Traffic. Broken alarm clocks. Dead grandmothers. All things which can be wheeled out as an excuse when you’re running late. I try to avoid lateness if at all possible, especially on dates. While I accept it can be unavoidable, lateness which comes as a result of disorganisation appears rude or selfish. If your beau isn’t doing his best to turn up at a date on time, imagine how self-centred and lacklustre he’ll be when taking up space on your king-size mattress.
The most important thing to remember when you’re running late for a date is not how stressful your journey across town is, or how the entire transport industry is conspiring against you. No, you must keep in mind that while the minutes (and hopefully it is just minutes and not hours) tick away, somebody somewhere is waiting for you. They’re trying not to look at their watch. Their eyes are fixed anywhere but the door you’ve still not walked through. They’re wondering what’s going on (although you really should have texted to say you were running late – you did that, right?) and glaring into their pint glass.
When a date is late, for whatever reason, it can play havoc with your grey matter. Your capacity to overthink suddenly increases tenfold; your imagination expands to such a worrying degree that you could quite happily do a screenplay for a five-hour sequel to Lost set in the inner ear of a ladybird while you wait. Where are they? What are they doing? And can you sneak in one more drink before they arrive? If they arrive.
Environment can be a harmful factor in this heightened state of consciousness. Think about it: you’re sitting in a pub, alone. If you’re the industrious type, you’ve already secured a table or a place to sit. The empty seat opposite you – an upholstered void – taunts you sadistically, like a cat lifting its tail and gleefully showing you its puckered arsehole.
Not to mention your fellow drinkers or diners, all matched up in pairs like your socks used to be when your mother still did your laundry. Or, better still, in groups, all friends together, a sitcom cast in waiting. The sociable hyenas scope you out with their curious gaze – equal parts true sympathy and the smugness of an oil baron’s wife – before returning to the huddle, placing bets on why you’re alone and how long your mortification is going to last.
Perhaps your date is just unreliable. It doesn’t bode well for things progressing beyond this initial date, does it? Are you to spend endless hours waiting for him, gawping at clocks and marvelling that your powers of telekinesis can’t make the cogs whirr a little faster? How else will he let you down? Will he fall over in the crockery section at John Lewis and take every plate and glass with him? Is he likely to forget to pay all his bills and end up moving his dirty duffle bag – and oh my goodness is that a guitar – into your bachelor pad? Will he talk about fellatio in front of your father? If you can’t trust him to walk through the door at a pre-appointed time, then you can’t trust him to do anything, can you? He’s already ruined your life and you haven’t shaken his hand yet. Bastard.
Or maybe he’s just not into you. He’s had longer to peruse your profile picture; he’s had second thoughts. Like a carton of milk left on the windowsill in July, you’ve gone off. Now that he’s had time to think about it, he’s changed his mind. To stand you up would be churlish, so he feels he may as well come along anyway; after all, you might be worth a roll in the hay if he gets drunk enough. But he’s certainly not going to break his neck to get there. Clark Kent sped across the universe to get to his precious Lois Lane, but your date is trundling across town with all the velocity of a shopping trolley with a wobbly wheel – it’s not exactly encouraging.
Was it something you said? You flick back over your last text messages, scanning them with the precision of the Enigma codebreaking machine, desperately searching for the trigger word that has turned your date from a keen bean into a don’t-care bear. Every nuance, every comma scrutinised for a sign that may enlighten you. But there are none. You put away your phone. Unless… Out comes the phone again. No, no, you’re being silly; your texts are literary velvet. Your rapier wit should have him panting at your feet like Lassie after a pilates class. Right. So where is he?
Just as your imagination takes it to the next level, which sees your date trapped in a bank heist or saving a bunch of orphans from a burning building, he arrives. You surreptitiously inspect his forehead for beads of sweat; has he really raced to get here? You’re torn between revulsion at having to shake his perspiring palm and pleasure that he at least made an effort in his quest to reach you. You try not to gush that you’re glad he finally made it or, worse, appear over-nonchalant, as if it doesn’t matter when he turns up and you’d wait an eternity just to get a glance at his belt buckle. You feel a bit giddy. Sit down.
He offers to buy you a drink. He walks away to the bar. Nice bottom. Finally, you breathe.