It is always important to answer questions honestly. Well, as honestly as you possibly can.
So when Mark, a civil servant from Kent, asks me “Do you like looking round old houses?” I should’ve at least replied “Not sure, depends” instead of an over-enthusiastic “Yes! I love that kind of thing”. But he’s so hot and charming (over email, at least) I reckon I can skip the usual first meeting in a pub for something cultural.
In a rare show of confidence in this guy, I am sacrificing the holiest time of the week – Saturday afternoon. I usually spend them wondering if I’m already too old for Topman (probably) and queuing up for coffee (which will have my name misspelled on the side of it). We’re meeting at an opulent house that’s been converted into a museum of, well, nothing in particular. It’s a collection of old curiosities. As I approach, I can almost smell the dust, the culture, the history, seeping out from its windows. It doesn’t really look like it has a bar, which makes me nervous.
Alcohol isn’t always a must on a date, but it helps. Not only can inebriation aid attraction and conversation or soothe disappointment, it is also handy to have something to sip during awkward silences. Will I really be able to fall in love without a glass of beer in my hand?
Mark is there already, nice and early – his bright blue eyes shining. He looks freshly laundered and optimistic. He has beautiful hair and one of his shoes is shinier than the other. I break into a grin. We shake hands and exchange hellos. He looks pleased with what he sees. That feeling never gets old. Not ever.
We step into the building, which smells like long-unopened boxes of letters and dusty old cupboards, and approach a desk staffed by Methuselah’s much older brother.
“I’ll pay,” Mark says. “It was my idea to come.”
I’m impressed by his gallantry, but Destiny’s Child taught me well. “No, it’s OK. I’ll pay for myself.”
He touches my hand. “No, please, let me.” Those eyes.
We begin walking around the house. It’s very beautiful and quiet. So quiet. Quiet is good if you’re at a relaxation spa, not a first date. I try to ignore my nagging doubts about how this is going to go, but they’re the loudest thing in the room.
After three or four rooms filled with paintings and dark furniture, I’m flagging. I plough on gamely by his side while he silently peruses the dog-eared information cards next to each artefact. Everything is behind glass or roped off so you can’t touch it – and that includes my date.
After another couple of rooms, we trudge up a huge polished staircase and when I reach the top I forget myself, giving a huge yawn. Mark looks at me worriedly.
“Are you bored?” he whispers. “Isn’t this the kind of thing you enjoy doing?”
“No, I’m not bored, honestly.” A small lie.
“I thought we’d be talking more,” he admits, his face downcast.
“Oh. Erm. I just thought you were busy reading,” I reply awkwardly.
He brushes his fringe out of his eyes. “I suppose I thought it would be a ‘different’ thing to do,” he sighs. “But I think I’d rather be in the pub. Shall we?”
I smile with relief. My hero. “Yes, let’s. It’ll be good to get to know you better.”
He beams. “You’re right. We should be looking at each other, not a load of pictures.”
And so my newfound work of art puts his hand round my shoulder and we leave behind the antiques and exhibits to get started on a history all of our own.
Stats: 29, 5’9″, blond/blue, Kent
Pre-date rating: 7/10
Post-date rating: 8.5/10
Date in one sentence: I pretend I can get through a first date without going to the pub – and my date proves I can’t.
A truncated version of this post originally appeared in the monthly column I had in Gay Times magazine. Take a look at the Gay Times website to see when the next issue is out.