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33 lies you will tell yourself on a first date

1. If I arrive first it will make me look responsible and also like I care and that I’m… not flighty. It will not make me seem overly keen and boring, with nothing else to do tonight, or indeed ever.

2. Arriving late will make me seem mysterious and sexy, and he’ll be panting at my arrival, staring eagerly at the door. He’ll be so pleased I haven’t stood him up that he’ll be overjoyed to see me and we will fall immediately in love.

3. Oh well, it’s better than being stuck in the house.

4. This is not too soon after my breakup. I’m ready.

5. I’m glad I didn’t eat before I came out.

6. I hope he doesn’t stare at my arse when I go to the bar.

7. I’m not going to get drunk.

8. I’m not drunk.

9. He is so wrong if he thinks I am getting another drink.

10. It’s definitely his round. Continue reading 33 lies you will tell yourself on a first date

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The Charm Offensive

I am 24 and at a friend’s flat. She is having a party. Well, I say party – the lounge is full of people, there are bottles of vodka and dubious mixers on the kitchen table and there is a queue for the toilet. It’s as close to a party as we’re going to get this evening.

I am a different animal as a 24-year-old. I’ve yet to endure all the various, turbulent life experiences that will teach me to be kinder, more humble, accommodating, friendly – all that shit.

Instead I am almost a quarter of a century of awkwardness, curiosity and sugar-topped vitriol masquerading as confidence. A familiar tale to many, I’m sure.

I’ve not been out of the closet long – I’m still working out what to do with my wonky wiring and feelings that I’m now allowed to have. And I get super-nervous around other gay men.

As I pour myself a really large gin and tonic, alone, my friend glides into the kitchen and says: “Claire’s friend Matt is here. He’s gay, but a bit weird. Watch out for him.”

I thank her for – well, warning me, I guess – and pour an extra shot of gin into my glass, sending the contents splashing all over the table. 38-year-old me would get a cloth and wipe it up, but time machines aren’t a thing yet and so 24-year-old me vaguely waggles some kitchen roll in the spillage’s direction and strides out to the lounge to witness this weirdo for myself.

I spy him immediately. He is kind of good-looking, despite being dressed in clothes you would describe unfortunate at best. He throws his head back in laughter at something the guy he’s with is saying.

I have met the other guy before and know for a fact his banter is up there with a night in a Bangkok prison in the LOL stakes, so I assume the hysterical laughter is for somebody else’s benefit. It then occurs to me that maybe he too has had a ‘warning’.

I play that desperately unoriginal game every young gay plays: faux-blindness. Oh, boys, you all think you’re being so clever, but coyness is the one trick every gay guy likes to pull out of the bag first. It’s never convincing and always ends in disaster. But I’m yet to learn that.

So it begins. I pretend I haven’t seen Matt at all and instead trundle over to a corner and start talking to someone much better looking.

It continues this way for around an hour or so. Whenever he walks into a room, I find the earliest opportunity to leave it and if finding myself trapped in a group conversation, smile politely before making my excuses and going to the loo. He does the same – he never addresses me directly and doesn’t cast his eye over me at all.

While our paths don’t cross and we haven’t said a word to each other, the air is thick with something – and it’s not cigarette smoke. Our fellow party guests eyeball us nervously, nudging each other, as if wondering who’s going to bite first.

Eventually, I take a pew in the kitchen and join another conversation. Matt enters soon after me and sits opposite. I am between the kitchen wall and the table and can’t possibly get out without appearing very rude. So the conversation continues.

Matt doesn’t say much, but looks across at me often. It is definitely not lust in his eyes – his hooded eyelids convey a dash of contempt, if anything. I decide I don’t have anybody to impress and let forth what I suppose at the time would’ve passed for bawdy humour but would now seem crass and attention-seeking. I’d do anything for a laugh.

At the next gap in conversation, Matt takes a swig of his drink and leans over, saying loudly to me: “Do you know, I think you’re the most arrogant person I’ve ever met.”

The room goes deathly quiet – the only sound is the ice clinking in my glass as my hand trembles.

I laugh derisively and he gets up and walks out of the room.

About half an hour later, I decide it is time to go. I call a cab and wait for it outside the flat – the sky getting lighter and lighter as I smoke the bollocks off a Marlboro Light.

I hear the familiar diesel engine sound and my chariot pulls up. Suddenly by my side is Matt.

