Talking about work on a date is unsexy. We all know this but it is worth mentioning. Work talk can be tiresome, generally, but bring it up on a date and you risk everything.
I have noticed that discussing work can expose unappealing truths. Dates who complain about it seem to be saying 'my job is just one of my many problems.' On the other hand, dates who speak lovingly of their careers are really saying 'this is a huge part of my life - be warned'.
Most people find it impolite to speak ill of their jobs. Such talk seems to go against the modern mania for bland positivity. Work is only worth discussing if there are logistical implications, a late running meeting for instance. In all other cases, work chatter can make you appear either boastful or remorseful. Last week my date fell into the latter category - or more precisely: remorseful with a dash of white-hot rage.
It was a Monday night and I was having a drink with Audrey. For a woman in her early thirties, her name was curiously old fashioned (as was her approach to life). We both worked in HR. I was employed by an investment bank while she toiled for Wandsworth council. Our shared profession had inevitably become the default topic of conversation. It was a subject devoid of sparkle and one which ran dry on the first date. It was now our third date, and I was trying to dodge it - without success.
"You'll never guess what they did today," she said.
"What's that?" I took a sip of my pint.
"They announced more restructuring. The consultations begin next week."
"Are you affected?"
"No, but it's going to cause havoc. I mean, the way they did it last time..."
We were in The Hope in Wandsworth Common, an apt name, given I was losing mine. Audrey spoke about how they don't get it. Who they were was never entirely clear, I presumed she meant the bosses. There is something especially loathsome about public sector fat cats, I thought. At least bankers make no attempt to hide their avarice.
Audrey was a natural beauty. She was tall with chestnut hair, like a Pre-Raphaelite goddess. Her incessant work talk, however, lent her a gloomy aspect. On our first date she was all heels and make up, since then she was scrubbed and in flats. Talk about austerity.
"It's these cuts," she said, "we can't go on like this. If they keep cutting public services, people will suffer."
"And by people, you mean you."
I lifted my pint and winked.
"You think that's funny?"
I had stepped on the dragon's tail.
"Well, yes." I looked around the pub. "But not at your expense."
"Who's expense then?"
A vein throbbed in her neck.
"I don't know. The tax payer's, maybe?"
Provoking Audrey was the last thing I wanted to do but I could not help myself. I would say the devil made me do it - if I believed in him. As it was, I could only blame myself for my demonic outburst.
"You know what the real problem is?" She said, clutching her wine glass.
"Is this one of those rhetorical questions?"
"Your lot - bankers." She spat it out like an insult, which I guess it was.
"I wouldn't call myself a banker. But I do work with them."
She looked away. It was only our third date and already we had come to this. We were in 'The War of the Roses', hanging from the chandelier.
Everybody in the pub was well-dressed and happy. And there we were, scrapping over government policy. I get it, society is ablaze, but surely this is nothing new. Could we not face Armageddon with a chipper smile?
Audrey coloured her monologue with frequent eye-rolling and aggressive hand movements. No one knew what they were doing, apparently. No one but HR, I presumed. It was this sentiment that awoke my own inner-kraken. We are the most tuned-out function of all, self-referential and bureaucratic.
"Listen," I said, "I'm not who you think I am."
"What's that, a middle-class City boy?"
I banged my glass down with more force than intended.
"Middle-class. Come on." But a tirade was not forthcoming. Audrey glared at me.
I was being attacked - worse, I was being protested against. All work was a bind but some of us are on the wrong side, apparently. Audrey's face softened and she allowed a tiny smile. I motioned to the waitress for another drink. Audrey sat back in her chair and picked up the wine list. One thing was clear: she was going to survive the cuts.