Stats: 37, 5’8″, brown/green, London Where: South bank, London Pre-date rating: 6/10
No. It’s a simple enough word to say. Just the solitary syllable, after all, and one I always delighted in spitting out as a child when asked to do something. And it’s the word I’m focusing on as I sit opposite Alistair, a good-natured, OK-looking civil servant who’s been sitting bolt upright in front of me for the last two hours.
However did we get here, to this date which has very quickly turned into a hugely unsexy business meeting? He is nice enough – inoffensive, polite, clean. But there is no charm, no flirtation. I thrive on flirtation on dates; it’s the plutonium I need to get me to the end of the night. From him, however, there is none. Usually I’d put this down to nervousness or shyness, but that’s not the case here. He exudes a kind of bland confidence; he’s not brash or assertive, just, well, a bit boring.
The chemistry between us borders on nonexistent, but it doesn’t seem to bother him at all. He doesn’t say much, but when he does speak it’s in an even, emotionless voice. I feel compelled to get up from my seat and look at the back of his neck to see if there’s a flap where batteries would go.
Alistair is a man with a formula. He asks a question, gets his answer and before I can ask one back, he asks another, and another and another, pausing only to talk about something else unrelated to him, or indeed anything. Every question I answer is met with “Yes, yes. Of course. Yes” but no further detail or exploration. He jumps straight on to the next question, like he has a list of checkboxes in his head. I feel like I’m being assessed for a mortgage.
What is he hiding? Is there a big secret? Either he lives a double life and is scared of revealing the truth or, much more likely, he’s a dullard and is scared his answers will give him away. At each lull in conversation, he springs up and offers to go to the bar, bringing back a different drink every time, claiming they didn’t have what I asked for and I should try this much more potent, brightly coloured cocktail instead. The Long John Silver of insipid is trying to distract me with his garish parrot. I should say no before he makes his way to the bar, I know, but don’t.
He talks about his life and his job as if reading out instructions on how to plumb in a washing machine, the monotone almost sending me to sleep. Add to that my wooziness from the cocktail, and I start to feel like I’ve been the subject of a chemical-free spiking.
I soon realise I should call time when he expresses interest in the fact I live alone. It’s the one time his voice ever changes pitch from its air-raid siren drone and gets slightly more excitable. I’m slightly incredulous; all we’ve done is sit at the same table for an evening, with absolutely no sign of mutual enthusiasm whatsoever. Suddenly, now the night is drawing in and the bus stop is calling, he’s pulling an attraction out of the air. I don’t believe for one minute he’s remotely interested in me. I make noises about having to go, and hope I’m making it clear I’ll be doing that alone. His voice quickly returns to its natural, flatlining state. If he’s disappointed, his poker face doesn’t show it.
Yet he hasn’t been a totally awful date. He hasn’t been an arsehole, or upset me, or been dismissive. I won’t be walking away from the date thinking I’ve had a lucky escape. I feel uncharitable for thinking him dull; what’s wrong with someone just being a nice guy?
So when the date is finally over – just as I finish counting the freckles on his face and arms for the twentieth time – and he asks me whether I’d like to do it again, I don’t say no. I don’t make up excuses about being busy with work or having to go away a lot. I don’t smile weakly, shake his hand and say that while he’s a sterling guy, we’ve nothing in common and our time together made me feel like I was drowning in a litre of magnolia paint. Instead, I grin widely, give him an enthusiastic hug and ignore “no” in favour of its destructive evil twin. “Yes,” I say. “That’d be brilliant. Yes!”
Post-date rating: 6/10 Date in one sentence: Mr Cellophane just won’t stick.