One can spend what seems like a lifetime wading through the deep and meaningful in search of love, or whatever your approximation of that is. As I have learned with the majority of my pre-date wooing, sometimes the build-up isn't worth the final result.
You've spent all that time laying foundations, only to run out of budget for your skyscraper before it's topped out. With this in mind, and reluctant to hand over more subscription money to the dating site only to meet clones of the cardigan-enthusiasts I've dated before, I turn to iPhone apps to find my latest beaux. They're free, fast and, I hope, uncomplicated. The apps, that is; I imagine the suitors will be anything but.
Thus our story of this latest contestant begins. I am idling at home browsing through those 1cm-square thumbnail images, searching for something to take my mind off the recession. And there he is: local and, as I don't recognise his face, I'm assuming a relatively new addition.
I click through. He is fairly handsome, but looks ordinary, approachable, safe. It's hard to tell from just a photo, but there's an innocent charm there. I'm intrigued. I can see that he too is currently online. I wait five minutes or so to see if he messages me (I am always loath to take the initiative), but he does not. I stare at the screen a while longer, and then shut the app down and vacuum under the sofa.
Two days later, I try again, but he doesn't bite. I'm at a crossroads here. I can either carry on to await him noticing me, retaining my pride but ultimately remaining ignored. Or I can bite the bullet and send him a message. I decide to leave things as they are until one night when I am staying at a friend's and am on the business end of a few drinks. After a couple of messages in the over-matey "how's your night been?" vein, I give him my number and ask for his. Wham, just like that, he hands it over and we make tacit arrangements to meet the following week. Easy.
A few days later, I message him to make firm arrangements. We arrange to meet at a pub local to us both, which is fine - less distance to stagger should the evening go well, or, should it not, only a few short steps to make my escape. The day arrives, and around an hour or so before our date, he texts me to check it's still on, saying he's not bothered if it isn't as he has stuff to do.
This irks me a little. Is he trying to act nonchalant in case I reject him at the last minute, or is he genuinely saying he doesn't give a shit? It's a bizarre tactic. The spiteful 14-year-old schoolgirl within me is half-tempted to upend the chess board and call the date off, but I retune my brain back to Radio Normal and shrug off his eleventh hour jitters, texting back that we are still on.
As I make my way to the pub, he texts to say he's there and that it's busy. On entering, I wonder if he grew up in the middle of a field - the pub may be bustling, but it's far from nose-to-nipple. I do a quick scan of the room and spot the only person sitting on their own, nursing a full pint. He is wearing a green hooded top and faded jeans. I breeze on past, feigning obliviousness and head to the bar to order myself a drink. I surreptitiously glance to the left out of the corner of my eye to regard him further. His shoes look a bit weird. I pick up my pint and glide over, painting on my hopefully genuine "nice to meet you" smile. As I sit, I can't read his expression. There isn't disappointment, but his eyes don't widen in awe, either. Fair enough, I'm no beauty. He is not bad looking, true, but his complexion is paler and he certainly looks older in the flesh. He doesn't really resemble his photo at all. He has a sleazy air about him. I'm not disappointed, no, but Cupid's arrow has certainly taken a detour. I don't fancy him at all, but I'm here now so we may as well get on with it and just have a nice evening.
Luckily, when we start to chat and the conversation flows effortlessly. He's a trainee doctor, which is an interesting job for someone who doesn't even watch ER, so we talk about that for a while.
He uses a lot of medical jargon and seems pleased when I ask for clarification. It's fine at first, but after a while I feel like I'm on a date with an encyclopaedia. I catch a look at his footwear and, while such things really don't matter, am taken aback by how ugly they are. He's 28, but they look like something that would make a 14-year-old tug at him mum's cuff, begging her to buy them for him. They're huge, hulking and red - two colossal, plasticky blood clots in trainer-form. As I zone back in from glaring at his sneakers, he's telling me about an argument between his friends that he had to come into the middle of, a self-appointed mediator. I notice his voice has taken on a hissing tone; has it always been thus?
