John seemed nice: a 6”3′ (hello!) charity sector worker (ding dong!) from Tooting (zowee!) into film and comedy, whose profile picture showed a good looking guy in his mid-twenties with cool glasses. E-mails and bad puns were exchanged, and a date made for a Wednesday in London Bridge a few weeks ago.
I was a few minutes early and hovered by the station entrance. When I was approached at exactly eight by a rotund giant, it didn’t occur to me that it could be John. Assured by SB that the description ‘stocky’ when used in conjunction with 6’3” meant ‘pleasingly robust’, I realised that I had been expecting a tall, attractive version of Frankie Boyle. In the event I was more surprised than if it had actually been Frankie Boyle. Though not unattractive, John didn’t strictly resemble his profile picture – which, I suddenly recalled, had been slightly blurred.
Naturally I disguised my discomposure by being overwhelmingly and inappropriately effusive: ‘How ARE you? SO good to meet you! John, such a nice, old-fashioned name. John John John John John’. After I’d taken a few deep breaths, we walked to a nearby pub where John bought me a glass of wine. We brought our drinks outside so that he could smoke the first of many cigarettes: something I didn’t remember reading about in his profile.
At first, the conversation didn’t so much flow as drool persistently. Fearful of awkward silences, I assumed responsibility for maintaining a dialogue by inquiring about his life, work as a stockroom assistant for a chugging company, and escape plan in the event of a zombie apocalypse*. While loquacious on certain, potentially pre-prepared topics, John was pretty hard work.
Even though I was already devoting some thought to my own escape plan, I felt that I should get in another round so that at least I wouldn’t owe him anything if I left early. The next glass slipped down very easily and the conversation became more engaging. At least, I think it did. While two large glasses of Pinot Grigio on an empty stomach certainly helped me to relax, it did no favours for my short-term memory. I became extravagantly and publically lost on my second trip to the bathroom and eventually returned to the table to find that John had bought me a third large glass. As I reached the halfway point, his knee touched mine and I decided that it was time to take my leave.
We walked together to the station where John asked, rather labouredly, if I’d like to repeat the experience. I didn’t, much. While he was a perfectly nice guy, I felt no physical attraction towards him and was frankly exhausted by having done most of the conversational work of the evening. Although it would be embarrassing for us both, it was clear what had to happen. I opened my mouth to say, ‘Thanks awfully, but I don’t think it’s a good idea’. What actually came out was, ‘Hmmm, I don’t know – what do you think?’
Sensitive as I am (and as I’m sure my readers are) to the veiled subtexts of social intercourse, I in John’s shoes would have taken this to mean ‘No, I never want to see you again – but thanks for asking’. John, however, said he’d had a lovely time and that he would be in touch to arrange another meeting. ‘Great,’ I lied with a rictus smile, dodged his awkward kiss on the cheek and ran for the Jubilee Line.
John texted the next day asking if I wanted to ‘hang out’ at the weekend. Crisis talks were held with Anita and Grace and an SMS drafted: ‘Hi. I had a nice time last night as well, but I didn’t feel a particular spark. If we meet again I’d like it to be as friends.’ Another clear signal, I thought, of disinterestedness: that would be an end to it. Yet on Friday, unbelievably, another text came through inviting me to visit the Horniman Museum on Sunday ‘as friends’. This seemed faintly ridiculous; as if the first time we’d met it had been ‘as lovers’. I hadn’t bargained for this.
All the women I consulted on the matter were of a similar opinion to me: that, while what I’d said at the end of the date could have been misconstrued, the subsequent text message had relayed a clear though sympathetic message that discouraged further contact. My brother and (male) hairdresser disagreed. Both were of the opinion that the text message actively encouraged further contact, and both recommended that I refuse to meet John on Sunday. I was in agony. I didn’t fancy John, but he wasn’t a horrible person. Perhaps the museum would be fun. I knew that if our roles were reversed, I would have had to have summoned all my courage to ask for another meeting, and would have been crushed by a refusal. I really didn’t want to hurt his feelings.
And so it happened that I went on a second date, travelling for an hour and a half each way to admire an overstuffed walrus with a near-stranger who I not only didn’t fancy, but didn’t even particularly like, and to whom I owed nothing – because I didn’t want to be rude. It was like that episode of Peep Show when Jez gets Mark to admit that he’s only getting married because he’s embarrassed not to. When I got back that evening, John had requested me as a friend on Facebook. The request was declined and an e-mail sent indicating that a further meeting was out of the question. I felt like an idiot, a failure and a callous bitch, all in one. And this was supposed to have been fun.
In retrospect, it’s clear where I went wrong. I’d made the mistake of assuming that John shared with me that peculiar mixture of paranoia and self-hatred that works to transform subtle signals of perceived detachedness into overwhelming sentiments of disdain and dislike. Friends of D For Dalrymple, take note. Every so often – usually when I’m bored, stressed, or tired – if I text you and you don’t reply, I don’t just forget about it. Neither do I guess that you’re out of signal, too busy to reply, it’s slipped your mind, or you’ll get back to me just as soon as you have your diary. It doesn’t matter that I saw you recently and everything was fine, or that you replied promptly to my seventeen previous messages. If two hours go by with no reply, I become actively concerned for your well-being. By the evening of a Bad Day, I’ll be enviously imagining what you can be doing that’s so fun and exciting that you can’t make time to text back. After 24 hours I’m an emotional wreck, corroded by anger and jealousy, and riddled with guilt for whatever transgression I’ve unwittingly committed to make you HATE me.
It’s been brought to my attention before that this might not represent an entirely logical or ordered way of thinking. I remember reading once that very young children don’t start to perceive themselves as individuals until the age of of two or three. The child who cries and is fed or cuddled in response assumes that the care-giver must also experience their feelings of hunger or need. Experiencing themselves as part of a universal consciousness, they consequently tend to become confused or angry when things don’t go their way. Thanks, Piaget: that’s also me under stress. Unless I take time to think things through, or, better still, tell someone (so they can alert me to the fact that I’m being mental), I’m quite happy to waste vast amounts of emotional energy because I simply can’t conceive that anyone could be thinking differently to me. While I’m imagining motorway pile-ups and abandonment, you’re probably sitting there thinking about how much you like pizza.
So, my first date wasn’t Mr Right and I, let’s face it, can be slightly unhinged. Needless to say, the whole experience has put me off slightly. To add to my paranoia, the advertisements supported by my e-mail inbox seem have become rather more focused than usual since my last D For Dalrymple post: ‘Dating For Grown-ups’, ‘How To Get Him And Keep Him – For Life!’, and – disturbingly – ‘Discount Handcuffs And Toys’. I can’t decide how Gmail knows about my blog. Of course, it could all be coincidence, but I can’t help but suspect that some kind of invasive internet wizardry must be afoot. The implications are alarming: if a Google spider can skitter across one post of my blog and conclude that I am tragic enough to require help via webmail, who knows what my sentient readership will think?
Since its conception, D For Dalrymple has tried to adhere to a high standard of journalistic transparency; not only in the interests of entertainment, but because I literally couldn’t make it up. However, I’m inclined to make this my last dating-related post. I need you, sweet reader, to understand that I possess the capacity to embarrass myself in literally hundreds of scenarios – not just dating ones. In the greater context of my many other Fails, my romantic life is pretty insignificant.
Plus – as the talented and attractive Ed so perspicaciously points out – you never know who might be reading.
*I’d tell you about my own zombie escape plan, but you’d only slow me down.