Category Archives: Bad dates

The Reluctant Mean Girl

Midweek. Another bar. Another pint with a stranger. I sit and wonder where I’ll be in five hours. Will I be back in my flat ignoring the ironing or will I be tangled in Egyptian cotton and kisses with tonight’s contestant?  You just never know.

“And you wore pink!”
I nod at his polo shirt, knowingly. “Perfect shirt for tonight!”

My date tonight bristles with efficiency. He was on time, buying drinks and sitting opposite me with a rictus grin on his face, in his pristine baby pink polo, before I knew what was happening.

“It seems weird going on a date on a Wednesday, no?” he says.

“Wednesdays are perfect, I think,” I reply. “And you wore pink!” I nod at his polo shirt, knowingly. “Perfect shirt for tonight!”

He narrows his eyes. “I don’t follow.”

“Oh, errr,” I stumble awkwardly. “It’s from Mean Girls. They say ‘On Wednesdays we wear pink’. Yes?”

His face is blanker than a blank thing on a blank day in a town called Blankton.

I probe further: “Do you know Mean Girls?”

He leans back in his chair and his face changes to a look of bemusement tinged with disgust and a dash of weariness.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he sighs.

“I mean…” he shakes his head dismissively. “I just wouldn’t even want to watch Mean Girls. I’m not into trashy movies.”

I gulp, feeling dumb and shallow.

“It’s a film. Written by Tina Fey. Lindsay Lohan was in it? It’s quite old.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard of it. I mean…” he shakes his head dismissively. “I just wouldn’t even want to watch it. I’m not into trashy movies.”

I shrug. “It’s not trashy, really. It’s quite a clever, knowing kind of comedy. Not as good as Heathers, but in the same ballpark.”

“I don’t really like the kind of films that gay men usually like,” he replies.

Oh, I see! BINGO! We have the new gay stereotype – the gay man who refuses to conform to a stereotype! How lucky for me to have snared this rarest of beasts. And barely halfway through our first drink.

I could just let this go, or I could take a tin-opener to that can of worms he’s waving in front of me.

I have two options. I could just let this go, or I could take a tin-opener to that can of worms he’s waving in front of me. Egyptian cotton, or home alone? I imagine the pristine sheets. Lovely. Then I think of him in them, beckoning me to a world where sex means never watching a popular movie again. Decision made.

“I don’t like it because I’m gay, you total snob. I like it because it’s funny.”

“Yeah, right,” he replies, folding his arms. A drawbridge goes up with great speed. “But you think it’s a  funny film because of the bitchy dialogue and the pretty, evil girls being all ‘fabulous’, right? It’s just a bit… obvious.” He unfolds his arms for a brief second and waves them dramatically in the air.

“So you have seen it, then?” I smirk.

“Uh.” A pause so long you could actually use it to nip off to watch Mean Girls. And then: “I might have done actually.”

I’m back in my own kitchen – alone – within the hour.

Stats: 5’10”, 31, mousy brown/brown, Devon
Pre-date rating: 7/10
Post-date rating: 3.5/10
Date in one sentence: Gay guy thinks pretending popular culture isn’t a thing makes him less gay.

A truncated version of this post originally appeared in the monthly dating column I used to do in Gay Times magazine. I now answer GT readers’ dilemmas and dole out relationship advice. Take a look at the Gay Times website to see when the next issue is out.

The Attachment

I’ve been chatting online to Graham – a 35-year-old ‘scientist’ – for a day or two and still can’t quite work him out. And I’m not sure I want to. It’s like there is something he isn’t saying; the unwritten words hanging in the air like hours-old fag smoke.

He talks me through the minutiae of his day like he’s writing a report for his parole officer. There is no humour, no flirtation – just fact after fact after fact. Wikipedia has become sentient and decided to explore the niche of being a very boring man in his thirties. At first I try to reply more spiritedly in the hope it will inspire him to jazz things up a little.

I am a one-man crash team trying to revive a fillet steak. His replies come back, still monotonous, but now longer. More information. How has this happened?

Desperate for a diversion from all this typing he’s sending me, I look again at his photos. His hair, receding, is an uneventful brown. His eyes, a dull blue and too close together, seem troubled. In all his photos, he’s staring straight into the camera wearing all manner of polo shirts, each one buttoned right up to the very top. Fashion bloggers would call it an ‘air tie’. Graham doesn’t look like he’s ever read a fashion blog. His mouth is a dull pink smear across his face – he doesn’t smile, or frown.

I am a one-man crash team trying to revive a fillet steak.

