Tag Archives: dating

Owner of a lonely heart

We’re long used to living our lives in public. Even before social media really took off and we were all superstars in our own storylines, there were plenty of opportunities to show the rest of the world who we were – Big Brother is almost 17 years old, after all.

For anyone too timid or claustrophobic to live in a pretend house with 12 sociopaths and Brian Dowling, there are dating shows. Take Me Out, First Dates, The Undateables, Dinner Date – playing voyeur to poor hapless souls’ search for romance has never been so popular.

Sharing our romantic struggles way pre-dates even the internet; there’s nothing new about matchmaking as a spectator sport. Cilla Black took her first curtsy on Saturday night stalwart Blind Date over 30 years ago, with a host of imitators trying to recapture the primetime magic of Cupid’s arrow ever since. Despite the fact that most first dates are awkward, agonising garbage fires littered with bad jokes, deathly silences, revulsion and dreary bickering over splitting the bill, humans seem to have a death wish, ever eager to show off how supremely undateable they really are. Newspapers and magazines all over the world send two hapless punters out to a local restaurant for a free meal in the hope a carafe or two of the house red and a hovering waiter will be enough to loosen some tongues and fill column inches, perhaps the most notable example being the Guardian’s Blind Date column in its Weekend magazine every Saturday, which I gently eviscerate on my blog.


If I’m harsh on the participants of the Blind Date column, it’s because I speak from bitter experience. The call is coming from inside the house: I appeared in a similar one myself.

Years ago, the Observer ran a monthly column called Up Close and Personals, which would delve into dating profiles to see how the hunt for Mr Right was going. I do not believe in regrets, particularly – they seem like such a waste of time – but I am terrible for lying awake at night and replaying bad decisions in my head. One I could really do without, though – I need the space for all my future mistakes – is my decision to appear in this column, back in 2010. And here it is:


Why did I do it? I could lie to you here and say I thought my story was worth sharing. Perhaps I could claim that I aspired to give hope to other singletons out there, or make them laugh at my poor fortune. But this is nonsense. I just wanted the attention.

One of my favourite things about the digital age is how much attention we can get if we’re up for it. We can put as little or as much of ourselves as we like to get it, although, sadly, we can’t control the attention we receive, either in quality or quantity. It either comes or it doesn’t, and we either like it or we don’t.


I wasn’t getting much of it at the time. I was living alone for the first time ever, staring at the walls and fanning myself against the oppressive heat of that first lonely summer. The blog was in its infancy, read only by a handful of strangers and the flies who’d land on my laptop screen.

Usually the best way to get attention, and the preferred, acceptable way of dealing with it, is to pretend you don’t want it at all. So I could say to myself back in 2010 that I wasn’t interested in the attention at all, that it was “an experiment”. Oh my goodness, I mean please. I’ve written for a living for almost two decades – I crave attention. It is my fuel. I write to be read. Without actual, physical attention, with zero eyes on my words, I am nothing, dead. Plants need light and water; writers need your eyes.

So, back in 2010, I wanted two strands of attention: I wanted someone to read it and think they should commission me to write something for them and, perhaps more easily as it turned out, I wanted a man to read it, look at my photo, and fall in love with me.


What? You never dreamed of that? That someone would just lay eyes on you and be immediately smitten, as if they’d just drunk a magic fairy-tale potion? Oh, man, that’s a shame. Dream big. The whole dating thing – from start to finish – had been about getting attention. As I said in the column, albeit paraphrased heavily, “I wanted to check whether I was still attractive”. When you’re with someone for eight years, you’re never sure whether they’re telling you you’re handsome because it’s true, or out of habit, obligation, fear, or a combination of all four.

I answered an ad. A journalist phoned me. We spoke. I did not write it myself, as you can see from the journalist’s byline. I agonised over which photo to send in. I sent around five, I think.

I know how it must feel for the Guardian Blind Date couple when they see the finished product. “Is that me?” they may wonder. “Did I really say that?” Well, yes it is. And, yes, you probably did.

They hadn’t picked the picture I liked; I looked like I was leering into the camera (because I was). The interview’s paraphrasing of our conversation made me sound quite cold. My reference to my previous relationship came across as particularly flippant out of context, and my ex was upset about that. It looked like I’d explained away almost a decade of what was in actual fact a very happy relationship as a mere blip, an inconvenience that I’d dealt with – but I must have known this could happen.

I hadn’t told anybody it was going to be in, so I had a run of shocked texts from friends, family and, mortifyingly,  a few previous dates. My ex’s parents were particularly unamused – what must I have looked like? Exactly what I was, I suppose: an attention-seeker looking for the validation I lacked and the reinvention I needed.


I did get attention, most of it from readers tracking me down on Facebook or Guardian Soulmates. Some were women who hadn’t read the small-print, and the rest were men chancing their arm, at least half of them without their underwear. Like I say, you can’t choose how you get it. If you throw out your line, you’ll catch something eventually.

But it could’ve been worse. At least I was a lone voice in my column, even though they weren’t my exact words. No other side of the story, no rebuttals, or arguments, no contradictions. That’s what makes the Guardian’s Bind Date so terrifying and exciting at the same time – and so dangerous.

