We have agreed to meet at a bar I haven't been to before. I don't usually do this - I like to be on familiar territory. But it is my date's choice and he has been pretty adamant about it in his series of texts, which he sends one after the other - one sentence per text - like he's on IM.
"It's really great."
"I mean I've never been but I hear it's great."
"We have to go."
"It's like a private members' bar but you can just sign up and go in."
"You should get membership."
And so it continues. Excited orders barked at me through my phone. Sometimes it is endearing, like a puppy using an iPhone for the first time. Mainly it's like an alarm clock going off every time I blink.
My date is young: 25, almost 26. I am here on a mission to feed my vanity and to find out exactly why this impossibly thin and fresh-faced embryo has pursued me so eagerly, first on the dating site, then email, and finally over continual newsflash texts.
We decide to meet outside in case there are problems getting into this mythical melting pot of cool.
"I'm sure there won't be," he coos over text as I take the bus there. He documents pretty much all of his taxi ride to the date ( A taxi! How glamorous!) and by the time he arrives (a whole seven minutes after me), I feel like we have done dates one, two and three already.
He approaches me in the drizzle - 5'11" of the skin and bone only youth and a total avoidance of any exercise can offer you. If he were 10 years older, he'd be almost plain, but his small, raisin-shaped eyes are surprisingly bright and his thin mouth hasn't yet turned cruel with age. He trills my name, sticks out his hand - five twigs encased in the smoothest skin this side of a kindergarten - and we graze cheekbones. He smells of nothing, just air. "Shall we?" he says, elaborately waving his hand in the general direction of the door.
Awaiting us is a man with a clipboard and a world-weary grimace, standing behind a glittery lectern. In another life, he could've been an artist or a captain of industry. Maybe even an MP. Instead he is standing in the cramped lobby of a bar, looking like he's just had semolina poured down his trousers.
We can't go in, he explains, as we're not members.
My date starts to make pathetic pleas. Somebody told him such-and-such and Thingy assured him it would be OK. Sir Clip of Board will not budge. I have a flash of inspiration and remember I know someone stupid enough to have joined this bar. I say his name. The clipboard consults something on his lectern. We are waved through. My date is impressed. I am outrageously embarrassed to have done that - especially after the time a while ago where one of my dates tried in vain to get us into a private members' bar by phoning a celebrity from the pavement. Anyway, we are inside.
The bar is one of those places in the middle of an identity crisis, trying to be all things to all men - and all of them unlikable. One corner is 'tastefully' opulent, another gaudy and uncomfortable. My date says he doesn't want to sit in comfy seats; he'd rather pull a stool up to the bar. We do, and order drinks. For around two or three minutes, my date says nothing - he simply cranes his neck this way and that to get a better view of what is going on around him. I have just paid £11 for a cocktail to sit opposite a meerkat. I shift in my stool and sip my drink. Finally, he turns back to me and smiles like we're just coming back after an ad break on QVC.
"Tell me more about yourself," he says, the very vision of daytime television host. "What kind of stuff are you working on at the moment?"
I cringe at questions like this. First, I am having a relatively quiet spell at the moment - the freelancer's curse - and secondly, when people ask this, they usually only want to hear about famous people you have met or insider gossip you know. I have very little to relate of either.
He begins to reel off names, guys he knows or has heard of who work at various publications in the UK. Do I know them? What did I think of them? How much did I think they earned?
"Oh, of course," I say. "I forgot. You're a journalist, aren't you?"
"Yes," he grins. "I love it. Don't you just love it?"
"Yes. Sometimes I love it."
"I have been to some terrific parties," he gushes. "And I met X, Y and Z." He mentions some relatively famous people.
"What made you want to be a journalist?" I ask, trying to catch the barman's eye. My £11 cocktail is working out at about £3.50 a sip.
"I don't know really," he shrugs. "It seemed like a good way to meet the right people, y'know?"
I'm not sure I do, but I press on. "And once you've met the right kind of people, then what?"
He thinks for a moment and looks down at his empty glass. "Well, meet some more, I suppose!" And then he laughs, the sound of 10,000 steak knives raining down on a colony of rats.
"Oh look over there..." he says. "That's John Doe from Magazine A. Do you know him?"
"Oh. He's even younger than me! Can you believe it?!"
I pretend I can't.
What about her?" he continues, pointing at a woman in a boiler suit who has hair like a Bichon Frisé. "She works at Magazine B. She's deputy ed I think."