I scroll through mugshot after mugshot. I don’t know where any of the pictures have been taken. Sometimes I get a tantalising sliver of brick wall at the corner of the pic or perhaps… is that…? Is it the sky? Or a blue curtain? No idea. Every picture is cropped into the face as much as possible. He’s certainly got plenty of spare pics should he lose his travelcard.

He badgers me about a date but I decide I’m not going to meet him. I’m not attracted to him, after all, and I don’t see any point in leading him on. I’ve had a busy week and am not that desperate for a night out. I don’t want to just stop replying – somehow my warped sense of propriety prevents me from telling him to bore off. I resolve to wind things down by making my gap between replies longer, and my emails shorter and impersonal. The ultimate diss – being phased out before you’ve even met.

Incredibly, Graham is undeterred. In fact, my lack of interest seems to excite him and enrage him in equal measure. Finally, the tone of his missives changes. It’s not an upgrade, however.

“Off out later, are you?” he says when I tell him I’m busy. “Meeting somebody off Grindr for a SHAG?”
I don’t know what to say, so I decide to say nothing

The next day: “I bet you chase after all the boys, don’t you? I know what guys like you get up to.”
I get the feeling that he’s typing one-handed, so decide now’s as good a time as any to go into silent mode.
He gives it one final go.
“I shaved today,” he says.

I see the email has an attachment: a photo, which I open. Yes, he’s shaved all right. Everywhere. Instead of a smooth chin or chest, I see gleaming genitalia – Spam-pink with sensitivity and not a hair to be seen.
I somehow manage to retain my lunch and delete the photo, closing the email and marking it as – what else? – spam, to match his angry little pecker.

A truncated version of this post originally appeared in the monthly dating column I used to do in Gay Times magazine. I now answer GT readers’ dilemmas and dole out relationship advice. Take a look at the Gay Times website to see when the next issue is out.

The Iceman Skateth

On dates, for a while, you are someone else. You nod at gaps in conversation that would be better served by an eye roll, you agree where disagreement is more apt, you smile – always the smile. Usually, if you are well matched, these pretences fall away. The veil drops. The mask slips. And because you like each other so much, it doesn’t matter. Other times, it takes a little bit longer. Maybe you’re having to work harder to find a common ground or having to play along a little longer to snare your man. It’s this kind of insecurity that sees you agreeing to go ice skating at Christmas with a man you’re really not sure about.

I have been on four dates with Richard and we have got on well. He is erudite and kind of handsome and very nearly on the cusp of being funny. Our courtship has been virtuous to say the least – I have brushed up against his stubble but our bodies have always been separated by layers of cotton. And there are plenty of layers – it’s a cold winter. We are two priests short of a baptism. Our dates have been wintry – a mulled cider and bratwurst here, a festive concert there. Little more.

I am not expecting to see Richard again until after Christmas, as he is busy with work and I, well, I am keeping my options open. I am giving dating more than one man at a time a go. I’m not very good at it – I’m terrified I’ll get a name wrong or attempt to bond reminiscing events that happened with the other. But at least I am keeping my underwear on with both; this is not a delayed threesome.

My phone rings. It is Richard.
“Hi!” He is always enthusiastic. For now, I am playing along, so I respond as if a winning lottery ticket has just fallen into my hands.
“Hello Richard, how are you?”
“Yes, great, fine,” he gasps. “Look, I’ve got tickets for tomorrow night and wondered if you are free.”
I don’t ask what the tickets are for. I have a window that must be filled, a curiosity to be satisfied, an itch that I’m hoping to be scratched and a mind I need to make up. I blunder on. “Let me just check.” I don’t move a muscle. “Free.”
“Great! We’re going ice skating ice skating at [place]. You like ice skating, right?”
I have never been ice skating. It was true then and it is still true now. I don’t lie.
“I’ve never been.”
“You’ll love it. See you at 6.30.”

After he rings off, I sit for a while and mull this over. I have never ice-skated. I am old. I have avoided trying it for a variety of reasons: it looks like falling over would hurt; I don’t want to look stupid; I am not confident on anything other than my Converse. And, if I’m honest, I just don’t want to. But I am not at the stage where I can say there are things I don’t want to do – I have to appear up for everything, a keen bean, an enthusiast. If all else fails, I’ll get drunk and attempt some kind of charm. Wish me luck.

