The old saying goes that the Devil finds work for idle hands, but he also seems to run an interesting sideline in spicing up long, boring afternoons.
A day off with nothing to do can be a dangerous void stretching out in front of you, and sometimes the only way to plug that gap is to half-heartedly stumble around social media applications until something happens - a potential inferno in search of a spark.
It is one such afternoon, sunny, bright and cheery outside yet hot and oppressive in my bachelor pad, that finds me indolently scrolling through Grindr, any distinguishing features of the gallery of thumbnail pictures lost as I whirr through them with the enthusiasm of a toddler watching a documentary on the Holocaust. I'm not looking for anything in particular - the idea of having a stranger awkwardly undress in my kitchen having lost its novelty since my encounter with the Colombian last year - but perhaps it would be nice to talk to someone, anyone, out there if only for half an hour before I get up out of my seat to make that scheduled cup of tea, which I won't drink. Not since I was a teenager has the unbearable feeling of boredom and waiting for something to occur been so exhausting.
Ping! The silence is broken by that infamous alert. Someone has something to say to me. I look at the picture of the guy who has sent me a message. He is shirtless, yes, and appears to be posing in the mirror, but I can at least see his face, all too rare in a world where the muscly bumps on your torso are all you need to get attention.
As I'm examining his picture, another message comes through. I silently hope he'll have something more to say than "hello" - a totally unreasonable expectation, given that even the most stimulating conversations have to start off with the blandest of introductions. One final check: he's okay-looking, has a nice 'body' and I've nothing better to do. I click through to his messages.
"I suppose I should start with hello, or maybe tell you I think you're hot."
Interesting. Its follow-up:
"But I don't think that's going to cut it with you."
We exchange a few pleasantries. Well, I say pleasantries. He's sharp as a tack and seems keen to cut right across my pretence of a cool, collected exterior. Every statement or question seems like a challenge, and while I enjoy my mind being stretched, a series of exhausting, bellicose exchanges isn't my ideal way to spend a lazy afternoon, even in the absence of anything better to do, and so I invent a pressing engagement and shut things down.
A week later, I am sitting in a pub with a large group of friends. A couple of them have their iPhones out and are idly browsing and given that I am sitting between two very distinct conversations, neither of which I feel compelled to join, it isn't long before that phone yawn reaches me and I too begin to fiddle with my touch screen. On firing up Grindr, guess who's there waiting, like a belligerent puppy with my slipper in his mouth?
He asks what I'm up to. I reply, staying fairly non-committal and monosyllabic. And then the immortal line finally comes. "Do you want to see a picture?"
There are a thousand sarcastic answers I could come up with here, but instead I play things a little more coquettish.
"I assume you don't just mean a holiday snap."
Another ping. It is a picture, and not one of a beautiful vista in a foreign land. It is a picture of him. Well, a part of him. It looks red and angry. How fitting. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do with this, so I congratulate him on his appendage. He replies quickly: "Your turn now."
I give a hollow laugh. I have never taken a picture of *that* before and I'm not about to begin now. I politely decline. He reduces his request to a body shot, as if negotiating with a terrorist.
Again, I tell him no, saying: "If you're so eager to send pictures of your pecker willy-nilly (pardon the pun), then how do I know you won't be equally indiscreet with pictures of my torso?"
"I doubt anyone would be that interested" is the dry retort.
He quickly changes tack and asks me out for a drink. Perhaps he thinks he's got more of a chance of seeing me with my top off if he tries to persuade me 'live'. Well, if there's one thing I can't resist after all these dates, it's the chance to fail to live up to expectations in the flesh, so I agree. He moves swiftly, organising a place and a time for that very evening. Keen? Or just a sadist? We'll find out.
"Remind me to tell you about the time I screwed my intern in a toilet in Notting Hill" is his sign-off text. I go red, question my sanity, and think about something else.
I arrive freshly changed and scrubbed at the designated place, in a small satellite 'village' equidistant from our homes, to see him sitting at a secluded table in the corner of the bar. I check my watch. 7:00. I am right on time. He sees me approach and surveys with all the innocent wholesomeness of a jackal. He asks me what I want to drink while I sit down. He is back in two flashes. I barely notice him return; he moves like he's on casters.