I fear my media superpowers draining from me, the conversation drying up. He doesn't want to talk about his hometown ("I just pretend it never happened. I was born the minute I arrived in London."), he won't say what he likes beyond "going out, but I never get trashed" and he hasn't read a newspaper in 10 years. "I get all my info from Twitter," he says, picking up drink number two. I hand the barman my debit card. Again.
Twitter. That could be a thing. Let's talk about that. What does he like about it?
"You get to meet loads of people!" he exclaims. Again with the meeting people; he should have been a flight attendant. "I've had loads of work out of it. I just follow them and reply to loads of their tweets until we're 'friends'" - he does inverted comma fingers here - "and ask if they want me to write something for them. It's a great way to pitch."
"Do you follow anyone interesting on Twitter?" I ask. "Anyone really good I should know about?"
But all I get in return are the familiar names of editors and writers on well-known or 'edgy' websites and publications.
"Why do you follow them?" I ask.
"Because they're the right people to know. And I might get to work for them if I chat to them enough. Don't you do that?"
"No, well..." he says looking me up and down as if for the first time. "Perhaps you don't need to. How many followers have you got?"
"198," I say, without flinching.
He wrinkles his nose. "Is that all? Shouldn't you have more?"
"I suppose I should. I just tweet for pleasure, really."
He looks at me like that sounds like a total waste of time. I motion to the barman for drink number three. My date tries to look at his watch without me noticing.
"Are you bored?" I smile.
"No," he says, suddenly, and awkwardly, putting his hand on my knee. "I was wondering where we should go next."
This is an unexpected turn. I find myself ridiculously flattered by this contact. Despite the fact I have obviously not turned out to be who I thought I was, he is still interested. Shallow? Yes. But it is a weeknight. Unexpected things happen on weeknights.
Drink three is drained even quicker than its predecessors and we move on out of the members' bar and into the fresh air. The drizzle has stopped. It is a relief to see crumbling brick and chewing gum-spattered pavement instead of ironic wall-hangings and lurex T-shirts. My knees creak in agreement.
I suggest the next place, a bar I have been to a thousand times before. If anything is going to happen - and I'm playing it just bored and remote enough that it might - it will happen there.
There is nowhere to sit so we slip into a corner amid piles of discarded flyers, our pints sloshing onto the floor every time another punter squeezes by to go the loo. He's chattering on about Twitter again, admitting he only follows Person X because they know Person Y at Media Outlet Z and he'd love to write for them.
"Oh, I know someone who works there," I say.
"Do you?!" he grins widely. "Who?"
I say the name.
"Ooh, really? Have you ever done anything for them?"
When I say I haven't, he looks disappointed. "Why not?"
"Because I have never asked," I say. "And neither have they."
"But why would you waste a good contact like that?" he blurts out.
"He isn't a contact; he's a friend. And it isn't what I want to do. I wouldn't be right for it."
"Well, if I were you, I'd milk it for all its worth."
I bet. It occurs to me that I too could milk this situation for all its worth. I could lie and say I know A and B at X and Y and could give him an intro. I imagine I could pretend to be someone else - anything else - for the evening and take full advantage of this young guy's unwavering ambition. He doesn't even seem like he'd be that bothered - what's another hour or two on the casting couch? But what would be the point? It would be like having sex with LinkedIn. He isn't interested in me. He's interested in what (and who) he thinks I know. We are stepping into an elevator. Only one of us is going to make it all the way up to the penthouse. It won't be me.
Sensing my cold feet, he pulls me in for a kiss. It is slippery, mock-passionate and, overall, unpleasant. I am embarrassed for us both. The conversation hasn't been remotely flirtatious; there has been no chemistry, nothing naturally leading us to this point where we would be kissing in a bar, except for a perfunctory hand on my knee 30 minutes ago. Our date has been a list of names and email addresses - virtual CVs and online portfolios piling up in front of us. He has all the knowledge he needs for this evening; we won't be progressing to the carnal kind.
I pull away from him. "It's been a lovely evening. But I'm going to have to go."
He acts crestfallen. "Oh. Why?"
"It's a school night," I explain. "And I'm on deadline."
"Ooh." He suddenly brightens. "Working on anything exciting? Who for?"
I sigh. "I can't really say," I lie, gathering up my coat. "But you might get to read it very soon."
Stats: 25, 5'11", dirty blond/blue, northeast England
Where: London E1
Pre-date rating: 7/10
Post-date rating: 4/10
Date in one sentence: A networking opportunity puts its tongue in my mouth but I spit it out.
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