On the phone to my mother that day, I casually mention I’ll be going ice skating for the first time that evening, and that I’m nervous.
“Why?” she asks.
“Because I’ve never done it before.”
“Well you were all right on the roller skates; it’s just like that.”
“I never had roller skates,” I reply.
A pause. “You sure?”
“Yes.”
“Oh no, it was your sister. You had… Oh, what was it?” There is another pause and then a choking sound. She is laughing. “Oh, yes, the skateboard. Absolutely no sense of balance. Never on it for more than a second.”
“Yes, I remember.” I cringe.
“Well, you were OK until you actually started moving.” She begins cackling again. “But then sure enough, you’d be off it before you could even say ‘skateboard’. Terrible.”
“This is why I’m nervous,” I say.
“I should have got you some roller skates.”
“How would that have helped?” I ask, incredulous.
“It wouldn’t,” she replies drily. “I’d just have loved to have seen you give it a go.” And then she laughs again, like a drain. For too long.
I glance at the clock and lose half a stone thanks to sheer anxiety.

I arrive early and pace up and down clutching a Starbucks. (Red cup! Yaaaay! Or whatever.) I’ve decided what I’m going to do is tell him, when he gets here, that I don’t want to do it. He’ll laugh about it, call me silly – maybe even ruffle my hair – and we’ll go for a drink. I’ll feel a bit dumb for a bit, sure, but at least I’ll be honest; the transition into myself can finally begin.

And then he turns up. With his very own pair of ice skates slung casually over his shoulder. Shit.

As I change into my regulation dead-dog-coloured skates, he fastens up his own with superior skill, in about 10 seconds flat. I am dreading standing up so much. I try to think of ways to cause a diversion, but his eyes are fixed on my skates.
“Need a hand?”
“Um, no.”
“Oh, it’s fine. Let me.”
I breathe deeply. “Richard,” I say, my face reddening with both the extreme cold and embarrassment. “I…I don’t want to do this. I really don’t.”
“I don’t understand.” His forehead crinkles with bewilderment.
“I just don’t want to. I’ve never done it before and have no desire to.”
“You could just try.”
I look at the ice rink. The buildings surrounding it are beautiful, floodlit and, right now, oppressive. The arena itself is packed with middle-class people in patterned pea coats laughing uproariously and doing perfect figures-of-eight. There are no clumsy elephants; everyone is perfect, chiselled and graceful. I may as well throw a lump of shit on the ice as clamber on it myself.
I speak again. “I don’t want to sound like…like I’m going to sound, but… I really can’t.”
He folds his arms. “These tickets are fucking impossible to get.”
“I know.”
“I could’ve taken anyone with me tonight.” Okaaaay. “But I chose you.”
I nod and smile. “I know. But I… I know it’s stupid.”
“It is,” he barks, standing up and outstretching his hand. “Get up, we’re doing it.”
“But…” I splutter.
“Come on,” he says. “It’ll be romantic.”
I grab onto his hand, feeling as romantic as Marie Antoinette hitching her brocade skirts up to the guillotine.
“I’ve heard it’s really hard to get off the ice,” I whimper.
“You’re not even on it yet.”
“I think I need a bit longer.”
He attempts to hoist me up, chuckling. My body is unresponsive. I am frozen with fear of looking stupid. Soon, his chuckles subside, and my humiliation is so great it is sentient and writing into Points Of View.

Eventually, he acknowledges my anguish and suggests we try again in a short while. He emphasises “short” like it’s a threat.
I itch to unclip my skates, my slippery jailers.

“Oh, hey, Alan!” says my date, in an excited voice I haven’t heard before. A clean-cut guy comes over to Richard, engages in what seems like hours of air-kissing, and looks over to me. We are introduced.
“We’re just taking a break,” says Richard. “I think [my name] is a bit tired,” he beams, glancing over at me with eyes no bigger than a pinprick in a bedsheet.
“Ooh, that’s a shame,” grins ‘Alan’. “I’m just about to hit the ice.”
I spy my parole.
“Why don’t you two go ahead?” I smile, my mouth lop-sided with the cold. They don’t need telling twice. Before you can even say “Torvill and Dean”, they are off across the ice, hand in hand. Alan has a fat, boring arse. I clench my own in satisfaction.

I sit dejectedly for around 15 seconds, before pulling off my skates. My eyes idly wander over to the rink, and see Alan and Richard guffawing as they pirouette. They are graceful, synchronised. Two swans.
Yet my feathers aren’t ruffled. I hug my coat around me and wait for my winter wonderland to thaw. They’ll tire of their routine eventually, and then I can go home. I know this is my fault; I know I was difficult and irrational. I’m willing to take the bullet. At least I’ll never have to skate again. Not with Richard, anyway.

Thank fuck.

The Social Mountaineer

Stats: 25, 5’11”, dirty blond/blue, northeast England
Where: London E1
Pre-date rating: 7/10

We have agreed to meet at a bar I haven’t been to before. I don’t usually do this – I like to be on familiar territory. But it is my date’s choice and he has been pretty adamant about it in his series of texts, which he sends one after the other – one sentence per text – like he’s on IM.
“It’s really great.”
“I mean I’ve never been but I hear it’s great.”
“We have to go.”
“It’s like a private members’ bar but you can just sign up and go in.”
“You should get membership.”
“xx”

And so it continues. Excited orders barked at me through my phone. Sometimes it is endearing, like a puppy using an iPhone for the first time. Mainly it’s like an alarm clock going off every time I blink.

