As the season speeds up its ascent to brain-burning midsummer, I find myself making the age-old mistake of spreading myself too thinly. Just like the summer before, I am saying “yes” when I should be saying “no”.
The drinks and the dates begin to meld into one, united only by a common goal: to fend off the isolating slam of my own front door behind me. I resolve to ease off gently so I can spend the rest of the summer relaxing and seeing friends, alcohol-free and hungry for culture. Maybe this year I’ll take up painting.
Until then, I have a computer screen and a fairly bustling inbox to deal with, so resolve to get cracking and whip through them as soon as I can. Which brings us to our next contestant.
When he contacts me, I am vaguely amused, as I have seen him around the dating website for over a year. Logging in is much like taking a daily journey on the London Underground: you see many familiar faces, but it never occurs to you to talk to them or even acknowledge them in any way.
Today, however, my fellow traveller has decided to move a seat closer and, by the power of the internet, put his hand on my knee. As we stumble through the initial hellos, I look at his profile and wonder why we’ve never contacted each other before. He’s quite good-looking and the details he’s bothered to share on his profile – which is very light on copy – leave no doubt that he’s not a serial killer.
Am I to assume he has run out of options and so has finally decided to give me a go? Am I a tin of Marvel in a shop that’s just sold the last carton of milk?
Whatever his motivations, he doesn’t beat about the bush. His email skills are what I would politely call restricted, but I do detect some kind of charm under there somewhere. He is Irish, which is a talking point, because bits of me are too, and as I haven’t been on a date with an Irishman that I can recall, I decide to add another pin to my increasingly perforated world map and give him a go.
He suggests we meet in a bar/restaurant in Covent Garden on a Friday evening after work. I’ve never been to the place he’s selected but from passing by I know it’s not cheap. Is he trying to impress me or is he just an insufferable dickhead with too much money? I guess I am about to find out.
When the day arrives, it is stiflingly hot. I work from home in my scorching flat, sweltering at my desk in just my underwear. I’m dreading the journey into town on clammy public transport and toy with the idea of calling it off.
Cancelling at the last minute is a poor show, however, and this guy could be the man of my dreams, right? Right.
Agonising over what to wear, I realise I will have to wear shorts to avoid melting into a puddle of tomato-red skin as soon as I arrive. I assess my legs in the mirror. Not too white. Decent calf muscles. Can I get away with it? Fuck it. If he’s looking at my legs all night then it’s a facelift I’ll need, not trousers.
I throw a white shirt over the top, ignoring the fact I look like I’ve just fallen from the pages of one of those sensible shoes catalogues you get free with a Sunday newspaper, and leave the house.
When I arrive at Covent Garden it is, predictably, heaving. The world and his wife (and probably everyone they know too) are out enjoying the balmy evening, with pubgoers spilling out into the street. I glance up at the balcony of the bar we’re meeting in. It looks busy. I climb the stairs and gently edge my way past lots of pissed-off looking couples.
As I reach the top of the steps and find myself at the Maître D’s podium, my date is standing right in front of me. He narrows his eyes and I can see him mentally crosschecking my appearance with the memories of my profile pictures in his head. There is a very noticeable and fairly lengthy period when his face expresses disappointment. I haven’t really had a chance to look at him properly yet, but I flash back a neutral expression which I hope conveys I’m not too bothered whether he fancies me or not.
He manages a weak smile as we shake hands. His hands are like shovels, and I see that despite his height, all his features are quite big. He has a large head, is very broad shouldered, has squat, muscly legs and considerable forearms. His nose is squished and broad, making a break for each corner of his face. His mouth is petulant and his lips full. And then they finally begin to move. He speaks to me.
I nod. “Yes, did you book?”
He looks at me strangely. “No. Did you?”
I form a pathetic smile. “Well, no,” I laugh gently. “You chose the place.”
“Well, I’m not waiting,” he shrugs.
