You would think I'd have long banished any first date nerves to the recycle bin, such is my vast experience of dating. I've walked into so many bars over the years, each time not knowing what kind of evening - or man - awaits me, that I should be a seasoned professional. But the jitters never go away.
The situations may be familiar, but each date is a new person, different from the last, with a slew of brand new insecurities to discover and, of course, meeting me for the first time. As anyone who has read me for longer than 10 minutes will know, I come with my own set of problems and insurmountable difficulties. I'm no picnic, and as much as I try to be the very sweetest of apple pies on my date, sometimes a piece of rotten fruit will sneak in beneath the pastry. But enough clumsy baking analogies; let's get on with the date.
I'm in a bar waiting for tonight's contestant. I'm not thrilled about having arrived first. Dates I have to wait for don't turn out too well, usually. I automatically feel wrong-footed and awkward. When they arrive, should I stay seated or stand to say hello? A kiss on the cheek or a manly shake of the hand.
Somehow, I fall into a more natural rhythm when I'm second to arrive; I'm so busy breezily saying my hellos that I don't worry about what to shake and where to kiss. But here I sit, waiting, shifting awkwardly in my seat like I'm waiting to go through customs with a balloon full of cocaine up my bottom.
Mr Tonight could break the run of bad luck, however. On paper - or screen, at least - we get on very well. Each time I send off another email full of good-natured barbs and what I hope are sharp wisecracks, he replies fairly soon after with a similar amount of zingers.
He's clever, funny and just the right side of self-deprecating without self-flagellation. He sounds a little surer of himself than me, but confidence is certainly a turn-on, so long as it doesn't nosedive into cockiness. Looks-wise, he seems okay. His photos have all been fairly terrible, whether subjected to bad angles, poor light conditions or him just pulling the wrong face at the wrong time. I'm not exactly photogenic myself, so prepare to give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, you can't have a relationship with a Polaroid - all that really matters is flesh and bone. Especially the bone. If anything, he looks slightly familiar. If I haven't met him before, I've certainly seen him out and about. The gay village just shrank another kilometre.
I'm gazing absentmindedly into the window, wondering if that's the humble beginnings of a spot I can see under my nose. Suddenly, there's another shape reflected, an apparition by my side. It's my date, he's beaming a big smile and has his hand outstretched. I stand up from my stool, which bangs into his knee, and shake his hand. He then leans in for a kiss on the cheek and we collide ungraciously. I'm relieved to sit down again.
My date takes my drink order - a glass of wine as my hand is shaking too much to cope with a full pint - and slinks off to the bar. All is good from behind, but as he turns round and smiles at me while he orders, something bothers me. What is it? Usually within 20 seconds of meeting my date, I know whether I fancy them or not. In this case, nothing. I don't find him repulsive, nor does my heart start thumping. I'm just indifferent. Weird. I dismiss it; it's entirely possible my feelings can change as the night progresses; they certainly have before. Plus our personalities are so well-matched - so far - that it would be silly to write off the entire evening just because there was no coup de foudre.
I go back to that window again paranoid about my potential skin eruption. As I peer into it, my date returns, but instead of embarrassment at being caught out in a mad moment of vanity, I feel a churning sensation that I recognise as horror. I look from the window to my date and back again as he sits down. It becomes clear why I don't fancy him at all, why the fireworks failed to materialise - he looks like me. Like, spookily.
He begins to tell me about his job, his background, his family - all the usual subjects - and while I am sure he's interesting, I can't concentrate on what he's saying. I simply look blankly into his eyes, MY eyes, and occasionally sneak a look at the rest of his face. His hair, the same kind of dishwater brown and even greying in similar spots as mine, is styled as if he used me for a mirror. His mouth and its mannerisms aren't a million miles away from mine either. I'm on a date with myself. I reach out and touch his knee to make sure I'm not having some kind of breakdown and talking to a mirror.
This, of course, comes across as me being hopelessly forward and he casts my eyes - no, I mean HIS eyes, of course - down to my hand, those peepers widening in thinly disguised dismay. And did I just see what I thought I saw? An eye roll, no less. Behold my world-weary reflection. I compose myself and withdraw my hand. Get it together, Guyliner.
My date seems to think my weirdness is linked to him doing all the talking and turns the focus onto me, earnestly asking me loads of questions. I burble my answers pathetically, unable to form complete sentences. My nerves have almost got the better of me but I do my best to keep my head, even though I feel like I'm babbling at a slightly skewed self-portrait.
As I navigate the niceties and undoubtedly bore him to death with the details of my upbringing and career highlights so far, I let my imagination wander. I fantasise about introducing him to my friends and watching them comically, quizzically look from me to him. I imagine him leaning forward to kiss me accepting his tongue into my mouth. It would be like kissing my own hand.
And then I picture him undressing me and getting into bed beside me. The ultimate narcissist's accessory - a sexual encounter with a doppelganger. A boyfriend who looks just like me isn't the ideal, believe it or not. Vain as I am, I don't fancy myself. Honestly, I don't. Sharing my life with a lookalike would be the most elaborate, pointless masturbatory experience in the world.
Despite playing goody-goody to my evil twin, he's a nice guy. Were I not totally freaked out by being on a date with a mirror, I'm sure the conversation would be flowing freely. As it is I'm talking far too much, worried that any gap in conversation will leave enough room for me to exclaim "Can't you SEE how much we look alike?!" Maybe it's just me, but the similarities are staring me in the face, not to mention trying very hard to charm me. Shit, I think he fancies me. I can't. I just can't.
"Are you all right?" he says, looking at me with concerned eyes.
What do I say? "Well, yeah, I'm fine, but I feel like I'm in a really bad porn movie - with my brother!" Psychoanalysts the world over are sharpening their pencils and rubbing their hands in glee at the potential revenue from this pseudo-fraternal pairing.
"Yes, of course sorry," I finally reply. "I'm a bit tired; it's been a long day."
He looks straight at me, his oh-so-familiar brow knitted in frustration. "Yeah, I'm pretty tired, actually." He looks at his empty glass. Politeness says I should offer him a drink in return for the one he bought me. Should I? I know that if asked, I would say yes. Well, if he looks like me he probably thinks like me.
"Look, well," I say, "how about one more for the road? And maybe we can try again another time when we're not so knackered?" I know this is a lie, and he probably suspects as much, but I don't want the night to be a total disaster.
He accepts the offer of a drink - well of course! Twins in mind as well as face! I walk over to the bar, my cheeks burning crimson. As I order the drinks, I turn round to look at him. He's not staring after me; he's checking himself out in the window. He then slowly looks from his reflection in the window to me. CLUNK. I hear the sound of a million pennies finally drop. He takes out his phone and starts to text. No prizes for guessing what he's saying to his friends, the tone of horror mirrored in his eyes as he taps away at the illuminated screen.
I take the change from the barman and walk back toward my date, knowing this drink will be downed fairly swiftly - before the night ends and we both make haste to our rightful sides of the looking-glass once more.
Stats: 33, 5'10" brown/blue, northern England
Where: Soho, W1
Pre-date rating: 8/10
Post-date rating: 6/10
Date in one sentence: The Guyliner very nearly finds himself at last.