“Er, hi,” he says.
“It’s bye, actually,” I beam as I open the cab door.
“But…” he starts breathlessly. “Aren’t I coming with you?”
“What?!” I shriek. “Why would you be coming with me?”
“I thought I’d be coming home with you,” he says plainly.
I’m incredulous. “Why? I thought I was the most arrogant person you’d ever met.”
“You are. And I want to come home with you.”

I’ll never forget his look as I carefully close the cab door and tell the driver to go – his hopeful face getting smaller and smaller in the distance until it is just a dot.

I’m sure Matt wanted to teach me a lesson I’d never forget, and he did – just not the one he was hoping for. The only thing I learned from him was that I should stop being a dick at parties – and that men are depressingly impossible to read.

Image: cathydelmarnie on Flickr

The One-Hour Wonder

The main problem with huge, exhilarating events is the crash back down to planet normal afterward. There is the inevitable need to prolong the high, to stave off the mundane.

It is when bored that I am at my most very dangerous, and the warning lights are certainly flashing now as I sit in my lounge staring at the wall just minutes after arriving back home after my friends’ beautiful wedding. The day itself was perfect and the couple radiant. The setting, in the grounds of the groom’s parents’ house in Kent, was so idyllic and flawless that my flat feels like an oversized KFC bucket in comparison.

It is Sunday. The phone goes on. And that app is launched. Last time I was this bored, I ended up sharing a bath with a stranger. Like I said, boredom can be dangerous.

Being literate and enjoying full sentences can be something of a barrier on Grindr. While all those little avatars of six-packs claim to be erudite grammarians, it seems nobody is safe from that dreary “hows u??” or “heyy mister”. So when I hear that magic ping and see a headless torso wishing me “a very good afternoon, handsome” I am intrigued, interested.

We get the usual rigmarole out of the way very quickly. “Any more pics?” and “Yes, but can I see what your face looks like” are soon despatched and I find myself chatting amiably to a very good-looking man with strong features and the most marvellously perfect body I have seen in a long time.

His thighs are huge and muscular, his stomach and chest rippling and he has biceps that would make Zac Efron self-conscious. Yet none of this perfection looks over the top or ridiculous; it’s all in proportion and not at all intimidating.

This isn’t someone who spends all day and night in the gym – he’s actually fit. These are real muscles; they are earned. In the next breath comes the reason: “I’m a volleyball player.”

Hold. The. Phone.

I instantly assume this poor creature is massively bored and only talking to me to pass the time of day. He is woefully out of my league. But it seems he has different criteria he needs to tick off because before I know it he is complimenting me on my English (he is, it transpires, Spanish) and saying I sound as if I might be quite bossy. Well, he’s got me there.

“I do like to get what I want, yes,” I reply, before realising that makes me sound like a high-maintenance bonehead. I quickly add: “But I always ask very nicely.”

His reply comes as fast as lightning. “And what would you ask me to do? And you don’t have to ask nicely.”

OMG am I being sexted at? I start to mildly panic. I’m not at good at this. Despite my sexually liberal leanings, I am at heart a mortified Victorian.

Luckily, my brain remembers I am still drunk from last night and so the ribald charmer who only gets an airing once I’ve had several pink gins comes to the fore. It only takes three or four more sentences that are, um, unsuitable to print in a family newspaper before he is firing over his address, telling me his real name and asking me to hurry up.

I put product through my hair, change my T-shirt, give it two squirts of Chanel (my two is like your four) and am skipping down the stairs to the street like I am off to meet Santa himself.

I don’t know what I’m doing.

I know exactly what I’m doing.

My bravado is terrifying, but it’s all I have right now.

It takes me about 25 minutes to get to the street where he lives, amid a sprawling estate with tower blocks looming over me. I ring a buzzer, hear a gruff “hello” and get in a very frightening lift with scratched mirrors and a carrier bag filled with something.

The lift doors open at the appropriate floor and I can see the apartment door directly of me ahead is ajar, yet behind a security grille which covers the entire doorway and is locked. Keys jangle. A face appears. And then a body. There is my ‘date’.

We seem to have different ideas of what 5’10” actually is, as he is shorter than me, but no matter. He looks much more average in the flesh but is still good-looking, and looks like he has just got out of the bath. While he’s not wet, he is super clean and is dressed in a crisp white T and some baggy shorts. He’s pale.