There’s a school of thought that says to be truly entertaining, you need conflict, but watching people argue or feel nothing but contempt for one another is a temporary buzz that soon becomes tiresome. Insults, hair-pulling and grudges quickly lose their lustre once you realise there’s nobody left to root for, and while watching the fur fly is the backbone of reality TV, what we really need is a story we can get behind. Reading about your average Joes and Joannes cringing their way through a starter, or bite their tongue in horror at a clanger they’ve just dropped, gives us hope, it reassures. Contrary to what you may have read in my blog, the ones where they get on are way richer, more satisfying.

We’re just like them, we think, except we would never go so far as to seek attention like that. And then we pause for a selfie, or write a funny tweet, or do a quick meme, and post it to our 3,000 followers, our heart beating that little bit faster every time a like comes in.

We are all Blind Daters now. We always have been. But they dare to do it in print. They’re extra. Once you’ve done it, you’ll know just how brilliantly brave – and a little bit stupid – that is.


Note: The Impeccable blog returns next week

More like this:
– Let me get a selfie
How to lose touch on social media
We need to make room for some light negativity

Main image: The Observer, September 2010. Faint trace of a leer: model’s own.


The Last First Date

It isn’t a date. Definitely not.

We are not meeting with a view to anything other than having a few drinks and, at my request, ten-pin bowling. It’s all perfectly innocent. Two pals going to score some strikes, but not each other. Yep.

So if it isn’t a date, why am I wearing those trousers that hug my backside the snuggest, and that polo shirt that makes me look the buffest (no mean feat, I can tell you)? Why am I spending too long making my hair ‘just so’ and leaving my flat super early to make sure I get there on time?

It’s not a date; there’s no romance. I don’t need him to be impressed; I don’t care whether he fancies me, right? I have no answer for myself so I glare into the mirror one last time and head out of the door.

This is actually our third meeting. I’ve always told myself it is better not to meet people from Twitter or Facebook – despite lots of very kind, and some really quite salacious, offers – yet there’s no point having a rule if you’re not going to break it. We have actually been aware of each other for the best part of a decade: contributing to the same messageboards (God, remember those?), being friends on MySpace, connecting on LinkedIn and basically using every single outdated social media vessel – and watching them all go under – to be in each other’s lives without ever actually meeting. There has never been even a hint of romantic interest – and we were both with other people for the most part, anyway – but I do, for whatever reason, find him interesting. Fascinating, even.

A few years back when, on the eighth day, God creates his biggest blunder @theguyliner, he follows me. Anonymous is as anonymous does, so I don’t let him know we have a real-life connection, as gossamer-thin as it is, and we @ occasionally and there are maybe a couple of DMs but it’s never anything other than talking about telly or awful old gay venues that have long since bitten the dust.

And then I make a mistake. Continue reading The Last First Date

14 reasons Valentine’s Day is actually a good thing

Here we are again, then. 14th February. Hearts, flowers, huge ecologically destructive helium balloons, cheap chocolates, even cheaper sentiment and lager and lime-flavoured condoms as far as the eye can see.

It has been tradition for most of us – who don’t have a vested interest in peddling romantic tat, at least – to slag off Valentine’s Day as a huge sickly con and its devotees as slobbering morons tricked into buying off-the-peg romance. Cynicism is the thing. And I have more than enough of that to go round. For years now, I’ve dismissed it, rubbished it and assured anyone who buys into it that they’ll be first against the (pink, heart-encrusted) wall should the revolution come.

But the only thing I like more than being horrible about everything is a carefully timed backlash against a backlash against a backlash so here it is and here we are. 14 reasons “V Day” (remove yourself from society if you ever say that seriously) is actually a good thing.

1. Whenever do you get the chance to insult your other half in the name of love?

Most of us, I’m sure, have lost count of how many times we’ve longed to tell our  other half just how insignificant they are and how we have in fact ‘settled’, that they are a permanent irritation. Valentine’s Day now gives you the chance.

To come home from work on a Tuesday in September and hand over a card like the above would probably result in a full-scale row and bowls of pasta being emptied over your head. Dole out the disses on Valentine’s Day, however, and the sentiment HAS to be accepted not only as a joke, but an affectionate one. They CANNOT get mad at you. It’s liberating.

2.  You can judge how much a piece of shit someone is by the flowers they get delivered to them at work


Continue reading 14 reasons Valentine’s Day is actually a good thing

13 reasons we hate hookup apps – and why we should maybe think again

We all love a good old whinge about dating apps, don’t we?

As a gay man, especially, it can be very tempting to blame all society’s ills on them – be it an increase in superficiality, the death of romance or body insecurities. We romanticise a time before Grindr when, in our heads, we all met up in public and cultivated beautiful, caring friendships and relationships in cosy little bars with rainbow flags above the doors.