My date is young: 25, almost 26. I am here on a mission to feed my vanity and to find out exactly why this impossibly thin and fresh-faced embryo has pursued me so eagerly, first on the dating site, then email, and finally over continual newsflash texts.

We decide to meet outside in case there are problems getting into this mythical melting pot of cool.
“I’m sure there won’t be,” he coos over text as I take the bus there. He documents pretty much all of his taxi ride to the date ( A taxi! How glamorous!) and by the time he arrives (a whole seven minutes after me), I feel like we have done dates one, two and three already.

He approaches me in the drizzle – 5’11” of the skin and bone only youth and a total avoidance of any exercise can offer you. If he were ten years older, he’d be almost plain, but his small, raisin-shaped eyes are surprisingly bright and his thin mouth hasn’t yet turned cruel with age. He trills my name, sticks out his hand – five twigs encased in the smoothest skin this side of a kindergarten – and we graze cheekbones. He smells of nothing, just air. “Shall we?” he says, elaborately waving his hand in the general direction of the door.

Awaiting us is a man with a clipboard and a world-weary grimace, standing behind a glittery lectern. In another life, he could’ve been an artist or a captain of industry. Maybe even an MP. Instead he is standing in the cramped lobby of a bar, looking like he’s just had semolina poured down his trousers.
We can’t go in, he explains, as we’re not members.
My date starts to make pathetic pleas. Somebody told him such-and-such and Thingy assured him it would be OK. Sir Clip of Board will not budge. I have a flash of inspiration and remember I know someone stupid enough to have joined this bar. I say his name. The clipboard consults something on his lectern. We are waved through. My date is impressed. I am outrageously embarrassed to have done that – especially after the time a while ago where one of my dates tried in vain to get us into a private members’ bar by phoning a celebrity from the pavement. Anyway, we are inside.

The bar is one of those places in the middle of an identity crisis, trying to be all things to all men – and all of them unlikable. One corner is ‘tastefully’ opulent, another gaudy and uncomfortable. My date says he doesn’t want to sit in comfy seats; he’d rather pull a stool up to the bar. We do, and order drinks. For around two or three minutes, my date says nothing – he simply cranes his neck this way and that to get a better view of what is going on around him. I have just paid £11 for a cocktail to sit opposite a meerkat. I shift in my stool and sip my drink. Finally, he turns back to me and smiles like we’re just coming back after an ad break on QVC.

“Tell me more about yourself,” he says, the very vision of daytime television host. “What kind of stuff are you working on at the moment?”
I cringe at questions like this. First, I am having a relatively quiet spell at the moment – the freelancer’s curse – and secondly, when people ask this, they usually only want to hear about famous people you have met or insider gossip you know. I have very little to relate of either.
He begins to reel off names, guys he knows or has heard of who work at various publications in the UK. Do I know them? What did I think of them? How much did I think they earned?
“Oh, of course,” I say. “I forgot. You’re a journalist, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” he grins. “I love it. Don’t you just love it?”
“Yes. Sometimes I love it.”
“I have been to some terrific parties,” he gushes. “And I met X, Y and Z.” He mentions some relatively famous people.
“What made you want to be a journalist?” I ask, trying to catch the barman’s eye. My £11 cocktail is working out at about £3.50 a sip.
“I don’t know really,” he shrugs. “It seemed like a good way to meet the right people, y’know?”
I’m not sure I do, but I press on. “And once you’ve met the right kind of people, then what?”
He thinks for a moment and looks down at his empty glass. “Well, meet some more, I suppose!” And then he laughs, the sound of 10,000 steak knives raining down on a colony of rats.
“Oh look over there…” he says. “That’s John Doe from Magazine A. Do you know him?”
I don’t.
“Oh. He’s even younger than me! Can you believe it?!”
I pretend I can’t.
What about her?” he continues, pointing at a woman in a boiler suit who has hair like a Bichon Frisé. “She works at Magazine B. She’s deputy ed I think.”
“Nope.”

I fear my media superpowers draining from me, the conversation drying up. He doesn’t want to talk about his hometown (“I just pretend it never happened. I was born the minute I arrived in London.”), he won’t say what he likes beyond “going out, but I never get trashed” and he hasn’t read a newspaper in 10 years. “I get all my info from Twitter,” he says, picking up drink number two. I hand the barman my debit card. Again.