He says my name, and lets me in. I follow him down the hall into his lounge which is clean but packed with too much furniture and three clothes-dryers groaning with fashion I would generously call ‘European’, along with assorted sporty attire.

“Would you like a drink?” he asks with a tiny smile. His lips are quite thin. My mother would not approve. Of any of this.

“Water, please.”

He gets me the tiniest glass of water in the world and I sip it nervously while he stares into space and asks me a few questions about myself.

After five minutes of this sexually-charged inanity, he moves toward me. I moisten my lips in anticipation, trembling slightly – my Dutch courage but a memory.

“I don’t like kissing that much,” he says. Oh. I am disappointed. I do. “Shall we go to the bedroom?”

He leads me to his room – a bright, white sparse cell with a huge window and no blinds – and undresses me quickly. And then himself. My disappointment evaporates.

When it is over, I look down at my belly – bloated from the excesses of yesterday and pale and unappealing – then to his: taut, exquisite, and rising and falling with his deep, rapid breathing. He looks straight at me. “Shall we have a shower?”

We make our way through to his bathroom. It is the usual rented flat shade of depressing, with mushroom-coloured tiles and a mottled shower screen that probably won’t last many more drenchings.

I clamber into the bath, feeling as gracious as a fawn on rollerblades, and stand feeling hopelessly exposed and stupid. He climbs in too and starts the water, holding the shower attachment in his hand and showering first him and then me, in turns like an old man absentmindedly hosing his begonias.

He’s expressionless as he takes shower gel and squirts it into his hands, soaping himself before slathering my shoulders with a few stray suds.

I simply have to speak because he’s not kissing me or anything and the sight of the bubbles running down his body is making me feel light-headed. But it seems this is not sexual for him at all; he may as well be bathing a pug.

“We should have done this earlier,” I squeak. “Got us, errr, in the mood.”

He continues to look through me, and a mere slit of a smile crosses his lips. “Uh huh.”

It’s increasingly clear this shower is purely functional; there isn’t to be an encore. I am not to be treated to a satisfactory outcome of my own.

Eventually my X-rated water torture comes to an end and he turns off the shower and hops out, grabbing the nearest towel and offering it to me. I step out with all the grace of a ‘90s ladette getting out of a black cab and take the towel.

He stands before me, his face a picture of vague amusement, and helpfully guides the towel to places I may have missed, carefully patting me dry before taking his hands and smoothing down my hair into a side parting, so that I look like a superannuated schoolboy. Butter, however, certainly would melt.

I follow him back to the bedroom and begin to pull on my clothes, which now smell stale and beery and belong to what I felt like an hour ago.

He regards me as I dress before breaking the silence with a shaky “You have a nice, uh, butt. And legs.”

I laugh nervously in the hope it will stop him calling out any further random body parts.

“Yes.” I sigh. “You look like a painting,” I say, revelling in his furrowed brow as I zip up.

As he opens the door to see me out and unlock the unwieldy grille, he almost leans in for a kiss but then seems to change his mind and shakes my hand. I wonder why he chooses the hand; it’s not as if he doesn’t know where my mouth has been. But like he said, he doesn’t like kissing that much.

I say goodbye cheerily and slink down the stairs and out into the open air again, breathing in deeply and joyfully. I chuckle to myself as I make my way back to my seedy bachelor’s pad.

Life – it’s fucking brilliant, isn’t it?

Stats: 27, 5’10” (not), brown/brown, Santander
Post-date rating:
Date? Come on. But 8/10

Date in one sentence: I never cease to surprise myself.

Image: Flickr

The Time Thief

Clocks. All they do is tick and make people fret. I’ve been waiting at the bar for about 15 minutes now, for the latest contestant in the endless gameshow that is my dating life to turn up. I don’t believe in fashionably late – stylish punctuality is much more my kind of thing – and tardiness should always be explained with a conciliatory text or even a phonecall. So far, nothing.

Everywhere I turn there is a clock reminding me how late my date is. Late, late, late. I can’t look at my wrist any more, above the bar is off limits, and outside, a clock tower looms in my eyeline. And just to serve as one more reminder, even the barman’s wonky eyes are positioned at ten to two. I roll my own baby-blues and go back to studying my rapidly draining pint glass.

