about plenty, but freewheeling around on a metal, bulimic horse with pedals isn’t one of them. I enjoy it when I’m doing it, but I’m not a confident cyclist, especially in London.
But his missives are so charming and touchingly direct, like an awkward Head Boy asking me to dance at a school disco, that I am sucked in to whatever it is he is doing. It feels wrong, fake somehow.
Finally, he asks me out for a drink. I hesitate.
At last: “It says on your profile you want to go out with a cyclist. I am not one.”
The reply: “Oh that? No, it’s fine. I don’t know why I said that; it’s silly.”
I can almost hear him laughing as he types that. Almost. It’s a hollow laugh.
On the actual night of our date, I fall victim to traffic and am a few minutes late. As I bound up to the pub, I spy a few cycles tied to the lone lamppost outside. They seem to be twisted around each other in an inextricable tangle, a frenzied orgy of metal, chain and oil. I wonder if one belongs to the guy awaiting me inside.
He is sitting directly opposite the door to the pub, staring ahead intently. He seems annoyed at my tardiness, which I would understand, except I texted to let him know and, let’s not forget, it wasn’t intentional. I apologise in mock breathlessness – I didn’t run that fast to get there – and despatch myself to the bar to get us drinks, in the hope it will our oil on his Atlantic mood.
When I return, he has thawed somewhat, but his jaw still seems set. Perhaps if he were to relax it, the entire bottom half of his face would come crashing down, like a pelican’s bill.
On some men, a brusque nature can be quite attractive. Everybody wants to be the one to force the clam and find the pearl, after all. On others, however, it is wearing, and my brightness feels forced, like a battered spouse trying to keep the peace.
Any jokes I make are met with a kind of half-smile, half-sneer, and his own conversational attempts don’t seem to run to much more than sullen critiques of the world in general. I put it down to the same awkwardness I spotted in his emails, and resolve to try a bit harder – he’s really good looking and his chest – straining beneath his shirt – looks like it might be fun to wander over.
I decide to take things back to his comfort zone, then; I will take the whining child to Disneyland. I broach the subject of cycling.
Suddenly, he comes alive. His biggest relationship, it seems, isn’t with the guy who worked in PR with wandering eyes and hands and dumped him last year, but his two-wheeled lover.
He has had most of the best experiences of his life behind those handlebars, he says, and loves that he never knows where his next adventure will take him. There is something touching about that. I almost envy him his fanaticism, and it’s clear his passion for pedalling has served him well physically, if nothing else.
With the fire well and truly in his belly and a previously unforeseen sparkle in his eyes, he turns to me and says: “So do you cycle?”
I cough, embarrassed. I made it clear I didn’t cycle in the email and he said it was fine. Should I point this out? He obviously forgot. I’ll play along. “No, not really.”
He looks disappointed, like, immediately. As if I trod on his puppy’s head or broke the crushing news about Santa Claus.
“What does ‘not really’ mean?” he asks, incredulous.
“Well,” I begin cautiously. “I mean, I haven’t really ridden a bike regularly since I was at uni.”
He is wide-eyed. “And that’s what? Twenty years ago?”
My eyes shrink to slits as the diss registers. “Thirteen, actually. I haven’t needed to ride a bike since then. And I’d be uncomfortable riding a bike around London.”
“Don’t you mean you’d be scared?”
I sigh. “Yeah, if you like. Scared. That’s not too weird, is it? There are loads of accidents.”
“Not if you’re careful. You just have to own the road.”
I roll my eyes. “A juggernaut hurtling around the Elephant and Castle roundabout begs to differ,” I reply.
“Wouldn’t you at least try?”
“I did,” I say. “I hired a Boris bike for the first time recently. It was horrible.”
“Why?” he says, with a definite sulk.
“I felt nervous and out of control; I’m not a confident road user. Why put myself and others at risk?”
He leans back in his chair. “So basically you’re a chicken?”
I search his face for glints of humour, or signs this is a wind-up. It isn’t. I feel suddenly very tired. I don’t have an answer for him.
He continues: “Look, like I said on my profile, I am really into cycling. It’s important that anyone I, er, anyone I share my, um.” He falters. “Anyone who goes out with me needs to cycle, really.”
They’ll also need nerves of steel. I sip my drink and consider my answer. What witticism can I throw back? Whither my bag of jokes and pithy putdowns? It’s empty; I can’t be bothered.
Finally, I speak: “Yeah. Well, I don’t. Pretty much ever.” Another sip. “I run, though.”
He laughs with a final sneer. “Pah. I don’t think you running alongside my bike – like a dog – is really going to work, do you?”
No, Johnny. No, I don’t.
On leaving the pub, I wait dutifully while he untangles his bike from the spaghetti junction at the lamppost. I don’t know why I wait. What do I want, I wonder. Once he has freed his iron-framed boyfriend, he gives me a lascivious look.
“I could just push it along if you wanted to go on somewhere,” he says, as if we have just spent the most thrilling hour of our lives together. He goes on: “Or, actually, I’ve got some gin back at mine.”
I see. He wants to check out my saddle, after all.
I look from him to his bike. I wonder which would give the most satisfying ride. I sigh and begin walking. In the opposite direction.
On arriving home, I turn out the lights and go to the window, as I sometimes do when I first get in after a date. Such drama.
I look out at the buses hurtling by, filled with people, and the taxis and the passers-by and the drunks and the hubbub, and I cast my eye back over my empty kitchen, my shadow long and lonely against the tiled wall. I am envious of them all in a way, but at least I didn’t go home with Johnny. I will always have that.
I look out of the window again, and see a lone cyclist zooming down the road. The lights change, and he quickly mounts the pavement to avoid them. A woman at the crossing shouts after him: “You stupid twat!”
Stats: 28, 5’10, blond/blue, London Where: Shoreditch, London Pre-date rating: 7.5/10 Post-date rating: 3.5/10 Date in one sentence: One drink good, two wheels bad.