Twitter. That could be a thing. Let’s talk about that. What does he like about it?
“You get to meet loads of people!” he exclaims. Again with the meeting people; he should have been a flight attendant. “I’ve had loads of work out of it. I just follow them and reply to loads of their tweets until we’re ‘friends’” – he does inverted comma fingers here – “and ask if they want me to write something for them. It’s a great way to pitch.”
“Do you follow anyone interesting on Twitter?” I ask. “Anyone really good I should know about?”
But all I get in return are the familiar names of editors and writers on well-known or ‘edgy’ websites and publications.
“Why do you follow them?” I ask.
“Because they’re the right people to know. And I might get to work for them if I chat to them enough. Don’t you do that?”
“Not particularly.”
“No, well…” he says looking me up and down as if for the first time. “Perhaps you don’t need to. How many followers have you got?”
“198,” I say, without flinching.
He wrinkles his nose. “Is that all? Shouldn’t you have more?”
“I suppose I should. I just tweet for pleasure, really.”
He looks at me like that sounds like a total waste of time. I motion to the barman for drink number three. My date tries to look at his watch without me noticing.
“Are you bored?” I smile.
“No,” he says, suddenly, and awkwardly, putting his hand on my knee. “I was wondering where we should go next.”
This is an unexpected turn. I find myself ridiculously flattered by this contact. Despite the fact I have obviously not turned out to be who I thought I was, he is still interested. Shallow? Yes. But it is a weeknight. Unexpected things happen on weeknights.

Drink three is drained even quicker than its predecessors and we move on out of the members’ bar and into the fresh air. The drizzle has stopped. It is a relief to see crumbling brick and chewing gum-spattered pavement instead of ironic wall-hangings and lurex T-shirts. My knees creak in agreement.

I suggest the next place, a bar I have been to a thousand times before. If anything is going to happen – and I’m playing it just bored and remote enough that it might – it will happen there.

There is nowhere to sit so we slip into a corner amid piles of discarded flyers, our pints sloshing onto the floor every time another punter squeezes by to go the loo. He’s chattering on about Twitter again, admitting he only follows Person X because they know Person Y at Media Outlet Z and he’d love to write for them.
“Oh, I know someone who works there,” I say.
“Do you?!” he grins widely. “Who?”
I say the name.
“Ooh, really? Have you ever done anything for them?”
When I say I haven’t, he looks disappointed. “Why not?”
“Because I have never asked,” I say. “And neither have they.”
“But why would you waste a good contact like that?” he blurts out.
“He isn’t a contact; he’s a friend. And it isn’t what I want to do. I wouldn’t be right for it.”
“Well, if I were you, I’d milk it for all its worth.”

I bet. It occurs to me that I too could milk this situation for all its worth. I could lie and say I know A and B at X and Y and could give him an intro. I imagine I could pretend to be someone else – anything else – for the evening and take full advantage of this young guy’s unwavering ambition. He doesn’t even seem like he’d be that bothered – what’s another hour or two on the casting couch? But what would be the point? It would be like having sex with LinkedIn. He isn’t interested in me. He’s interested in what (and who) he thinks I know. We are stepping into an elevator. Only one of us is going to make it all the way up to the penthouse. It won’t be me.

Sensing my cold feet, he pulls me in for a kiss. It is slippery, mock-passionate and, overall, unpleasant. I am embarrassed for us both. The conversation hasn’t been remotely flirtatious; there has been no chemistry, nothing naturally leading us to this point where we would be kissing in a bar, except for a perfunctory hand on my knee 30 minutes ago. Our date has been a list of names and email addresses – virtual CVs and online portfolios piling up in front of us. He has all the knowledge he needs for this evening; we won’t be progressing to the carnal kind.

I pull away from him. “It’s been a lovely evening. But I’m going to have to go.”
He acts crestfallen. “Oh. Why?”
“It’s a school night,” I explain. “And I’m on deadline.”
“Ooh.” He suddenly brightens. “Working on anything exciting? Who for?”
I sigh. “I can’t really say,” I lie, gathering up my coat. “But you might get to read it very soon.”

Or now.

Post-date rating: 4/10
Date in one sentence: A networking opportunity puts its tongue in my mouth but I spit it out.

The Edamame Embarrassment

Stats: 38, 5’9”, brown/greying, Wales
Where: East London
Pre-date rating: 6/10

A good rule of thumb when browsing profiles is that if someone makes very bold personality claims, they usually mean the opposite. “I don’t believe in jealousy; it’s a wasted emotion” is shorthand for “I will try to strangle you for smiling at the checkout guy in the supermarket”. By the same token, “No hang-up, no dramas, I’m just me” means you are about to meet a one-man soap opera, commissioned for all eternity and eighteen hours per episode. And yet here I am on a date with Hugh, who, aside from his brazen “no hang-ups” claim, also tells me he is “very easy-going”. The alarm bells are so loud I can barely see, never mind hear, but I can’t spend another night with only the fridge’s rasping compressor for company. I need to look into the eyes of another human.