I have a bad feeling about this one, I have to say, and his delayed arrival isn’t helping to soothe my worries. He almost seemed too perfect, too good-looking, too eager. His one profile photo, of him and a pudgy mate on a beach in Ibiza, was tempting. ‘All this could be yours’ it seemed to say. I didn’t even bother exchanging much more than the usual pleasantries with this one. I purposefully cut the email chat dead before he managed to woo me with the written word, only to disappoint ‘live’, as happens only too often.

Sometimes, you’ve just got to go for it, throw caution to the wind. At least that’s what every idiot who ever took a stupid risk says. But he looks so good. If something looks too good to be true, it usually is, of course. So where is he now?

Finally, my phone vibrates with that hallowed text. His arrival is imminent, he says, as if he is an emperor or an aeroplane. I stand up from the bar stool and quickly survey myself from top to bottom in a mirrored pillar nearby. Looking up and seeing clocks no longer holds any fear for me, not now I know he’s on his way.

I look OK; I may even have gone to a little more effort than usual. I smooth out the creases in my corduroys – sadly the ones in my face are immovable – and straighten my collar.

Just then, a sound at my right ear. My name. He’s here. I spin round, my face a picture of expectant elation. The joy is shortlived. My mind races back to the profile picture. My shallowness has got the punishment it truly deserves. The pudgy friend is not a friend; he is my date.

Tip: always ask for another photo.

Stats: 37, height unknown, blond/blue
Where:
Central London
Pre-date rating: 8/10
Post-date rating:
4/10

Date in one sentence: To assume is to make an ass of you and me, but mainly, disastrously, me.

More like this: 
The Parent Trap
The Plus One
The Selfie
The Wrong Peter

Image: Flickr

– A truncated version of this post originally appeared in my monthly column in Gay Times.

The Boy in the Apple Store

The Apple Store is a strange place. It does its very best to pretend it isn’t a shop. There are no tills ringing or sour-faced shopgirls stacking shelves with garish product or hurrying along pretending they’re too busy to help you, no groaning rails or higgledy-piggledy stacks of boxes. The Apple Store, especially the one in London’s Covent Garden, is more of an ‘experience’. Smiling pretty boys in skinny jeans loiter at the doorway with eager smiles and eyes so wide they can only be the result of a recently dropped ecstasy pill. They have youth, enthusiasm and a handy line in charming condescension. You could be excused for mistaking it for a bar or café, not a global corporation desperate to get its hands on your hard-earned cash – the more noughts at the end, the better.

But where there is wireless, hardware, oak beams and credit cards, there is retail; and here I am, wandering around it on a Saturday, looking for nothing in particular. I’m glad my own MacBook Pro, which wheezes like an asthmatic vuvuzela every time I turn it on, is at home and not here to see the sleek, steel-encased upstarts that will one day replace it both in my affections and upon my knee. The place is crammed with Apple fanatics in all shapes and sizes and with every variety of facial hair imaginable. Ageing computer geeks, tight-skinned students, emo girls, hipster grandmas, confused middle-class parents rife for a fleecing by their offspring and me, peeking over everybody’s shoulder to get a look-in at a machine so I can check my email, as my ever-unreliable phone is about to gasp its last in battery power.

I’m having no luck, so decide to move upstairs to find a free computer. As I make my way to the staircase, I notice three younger people – two guys and a girl – standing at the foot of it and looking my way. One guy is whispering in the ear of the other guy and looking at me. It’s making me a bit uncomfortable, but I carry on – I’ll leave being afraid of youths until I’m elderly. They’re dressed in that odd, young way – nothing seems to fit them properly and one of the guys looks like he hasn’t taken his baseball cap off since he was a toddler. They are, of course, all beautiful in their own way. One of them especially so.

I walk past them and start up the steps. I manage only two or three paces before I feel someone rush past me and stop right in front of me. It is Guy 1, the whisperer, sans baseball cap. I don’t have much time to take him in, but he is young, cute and staring quizzically at me.

“Excuse me?” he says, in an accent I immediately recognise as French. By stopping, I’ve already excused him, I guess, so I don’t reply. He goes on: “Are you gay?”
I’m confused. It’s not often I get asked this question in public, let alone in the middle of the day. And even though we’re in the middle of the uber-liberal, peacenik outpost of sun-kissed California that is the Apple Store, I’m wary. Why would he be asking? Is he a homo or a homophobe? Is he going to kiss me or punch me on the nose?