"I just said to them: 'you're being a dick and so are you'," he trills. "I just tell it like it is; I don't mince my words. I'm like that all the time."
He fixes me with a determined, dramatic stare.
"And if people don't like it... well, tough."
Indeed. I am always wary of people who say things like this. Rudeness and insensitivity masquerading as frankness or straight-talking is a huge turn-off. Oh, a gay man with a no-nonsense attitude. How original. Plus, I have just realised that he has bad breath.
I take a hearty glug of my drink and go to the bathroom. As I stand in the cubicle, readying myself, my text alert goes. It's a friend wanting to know how the date is going. Where to begin?
I'm considering my answer when I feel a fleetingly warm, then utterly cold, sensation all the way down my left leg. I look down. I've urinated all down my jeans. Fucking hell. I hurriedly cram my phone back into my pocket and frantically look around for solutions. None are forthcoming.
Finally, I regain composure, quit the cubicle and spy the hand dryer. Grimacing, I lift my leg up to it and attempt to dry out my piss-soaked leg under the airstream, which has all the gust and power of an asthmatic wasp with a 20-a-day habit. Realising I have been gone too long, I give up and make my way back to the table - and my date. Thankfully, he is engrossed in his phone - trainer shopping, I hope - so doesn't notice the wet patch down my leg.
I sidle into my seat and lift my pint, draping my arm over my leg, in what I hope is a natural fashion, to conceal the dark trickle snaking down the denim. The breezy tone of our earlier conversation somehow gives way to topics I prefer to avoid on a first date, namely the state of society. For someone who works in a caring profession, my date has an unhealthy disregard for the less fortunate. His received opinion gushes from him, like it has been nudging the edge of an internal dam for some time.
"People these days think they can just get what they want for free. They just walk into the job centre and demand welfare. I'd never ask for any handouts unless I really needed it. I think it's disgusting that I pay all this money for tax just so people can get free boob jobs." It's like being talked at by a hysterical tabloid newspaper.
Quite why I'm the outlet for this catharsis I'm not sure. While there is a point to be made, perhaps, about a culture of self-entitlement, along with the media's demonising of the poor, a first date isn't the right arena for it. My date won't be swayed, anyway. He puts up his hand to stop me mid-flow, saying: "I don't listen to the media; these are all my own thoughts that I have had myself. I don't read the papers and I have never watched the news." He's so far out of his depth he can see the lifeboat containing his original point bobbing uncertainly far off in the distance.
I look back to my lager and suddenly it seems cloudier and flatter. My leg feels cold. I'm abruptly reminded that my jeans are soaked in my own urine. I feel desolate and pathetic. I look up to see my date gazing at me, his lip curled and eyelids drooping. He touches my dry leg and asks if I'm okay, not moving his hand away once he's spoken. I look down at his hand. It doesn't move. We haven't had very much to drink, so I am guessing this is seduction. Maybe I should take my date's lead, and tell it like it is: that it will never be, that he's not the cute, normal guy I thought he was when staring at my iPhone screen. I preferred him as a photo, an idea - he was better when he didn't have a voice.
I smile warmly, look at my watch and say I have to be up early. We leave the pub and he walks me home. At my doorway I say it was nice to meet him and then blurt out that I'll see him soon.
He licks his lips and leans forward slightly. I proffer my hand to shake.
In a beat, he recovers, shakes it quickly and burbles some goodbyes, stalking off as my hand remains in mid-air. I open my door and once inside shake my head slowly as I take off my jeans and throw them in the washing machine, and all the highs and lows of the date with them.
Stats: 28, 5'10", brown/brown, Cornwall
When: March 2012
Where: South-east London
Pre-date rating: 7.5/10
Post-date rating: 5/10
Date in one sentence: I meet a soapbox with bad trainers and end up pissing on my own parade.