Hugh’s eyes are human all right, the very definition of sludge brown, and hidden behind spectacles with severely smeared lenses. The first thing to come out of his mouth is a moan that the bar I have chosen is too busy and that we’ll never get a seat. I smile wider than a final contraction and effortlessly guide him to the free table I spotted as I walked in.

Once we have settled with our drinks – G&T for him, pint for me – the second thing he says to me is that he forgot to mention a small detail about himself when we’d been texting. I briefly wonder what kind of surprise this bespectacled raincloud has been holding back. Is he actually Superman? Hopefully it’s the revelation that he has to be somewhere else in 20 minutes.

“I’m not 38,” he grimaces, his voice as melodic as a cow coughing into a harmonica. “I’m 42.”
“Oh,” I reply. “Well, that’s no big deal.” Though it kind of is, isn’t it?
I go on: “Why would you knock four years off your age?”
Now that I look at him in the pub’s faux-cheery light, he does look much older than his photographs and dating profile blurb suggested. Shaving four years off was quite brave, in fact.
“I did it so that I would show up in the search results on the dating site,” he responds, showing no sign of embarrassment. “People can be very ageist. Nobody searches for people over 40, so I thought I’d improve my chances.”
While I doubt age has been the only barrier to Hugh’s dating success, I sympathise and agree that dating can be difficult once you pass the magic age of, well, whatever it happens to be at the moment – usually whichever number I’m two years on the wrong side of.

“Well,” I smile, breezily. “Age shouldn’t matter so much anyway. You like who you like.” Not that this is an endorsement of my date, but he takes it as one.
“I’m glad you said that,” he replies. “I’m actually 44.”
I furrow my brow. “What?”
“I’m actually 44. I just said 42 to see what your reaction would be. You seemed to be OK with it, so I thought I’d tell you the truth.”
I sip my pint. “Um, and is this now the actual truth? Or are you just saying 44 to see what my face does?”
He thinks, swirling his gin round in its glass. I feel like the pathetic slice of lime within it. And, then: “I’m 45 soon.”
“OK. How soon?”
“Three months ago.”
Christ.

“I don’t have a hang-up about my age or anything,” he lies. “But people do judge you on your age. It’s not fair.”
“This is true, sometimes,” I agree. “But aren’t you better off either being totally honest and so getting it all out of the way, or, erm, keep on lying a bit longer so that the age thing doesn’t take over the first date?”
“Do you think it’s taken over the first date?” he asks.
“What else have we talked about?”
“How busy it is in here, for a start,” he says.
“That was just you,” I smile. “It’s only a conversation if I reply.”

He is just about to respond when a haircut in a greasy apron appears at his shoulder. “Do you want to order some food?” it says, sweeping its fringe to one side, and plonking two dog-eared menus on the table.
Without checking whether I want to eat, Hugh ploughs on and orders a curry. This cheers me, at least. He won’t be approaching me for a snog at the end of the evening with curry-breath. Mind you, with this guy, anything is possible.

I don’t really want to sit and have a meal with him, but I don’t want to appear rude or totally change the tone of the evening by admitting this, so I glare at the uninspiring pub menu for what feels like infinite millennia while the waiter shifts from one foot to the other like he’s working a python down his trouser-leg.

I feel Hugh’s smudged specs trained on my face, so I select a stir-fry and hand back the pathetic sheet of creased A4 to the waiter.
“Any nibbles while you’re waiting?” he asks, clearly trying to build up his part. I lean toward him and glance over the menu again. I look back at Hugh and shrug.
He still has his menu. “Some of those, please,” he says, pointing at something.
“OK,” says the waiter. I am not to be let into this secret, it seems. I hope he hasn’t ordered oysters.

“So,” says Hugh, leaning in across the table, “does it bother you about my age?”
What is the right answer to this? Am I annoyed that he’s older than he said he was or the fact he lied in the first place? Or both? Although he has been less than scintillating company, I don’t want to hurt his feelings.
“Why don’t we talk about something else?” I offer. Hugh leans back in his chair and pushes his spectacles back up his nose.

The waiter returns with a huge black tray, in desperate need of a dishcloth’s attention. Here we go. But there are no oysters or champagne or, well, much of anything upon it. In the middle of the tray is a tiny dish of edamame beans. I smile politely as the waiter places it on the table with a flourish.

