Category Archives: Bad dates

The bitter end: Todd and his toothbrush

With Todd, the signs were always there, I guess – on our first date he spent rather too much time ogling a famous popstar across the bar. On leaving the place, I took him back to mine to teach him a lesson he’d never forget and, perhaps to both our surprise, it turned into something.

Little things would crop up every now and again to make me wonder. Todd’s insistence that he sit facing a window when we went out to eat, or going to a barbecue and eating only what he had cooked himself – a trial because he incinerated absolutely everything – or his annoying habit of refusing to accept I didn’t like red wine that much.

“White wine is for beginners,” he would say, impatiently, as I slipped a bottle of prosecco in the shopping basket. “And prosecco is for girls.”

“If prosecco is for beginners then I don’t ever want to be intermediate,” I’d reply trying not to roll my eyes. “And I’ll happily wear a dress if it means I get to drink cheap fizz.”

“White wine is for beginners,” he’d say, impatiently. “And prosecco is for girls.”

His main shtick – and the loudest of all the alarm bells – was trying to make me feel uncultured and shallow. He would get on to politics far earlier in the day than was acceptable, and call me out on “wishy-washy Guardianista received opinion” then bore me to death with his musings on the economy which I suppose I could’ve read myself had I not been laughing too long at a deliciously bitchy Marina Hyde column.

And yet, incredibly, he fancied me rotten. He would tell me so, very often. Over lunch, on the train, in the supermarket – usually mere moments after skewering me over my choice of wine. Looking back now, I suppose he thought he could get away with acting permanently exasperated at my faults if he told me I was pretty, like an old lady cooing at her budgerigar or a stable hand patting his thoroughbred’s thigh. Being single can be quite a fragile state at times, and I suppose being told I was hot by someone was a rare pleasure, it made me feel nice, albeit briefly, and it can be quite the aphrodisiac.

The final straw, however, was the most ridiculous of all. I had endured six weeks or so of this odd mix of him telling me I was irritating then being unable to keep his hands out of my shorts, but what finally did it for me was a toothbrush. Yes, a toothbrush.

I stayed over at his flat for the first – and, as it turned out, final – time. I woke first and ran my tongue over my teeth.

To placate him the night before, I had gamely joined him for a few glasses of red wine. My breath was pure vinegar and my teeth felt like tombstones.

I padded through to the bathroom, praying I wouldn’t bump into any of his housemates. He lived with two girls, but I never saw them, only their miserable bootcut jeans hanging to dry on a clothes-airer in his conservatory.

In the bathroom mirror, I surveyed the damage. Purple-stained lips? Check. Grey, wine-ravaged teeth? Check. General feeling of gut rot, extreme nausea and cottonmouth? Check in triplicate.

I glanced around, looking for something to fix my malodorous mouth. No Listerine in sight. I sighed heavily. No floss, either. I tried to remember what Todd’s teeth were like, realised I couldn’t, and thought that in itself was a pretty bad sign.

In a beaker by the sink stood four toothbrushes. One was red. One was pink. One was purple. And one was green. I considered them all. Three people lived in the house. Sticking to gender stereotypes, I reasoned the pink one would belong to one of the girls. I couldn’t see Todd going for a red toothbrush, and it looked quite grotty, so I assumed they used that one to clean the grouting. Purple or green would be Todd’s then. I thought of maybe just leaving it, but… oh my mouth. It felt awful, like it was screaming at me “Who did you let in here last night?!” I had to get rid of this feeling.

I grabbed the green toothbrush, smeared some Colgate on it, winced, and started to lightly brush my teeth, the bristles barely touching enamel.

“Why would you do that without asking?” he railed. “That’s my PERSONAL toothbrush!”

At that precise moment, of course, Todd walked in, scratching his arse through his boxer shorts. He stopped dead when he caught sight of me, his eyes darting from the beaker to my mouth, then back to the beaker, before resting on my mouth and widening in horror.

“Heeeeey,” I garbled through a mouthful of fluoride and foam.

“What are you doing?” he asked, his eyes like saucers and his lip trembling in a way I had seen once before but for a very different reason.

“I’m guzzhing my keergh,” I mumbled, before giving in and spitting out any toothpaste that had managed to stay in my gob.

“Where did you get that toothbrush?” His voice was almost a whisper, but with a hardness that I assumed was dissatisfaction. My lord and master wasn’t happy.

I gestured toward the beaker. “Right there.”

He pointed now to the brush still in my hand. “That’s mine.”

I made a face a bit like a pug trying to get chewing gum out of its back teeth. “Yes. Well, I don’t have one here. I thought I might as well.”

He started to go red. At first, I thought he was embarrassed at making such a fuss, but it soon became clear he was angry. Furious, even.