And then it comes. “FINALLY deleting this horrible app!” they say. “I want to meet men the old-fashioned way,” spits a 22-year-old who’s been on the receiving end of one-too-many “hello m8″s and unsolicited dick pics. But the thing is, the old-fashioned way doesn’t really exist anymore and if it did, you’d be even more miserable. Take for granted the freedom apps have given us at your peril. They’re changing lives.

Before the internet came along, being a gay man could be a very isolating, confusing, and heartstoppingly sexless experience. Grindr and its desktop predecessors may have changed the face of gay culture, but they haven’t made it worse. The same things are going on, it’s just that the journey to them is different.

I’m not saying you’re totally wrong, or I’m right – we’re all a bit wrong. Here’s why: Continue reading 13 reasons we hate hookup apps – and why we should maybe think again

How to lose touch on social media

Like most people on social media, I have blinked and seen five years or more suddenly go by. Have I really known all these people that long, despite never meeting? I’ve seen their dogs and listened to tales of the mums and dads and Christmas dinners for year upon year, yet never laid eyes on them in the flesh and, aside from a few shaky videos or Vines, have never heard them speak.

Our social media connections rumble on and on like endless novels, with shock twists and new characters but always the same face and typing fingers at its heart. You become used to them, they are scenery, until one day, out of nowhere, something happens and everything you knew is gone.


I remember my first Twitter death. A guy I was following, who was bright and funny and kind of related to someone I actually knew in real life, one day turned his patter from well-observed snark to real-life scares. He had cancer, and it killed him. His story ended. Our conversation finished. Dialogue into echo.

It’s easy to feel  detached from rolling news’s horror show of refugee deaths and wars and bombs and all that, but when a voice you’ve never even heard out loud goes quiet, it feels very close to home. I still miss his humour.

There have been a few demises since, both actual and virtual. As well as the mercifully rare sad passings, there have been huge flounces off-grid, and people being hounded away, along with quiet departures from those simply unable to face another day of mansplaining.


While I’ve become desensitised to most of this loss, I felt sad when I noticed a couple I’ve been following – note, following, not stalking – seemed to have broken up without me noticing. It seemed odd in a world where every minute detail of our lives – from what we had for dinner to our partner cheating on us – is shared, that these two had managed to keep it offline.  Continue reading How to lose touch on social media

11 guaranteed ways to destroy your relationship

The thing with many relationships is they have a certain shelf life, don’t they? When you’re in them, and know you need to be out of them, it can actually be difficult to move things along to their natural end.

Sure, you don’t want to be with this person any more, but it’s not like you want to kill them. What you need is a catalyst, that spark to ignite the fireworks that will send your relationship bye-bye, to that great love nest in the sky.

So if you’re eager to move on to the next stage of your relationship – jealously scouring their Facebook for new loves, bitching about your ex on WhatsApp and crying whenever you hear a Celine Dion – take your pick from this list of guaranteed relationship destroyers.

1. Put together a wardrobe from Ikea
There’s an old cliché that going to Ikea itself can cause catastrophic rows between couples, but if you can’t handle a three-hour schlep round a furniture shop without tearing each other’s heads off, you’re basic or whatever. Nobody argues in Ikea any more. It is the bootcut of argument-starters. Over.

What you really need is to buy, arrange delivery of and attempt to build, the hugest wardrobe you can find in Ikea. Tell yourself that you’re “dead handy” and “it will be fun, our little project” all you want – by the time you’re on to the second door you’ll be wielding drills and tearing the joint apart screaming at each other about how bad the sex is. Continue reading 11 guaranteed ways to destroy your relationship

How to be single in autumn

I love autumn. It may be a cliché to harp on about its colours and the smell of bonfires and the transition from wearing the same old pair of shorts to digging out your favourite cable-knit, but it is my second-favourite season. Spring is first; I’m immune to blue eyes but a sucker for a blue sky.

But autumn is beautiful; there’s no getting away from that.

Winter lashes at you with freezing rain and skies greyer than George Clooney’s hair, summer either burns you half to death or disappoints you by not turning up at all, but autumn dazzles you with its good looks, charm and invitations to social events. Trouble is, you can’t date autumn. The leaves would get everywhere.

In spring and summer, it’s fine to be single. People spend most of their time outside, showing acres of flesh, which naturally facilitates flirtation. There are summer flings, and holiday romances. Parties and get-togethers, sure, but the hotter seasons seem to have a much more relaxed air about them.

It’s the time to hang around in a large group of friends, formal occasions are barely a consideration and, a few bank holidays aside, summer likes to keep it unofficial.

“Turn up when you like”, it says, “we’ll be there all day.”

No milestones, no red letter days, just sunshine, cheap prosecco and a spring in your step. Autumn, however, much like Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, works best as a duet. Here’s why:

Loads of birthday parties


Thanks to the preceding generation (and, of course, endless generations before it) enjoying drunken, Christmas, New Year and January sex, there are piles of birthday parties to attend in September.

Attending these alone is no big deal unless you’re cripplingly shy, but the conversation inevitably steers itself toward your search for a significant other, even if you’re not looking that hard.

“And how old are you next birthday? Oh, really? SevenTEEN, eh? Are you hoping to settle down soon?” Continue reading How to be single in autumn