It is at this point the evening goes off a cliff.

I’m not sure the edamame beans are entirely what Hugh was expecting, as he looks at them with a mixture of suspicion and concern. As I put my hand out to take one, he suddenly grabs two and pops one of them – a whole pod of edamame beans – into his mouth and begins to chew.

What to say? Should I tell him you’re meant to pop them out of their pod before eating? Or just carry on watching him gamely chewing, his face a picture of grim determination? The minutes crawl by. Silence, except the sound of chewing. And more chewing. Finally, I can take no more.

“You all right?” I ask.
He nods and smiles. I see the green threads of pod between his teeth.
I gesture to the dish of edamame beans. “You’re not supposed to eat the pod.”
He stares back, before replying just a beat too late. “I know. I just like it.” He has the good grace to redden at this obvious lie.
I smile sympathetically. “You don’t seem to be getting very far with it.”
The night isn’t irrevocable. It can be saved, despite the ageing weirdness and, well, this. If he just spat out the edamame and admitted he’d been wrong, we could have laughed, clinked glasses and moved on.

Instead, he licks round his teeth and swallows the remains of the edamame. His eyes turn to glass as he says “Would you say you were a bit of a know-it-all?”
“Errr, I don’t know!” I quip, but it is lost on him.

His tongue flicks across his teeth again. “Cos I think you are.”

At that moment, our main courses arrive. My stir-fried vegetables look even limper and sorrier than I feel. I pick at them. Hugh eats his curry greedily, like he can’t wait to finish it and get out of here. I am thankful for this. We do not speak at all.

When he has finished, and I am barely halfway through my stir-fry, I catch the waiter’s eye – no mean feat with that mass of hair halfway down to his chin – and ask for the bill. Hugh looks up from staring at his empty plate. “Oh, I see,” he says. “I knew the age would be a problem. Younger men always think they know best.”
I don’t reply.

The bill arrives and the waiter hands me the debit card machine and I punch in my PIN, paying only half – I am not treating this weirdo to dinner. When it’s Hugh’s turn to tap in his numbers, he looks back over to me. “I think you’re making a big mistake.”

I push the dish of edamame beans over to him. “Here,” I say, in as gentle a voice I can muster. “Don’t forget to eat your beans.”

Out of sheer spite, or pig-headedness, he reaches for another and puts the whole lot in his mouth and begins to chew. And I don’t mind, because I know I will not still be sitting here to see him try to swallow it.

Post-date rating: 0/10
Date in one sentence: Man with personality of an edamame bean ages seven years right before my eyes.

Image: The Proletariat Designer on Flickr

The Also-Ran

Is there anything less sexy than a date who dumps all his problems on you? Is it really only nice guys who finish last?

Internet dating attracts the loneliest of souls. Behind every profile advertising a “vivacious go-getter”, there’s a self-doubting emotional wreck searching for a friendly face upon which they can offload their problems – and little else. Sadly. Thankfully. Everybody’s got their problems; some of them like to share them on a supposedly romantic evening. It’s a risky seduction technique, but depressingly popular.

Tonight, I’m playing shrink to Christopher, an aspiring novelist with faux-messy hair and a bowtie. Aspiring. Bonjour alarm bells – aspirations are doppelgangers of unrealised, far-fetched fantasies.

His profile promised the romantic equivalent of high-speed broadband. Instead he is, at best, alternately fizzing and flatlining dial-up on the Isle of Skye. He’s telling me about his career thus far. It’s light on comedy.

“I’ve wasted chances, fucked up opportunities, chased stupid dreams that turned into nightmares and missed out on a podium place every single time. I try not to be bitter about it, but it’s hard. I wish things were different. I wish I wasn’t such a, such a…” he begins to stammer.

I eye my beer wearily.
“Such a what?” I prompt.

He sighs heavily. Any joy remaining in the room is quickly sucked out of it.
He continues: “Such an also-ran. A bystander. I’ve never been at the centre of anything. Always in orbit. Uranus.”

I do the obligatory schoolboy laugh, but he ploughs on, deadly serious. “I wish I’d been less of a loser.”

I begin to wish he hadn’t ordered that gin and tonic.
“You don’t really feel that way about yourself, do you?” I say.

He looks up from the table, his eyes sad and grey, like the unluckiest pensioner in the bingo hall.
“I’m afraid so. I try and try but nothing seems to work. All my relationships have been a disaster. Men screw me over all the time.”