I can’t think of what to say, so I say nothing. His eyes search my face, desperate for an answer. I eventually say “Sorry?” to fill some stale air.
He begins to falter, before continuing: “It’s just that you are very good-looking.”
He pauses for a second, bows his head in embarrassment and looks like he’s about to say something else. He doesn’t, however, and darts off, away from me, just as I manage to blurt out a stunned “Thanks”.

Thanks? Is that it? The best I can do? It’s not as if I get told this every day. Not since my adoring grandmothers died have I received such enthusiastic (not to mention unsolicited) compliments on the way my face is set out. How are you supposed to react when someone praises your looks? And why would they be doing it right here, right now? Does he want me? What for? Should I be flattered? I am more than flattered. Would I feel the same if he hadn’t been such a mouthwatering proposition himself?

I start to make my way back down the stairs, I don’t know why. To get his number, maybe? To ask if he’d like mine? Instead, I notice him leave the store. As he does, he gives me a backward glance, full of mortification and missed opportunity.

And then he’s gone. Shit.

More like this:
– The Hogmanay Kiss
– The Steal
– The First Crush
– The Late Great Letdown

Image: Flickr

The Boy on the Beach

Stats: 23, 5’11”, brown (on his photo, at least)/blue, London
When: February 2012
Where: A pebbly beach on the south coast
Pre-date rating: 7/10

When your lake becomes devoid of fish – or you’re sick of catching the same old ones – you must cast your net farther. To the sea, even. And so I find myself in a seaside town, firing up a dating app (allow me the indulgence of fooling myself that the men on this app are only looking for dates and nothing more intimate) and seeing who’s available. The circumstances which have brought me here are sad ones. My godfather has died and I am in town for his funeral, which is in a couple of days. Grief is an odd emotion. While its primary characteristic is sadness, there’s a strong undercurrent that’s quite life-affirming. You want to do things which confirm to you that you’re alive: drink a pint, jump up and down and laugh, make noise, punch a wall, scratch your eyes out, fuck somebody. I pace around his home, smiling at old photographs and wishing there were more I could do. His family need some time together to talk about the funeral, so I decide to get out of their way and go for a walk on the beach. As I leave the house, I idly scroll through the dating app, the eager mugshots all melding into one great big welcoming face. And then, a ping. And so it begins.

His photo isn’t going to win any beauty contests, but it’s not a bad storefront. He has big blue eyes. That’s the first thing I notice. I look at his age. 23. A child! His lips are quite thin. My mother always told me never to trust a man with thin lips, but I’m not going to give him my bank details, or perhaps even my real name, so I don’t need to have very much faith in him. We get over the initial hellos and how-are-yous fairly quickly. My flirtation is mechanical, direct and, from my perspective, deeply unsexy. What a great proposition I am for this young buck. But he is curious and, crucially, bored out of his mind on the greyest of Sunday afternoons, so he takes the bait. I tell him I’m on the beach and he says he’ll join me. I breathe out slowly, the freezing air turning my breath into an ice sculpture, not of a swan or a pretty crystal, but words. They say, “What on Earth are you doing?”  but I turn my back on them. Continue reading The Boy on the Beach

The Graduate

Stats: 5’ 11”, 24, black/green, Oxfordshire
Where: The local
When: November 2011
Pre-date rating: 9/10

The true currency of dating, the one you never really think about, is time. Whether you’re buttering up a honey in a noisy bar, doing extra lengths at the swimming pool to impress a buff lifeguard or stumbling through endless online profiles, the amount of time you spend on this initial process can be disheartening if the end result is less than satisfactory. Checking out pictures, flicking through your favourites and, of course, fielding all those interested parties (if you’re lucky enough to have more than one contestant take a shine to you) all takes up precious time, not to mention – once you’ve locked on to the one you want – the synchronisation of diaries, agonising over what to wear and where to go, followed by the biggest time-consumer of all: the actual date.

It’s refreshing, then, to encounter somebody who cuts straight to the chase. Dawdling, flirting and textual one-upmanship cast aside by somebody who knows what they want – you. Sure, build-up is important and can set the tone for your date, but we live in modern times. We eat fast food, rely on our phones to remember pretty much anything and can, if we so wish, arrange a late-night sexual assignation at the click of a mouse and without any money changing hands. Now, now, now! More! Now! With this in mind, enter our new Guy, who contacts me, exchanges monosyllabic pleasantries and asks if we can arrange a date within about 30 minutes of me first laying eyes on him. Continue reading The Graduate