"Let's meet for dinner. 7pm."
As statements go, it's fairly innocuous. No hidden agenda, no gameplaying. As far as you're concerned, you'll be eating, chatting and maybe worrying internally about how much wine you can allow yourself on a school night. But transport that remark to the run-up to a first date, and I run for the hills, stomach churning with a dread normally reserved for statements like "The PIN you have entered is incorrect" or "And next on ITV2, a four-hour Katie Price reality show retrospective".
Going for dinner is a perfectly pleasant experience most of the time, but food on a first date is an absolute no-no for me, even if I'm feeling supremely confident about my table manners. I get asked a lot by followers, readers and various other dating neophytes who cross my path why I'm so anti-grub on date numero uno, so here's why.
Where to go? WHERE?
Choosing somewhere to go to eat is much more of a challenge than selecting a pub and settling down with a pint of 'mild', or whatever takes your fancy. But when cuisine is involved, dates tend to want to impress. They might want to take you to the most 'buzzy' place or latest restaurant that's got everybody talking. They may be either wildly way out of your budget or much scuzzier than what you're used to.
So, rather than just turning up at a pub, relaxed (or as chilled as you can be when meeting a total stranger) and getting things going on a fairly equal footing, there are already preconceptions galore coming into play and the added burden of hoping your date likes where you've chosen.
The menu hates you
But even if choosing the venue was a breeze, you're not out of the woods yet. You still have to decide what to eat. Noodles? How are you with chopsticks? Do you want that big, beefy burger? Should you nibble on a salad so your date thinks you're some dullard calorie-counting leaf-loving gay who cries if they can't fit into their school uniform once a year?
It's just dinner, though, right? Does it really matter? Maybe not, but don't eat anything you wouldn't want your date peering at splattered all down your shirtfront.
Don't talk with your mouth full? Or can't?
Unless you have the table manners of a ravenous pug, if you're chewing, you're not going to be doing a whole lot of talking. Chatting, to most dating traditionalists, is an essential part of the first date.
Sure, in 9½ Weeks, food pretty much took the place of breezy banter, but if your date is going to progress, you're going to have to speak up. Doing that becomes more difficult if you're navigating your way through steak and chips or slurping spaghetti sauce through those once-kissable lips. Push the plate aside.
Trapped until the tiramisu
So you've made it through the venue, menu and inability to get halfway through a sentence without averting your eyes from their big, gaping, chewing, dribbling chasm of a mouth. Now you've leapt over all those unnecessary hurdles you introduced, it's time to get to the main part of the date - the talking, the getting-to-know-you, the chitchat, the badinage. But here's the thing: you're barely through your first course of ironic prawn cocktail when you realise you've hit a wall - your date is as dull and unappealing as the drying spittle on your cutlery. Your companion for the evening has zero to offer but a migraine-inducing jeremiad about single mothers, the unemployed and their contribution to society. Your fork, once held so playfully in your hand as you raised it flirtatiously to your mouth, is now a spear longing to embed itself in your date's face. The table and chair are now your prison - until this meal is over, you're not going anywhere.
Were you to be merely out for drinks, you could swiftly down your drink, check your watch, give a cheery "Well this was lovely, but I really must be on my way" and sprint for the exit, holding your arms aloft in elation at your escape. But your date now has you where he or she wants you, for the next hour at least, until all the food you ordered has been served and eaten. You knew you shouldn't have gone for that Chateaubriand. Bloody hell.
Post-nosh breath and belly-busting blunders
But maybe you made it all the way through. Far from being the passion-killer I've feared all along, your meal was a triumph, a romantic coup second only to Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding. So as you smooth down your napkin in a satisfied manner and slowly drain the last of your wine, never once removing your eyes from your next course, which is handily sitting opposite you and licking their lips, you broach the subject of what to do next. Retire to a nearby bar for a first-date snog? Or maybe even take things a little bit further. Well, I'm not one to judge, but what I will say from personal experience is that a full tummy does not lend itself well to desire. Your hunger for nosh has been sated, and in the process it's likely you won't be feeling too famished in the bedroom department, either.
Not only will your belly be bursting with the first-date feast you've just devoured, but your breath will also be playing host to whatever you just ate too. Garlic, onions, little bits of beefburger are all there waiting to be discovered by your date's tongue. It's enough to give anyone indigestion - and once you start rolling passionately around on a bedspread with a bellyful of pasta, that's another thing you've probably got to look forward to.
So leave the pasta and the prawns and the salad and the soup for date three or four. Stick to the basics for your first date. You'll thank me for it later. Maybe. Come on, put the fork down. You'll have someone's eye out.