He’s doing a dreadful PR job on himself. What am I supposed to say? I have never met him before; I only have his side of the story. If he was this scintillating on dates to other men, no wonder all they wanted to do was roll in the hay and run. Do nice guys all really finish last? Or is there a reason you’re destined to be runner-up? I’m not sure I want to find out, and he doesn’t look like he needs psychoanalysing. Just a hug and that gin taking away from him would do, I reckon.

We haven’t known each other long enough for physical contact, so a verbal ruffling of the hair will have to do.

“I’m sure you’ve just been unlucky,” I offer.
He looks down again, utterly convinced. “Yeah, maybe.”
A huge sigh. His eyes return to mine. “Not much chance of a second date, I suppose?” he says.

My mouth dribbles into a weak smile.  I feel celibacy’s icy fingers grip my balls.
“I think you’ve just had a bad day. Let’s try another, some other time.” It feels about as sincere as a Christmas card with a live grenade attached.

“Thanks,” he says quietly, and we finish our drinks before heading out into the night and away from each other.

Over the next few days, I think about whether to contact him again. Sure, he was a bit of a downer, but maybe he’d had a bad day. And while he’d been screwed over by men before, perhaps I can prove we’re not all the same. Considering those vulnerable eyes, I finally do contact him – a text proposing a drink.

I wait. Nothing comes in return that evening. Busy, maybe. Out of the country. And, then two days later, my phone buzzes.
“Nice of you to get in touch,” comes the reply. “But I kind of got a better offer. LOL. Was nice to meet you. Take care.”

Maybe I should be irked, but I’m not. His curse looks to be finally broken. Second prize now belongs to me.

Stats: 35, 5’8”, brown/grey, Shropshire
Where: Columbia Rd, London
Pre-date rating: 7/10
Post-date rating: 3/10
Date in one sentence: The world’s biggest loser wins the lottery.

The Raincheck

Stats: 38, 5’10”, brown/brown, Inverness
Where: Central London
Pre-date rating: 7/10

“It’s raining” is the first thing out of his mouth.
“I know.”
He hops from one foot to the other as if avoiding drops of lava from the sky. He seems stressed.
“Well, what should we do?” he asks. “It’s raining!”
Let’s go into the gallery,” I reply, wishing I had brought an umbrella – not to keep me dry, but to shove in my date’s mouth. I try to shake the last time I went to a gallery with a date from my mind. This will be different.

Afternoon dates are always a risk. Daylight can be unforgiving, of course, and going for a drink in the afternoon always seems a little seedy when you’re with a stranger. But here I am, in the absence of anything to do on a grey Saturday afternoon other than count the spatters of tea next to the bin (I’m quite athletic when it comes to chucking tea bags away). I didn’t factor in the rain, but here it is, like a gooseberry. A wet, miserable chaperone to match my date’s mood.

I know exactly why he’s upset. He has a ‘hairstyle’. It’s a huge quiff, which wasn’t in his photos, so either it’s a new thing he’s trying out (with limited success today), or his pictures are aeons old. I watch the rain trickle down the lines by his eyes. The quiff, like his photos,  is not new.

We duck into the National Portrait Gallery, one of my favourites. Obviously, lots of other people have had the same idea – the lobby is filled with pissed-off looking people who wouldn’t normally be in here, shaking off sodden cuffs and looking bewildered. The air is heavy and humid. It smells of wet hair and halitosis and museum.

“Do you want to start at the top and work our way down, or look around the bottom floor?” I ask, praying he won’t come back with a double-entendre.
“Well,” he whispers, narrowing his eyes in a way I imagine he thinks is sexy. “I was hoping to get to know you a bit better first, but I always like to start at the top.” There is no God.
I laugh a laugh so fake I should be arrested, and we make our way up the long escalator to the top floor.

We talk, mainly about the pictures of various Tudors in front of us. I’m not particularly highbrow, but his exclamations about how difficult it must’ve been to have sex in the outfits they wore and musing whether Henry VIII was well-endowed make me feel like a schoolteacher taking a wang-obsessed pupil on a day out. I have to get him away from these paintings.

Down a floor, then. He finally stops wondering about the sex lives of all the subjects in the portraits and casts his dirty little mind to me instead.
“I hope you don’t mind my wee joke about tops earlier,” he says.
Ah, so he’s kind of read me already. That’s good, I suppose. I’m not a prude or anything, but it was a bit awkward. But, really, I should lighten up. It was just a joke. Anyone else would’ve answered similarly, I’m sure.
“No, of course not.” I smile. Too widely.
“Good,” he says, and our eyes exchange a look that means something and it feels nice.
“But out of interest,” he carries on. “Which are you? Give or take? I’ll do you either way; I’m not that fussy.”

I am back out in the rain ten minutes later and it has never felt so good to be wet and alone.

Post-date rating: 1/10
Date in one word: Versatile.