“Do you want to go somewhere else?” I ask, when what I really want to say is that we should just cut our losses. He’s clearly not happy with what he sees and I don’t want to prolong his agony. I glance at his outfit and see he’s wearing a black T-shirt, cycling shorts, cycling trainers and has a large rucksack. My guess is that he has a bike nearby. Maybe he should just get on it and ride out of my life.
He thinks for a moment. Finally: “Yeah, I s’pose.” And he pushes past me and goes down the stairs. I am glad my seasonal sunburn does not betray my embarrassment. I follow.
We head to a pub round the corner, also busy but with space outside to stand and talk. I go inside to get the first drinks. Pints. When I return outside, he is texting furiously, pausing only to drawl a disinterested “Heeeyyy” when he sees me return. He finishes the text and takes the drink from me. And the ‘conversation’ begins.
He tells me he works in PR and covers a lot of large events, which he will be going to all summer. He asks almost straight away about my job, but shows no interest, looking away at every opportunity or fixing his eye on a spot 10 inches above my right shoulder. He is dismissive about my profession, but I don’t particularly care – I’ve heard it all before and, anyway, I am already sure that this won’t be continuing beyond tonight.
I decide that as he obviously doesn’t want to listen to me speak, I will ask him about his life, knowing I will curse myself for this later. He goes on to talk about his background in Ireland. It transpires he is from a wealthy family, as he goes on about the various houses and cars owned by his extensive, moneyed clan.
“Ah well,” I joke, “You can only live in one house at a time, right?”
He doesn’t join me in laughter. He disappears to buy a round of drinks.
Upon his return, he has a gleam in his eye that unsettles me slightly.
“You don’t look much like any of your photos,” he states. “I thought you were younger.”
Inwardly, I’m reeling, but I don’t flinch. “Well, it does say my age on the profile; it can’t have come as a total surprise.”
“Yes, but your photos must be old. You look different in them.”
“They’re less than a year old. All of them.”
He fixes me a withering look. “Well, you must have Photoshopped them then.”
I blink a few times. “No, absolutely not. What would be the point? I’m sorry if you feel I defrauded you.” Sweat begins to form on my forehead. I feel grotesque.
He (accidentally, I assume) kicks over our two drinks that we’d placed on the kerb. The glasses smash. I stoop to pick up the shards. He stands and watches me for a moment – but doesn’t help – before trooping back inside, returning a few moments later with two more drinks and a packet of cigarettes.
“Um,” I mutter, perplexed, “You said in your profile that you didn’t smoke!”
“So what? You lied about your age.”
“No– no– I didn’t,” I stutter. “And I don’t look different on my photos. This is ridiculous.”
He lights a cigarette and looks away. I feel bewildered and embarrassed. I’m not really sure what’s going on. Time to wrap things up. I don’t fancy him anyway and his banter is bordering on back-of-the-bus school bully. I feel under attack. I gulp at my drink, half-wondering whether it’s poisoned.
“I think I’m going to go now,” I say as evenly as I can muster.
“Yeah, whatever,” he replies, taking out his mobile phone.
“Goodbye then,” I sigh, and turn away.
He calls my name, sounding almost apologetic. I turn round. His face is set in a sneer.
“I only agreed to carry on the date because I felt sorry for you, you know,” he spits.
He dismisses me with his hand and goes back to texting. I turn back round and slowly walk away, not looking back.
A lone tear starts to well up in my eye but it is the last one I will shed over this dolt. I walk all the way home and by the time I get through my front door my head is clear and he is all but forgotten. I let the front door slam behind me and no longer feel isolated – I feel relieved.
Stats: 29, 5’7”, black/blue, Ireland
Where: Covent Garden, London
Pre-date rating: 7/10
Post-date rating: 0.5/10
Date in one sentence: Bitter little shit has a bad day and takes it out on an unsuspecting dater with perfectly truthful photographs, thank you very much