“Why would you do that without asking?” he railed. “That’s my PERSONAL toothbrush” – I can only imagine what his business toothbrush was like – “and I don’t like you just coming in here using it.”

I carefully placed the sainted toothbrush back in the beaker. “I wasn’t keen either,” I admitted. “But… I don’t really understand why this is a big deal.”

He snorted. “Come ON. It’s gross. It’s not hygienic.” He scrunched his face up in disgust.

“Are you for real?” I spat. “Your tongue’s been on just about every tooth of mine it can reach, and you had my… my pecker in your mouth a few short hours ago.” I cringed at the memory. “But dragging your toothbrush around my gob is a hanging offence?”

He looked puzzled and ran his fingers over his own teeth. “I don’t know where you’ve…” he stopped himself. “Um, you might have gum disease.”

I rubbed my eyes. Suddenly I was very tired and very hungover and very much hoping for teleportation to be invented within the next 15 seconds.

“I’m just a bit funny about what I put in my mouth.”

I slid past him and went back into the bedroom and started to get dressed. He followed, but the sun was in my eyes so I couldn’t see his expression. When he finally spoke, he sounded sheepish.

“I’m just a bit funny about what I put in my mouth.”

I pulled on my trainers in excessively energetic frustration. So many one-liners swirled around my head; a hundred possible put-downs and sparkling double-entendres willed me to pick them.

Instead, as I slipped on my jacket, I settled for “Fuck off, Todd” and left the room, his flat, his street and jumped on a bus to start my favourite journey of that year so far – the one that took me away from Todd for ever.

Image:  pcapemax2007 on Flickr

The Hold-Out

A restaurant. I hate going for food on a first date, but my date suggested it and so here I am.

Leo is a student and 22 – that enchanted age where anything seems possible, but you’re still not old enough to realise none of it will ever happen.

His pictures were, to put it bluntly, deceiving and he is not very good-looking at all, but I’m here now and we can at least have a nice dinner. I can tell he’s not a serial dater, as he’s picked Chinese – nobody wants to spend two hours watching a stranger grapple with chopsticks.

He has been flirting with me outrageously since I got here – he’s all coquettish leans to one side, wry smiles and fluttery eyelashes. I am as responsive as a fridge in a scrapyard.

Halfway through a bowl of noodles that I can’t wait for him and his mouth to finish, he licks his lips and puts down his chopsticks and I know I am in trouble.

“I just want you to know – I never sleep with someone on the first date.”

Here we go. I am nothing if not a sadist, so I ask simply: “Why?”

He goes into a long diatribe about how  relationships can only be brief and meaningless when founded on sex and that he prefers to get to know someone “spiritually rather than carnally”. I wonder which rock of self-help this bizarre statement crawled out from under.

“So how long do you wait?” I ask. “What’s the magic number of dates before you do the deed?”

“About four?”

“Four,” I repeat. “And then what?”

“Whaddya mean?”

“After date five, what happens next?”

There is no response. Just a deep breath. I plough on.

“Well, here you are.” I gesture around the room. “Sitting with me, on date number one. It rather suggests that as magic formulas go, your one for having a long-lasting relationship doesn’t seem to be much good.”

He scratches his head. “Eh?”

I should stop, but I can taste blood and, reader, I like it. “Four dates. Risky strategy.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, you’re giving people an awful lot of opportunities to fall out of love with you.”

He scrunches up his face, puzzled. “What’s wrong with my four-date rule?”

I rest my chin on my hands. “If your formula for starting out on a long relationship is not to have sex with someone until the fourth date, why are you single? Where’s your relationship? Why are you here, now, with me, on a first date, imparting your ‘wisdom’, when in fact it is a load of old pony?”

He laughs nervously. “I don’t know.”

“Well, no. Holding out on sex on a first date is your choice, and totally up to you, but don’t think it makes you any deeper or less superficial to keep your Aussiebums on. It just means you are missing out on a shag. If you’re happy with it, that’s great.”

He puts his hand on my arm and smiles at me in a way I imagine someone once told him was sexy. There is a bit of chive in his teeth. He looks very pleased with himself – like a bank manager cancelling an overdraft. “Are you asking me to make an exception just this once?” he says.

My gaze slides glacially to his hand.

“I do sleep with people on the first date,” I smile. “If I fancy them.” Cue dramatic pause. “You’re safe tonight, Leo.”

He moves his hand back. We spend the rest of the date talking about the weather and ask for the bill as quickly as politeness will allow.

Stats: 22, 5’7″, mousey/blue, Norfolk
Where: London E1
Pre-date rating: 8/10
Post-date rating: 3/10
Date in one sentence: Bait is not taken.

Image: Zebble on Flickr 

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.

Image: Flickr

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?”
“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.”

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.”

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.”

“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 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. “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 a soya bean ages seven years right before my eyes.

Image: The Proletariat Designer on Flickr