The chat is awkward from the start. He is in turns ribbing or hostile then conciliatory and charming. I can't keep up. I try to bring things back to normal date chat, and so ask him if he lives alone. He looks over the brim of his glass, his steely eyes fixed straight on my mouth.
"No, not alone," he says, finally. "I live with my husband."
I do not spit and splutter mid-drink but inwardly I convulse. "You're married?
"Yes," he says coolly. "Well, kind of. I'm civil partnered."
I try not to stammer in surprise and rage, but fail. "Wh-what the hell are you doing here, then?"
He rolls his eyes. "I wanted to meet you. You interest me. Plus I want you to send me a naughty picture."
"And would your husband be 'interested' to know you were here?"
"Possibly. We have an open relationship."
I sigh deeply and wrinkle my nose. He asks what the problem is.
"I don't think I could ever be involved in one," I say. "People can get hurt too easily."
His voice is icy and calm, utterly tuneless. "I'm not asking you to be in one. I barely know you."
I laugh, more out of nerves than anything, but his face doesn't respond.
"Whose idea was the open relationship?" I blurt.
"Oh, it was mutual." He speaks evenly. "We're not too bogged down in petty, old-fashioned things like you are."
"I'm hardly old-fashioned; I just don't think I want to play gooseberry."
He takes a final swig of his drink and sets his glass down on the table. "It looks like my chances of seeing your cock have been greatly diminished by my honesty. I'm sorry I offended you and brought out your many insecurities."
I reel slightly. "Perhaps your honesty should have come earlier in the conversation. Only then might it have had more merit." I reply, hurriedly composing myself.
He stands suddenly and gathers his jacket over his arm. "Either way, I'm sorry I bothered. Goodbye." And with that, he glides from the bar and out onto the pavement before I can open my mouth to speak. I look at my watch. 7:25. A new record.
Some weeks later, the heat is getting to me so I stop into a coffee shop to piggyback on to their air conditioning and to grab an iced coffee. I sit down gratefully in a vacant seat around a busy communal coffee table. I slurp my iced coffee a little too loudly and look up self-consciously to see if anyone has heard me. There are no reactions, but almost directly opposite me, concentrating very hard on a book, is Mr Red & Angry. He is sitting on a couch, with a space next to him, his left hand outstretched over the vacant seat, and an empty coffee cup in front of him. He's waiting for someone. I quietly take another sip of my drink and bow my head, busying myself with my phone while I work out what to do.
Suddenly, there's an exclamation. A man approaching has lost control of his tray, sending a water-filled glass crashing onto the table and over the spare seat. The glass doesn't break, but the commotion is enough to make everybody look up. I raise my head. Mr Red & Angry is making soothing noises at the glass dropper and handing him paper towels. They are both wearing wedding rings. I see. At that moment, my former date catches sight of me, and the colour drains from his face. His eyes, once so confident and mocking, now seem to sink right back into his head, as if hiding, and he pulls his mouth in tighter and tighter until it is little more than a light pink scar between nose and chin. Open relationship? His face tells me otherwise.
He doesn't take his eyes off me as his husband (or so I have deduced) apologises to me for the accident and checks nothing has spilled on me. He has kind eyes and a warm smile. He then remarks to my former date that now he doesn't have anywhere to sit. Here's my chance. I stand up. I sense a sharp intake of breath from my date.
"Here," I say to the husband. "Have my seat."
"Oh," he smiles, "are you absolutely sure?" An angel. He deserves better.
"Positive," I reply. "I'm finished with this" - I wave my now-watery cup of iced coffee in my date's general direction- "it's a bit tasteless now."
I move out of the way to allow him to sit down and turn back to my date, who mouths a meek "thank you" to me.
I lightly shake my head and leave the coffee shop without looking back, my iced latté days behind me for good.
Stats: 32, 5' 10", grey blue/auburn, London
Where: South London
Pre-date rating: 5.5/10
Post-date rating: -7/10
Date in one sentence: I find out the difference between a prude and someone who doesn't like compulsive liars
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