Dating can be a very solitary experience, despite the fact that you're meeting up with another person. Travelling to the date you are alone in your thoughts, every possible scenario whirring around in your head, and nine times out of ten, you end up going home by yourself - okay, maybe eight.
So it's good to have someone else aboard at least part of the way. The best place for a wingman is the selection process itself. A second opinion can be invaluable. And so I find myself flicking through a list of potential suitors with a friend, presenting her with all the men who have recently added me as a 'favourite' on the dating site. So far, her responses are less than encouraging. She is less forgiving than even me.
"Oh no, he's spelled you're as your; I'm out, sorry."
After a few minutes, however, she settles on a contender. After carefully reading his profile for what seems like hours, she spins the laptop round to face me and gives an encouraging flourish with her hands. "Look at this one." I look. To say everything is in the right place would be an understatement. He looks sexy, suave, smart, sophisticated and lots of other s-words. He is the perfect picture of alliteration and hotness.
Yet one must venture out of shallow waters for a more satisfying swim. He may look the part but be as dumb as a packet of chewing gum. Time, then, for a little further study. I read his profile, which is clever, witty and just what I'm looking for. He's studying to be an architect. And he likes me, let's not forget.
"Oh, and if you peruse picture three," my friend pipes up, "you can see the outline of his 'thing' through his trousers. It looks quite nice." Reader, she's right.
And so I break every rule I have ever made yet again and initiate contact. She made me do it. My opener is straightforward, with a hint of humour that will hopefully intrigue. I don't agonise over it very long. Over thinking never got anyone anywhere. Send is clicked. Here we go. He replies the next day. To say he is not a native speaker, his command of the English lingo is impressive and he's using just enough colloquialisms to let me know he's lived here a while.
They say the best place to learn a foreign tongue is in bed; I can't help but wonder how many enthusiastic language professors have graced his duvet-walled classroom. But we're overthinking again, and instead of that, I decide to barely pause for thought at all. Before my internet connection can quite believe what is happening, I am very directly asking him out for a drink, foregoing my usual "when's good for you?" patter; I have named a day. I send the message and then wander over to the other side of the room and pretend I'm not really bothered by how quickly he replies. He makes me wait a whole ten minutes.
I walk to our meeting place as calmly as I can manage: it's a warm evening and I don't want to arrive with the tell-tale sweat beads on my forehead and in the dip of my chest that will give away a faster gait. I am meeting him in a pub I often select as the initial rendezvous point; it doesn't have a gay clientele but is near enough other places which do.
One must always plan ahead: I don't want to be caught out and eager to bump tongues only for the crowd around us to strongly object. So slow was my meandering that I am arriving a few minutes late. I breezily throw open the pub door, almost relieving a skinny girl of her red wine in the process, and make my way to the bar, not looking around to see if he's there already. I know that he'll have been watching the door, even if he's pretending not to. Sure enough, within a few seconds, someone who smells very good is standing by my side. I wait to hear my name, and when I do, turn round to see two huge brown eyes staring uncertainly into my blue ones.
He introduces himself, each syllable of his name pronounced with utmost care; he wants me to remember that name. I will. He's dressed fairly simply: a black shirt over dark jeans and a pair of boots. He's drinking spirits. Smells like whisky. And by the way he's licking his lips and smiling, he's had more than one. But so what? It's Friday night and I'm a little bit late. I'm sure I'll soon catch up.
Going on a date with someone who's not from the UK can be easier when it comes to conversation. While there may be less common ground, there are enough differences to turn it in a fun fact-finding mission. Having never been to Syria, I ask him about his country. He's eager to dispel any myths I may have heard. He's fairly protective of his homeland, but realistic when it comes to its faults. I can tell he has had to defend his birthplace before - parts of his speech feel well-rehearsed and few of my questions surprise him.
"I'm tired of everyone thinking Damascus is a dustbowl," he says, and knocks back whisky number four.
"Let's go somewhere else," I whisper. The time feels right to find the corner of a room somewhere.
As we walk down the street toward my intended destination, he is distracted by noise coming from a pub. It's karaoke.
"I always find this so hilarious," he beams.
I cringe, stammering: "I don't sing."
He puts his arm round my shoulder. "Neither do I. I wouldn't make you do anything you don't want to do." He winks. I melt a little.
On entering the pub, it transpires a documentary is being filmed. There are a few B-list stars at the bar, drinking heavily, while a soap actress is serving pints. It all feels a little surreal, but my date doesn't recognise them and is unperturbed by the cameras. He switches to pints and motions me to a quieter part of the bar, which unfortunately is next to the dartboard. He is genuinely bemused by the roughness of this East End boozer. He can't take his eyes off me and while I'm enjoying the attention, I can't fully relax until we're somewhere else. We are, however, having so much fun that we stay for another drink, doubled up in laughter at the atrocious singing and underage drinkers being sick into carrier bags. Finally, I suggest moving on. I mean to have my own way, eventually; it may as well be now.
At the next bar, he seems a little more out of his depth. I had forgotten it is Friday, and the place is bouncing with excitable gays, dancing up against each other and spilling drinks as far as the eye can see. The atmosphere isn't as jolly as before, and the fun feels forced. I also notice that he may have had a little too much to drink. He sways into me and grabs my arse bawdily. I respond. When we pull apart he exaggeratedly wipes the saliva from his mouth and takes another swig of his drink - he's back on whisky. We kiss again, and then again a few moments later. The air feels thick with anticipation and you could barely get a thread of cotton between us, but I get the feeling we've gone as far as we're going to go this evening. I pull away from him and straighten myself up. He leans on the bar and looks me up and down lustfully.
"I'm drunk," he says flatly. "I should go home."
I nod, disappointed but not devastated.
"But I am having fun," he continues. Another deep swig. "You wanna come with me?"
I think just a second too long. It would be so easy, wouldn't it? Just to leave the pub hand-in-hand, fall into a taxi and no doubt demolish each other right there in the back seat, before ending up somewhere and either continuing or collapsing unconscious in a cloud of whisky fumes and desire. But I have crept out of unfamiliar bedrooms and made my way bleary-eyed to far-off tube stations before, and it's not how I want my Saturday to start. So I shake my head.
He laughs. "Okay. But can we do this again?"
"Yes, all of it," I reply. "Except the karaoke."
"And after that?"
"We'll just have to see," I smile, rolling my eyes. "You'll keep."
I watch his taxi pull away for a second or two and then make my way to the bus stop. I dig my nails into my palm and inwardly curse my ridiculous moment of self-control, but I know I'll be glad about it in the morning. As I find my seat on the bus - as far away as I can manage from the boys eating fried chicken - a text message comes through. It is my date.
"I won't keep that long, you know. Best before date is next Saturday night. See you then?"
I lean back in my seat and smile for at least three quarters of the journey home.
Guy no: 22
Stats: 34, 5'8", brown/brown, Syria
Where: East London
When: September 2010
Pre-date rating: 8/10
Post-date rating: 8.5/10
Date in one sentence: In a rare moment of clarity, I hold out for the potential and forego one hell of a roll in the hay
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